Erzsébet Fanni Tóth - Interview
“My whole life, I have always found myself in roles connecting and coordinating people: my job at the university is similar, but also in the scientific community I’ve always moved at borderlands” – states Tóth Erzsébet Fanni, psychologist, university scholar and mother of 2, who has recently officially given space to female energy by establishing Femspace.
(Interviewer: Bódi Zsuzsanna, Picture credit: Varga Nóra, Translator: Macskási-Temesváry Rita)
It was in February 2017, when participants of the first event got together in a symbolic large circle. Since then, several more activities followed, your calendar is basically full until next year, something has started. Did you know that this would happen?
Everything started with one question, which I asked on Facebook. The resonance was immense, likes were coming in every minute. One could feel the huge need for such a club. The Viennese Loffice also followed the post, they saw the potential in it and gave room to our first three events among their 4 walls.
This question of course had a serious background. Despite the fact that I have chosen an academic career track, I was always interested in entrepreneurship. For instance, I participated in the “Women and Entrepreneurship Forum” program at the American embassy, where a PR expert has mentored me for one year. I have learned a lot from her and the various workshops and lectures, which focused on the local startup culture. This was 3.5 years ago, when I was expecting my first daughter.
How many young mothers probably talk about business topics at the playground …
I think quite many, as I have met several Viennese mothers who were thinking about starting their own business or have already acted on it. However, what was missing was a platform, where they could exchange their experiences and help each other. This is how Femspace was founded.
This is something also men would be interested in, why is it that the meetings aim only at women?
Why solely women? Yes, this is a question my husband has asked me already 😄. The main reason why I have registered the group to the Lean In Circle – which only addresses women – was that it is a well-established and internationally-known and respected organization.
Moreover, I strongly believe in female communication. We, foreign women living in Vienna, are in the same shoes in many areas. We all have left behind a familiar, well-known cultural community and were thrown into a new environment lacking extended family, social network and the security of speaking the local language. Many women have become mothers in Vienna, this is also something that connects us. I don’t preclude men from joining our network in future, as for one there will be for sure male lecturers. However, the presence of men really changes the dynamic of the group. I think it would be great to have events that are open to everyone, but I believe that if we really want to help each other and to establish a strong network, it is better to start with women.
At the latest networking brunch, it was one of the tasks to find characteristics which describe all of us. Which trait would you say is common in all Femspace members?
Pathfinders. Mostly leaving successful careers behind in order to redefine ourselves in another country. Everyone wants to get onto a higher level, to leave her comfort zone and for this she is looking for new opportunities and professional connections.
Further, it is our common understanding that besides motherhood there is definitely space for professional development in a woman’s life. We are different, and this is all right. But at Femspace, a woman’s wish for having a career is not seen as a stigma, much more they are searching for the best work-family-life balance.
Femspace had a phenomenal start, what are your long-term goals?
We want to further build up smaller sub-groups that work closely together within Femspace, such as our blog team. We are also going to elaborate the mentor program thoroughly, with which we aim at establishing long-term cooperation between mentor and mentee. We are searching for big names for mentors, who have already excelled in their respective fields and with whom it will be very inspiring to work with. Finally, we all will be able to hear about these mentorship lessons learnt via our blog.
Moreover, we have already finished the technical background of the database, in which members can introduce themselves and cooperate with each other respectively. We will pick up the questions asked on this platform when organizing future workshops.
Further, I am searching for well-known lecturers, as one can only learn from them properly, and not by all means in Hungarian language. This is how one can advance professionally. We don’t have to blend in, but we must play by local rules if we want to get to the next level.