Every year on March 8th people around the world celebrate International Women’s Day. That’s why we took the occasion to celebrate our female leaders internally. We asked Julie Hansen, CEO US and CRO at Babbel, to share her experiences, role models and advice for future female leaders with us. Enjoy the interview and happy International Women’s Day!
My first two bosses were awesome female leaders, Leigh Butler Brown and Sally Kowalchick. I learned so much from them. Leigh taught me hard skills like negotiation skills, process and discipline. Sally taught me what relentless devotion to quality looks like.Those are lessons you take with you through your entire career. I didn't understand it then, but back in the late 80s, I was very lucky to have two great female bosses so early in my career.
Hi Julie, thank you so much for joining us today. Many aspire to be in a leading position at a young age. For others, it doesn’t even cross their minds, as they have no comparable role models to look up to. What about you and who were your female role models?
In terms of role models that I look to without knowing personally, I have huge respect for what Sheryl Sandberg did for Facebook. It’s a juggernaut because of her leadership. But frankly, I think she probably had a bigger impact on strategy than we even know. And I realize Facebook is not without its controversy, but you can't argue that it's had an incredible ride and probably still has a lot of growth ahead of it. A lot of that I credit to Sheryl. So that's one. If you want one closer to home, I think Angela Merkel is pretty amazing.
Many women experience exclusion at the workplace because of their gender. Which advice would you give career-driven women in order to overcome discrimination?First, I think you have to classify the situation. Is this a minor issue that you can work through? For example, in business school we all received fleece sweatshirts in Mens sizes. My sweatshirt was not very flattering on me. I consider this a “so what” situation. My view is don’t sweat the small stuff — demonstrate success so that more women follow and soon there will be sweatshirts in more sizes. And, you know, even I would argue micro-aggressions, you treat the same way. You should definitely address them, and I understand they do accumulate, but you just work through them.
Then there's the notion that there are serious issues. Are you being paid less than your male counterparts? Are given worse assignments than male peers? Are you being harassed or insulted? All of those require action immediately. If so, this requires action — confront, report to HR. Worst case, go find another company where women are appreciated.
So that's my suggestion. Don't sweat the small stuff. You know, address it, confront it, of course, but play through. The big stuff, don't hesitate. You've got to deal with that. And quickly.
It’s been quite a year for you: Your teams, such as the B2B team, are among the best performing ones in the company. Babbel had one of the most successful years in the company’s history, and recently it was announced that you’re not only CEO US but also the new CRO at Babbel. What can we expect next?We have so much revenue growth ahead of us! And I'm really excited and humbled by this new role and want to do everything in my powers to accelerate revenue growth for Babbel. It's amazing to tell people: we're actually still a young company, we're only 14 years old. People are shocked to hear that the brand has taken on so much significance in that short amount of time. But there's a lot of growth ahead of us and new products that we're launching. I mean, our Babbel Live launch is really exciting to me, a huge opportunity.
In a way Covid accelerated digital opportunities, because now it all seems perfectly normal for us to interact over a Zoom window. A year ago, you would probably not have taken your language classes that way. And I believe and I've found in my career that basically, if you bring in the revenue, opportunities will arise. So that's what I'm focused on, bringing the revenue.
Babbel is, of course, all about language learning. Which languages do you speak and do you think of languages as important leadership skills?I speak really good English! Seriously, I was an English major and love the nuances of this messy, robust language. Beyond that, I speak rusty French and understand some German if you speak very slowly.
I think being able to communicate well is a critical leadership skill. Communication is one of the key things that we need our leaders to do. And I'm always reminded, as a leader, the point at which you're communicating effectively, is the point at which you're sick of saying it. Then your message is starting to get through. So you really have to push yourself to be consistent and make your messaging crystal clear.
Thank you very much for these insights and happy International Women's Day!