This International Women’s Day (8 March), we invited Stephanie Silber (Managing Director at Otto Stadtlander GMBH) to provide us with an interview on her experience in the cotton industry:
When did you join the cotton industry?
I started my career in the cotton industry in 1999 when I joined Otto Stadtlander GmbH for a trainee program. It was exciting for me to start off in a such a complex industry, being in contact with completely new cultures, confronted with unknown languages and working in such a competitive environment.
What do you like the most about the cotton industry?
Diversity: there are stakeholders all around the globe. For instance farmers in Africa, ginners in Greece, spinning mills in India, weaving mills in China, garmenting in Bangladesh or retailers from the Europe. It is the daily diversity that enriches this working environment and emphasizes the importance of what we do, cotton connects the world.
What are the biggest challenges you have had to face?
Challenges encounter all of us in our everyday life irrespective of age, position or gender. But facing these challenges, tackling and working on them drives us all forward. My current challenge is to ensure, along with the Bremen Cotton Exchange team a smooth Bremen International Cotton Conference and to prepare an interesting but short opening speech.
What is it like being a woman in the cotton industry?
Within Otto Stadtlander GmbH we have a gender balanced team and fill vacancies according to competence. Apart from myself being managing director, we have a female head of quality, finance and several traders. Outside of our company and country though, the situation of women in the cotton industry is different. Women still suffer from social and economical disadvantages and are stripped of their elemental rights in several countries.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for women in the industry?
Despite good steps into a right direction, women are still missing adequate role models in the industry, hence I appreciate and support the ICA Women in Cotton initiative. It elucidates the discrepancies and changes the atmosphere. Yet we all should widen our horizon and focus on urging gender problems in all stages along the supply chain.
Have you experienced many changes in the industry which have affected you as a woman?
There have definitely been changes in the industry since I have changed. While the change in conference programs from “ladies-program” to “spouse-program” is only minor, the perception of women in cotton trading has changed fundamentally. Even though we are a minority in this sector, we are being taken equally serious as our male counterparts. For the future I would like to see and encourage more women joining cotton trade to create a gender balance, from my experience a combination and cooperation of male and female competences create a competitive trading environment.
What has been your greatest success in your career to-date?
Since 2012 I am managing director of Otto Stadtlander GmbH and since June 2020 President of the Bremen Cotton Exchange. In both positions I am the first woman to hold this position, something I am particularly proud of and which presages a change in the industry.
What is your message to other women in the industry?
Trust yourself and keep on fighting – for you and and for other women in the cotton industry.