Katja Müller is Chief Customer Officer at Universal Investment. We talk to her about how companies can promote women and why diversity is important for companies.
Ms. Müller, you are Chief Customer Officer at Universal Investment. What is your area of responsibility?
As Chief Customer Officer, I am responsible for overall customer care and new customer acquisition, as well as for marketing and external communications and fund sales for selected funds. The focus is always on customer satisfaction.
What do you find particularly challenging about this?
It is my job, together with my team, to convince our customers of our great product offering as a fund service platform and to ensure that our existing customers - we have over 500 - are happy. In doing so, we are faced with the challenge of combining dynamic growth with the further expansion of our teams. Only when we do well do our customers recommend us to others - the most honest and effective way of advertising. Our customer satisfaction surveys show that they obviously do, as does our strong growth.
Universal Investment recently became a sponsoring member of Fund Women. Why are you committed to the topic of diversity?
Diversity is an important success factor and is much more than just equal opportunities between men and women. We are growing dynamically and that is how we want to develop. Our goal is to become the leading European fund service platform for all asset classes. To achieve this, we need all talents, managers, employees who convince through their ideas, performance and commitment. Diverse teams are good and work because different perspectives and approaches are a real enrichment. After all, our customers also have very different backgrounds. That's why internationality is important to us, for example. International teams provide good input so that we can gradually improve.
How do you promote women in your company?
We have special programs, for example our Talent Program. This program provides targeted support for talented individuals, whether they want to take on management responsibility in the future or be equipped with project management expertise for a specialist career. In this program, we make sure that the best people get a chance, so the teams are diverse. With our career starters, we also make sure that we hire diverse talent. In my area, we now have 110 employees; 40 percent of them are women. I find that enriching, but to be honest, I've never specifically looked to hire many women; we've simply taken the best.
What else do you do?
After all, there is the observation that people like to hire characters similar to themselves. To create awareness of this, you need an open culture, and we are working on this continuously.
How does Universal Investment make working conditions suitable for parents?
During the Corona period, of course, we almost all worked from the home office, and a lot of that has worked out well. That's why, in the future, employees will be able to say whether they prefer to come into the office or work at home; we're really flexible about that. We also offer all forms of part-time work - for both women and men - and support parental leave. We don't have a company kindergarten. That wouldn't make much sense because many of our employees live outside Frankfurt and prefer to keep their children locally. But we do provide subsidies for childcare and work together with PME Familienservice. This not only supports working people in this, but also in organizing care for sick relatives, for example.
You have important locations in Luxembourg, Ireland and Krakow. Can you say that women are positioned differently there than at the German site?
At the sites in Luxembourg and Krakow, the Country Heads are women, and both are also mothers. Both female colleagues are CEOs with extensive country responsibilities. In Luxembourg, the composition of the workforce is roughly the same as in Germany. At our site in Poland, as much as 60 percent of the workforce is female.
You were born and raised in East Germany. Does that make a difference?
Probably yes. In East Germany, it was quite normal for both parents to work; my mother also worked as a matter of course. I don't think I have any barriers in my mind as a result of this upbringing. For me, it's normal for women to work and have a career if that's what they want. This also requires systematic support for parents.
What enabled you to have a career, other than seeing it as normal?
Good supervisors: During my time at Deutsche Bank, I had three bosses in a row who always challenged and supported me.
Why do you think your bosses motivated you of all people?
I was willing to perform and eager to learn. If you have these two qualities, you need a good boss who sees to it that talented employees are also promoted. And it takes courage: If you're offered a good position, you have to take it. When I got my first management position, I had a lot of respect. But I gave it a try anyway. My boss at the time said "I'll support you". And it worked out.
You have to be willing to perform and willing to learn not only in an employee relationship, but also as a self-employed person. I have noticed, for example, that there are great women among the fund initiators on our platform, but they are still clearly in the minority. That's why I would very much like to see more talented women take the leap into self-employment. We are happy to provide support.
What is the crux of the matter, then, that there are so few women in many companies?
I think for many women it's primarily the inadequate childcare and the overall package in terms of care work. A lot has happened there, but it's still not enough. As a manager, I try to promote an open, flexible culture. I try to be prepared for my employees to have to leave early to pick up their children, for example. Taking care of children or relatives in need of care comes first, but of course work also has to get done. Flexible cooperation and open communication on both sides are essential.
Do you have any advice for women who want to pursue a career in the fund industry?
Many women are highly qualified and should therefore have fewer doubts about themselves overall and take action when a good opportunity arises. Of course, there are also men who hesitate when an opportunity arises. Women as well as men have to trust in themselves and just say "yes"; and then of course show what they've got!
Thank you very much for this insightful interview!