We are delighted to welcome change expert Lea Dingel exclusively to the FemalExperts Role Model Interview today.
1. Dear Lea, I’m delighted that you’re introducing yourself to our community today and I’ll start right away: Would you like to give us a little “snapshot” of your life and professional biography to get us started?
Thank you very much for the invitation, dear Kinga. “Change” is indeed a theme that runs like a red thread through my life – and not just since my transition to womanhood. For more than 15 years, I have driven change in large corporations and medium-sized subsidiaries – the last 10 years of which as a top management executive. For a long time, my field of activity was the transportation and local transport sector – a real future-oriented industry that is undergoing major change, but is still very conservative in many aspects. I was responsible for a whole range of corporate areas, such as strategy, finance, HR and IT. Today, I have a correspondingly broad view of the mechanisms and processes in companies.
I know the world of “hard numbers” from my studies. However, I have always been driven by the question “What makes companies and change processes really successful?” And for me, the focus is simply on interpersonal interactions. It was very instructive for me to work in Poland for five years and also to experience the French and Australian culture of cooperation.
2. how would you describe your current working approach based on your experience?
Today I am self-employed and accompany people, teams and organizations through their very own change processes. I am very enthusiastic about the systemic approach: Meeting people as individuals and trusting in their own ability to find solutions. I see my job as creating spaces where things can be discussed. For me, this is a wonderful combination of a tangible focus on results, combined with a great deal of empathy, acceptance and heart.
3. as a systemic personal & business coach, you offer a wide range of consulting services, from organizational development to team and personality development. Change is the main focus here. What specific issues do your customers approach you with in this context?
Teams or organizations usually have a good gut feeling when something is not going in the right direction. In the worst case, these conversations remain in the coffee kitchen, smokers’ corner or are held behind closed doors. I am fortunate to work with companies and teams that want to actively tackle their issues. This manifests itself in concrete causes, such as poor team communication, open conflicts within the team or a lack of “pulling together”. The conversations we then have usually go deeper.
4. as an organizational developer in the field of change management, I am also familiar with the challenges of change processes, especially when they are viewed emotionally and lead to resistance. How do you deal with fears, reservations and resistance in your advisory work?
We have all heard the phrase: “No change without fear and resistance.” However, if you want to live this as a genuine basic attitude that comes from the heart, it is quite a challenge. In many organizations, objections and conflicts simply have a negative connotation.
My credo is:
Everything is allowed to be for now.
For me, it is precisely those moments of resistance that are exciting for change. What are the different perceptions here? What fundamental needs and beliefs resonate here? Objections are first and foremost verbal or non-verbal expressions. If you look behind the points of view at such moments, you can learn a lot for the new way forward. And in every conflict there is also a new solution.
5. is there anything that companies can do in advance to pick up their employees in terms of content and emotion before the actual implementation phase begins?
Unfortunately, I often find that “change management” is only considered as a side issue. The focus is then more on pure communication and information. This then has the effect of “project marketing”. In order to find solutions that really resonate with the organization on a broad basis, I believe it is important to focus on dialogue with those involved and affected at an early stage. That sounds like “Sunday talk” – especially in times of tight project budgets and tight time frames. However, if you don’t do this, it usually comes back to bite you in the course of the project. This is often clearly visible in failed IT projects that do not meet the needs of the organization.
There are certainly projects that require a different approach. Hard restructuring is rarely done from the “bottom up”. But if we are honest: How many projects really have this character?
6. in your opinion, which topics in the entrepreneurial context will determine the consulting industry in the future and how do we tackle these in a targeted manner?
The pressure on companies and organizations is enormous. In addition to the often invoked “VUCA” world of constant change, margins are tight and budgets are tight in many industries. This requires companies to take an honest look: “What is really not going well for us?” A culture of error and change is necessary here, without immediately getting lost in problem analysis and accusation loops. And this culture is difficult for many companies. Problems only manifest themselves when they become a genuine earnings or financial crisis. What a waste of potential!
Numerous companies are currently moving towards self-organized, agile working. This requires a high degree of structural competence, knowledge building and trust in the organizations. For many companies, it would be a good first step to create regular platforms where problems can be discussed within the team and across levels.
7. is there a tip or piece of advice that you wish you had known yourself as a young person and that you would like to pass on to others?
As a driver of change, I have long failed to recognize the value of stability and consistency. In many organizations there is a “hype” about the “new”. There is often a lack of sustainability and consistency in things – even in change projects. To put it bluntly: “A lot of whistle, little whistle”. Today, I also talk to the teams about what should not change. We start by recognizing the status quo and aim to return to a stable state at the end.
8 I had the great pleasure of getting to know you as part of our joint diversity trainer training and thus gaining an intensive insight into the reality of your life as a woman with a transgender background. Through your personal experience, you have once again experienced “change” in a different context. To what extent has this shaped you personally, professionally and perhaps even entrepreneurially?
Starting the external transition to womanhood was my biggest step. I haven’t regretted this path for a moment since. However, the path was at odds with my professional identity. As a manager, I was socialized as a male and absorbed many beliefs. Many of these inner beliefs about career and professionalism were thrown out the window by my transition.
I certainly experienced the topic of “change” again from a very personal level. There is a lot involved in a transition – far more than just the operations that many people think of at first glance. You deal with an incredible number of topics, learn and grow. Who in life has the opportunity to experience both the male and female perspective? This starts with hormones and the emotional world, and extends to gender roles in society. In the past, as a “male-read person”, I would have claimed to have an enlightened view of topics such as sexism and misogyny. However, it is a different matter to experience sexual assault yourself in everyday life. As long as you have them, you may be able to understand privileges rationally, but their true scope remains emotionally difficult to grasp.
9. to what extent can a change process be successfully implemented based on your personal experience?
As a transfeminine person, I have experienced “first-hand” how much personal change processes require an inner confrontation and how far you can go out of your own comfort zone in the process. That is why I have great respect for people, teams and organizations that embark on a path of change on a small or large scale. Change succeeds when we meet as individuals and see our diversity as a resource and strength. For me, this also means changing perspectives and finding suitable solutions for the future, especially by working together.
10. meeting each other as individuals in our diversity is a wonderful approach that is also reflected in your daily work attitude. But now I have to admit that I unfortunately still see a huge deficit when it comes to staff diversity on stage, in interviews or in the boardroom. What can we do as private individuals to create a diverse role model culture?
That’s right, today’s management levels in many companies do not represent the diversity of the workforce. This blocks opportunities for advancement – also for men who do not fit the classic management image. Female values and female leadership behavior clash with the still prevalent stereotype of a “successful manager”
I am firmly convinced that this also has consequences for the companies themselves. I have often sat in meetings and thought “the discussion would be different here if the management body were more diverse”. Managing diversity is not easy and requires good cooperation. At the same time, I believe that sustainable top performance is rarely possible in the long term in leadership monocultures.
What can we do? Each of us is sometimes in a privileged, sometimes in a marginalized position. We all carry our “biases” and prejudices within us. Changing them takes time. But we can reflect on the extent to which they shape our actions. And for me, that always starts at an individual level.
11 In your opinion, are there any particular questions, measures or opportunities with regard to the LGBTIQ* community that companies should ask, implement or take advantage of in order to make diversity tangible within the company and not just talk about it?
Of course, I wish that sexual orientation and gender identity simply didn’t have to be an issue. Unfortunately, we are still a long way from achieving this. The climate is currently getting rougher again. Homophobia and transphobia are on the rise. Unfortunately, the queer community is no different from other marginalized groups. The social debate is polarizing. Many of these are more like proxy discussions. My impression is that in politics, the media and society, completely different issues are implicitly being “negotiated” here that go far beyond the concerns of the queer scene.
When I work with companies, I try to make the topic objective and clear up false images and prejudices. There are quite tangible, pragmatic things that companies can question. This includes: How are staffing decisions made? What image of high potential and high achievers is standardized and conveyed? And what room for diversity do systems, structures and company processes leave?
12 What could be a good start for companies and organizations to begin with the topic of “diversity”?
For me, a good place to start is by “raising awareness” within the company or organization. Instead of just imparting knowledge, I see it as bringing people into an experience. At the same time, it is about picking people up and building bridges. My parents, for example, grew up in a completely different value system as the post-war generation than I was allowed to. And the younger generations look at the world differently again today. If my aim is for us to accept each other as personalities with all our facets, I believe that the first step must be to make room for our different starting points.
Once this openness and level of discussion has been created, real listening becomes possible. After I came out, my professional environment asked me openly and directly: “How can I support you? What do you need right now?” In my eyes, that was a wonderful reaction. For all topics, there are usually people with experience in the companies who not only know the challenges from their own experience, but also know the company and its culture. Through discussion, good solutions can be found that suit the organization and those involved at the moment. In the mentoring programs that many companies rely on, this two-way dialogue is often neglected for me.
Networking should also not be underestimated. Women’s networks and queer LGBTIQ* networks have already been established in numerous companies. If I hadn’t had access to worldwide internet forums and communities back then, I certainly wouldn’t have gone down the path of transition. It is immensely empowering to see that you are not alone with your identity and which paths and solutions are possible moving forward.
Building on such measures at the individual level, we can then turn our attention to the structural level. Let me give you an example: In companies, the IT user database is often linked to the payroll-related personnel system. This system is usually the first to know when employees join or leave the company. For trans* people, however, this can mean that name changes are only possible once the entire legal process has been finalized. Such possible structural hurdles can be very well examined with external support.
13 Dear Lea, I’ll end with my favorite question: Where, how and when will we be able to see you soon and where will your professional/personal journey take you in the coming years?
To make my small contribution to promoting diversity and cohesion, I recently founded “Coach4Trans”. My aim is to advise companies on the subject of transgender issues and also to support relatives of trans* people. I also offer workshops on the subject. This is a nice addition to my general work as a diversity trainer.
And apart from that, I’m just looking forward to continuing to help many great teams become even better.
Thank you very much for this incredibly exciting insight! Being a role model means confronting change even when the comfort zone seems more inviting, because this is the only way to open up opportunities for others. Dear Lea, thank you very much for your visibility, you are a woman we will certainly be hearing a lot more from in the future!
About the author
Kinga Bartczak advises, coaches and writes on female empowerment, new work culture, organizational development, systemic coaching and personal branding. She is also the managing director of UnternehmerRebellen GmbH and publisher of the FemalExperts magazine .