Connecting, inspiring and empowering women to lead the way

Inga Karten - Political Consultant with a Passion for Diversity

30 Nov 2023 16:03 | Deleted user

Meet WIL Board Member Inga Karten, a Political Consultant with a passion for diversity. In her interview, she shares insights from her role in the political consulting which has taken her all over the world, what lessons women in all sectors can learn from a lobbyist’s skillset, and why gender representation and diversity are so important in politics and consulting.

Interviewed by Claudia Heard

Since 2008, you have been working in various leadership roles at Miller & Meier Consulting and are now a Senior Special Advisor. Could you tell us what a typical day in this role looks like for you?

I've been working as a political consultant for a long time now, and my role has always been to advise companies, sometimes also associations and other organisations on their political strategy. I start with a political analysis, then give advice on how to best represent their political interests, which involves a lot of strategy development – my favourite part of the role. I also do a lot of ad-hoc work, as you have to react to recent changes in legislation or fast-moving political developments. A typical day of mine would be spent in meetings with clients, who I regularly update on changes in the political landscape, and we discuss how to react to them. If a specific response to a development is needed, this requires a lot of co-ordination to put the strategy in motion and involves messaging analysis to ensure our reaction is appropriate and effective.

You currently advise UK and German clients from the transport, energy and recycling industries on political positioning strategies and how they can develop and grow. To focus on one of these sectors, how do you envision the future of sustainable transport in Europe? 

Transport is one of the main industries responsible for CO2 emissions, so there is a lot of potential for change in the sector. Currently, much of my work is focused on electro-mobility charging infrastructure, so I think one way to make modes of transport more sustainable is to switch from combustion engines to electric vehicles, for example. However, we should ask ourselves whether changing the motor of a car is enough, or whether we should be switching to different forms of transportation altogether; be it car sharing, improved public transportation or bikes, especially in big cities.

We should ask ourselves whether changing the motor of a car is enough, or whether we should be switching to different forms of transportation altogether; be it car sharing, improved public transportation or bikes, especially in big cities.

You established Miller & Meier’s presence in the US as the Vice President of Transatlantic Public Affairs between 2013 and 2017, a time of significant shifts in the US political landscape. What was it like to work in this political climate as a public affairs expert?

It was a fascinating time to be a political consultant in Washington, the global capital of lobbyists. I noticed there is a greater emphasis on money, networks and connections, compared to what I was used to in Berlin and in Brussels. Lobbying in the US is much more centred around campaign finances, with a focus on hosting fundraisers and donating to political action committees. You can also see the ‘revolving doors’ mechanism in action, where people switch from the corporate sector to a public role in Congress, the Senate, a Ministry or in administration, much moreso than in Europe. My American colleagues were surprised to find out that in Germany we have a much more old-fashioned way of working, founded simply on arguments rather than connections or finances. Of course, it helps to have a strong network and good contacts, but I believe the most important point to remember as a lobbyist is to know when to speak, with whom, and using the right argument. If your arguments are convincing enough, I find that who you have donated money to or how close you are to your colleagues is not as important.

However, this mindset was not prevalent in the US, particularly in the run-up to the 2016 election. The political climate was extremely divided, with a two-party system, which differs to the German multi-party system of proportional representation, which often results in coalition governments. The way the parties collaborate is completely different, as they are always mindful that they may have to enter a government with another party again, so the ideological differences and attacking tone during election campaigns are not as marked as they are in the US, so it was very insightful for me to work within this different system.

It helps to have a strong network and good contacts, but I believe the most important point to remember as a lobbyist is to know when to speak, with whom, and using the right argument

You were also the German spokesperson for the billion-Euro project of the Fehmarnbelt tunnel between Denmark and Germany. As a professional lobbyist and communicator, what advice do you have for managing high stake negotiations with different stakeholders involved?                                                             

During my involvement in the Fehrmanbelt tunnel project, which is currently being built, I worked for the Danish state-owned company that is responsible for planning, building, financing, maintaining and operating the tunnel. It is a Danish project based on a state treaty between Denmark and Germany. It was a cross-border initiative, but mainly planned in Denmark.

I quickly learnt that there was noticeable cultural differences between the two countries. The Danish working style when it comes to planning is based on open communication at every stage of the project, whereas in Germany, the tendency is to only communicate the final result. In Denmark they were much more open to changing their minds depending on what the best solution for the project was and clearly communicating any changes. This was difficult for the German side to understand as they usually only publish something when it is 100% certain, especially when the authorities are involved, as they think that if you openly choose an alternative option, it will publicly seem that a mistake was made and that the project is not under control.

Public perceptions differed too – whereas in Denmark, the public seemed to trust that the process would be communicated and improved over time, perceiving changes of opinion as a sign of flexibility, this was not the case in Germany. When it comes to high-stakes projects such as this, I would always recommend getting as many people on board and informed as early as possible, keep open lines of discussion and never tire of re-explaining the process to them if necessary. Listen to the concerns of different stakeholders and try to take them seriously, addressing these within the strategy and design of a project as far as possible.

You are a WIL Board Member, a Mentor at MentorMe, a mentoring platform for women, and also the founder of de’ge’pol W, a platform to promote the participation and representation of women in political consulting. How do you think having role models, networks and mentors can help women, particularly in the political sector?

I think for women it is incredibly important to have to have role models. There's this famous saying; ‘If you can see it, you can be it,’ and with my children, I now see how important this is when it comes to gender diversity and other forms of representation in books and toys, for example. Role models are also particularly impactful in the field of politics. I recently came across a fascinating study, in which a group of women who were participating in a speaking contest were split into two groups, with half of them asked to look at a picture of Bill Clinton before their speech, while the other half were shown a picture of Hillary Clinton. In the end, the women who had seen the picture of Hillary, a female role model, performed significantly better than those who had seen a male politician’s picture. This goes to show the tangible positive impact even the sight of a role model can have on women and young girls as they progress through their career. Networks like WIL, and sector-specific ones such as de’ge’pol’W, a network I co-founded in Germany for women in political consulting, are crucial, because they give you a safe space, expertise, a visibility platform, and they help you find a group of women that will support you throughout your career.

I also believe in the value of mentors sharing their expertise and knowledge, but especially when it comes to finding people who can guide you in your own sector, I think it is so important to have sponsors. This goes somewhat beyond the role of a mentor, because as well as giving advice and supporting you in the background, a sponsor actively speaks out for you and promotes you to others. I think a lot of women, despite having mentors, are lacking this figure in their career who could really help them become more visible in their field.

With your lobbying expertise, do you have any advice for women on how to advocate for themselves in their careers, and are there any skills from your job that you think other women could learn from?

As a lobbyist, there are always specific questions I ask myself when approaching a strategical situation. I always begin by analysing the status quo, asking: How much money is there? How much project support and resources are available? Who is competing for these for these resources, who are the stakeholders? Who has similar interests to me and desired outcomes, and whose are opposed to mine? Who makes the final decision, and when?

Although in political terms this is called a policy audit or stakeholder analysis, these same questions can be used by women in a variety of different contexts to help them in their careers. Based on your answers to these questions, you can come up with a strategy on how to get what you want, based on building alliances with people, and considering the arguments you need to get them on board. You also need to consider who is going to support you, and who is going to oppose you, and how you could convince them to actively support you, or at least to not oppose you publicly. I would strategically choose alliances that perhaps have a closer connection to your opponents than you do and think about when the right tile is to address them. These are all techniques and questions used by lobbyists, which are at their core just a strategic process that can be used in many different situations and sectors.

Now based in London, what are the differences you see in the style of working compared to Germany and the US? Are there any lessons you have learnt from this experience?

In the UK as a German, I find it much harder to read between the lines as the British communication style seems much less direct. Especially in the beginning, I found it hard to gage what I could take seriously, especially after working in America where I found that people are very enthusiastic but don’t always maintain their commitment. British people are generally not as enthusiastic, but they are extremely polite, and will avoid directly criticising your ideas even if they don’t approve of it internally. However, I have started to tell my British colleagues to be very blunt with me, in the hopes that my German directness does not come across as rudeness!

This year you have returned to academia, completing courses in Business Sustainability Management and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategies for Business at the University of Cambridge. What were the challenges of this experience and what did you learn from it?

One of the biggest challenges of going back to University was having to reference scientific studies and literature to justify my points, rather than giving advice based on my personal experience, which is what I have become accustomed to as a consultant. I chose to study these two topics because I believe they represent the most important challenges facing my industry. Sustainability is at the centre of intention for a lot companies, for good reason, so it is expected that people working in politics have the necessary knowledge. I’m also very passionate about the social aspect of sustainability, which links directly to diversity and inclusion. It’s very important to me that everyone gets an equal chance to have the career they want and feel they can contribute, not only because it is morally the right thing but because it has been proven that diverse teams have a better business output ,as you don’t keep repeating the same opinions put forward by the same people, who may be biased or mistaken without anyone to correct them. It is particularly important to have a diversity of standpoints in the political consulting field because of the impact of policy and business on the wider population and marginalised groups within them, who may otherwise get left behind. 

It’s very important to me that everyone gets an equal chance to have the career they want and feel they can contribute, not only because it is morally the right thing but because it has been proven that diverse teams have a better business output

© European Network for Women in Leadership 2021 

Registered Training Provider: number 11756252375

21 bis rue du Simplon, 75018, Paris

contact@wileurope.org | +33 970 403 310 

Privacy Policy

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software