The ability to embrace diversity and adapt to different cultures can open up new worlds of opportunity. For Austrian entrepreneur Sabine Pöhacker, this passion to connect with people – together with experiences of intercultural dialogue – led her to establish a communications agency that is still going strong after 20 years. Today, the company employs 8 members of staff and works with international businesses, as well as clients from the public and NGO sectors.
“My whole life has been about communication,” says Sabine. “I was a ballet dancer at the age of 4; I studied languages; and I became a communications professional. Whether through body, language or tools, I’ve always been a communicator.”
Sabine was born in Vienna but travelled a great deal as a child. While this could be challenging at times, she believes that early exposure to different cultures instilled in her an understanding of diversity and the need to adapt. “I think this sort of thing makes you strong,” she says. It also played a part in her decision to study languages at university in Munich, Germany, after which she trained as a professional interpreter.
This training, in turn, helped Sabine make a move into a new field. “I was working in an Austrian cultural institute in Paris where there were lots of interesting things to do,” she says. “By chance, a lady from the Austrian embassy notified me that they needed an interpreter for Care International, one of the biggest development agencies in the world. This eventually led to an opportunity to return to Vienna to build up Care Austria.”
Diving into challenges
For Sabine, this opportunity was the definition of jumping in the deep end. As a young interpreter she had little in the way of practical experience to fall back on, but crucially, she had the confidence to go for it. “I was convinced I could do this and convinced about the cause I was working for,” she says. The experience involved building up staff from scratch, organising major international events and managing budgets. “I learned that if you are confident, you can do it,” she says.
Sabine next spent a couple of years in Japan as a journalist, feeling sure that on her return to Austria she would land a PR job with a major firm, given by now the breadth and depth of her experience. However, she was taken aback by the negative reaction from many companies, which felt that she had been away from the Austrian PR scene for too long.
“My reaction to this was to say ok, I’ll set up my own PR agency,” she says. “It was very hard at the beginning, but slowly we got our first client, then our second, and then our third. Some 20 years later I’m still very happy and have a beautiful team of people working with me.”
Building confidence and resilience
Sabine believes that a lack of confidence continues to hold many young female entrepreneurs back. “Women still earn 30 % less than men,” she says. “I see young men coming in for interviews, and they tend to be much more confident than young women. I think the role of women my age is to break the glass ceiling and show these women that they are every bit as good as men. I also think women need to help each other. All this is changing, but not fast enough.”