Today in the Role Model Interview: Anastasia Barner, founder of FeMentor, speaker and Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2022.
Dear Anastasia, I am very happy to introduce you to our community today in the Female Role Model Interview and I will start right away with the first question:
1. since you were 14, you’ve been writing for the youth page of the Berliner Zeitung and for funky, the youth editorial department of Funke Mediengruppe. In addition, you also got to write an article for ze.tt and contribute to an article for Spiegel Online. At the age of 15, you were chosen as one of the five best young journalists to receive an award from Der Spiegel. Ultimately, though, you chose to launch a startup rather than pursue a career in journalism. How did this step come about?
If you look at it that way, I had a 6-year journalism career. I wrote regularly for various media from the age of 14 to 20. That is a very long time. The idea for the foundation came with time. Through my circle of friends I had a lot to do with the founder:inside scene and I wondered why I was sometimes the only woman at the parties. I realized how few female founders there are, and especially how few women who founded at a young age. This is how FeMentor was born. I wanted to create a platform that encourages women to go their own way, whether that entails starting a business or not. But they should at least know their options. Instead of complaining that there are hardly any female founders, I started a start-up myself. From time to time I still do interviews for funky and I’m grateful for the opportunity to get to know the journalist’s wait. That makes it easier for me these days when I’m interviewed.
2. you have been passionately involved as an ambassador for the anti-bullying campaign “exclamo” as well as for the initiative “Heroes for Heroes” and “Minago”. Sexism, discrimination and hate speech are still major challenges today, and “everyday bullying” has unfortunately also become an integral part of the online world. You are a public figure yourself. To what extent has your approach to this form of exclusion, hatred and insult changed?
Phew, I never thought it would be like this. In kindergarten, I always wanted to be a chancellor, a princess or a star. Today, I am “known” in my founder bubble and that also brings disadvantages. My mother, who is a successful PR consultant, always tried to explain to me that being famous also brings a dark side. Through social media, there are new ways to communicate hate while remaining anonymous. I think that’s dangerous. Being part of Generation Z, I grew up with social media. Fortunately, nowadays there are many options to hide hate comments. Unfortunately, they didn’t exist when I was in school. But my own experiences with bullying have definitely made me stronger, and I try to be as open about it as possible. If only one person finds themselves in my words and survives the bullying as a result, then I have done everything right. It always helped me when celebrities talked honestly about their time before “being famous,” which wasn’t easy for most of them. My school days certainly weren’t perfect and there’s no reason to be ashamed of them. Because the problem was with my bullies. As a young woman running a business, I have to fight prejudice from time to time. Like why I share bikini pictures on vacation on my Instagram account. Why not? Success and feminism don’t stop at naked skin.
3. In 2019, you founded FeMentor, the first reverse mentoring platform by women for women. Can you give our readers some insight into how the idea to create your startup came about?
In my life, I have been very fortunate to have a family that was able to open doors for me at an early age that remained hidden to others. I have always been aware of this privilege. Instead of being “ashamed” of having more opportunities through my parents’ contacts, I used my mother’s contact book to start FeMentor. Contacts, of course, do not directly mean success. Contacts are like doors you have to go through yourself, but it’s easier with a key. FeMentor is just this key. The challenge is to make something of the network, and that’s something every woman has to do herself. Through reverse mentoring, we have been able to increase self-awareness in some mentees, but also mentors. The idea came about because I myself have always been a mentee, but also a mentor for my mother’s friends. As a mentee, I was able to gain insight into various professions, recognize mistakes that can be avoided, and receive valuable tips in a variety of areas. As a (reverse) mentor, I was able to give the older generation insights on social media, user behavior from Generation Z, and even online dating. If you only knew which CEOs I’ve made pretty on Tinder ;).
4. FeMentor differs significantly from other mentoring programs in its basic structure, as it relies on mutual willingness to learn and motivation to develop. Would you like to tell us a little more about this?
I am often asked about whether I perceive other mentoring programs or women’s networks as competition. And the answer is always the same: FeMentor is the first reverse mentoring platform in Europe, we are currently expanding worldwide and I strongly believe in collaborations, because without support my start-up would never have become successful so quickly. Most mentoring programs cost mentees money, which is affordable for some but also excludes a broad range. Other networks/programs are reserved for a specific group, e.g. women in management positions, women in tech, women refugees, etc. This caste thinking creates “bubbles” in which one only exchanges ideas with people who have a similar vita, profession or background. That can be helpful, but I wanted to create a platform where every woman is welcome. At FeMentor, we are therefore also active across all industries. We have everything from opera singers, stress managers, to lawyers, medical professionals, founders and CEOs represented. Many of our mentees come from financially weaker households or from the middle class, but we also have mentees who inherit businesses and still others who have fled to Germany. It’s great to see each of these women get involved. We host 4 events every month, 2 of them online. This is one way that new networking can still occur outside of the 1on1 (reverse) mentoring pairs. Our (fe)mentors are also there for a wide variety of motivations. Some have had mentors in their lives or have been missing a role model/mentor and now want to be that person for someone.
5. At 22 years old, you belong to the innovative and creative Generation Z. What were the first reactions when you entered the entrepreneurial stage (as a young woman)?
I received a warm welcome. A startup at 20 was the best thing that could have happened to me. I advise start-ups and companies on a daily basis. Some of my listeners are 5 to 40 years older than me. With FeMentor, I do reverse mentoring and it’s all about generational exchange. That’s exactly what’s needed these days. Due to the narrowing age pyramid, we are facing a huge problem: the shortage of workers. Companies need to find new ways to inspire the next generation, and to do that, they need to listen to this target group. So far, I have always found open ears and I am happy about how many people I have already been able to help. Of course, your counterpart must be open to this. I’ve sat in meetings often enough in my little pink dress, high heels and my long hair and was initially underestimated. And that is exactly what is dangerous! Most of the time, I left those meeting rooms with a new partnership or a signed contract.
6. In the year of your founding, you won the Berlin Hero Award 2019, followed by the FemTec Award in 2020. In addition, through your mother, who works as a PR consultant, you have had the opportunity to meet famous people. From Selena Gomez and the Queen of Sweden to the sister of the Dalai Lama, there were some incredibly fascinating women here. How have these honors and experiences changed you personally?
I never knew it any other way, since I grew up with it. At the Quadriga award ceremony, for example, I was allowed to present flowers to the Queen of Sweden and asked her for an autograph afterwards. She then told me that she was not a “star” but that she would be happy to send me a letter. A few days later I actually received a letter with a family photo of the royal family (plus dog). So I even had a (brief) pen pal relationship with the Queen (laughs). For me, there was an important meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in 2009, as my father is from the GDR and my mother is from the FRG. Without the fall of the Wall, I wouldn’t even exist and I thanked him. Such moments are formative and were part of my childhood. For me, celebrities were insignificantly different from others. e never had a poster of a celebrity hanging in my childhood bedroom. Of course, this has advantages nowadays, because I meet CEOs and investors without fear. I know: they are only human. Due to the fact that my mom has always taken me, I fully understand when kids want attention at a Zoom call or when a kid is bored at an event. I was once in that position myself.
We women like to be pigeonholed. You counter this by calling yourself a “neo-generalist” in the process. What does that mean exactly?
Oh, I know the drawers too well. At some point I got tired of it and just put the cabinet on the street. Of course, there’s nothing you can do about others forming opinions about you, but when I’m “judged” by someone, for example, I try to engage in conversation.
As Pippi Longstocking said:"Ich habe das noch nie versucht, deshalb denke ich, dass ich das definitiv können sollte.” – Pippi Langstrumpf Click To Tweet
I always believe in others and in myself. Instead of approaching a matter and thinking, “I can’t do that anyway,” I am firmly convinced that I will somehow find a solution. It was the same with my foundation. I founded within 2 weeks and did not give myself time for doubts at all. I can recommend this to anyone/everyone. Still, I’m not just a founder, because I have many interests: From baking or reading trashy novels, to singing, acting and writing. In Germany, you often hear that you’re not doing anything right after all. To this is my answer:
I am a neo-generalist, I can do many things!Anastasia Barner
8. looking at your Instagram feed, it’s not hard to understand in this context that, in addition to your volunteer work and your professional and entrepreneurial career, you were also among the top ten at Miss Germany Berlin. To what extent do professionalism and femininity go together for you?
My Instagram feed actually caused me to not receive certain invitations or offers at the beginning of my startup. For a while, I always thought about it for a long time: Am I allowed to post this now? But for whom femininity and my Instagram presence (<18,7k) seem unprofessional, maybe you have a problem with it yourself. You have to remember in all of this that I belong to a different generation. I share my life on social media as a matter of course, which makes me seem more approachable to many prospective founders than someone who is hardly active on Instagram or only shares professional successes. My Instagram feed as well as my stories are like a public diary and show what I’m doing, where I am, what I’m eating and what I need help with. Through my community, I’ve been able to refer several apartments to friends (in Berlin & Munich), help find stolen goods, or draw attention to issues that are important to me. My participation in the Miss Germany 2020 pageant was therefore a statement for me:„We are pretty, but also pretty strong.“ Click To Tweet
This saying can also be found on the website of FeMentor, because the exterior says nothing about the inner strength, willpower and intelligence.
9 Our magazine is dedicated to the topic of female empowerment. To what extent do you see a need for action here in the context of the entrepreneurial and professional world?
In these areas, as well as politically, some changes need to be made and a rethinking needs to take place. Feminism does not mean us against men. This needs to be ingrained in people’s minds, because female empowerment is not about taking something away from someone, but about ensuring equality in all areas. Together we are stronger, even across age and gender boundaries.
Currently, a lot is moving in the right direction, but very slowly. A new generation of strong, young women is growing up, supported by the more experienced women. The previous generation paved the way for us and through reverse mentoring we can give back.
We look forward to hearing more from you and your company in the future and are spoiling you a bit with our final question: Where will your entrepreneurial/personal life go in the next 5 years?
I am currently among the TOP 10 nominees for the German Startup Awards in the Social Entrepreneur category. Seeing how much FeMentor has grown in these 2.5 years is insane. I could not have imagined this success and I am open to whatever the future holds. At FeMentor, we already host 4 events a month and I’m planning a bigger festival so we can connect even more women. There are definitely still a few items on my bucket list that I hope to replace with new ones in the next 5 years.
Dear Anastasia, thank you so much for your time! I can confirm (as a mentor) that FeMentor is an extremely enriching experience and I am glad that together we could give the FemalExperts community an exciting insight into the founding story, your person and your company.
Thank you very much!
About the author
Kinga Bartczak berät, coacht und schreibt zu Female Empowerment, neuer Arbeitskultur, Organisationsentwicklung systemischen Coaching, und Personal Branding.
Zudem ist sie Geschäftsführerin der UnternehmerRebellen GmbH und Herausgeberin des FemalExperts Magazins.