Alexandra Braendli is a woman who challenges and questions the boundaries of normality, not easy in our social climate but she accomplishes this with passion and finesse. Her experience has led her to become an advocate for more diverse leadership teams, including more women, and the benefits motherhood can bring to a leadership role. She is a shining example of this, having been promoted three times since starting a family.
With 15 years of experience in communications, marketing and sales, today, she holds the role of Director Communications & Marketing Europe at the Property, Casualty and Specialty risk division of a global insurance company. She is also a member of the board of her family’s 125 year-old chocolate business.
Alexandra is married to Richie, a part-time freelance video editor, who manages their household and is the primary caregiver to their three boys. Alexandra has a Masters degree in Science of Media and Communication, Business Administration and Business History from the University of Zurich. Her passion is Flamenco dancing. She is fluent in German, English and Spanish.
Inspiration through diversity
What was the journey like to get where you are today?
Full of privileges but also containing enough manageable challenges for me to constantly grow.
While I had a beautiful childhood, I also learnt early on that working hard and doing a great job doesn’t automatically mean that you have a salary at the end of the month. I started earning my own money as soon as the law allowed. Soon after that, I also moved away from home to learn other languages.
I got married in 2014, a few months later I became pregnant. While I had felt that women face different challenges and expectations than men before, it was only when I was expecting a child that I truly realised the differences. Many people expected me to either stop working or reduce my hours. They couldn’t understand my decision to continue work full-time. While I believe parents equally share the responsibility to care for their children, it’s still mainly seen as a mother’s job in Switzerland. It should not matter how a family decides to make a living.
Any model should be equally accepted and supported by society and companies. If that was the case it would be for the benefit of all.
As I was pregnant, I started to look for female colleagues and managers who had gone back to work full-time after maternity leave. I wanted to get inspired and have role-models. But, I couldn’t find anyone in our Zurich office back then. I had to go to New York, London, Paris, Milan or Madrid to find them. I’m so glad that things are changing. You can only be what you can see.
Countless scientific studies prove that diverse teams perform better. I’m convinced that the power to inspire more people is one of many positive effects of diverse teams, especially leadership teams. The more people a company inspires, the bigger its talent pool.
What do you feel has been the most important part of this journey so far?
Having a strong and supportive partner. Richie is the most important person in my life. Our relationship is the source of everything, both privately as well as professionally.
The Challenge of Motherhood
What has been the greatest revelation behind achieving success as a woman in a global corporate environment?
My experiences confirm a phenomenon called motherhood penalty which says that mothers suffer a penalty relative to non-mothers and men in the form of
- lower perceived competence and commitment,
- higher professional expectations,
- lower likelihood of hiring and promotion,
- and lower recommended salaries.
I often observe that women fall off the radar, feel patronised or less appreciated by their managers after announcing their pregnancy – or even as soon as they get engaged. The value of their knowledge, experience and network, and the potential costs of losing them become secondary to short-term and normative thinking, personal assumptions and values, and a bias towards mothers. This not only is unfair, it’s also not wise from a business perspective. Companies can’t afford to lose these women and it’s in their interest to find ways to enable both women and men to have a caring role while advancing in their career.
In fact, I believe parenthood can benefit your career. As for myself, I’m more pragmatic, focused and productive since I’m a mother. I’m definitely also more patient and resilient. Becoming a parent takes you through a leadership fast-track course. There are many parallels between leading people at work and raising kids at home, for example the need for empathy and clarity.
Leadership in a nutshell
How did these experiences mould and shape you into the leader you are today?
I like to see myself as an open-minded, caring leader with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Entrepreneurship for me means taking full accountability, thinking long-term and not feeling precious about the type of task that needs to be done. For example, a good leader in my view doesn’t walk past a piece of litter lying on the floor without picking it up.
Caring because I see the essence of our life in the people we spend it with. It’s the quality of our relationships that make us happy. And we are so much stronger together.
Open-minded because anything else wouldn’t be fair nor clever. Rejecting the status quo, questioning the norm and getting rid of old patterns are important leadership skills. If we look at things differently, we will grow personally, progress faster and be more creative.
What does success mean to you and what has been the best advice you have ever received?
To love the person you are, be satisfied with what you do with your life and, if possible, make a difference to others. All that while being grateful for being in a position to own your life. It’s a privilege that not everybody has.
As for the best bit of advice, I would have to say, it was to always listen to my intuition.