As part of our ‘Female Leaders: Inspiring Together’ series, we interviewed Karine Strabach – European Sales and Marketing Manager for Dakewe – about her career journey and why we need more role models for young women to be inspired by.


Thank you for joining us and taking part in this campaign. Please could you tell us a little bit about your current role?

I am the European Sales and Marketing Manager for a company called Dakewe, which is a Chinese group specialised in anatomical pathology fields. I’m responsible for sales and marketing across Europe across 28 countries. I’m responsible for the network, for the application training and building training. My role involves a lot of organising. It is a challenging role because of the distance, the cultural differences and also because the products are really innovative, but that’s what makes my job exciting and enjoyable.


What inspired you to start your career in this industry?

I was a sales rep in retail to begin with, so I used to work for a big food company that is now called Savencia and then I had my children. In 2008 I joined Thermo Fisher Scientific, and it was really the beginning of something incredible for me because I felt at the right place, in the right job and I also had a fantastic supervisor, Helene Marzocco. She was really, really good with me, she let me take initiative and she let me do a lot. Then I decided I missed the field and I wanted to go back, so I joined a German company called BRAND GMBH + CO KG, and I stayed there for two years. During this time, certain things happened in my personal life and I questioned who I was and what I wanted to do. I worked with a coach and had an intense reflection about what I wanted to do. I then took the time to do Erasmus training in Germany. I had an interview with another company and I discovered I really liked the anatomical pathology field. I didn’t get the job, but I did get a job at Leica Biosystems, which is a big company with really good products. I then had the opportunity to start with Dakewe a bit more than 4 years ago. It is never too late to become a first time manager, even at 48! I am a late bloomer. Thanks to our products performance, I have since recruited 2 Sales Managers for Eastern and South Europe. 2024 will be full of surprises!


What is the biggest challenge that you faced and how did you overcome that?

“When you’re young, there is a lot of social pressure to have kids and to live your life a certain way as a woman.”

Depending on your age, there are different challenges. So when you’re young, there is a lot of social pressure to have kids and to live your life a certain way as a woman. I have two kids and there is pressure that comes with that too. When you decide to break this cliché, you start having problems and that’s when you have to just follow your dream, to follow your instincts. Before this interview, I thought a lot about what my motivation was and I realised no, this is really something that comes from your gut. I felt I had to be really strong in order for me not to be influenced by others. When I say others, I mean some of my family and friends for instance, they still don’t understand what I’m doing. I do have some friends who do the same job as me and they encourage me.


Have you ever suffered from self-doubt and if so, how did you manage that?

Of course, there was this social pressure and it is really important that you free yourself. Nobody can free yourself except you. If you believe in yourself and you are surrounded by people who lift you up, that helps you. You also have to recognise when you don’t know how to do something and go out of your comfort zone. This is important and it is not something that we learn at school. We learn to stay where we are with our knowledge and to stay calm, not to take any risks, and it is hard not to behave like that. A lot of my friends, I think they thought ‘yeah, don’t do that because you don’t know what’s going to happen.’ They are afraid of what they don’t know. But when I started at Dakewe, I felt I was at the right place at the right moment. You really have to trust your guts.


You mentioned you have two kids, how did you manage work-life balance?

It’s always challenging. I was young when I had my children and they are now 19 and 17. So whilst they will always be my little boys, they don’t need me that much anymore. I think the secret of having a career and a family is to have military organisation. Also having help from your parents can help a lot, but in my situation my parents lived quite far away. If you have a partner, you also need support from them too. But when your children are really young, I think you have to have military organisation if you want to have a career as well. Sometimes my children call me General!


What advice would you give to women looking to get into senior-level positions?

I always say to my children that you cannot do something unless you want to do it. So, the first thing is to decide the direction you want your career to go in. Nobody can decide for you, you have to be the one deciding for yourself. The second thing I think is to be surrounded by people you aspire to be like. So, for instance Carole Dupont is a role model for me. She’s glowing as a sales manager and she’s the one who gave me direction and she gave me a lot of advice to also trust myself. This brings me on to the third point which is to trust yourself and give yourself all the energy you need to allow yourself to progress and to be who you want to be.

” I think that if we gave more time to celebrating people like Marie Curie and current leaders in the industry, maybe there would be a role model for young women who want to go into this profession to see themselves in.”

Looking at society in general, as a girl or a young woman you see celebrities everywhere like Kim Kardashian and we need more role models where women can see themselves as a leader or as a manager in science-related industries. I have nothing against Kim Kardashian, but I think that if we gave more time to celebrating people like Marie Curie and current leaders in the industry, maybe there would be a role model for young women who want to go into this profession to see themselves in.


Do you feel the best way to encourage more women into our industry is to have more role models from this field?

Exactly. I mean, I found Carole and I contacted her to talk with her. She was a mentor for me, and I felt like if she could do it, maybe I could do it too.


What do you think the challenges are still for women looking to be promoted into senior-level roles?

I think we are promoting people that look like us, which can be a problem. I think my current boss from Dakewe and I found some common points really quickly. We knew that we were going to work because we found some common ground, but this was not based on looking the same or being the same gender or race. I also think in general, women are not networking as much as we should, and this is a problem. I think we tend to rely only our competence, and this won’t get us the roles we want every time. To be promoted and progress you have to show that you belong in this group. If you want to be a manager, you have to behave like a manager. If you want to be a CEO, you have to behave like a CEO.

As women we have to find a way to get up there and then once we are there, we can change things for others. So this is what I’m doing by mentoring other women and giving them advice. Of course, I won’t change the world, but from my perspective, if I feel that somebody is inspired by my story and I can share with them some advice, that’s progress. I help others to understand how LinkedIn works and help them with their CV to help them progress. This is really something that I try to do now.


What advice would you give to young women?

I didn’t have the chance to have a girl, but if I did have a girl, I think I would teach her to be proud to be a woman and also that we can do a lot and we don’t have to stay behind. It is hard to not comply with what society thinks you should do as a woman. You have to be really strong. But in the end, you find yourself. For all of us, it is our responsibility to change things and it is a lifetime project. I also always say don’t be afraid to take risks, I always take calculated risks!


Our ‘Female Leaders: Inspiring Together’ series is running throughout March with the aim of inspiring and supporting women to become future leaders in their respective industries. Follow us on LinkedIn to join the conversation and hear the insightful stories of our featured female leaders.