As one of the first females to lead a branch and to join the management team in Germany, Cordula Jourdan is somewhat of a pioneer and role model for other women.
The first thing that strikes you when speaking with Cordula, recently appointed as Head Global Field Quality & Excellence, is her modesty.
"I’m not just in this position, in Schindler, because of my own performance," she says. "I am also where I am today as a result of having great teams working with me. I was and I am surrounded by great men and women in my roles."
Cordula has been with Schindler for 35 years. After her apprenticeship, she started out in Controlling at Schindler Germany and went on to hold several positions within the company.
At just 32 years old, and as one of only two women appointed as branch manager for one of the 40 German branches, Cordula took over her first leadership role. It was at this point, as a female in a leadership role, when she thought she had to put on another act.
"I tried to be just like a man," she says.
"I dressed like the men around me who wore jackets and trousers; I tried to speak out louder in meetings than I felt comfortable with, to be more visible and to compete. This was especially challenging being both: female and an introvert. I distanced myself from others and made only rational decisions, instead of listening as well to my intuition. It took so much energy to be someone else, I could not distinguish between my work and private lives. Even my family and friends really struggled with who I had become."
The turning point for Cordula was when a union representative of her branch told her she wasn’t recognizable. "He told me: ‘We don’t know you and we can’t follow you, you’re not a real person’."
Cordula took this to heart. "I had tried so hard to be a good leader," she says. "But all I had been was a copy of someone else. I wasn’t me. So, I decided to work on me and change back to myself. Thankfully it worked out. And as a result, it led to a better mood and spirit in the team and ended up in positive results. Since then, I have, and I am constantly developing myself."
After three successful years as a branch manager, Cordula moved into strategic roles until 2016, when she was promoted to the management board in Schindler Germany as Head of FQE – the first woman in Germany in this technical management position – even though she is not an engineer.
Thankfully, in 2022, women do face fewer barriers in their careers - although bias still exists. At a time when people are encouraged to #breakthebias in celebration of International Women’s Day, what advice does Cordula have for others to manage a successful career?
"Find out who you are, what you stand for, and what you want from life," she says. "Then be authentic and go your own way. It won’t always be easy because sometimes it seems to be easier to adapt than to be your true self. And as a leader it’s important to be an authentic role model. Last advice - be brave and don’t be afraid of an uneven career path by stepping back or sideways if it makes you happy and fits to your life."
As a role model herself, who have been Cordula’s role models?
"Three people on my way have really encouraged and supported me. Two were early in my career, who trusted in me. The first was leading the apprenticeship program and he gave me a chance, when everyone else was telling me I would fail. And the second was a sales engineer, who supported me in my plan to change from controlling to modernization sales as a sales representative. He openly shared all his knowledge and trained me in elevator technology. The third was my last boss, Meinolf Pohle, who brought me to the German management board. He allowed me time to develop into the role and supported me when I needed it."
Still, it’s not easy to attract women into the technology side of the business. Cordula has some practical advice for those looking to take the leap.
"Don’t be afraid of taking over a job at the technology side of our business. Often, it’s not so much about the technical knowledge than it is about how to deal with people," she says. "Support networks are important – There are so many great people in this company you can ask about our technology – but it is on you to ask. It’s important to invest time in building your network, for example to share a pizza and a beer with colleagues. Men are much better than women at doing this in my view. But most important in every position is to be authentic, to set and follow the right values, share knowledge and empower others."
What about Cordula out of work?
"I love to listen to music, mainly rock music. I have lots of open concert tickets from the last two years I am looking forward to all of them! I also like being outdoors, at the seaside or cycling and hiking. When I’m feeling creative, I like to sew. And, of course most important, spending time with my family. There is so much life is offering you."
And she concludes: "You only have one life so take care of yourself, stay healthy and work safe and make the most of it, whatever it means for you. And if you are passionate in what you do – things will work out and you will be successful."