Today’s guest on FemalExperts: Isabelle Hoyer, co-founder and managing director of PANDA.
Ms. Hoyer, your project was officially launched in September 2012. Was it clear to you from the beginning where the whole thing would develop?
Not quite: Of course, we had an idea of what we wanted to achieve and why PANDA is PANDA. At the same time, it was a great experiment: There is no comparable format so far – this was a completely new event concept. Our biggest fear was that simply no one would feel addressed by it. That we might even scare off the women we want to inspire. Fortunately, this did not happen – the opposite was the case. We are more than happy with how PANDA has developed so far. There are many ideas for further development. At the moment, we mainly want to make PANDA even better known.
Bringing a new idea to the market as a lone fighter is usually associated with many difficulties. How did you and your team come together and turn your vision into reality?
As a founding team, there are two of us – better than all by ourselves! But in fact: starting from scratch, with nothing more than an idea that you yourself think is a good one, is a challenge in itself. Stuart and I were colleagues after we started our careers – we met as interns and then worked together for three years. In the meantime, we have known each other for ten years and are close friends. We are very different and often argue because we see things very differently. This is sometimes exhausting, but tremendously helpful for the implementation of ideas. We have our roles: One pays attention to content and details, the other pushes and pushes to get big stones rolling.Aber grundsätzlich ist das Wichtigste: Losstiefeln, Anfangen, Machen. Click To Tweet
How exactly can our readers imagine the PANDA Women Leadership Contest?
It’s a challenging, energetic and enriching day with 200 great women! We bring quite a lot under one hat: PANDA is at the same time networking event, competition, workshop, further education, exchange and reflection forum, platform for company contacts and career opportunities. What exactly carries the most weight can be quite different for the participants individually. As organizers, we try to think very strongly from the perspective of our participants. Top priorities for us are: personal added value, great networking and career contacts and – very important: creativity and fun.
You distinguish between PANDA Executive and PANDA Young Talent in your contest, what is the exact difference here and why is such a distinction important?
It was important to our participants: In the first year they were a motley crew, so this distinction was not yet so present. However, some of these are very different issues that women deal with depending on their career stage. A managing director with 350 employees and a trainee in a large corporation face very different challenges. Nevertheless, there are unifying themes and a desire to learn from the experiences of others. And so now we have both: the exchange between experienced and less experienced women, because they all experience the PANDA day together and meet each other. And the exchange among women at a similar career level. The boundaries are fluid – we don’t define ‘executive’ or ‘young talent’ so much in terms of years of professional experience as in terms of actual leadership experience. The ‘Executives’ all have extensive leadership experience. Some of the ‘young talents’ are already managers on a smaller scale or are about to take on management responsibility. The applicants unerringly choose the right category for them. Only in a few cases do we recommend switching from one to the other.
There are many fairs and congresses for ambitious young professionals. What added value does PANDA offer young talents and women leaders?
PANDA is neither a trade fair nor a congress, but combines elements of different formats. We get the feedback that exactly this combination is an interesting, new aspect for many. Secondly, because of the – admittedly somewhat more complex – application process, a woman can be sure to meet great other women and make really good contacts. Third, each contestant gets a lot of feedback from the others during the contest. Especially for executives, for whom it is often difficult to receive honest feedback on their impact in their daily work, this is a huge added value. Another plus are the contacts with companies – but precisely not in a trade fair atmosphere. And, again and again: The day is also a lot of fun, it’s something different. Our participants like that very much.
If you want to participate in your contest, you have to go through a certain application process. How exactly does this take shape and what criteria do you use to select the “right” applicants?
Three steps: CV, recommendation, video interview. Formal requirements are only professional and management experience. We are open to everyone in terms of industry, study background and type of company. We let all the information flow into the selection of the participants. We are actually more like “curators” – it is important to us to put together a heterogeneous group in which women with exciting experiences and different backgrounds can inspire each other. It’s not about a specific job with very clear criteria.
On July 02, 2016 PANDA starts in Berlin in the fourth round. What is the difference between this year’s contest and its predecessors?
It will be a bit more international again – just because of our location host SoundCloud with company language English, the welcome by a SoundCloud representative and the keynote by American startup founder Valerie Wagoner, parts of the day will be in English. Many of the participants have international backgrounds. We like that very much – we want to become bigger, more European, more international in the next step.
Thank you for this great interview and good luck in July, at the fourth PANDA Women Leadership Contest!
+++ AND ATTENTION: Application deadline for the next PANDA event is 30.04.2016! +++
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 .