Larissa Leienbach, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager, Uniper

Read the full interview here

  • Larissa Leienbach

    Q. Tell us about your early years.

    A. I grew up in a small town in the middle of Germany, and had quite a protected childhood. My sister and I would usually spend our time outside, when we weren’t in school, playing with friends.

    My parents were an important early influence. They really showed me how important it is to think about others, to care about others, to support others. They also taught me to take responsibility for myself, have high expectations, and try to apply that in a good way.

  • Larissa Leienbach

    Q. What have been the most important leadership lessons you’ve learned?

    A. Realizing that every person has emotional baggage that they carry with them. Every one of us has that, and it shapes us, it influences our behaviors and our thought patterns. A lot of that happens unconsciously. We will react in certain situations in a more extreme way than we consciously would want to.

    Understanding that about yourself and how you can cope with that in a better way is the first thing. But then you also have to apply that to others and be more empathic about other people’s reactions. Instead of judging, pause and try to understand why they might behave a certain way.

    Closely linked to that is that there is always something I can learn — about myself, different perspectives from others, and how I can communicate more effectively. It is important to always keep connecting with all kinds of colleagues, and don’t be too proud to not take advice from people who might not be on your level. So be humble about what you know and what you can do, and always keep learning.

    I think the third one would be to show vulnerability. It is important to be vulnerable and to be able to admit mistakes. Then, try to move on from that, and not expect from yourself or from others to be perfect all the time.

  • Larissa Leienbach

    Q. What do you think is the hardest part of leadership?

    A. It’s the feeling that everything is on your shoulders, especially with all the uncertainty and rapid changes in the world today. In the end, it all somehow lands on your desk. So you have to find a way to deal with so much responsibility without being fully consumed by it. You want to live up to your role but also try to accept when it is too much.

  • Larissa Leienbach

    Q. What are important insights you’ve learned in your overseeing diversity, equity and inclusion?

    A. The longer I work in this area and the more I learn, the more I see areas for improvement, and structural discrimination and disadvantages for certain groups. This can be discouraging and frustrating, but it is also important to keep in mind what has changed in a positive way.

    I’m also learning more about myself. I still have prejudices and biases to unlearn. Facing your own privilege is something that can feel unpleasant but definitely was one of the major things that I have learned while being in the job.

  • Larissa Leienbach

    Q. What mentoring advice do you share with other women?

    A. Start before you are ready. Some people feel like they have to know everything before they start either a new project or a new role, especially if it is a promotion. You can start before you are ready because, honestly, you will never feel ready.

    There will always be this part in you that wants you to stay in your comfort zone. So it will always feel uncomfortable and uncertain, but that is normal and that is okay. Getting over that hump will make you grow and will enable you to take the next steps.

    At the same, I want to underline that not everything is up to you. Structural bias and barriers can prevent you from making certain career moves and then it is the system that needs to change, not you.