More women for the industry – how women succeed in technical professions in Germany
Traditionally, technical professions in Germany have been male domains. In general, the proportion of women studying STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) in 2021 is just 13.8 percent [source: Statista]. In classic "male professions" such as mechanical and automotive engineering or metal production, processing and metal construction, the female rates are an even lower 10.2 and 9.2 percent, respectively [source: Statista, as of June 30, 2022]. However, the numbers, though low, when viewed in the context of time, give hope for change. A steady increase can be seen over the years, which makes it clear that the engineering profession, for example, is gradually opening up as an option for more and more women, as is also reported on INGENIEUR.de.
Six women, six careers: female technical employees at Mahr in Goettingen, Germany
As great supporters of women in our industry and on the occasion of the worldwide Women in Engineering Day, we at Mahr asked female employees of Mahr in Goettingen of different ages about their careers and their opinions about women in technical professions. The interviews show one thing very clearly: as similar as some of the experiences and life situations of the different women are, their careers are diverse and non-linear. And that's what makes their reports here so interesting.
We spoke with these six women:
- Franziska Herwig, Project Engineer
- Anna-Lena Goldmann, Industrial Mechanic, Precision Equipment Manufacturing
- Nicola Kellner, Head of Software R&D
- Vanessa Becker, Product Manager
- Sabrina Skusa, Design Engineer & Technical Editor/ Documentation
- Patricia Johnen, Application Engineer
Favorite subject "math" – true or false?
In line with expectations, almost all of our female technical employees interviewed showed an interest in mathematics and/or science subjects at school at a very early age. They were particularly fascinated by "technology" – whether it was the aspect of solving puzzles, as in the case of Nicola, or the fact that math and numbers came naturally to them, as in the case of Vanessa, Sabrina and Anna-Lena: "For me, technology is self-explanatory, there is only right or wrong," says Anna-Lena. It was a different story for Franziska and Patricia – their passion for technology only really developed later in their careers. Patricia's interests were very varied in her school days, and although she could also warm to technology, her preference for math and numbers was more of a foundation than a fascination. And while Franziska wasn't bad at math either, her focus was more on language subjects than science. "Physics wasn't really my thing!" she says with a smile.
A role model: the influence of the family
In addition to school, there is another important factor in the careers of our female employees that has influenced their professional paths: their social environment and their families. Anna-Lena's father is a precision mechanic, and whenever she was in his workshop, she was able to look over his shoulder. That, she says, had a big impact on her career path. "The smell of coolant and oil always stayed in my nose," she recalls. Vanessa also discovered and trained her manual skills through joint craft projects with her father, and Sabrina found a technical drawing at her aunt's house, which sparked her ambition to be able to read it. In general, the interlocutors find it important that there is a great deal of openness within the family and social structures of young women. If the family lives up to the stereotypical role model of "male profession" and "female profession" or even actively strives for it, this often has a direct impact on development. Franziska finds, "In part, this is shaped from an early age, for example with toys and a pink kitchen for girls – but boys are also allowed to play with dolls!" Once fear of a role model has become established, young women in particular are massively inhibited from mustering the courage to assert themselves in the male domain.
The importance of continuing education and of trying things out.
At the end of their school education, young people do not always know in which direction they would like to develop professionally - or they know the direction but not yet the concrete career goal. Of our six female employees, only two, Anna-Lena and Sabrina, have found their way directly into their profession. The other women have established themselves in their profession through further training and/or reorientation in various directions - and very successfully. An impressive example of this is Nicola: after graduating from high school, she initially studied "technical translation engineering", but realized in the course of her career that she was interested in even more in-depth technical topics. That's why, while she was already employed at Mahr as an assistant to the development manager, she completed a part-time degree in media informatics at the age of 37 - and ultimately rose through the ranks in her career as a leader. Another example is Patricia, whose career path is also not linear: She first completed an apprenticeship as a surveying technician, then studied "applied geodesy" and only became aware of Mahr and the profession of application engineer during her studies through her professor at the university of applied sciences, which she now does successfully and enjoys doing.
As a woman in the "male domain"
What is the truth behind the prejudice that women have a harder time than men in "male professions"? The positive answer first: none of our female colleagues can confirm this rumor without reservation – but there are situations in which their female gender already plays or has played a role. Patricia says that she is treated no differently by colleagues and managers than her male colleagues in the company. However, in the past, customers have sometimes been surprised to learn that a woman conducts external training. Or on the phone, they would have thought she was the secretary, but not the technician she is. "It was never meant in a derogatory way, but it did make me feel like I had to prove myself in a special way," she says. Sabrina describes having significantly more problems a few years ago than she does today. "Before I came to Mahr, I worked for another company for seven years, where it was very difficult to assert yourself as a young woman. But I think the male world is slowly realizing that women also have technical understanding and we are not inferior to them." Nicola also sees a change in recent years, "The first women paved the way that it is now. In our department, gender doesn't matter." Franziska adds: "You sometimes notice a difference when it comes to creative ideas for birthday presents. That's when colleagues are happy to approach me as a woman."
Where do we stand – and how do we deal with motherhood at Mahr in Goettingen?
Even though many things have changed positively for women in technical professions, there are of course still issues that need to be addressed. The issue of motherhood is often still a high hurdle for women who want to pursue a career, and sometimes it seems insurmountable. When is a career compatible with having a child, and when is it not? According to the experience of our female employees, it depends massively on the employer, because without support and enabling flexible structures, women have a hard time combining both. Such employer support for working mothers can look like this:
- (Temporary) adjustment of time frame/ employment from full-time to part-time.
- Adjustment or shift in the structure of tasks and activities (e.g. from field service to office)
- Support through the possibility of working in a home office
- Company-owned daycare center at Mahr in Goettingen
Four of our six female employees interviewed are mothers and take advantage of some of the support services mentioned above. Patricia says: "I'm no longer just an application technician, I'm also a mom. I think it's nice that I was offered the opportunity and that it can be reconciled in this way." And Franziska adds, "The home office is also a great relief; without it, it would be hard for me to work full time."
Powerful visibility: what else needs to change?
All in all, the visibility of women in technical professions seems to be on the right track. But the increase in the quota is very slow; women are still disadvantaged in some cases, especially in management positions. This is possibly because many job advertisements are formulated for men only [article on Spiegel.de] or because male managers predominantly hire their peers, i.e. other men [source: allbright Foundation]. However, the most important change that is happening and must continue to happen is in the behavior of women themselves: They often lack the courage to stand up to male applicants in supposedly "men's jobs," even though they are no less qualified professionally.
As the visibility of women in technical professions in Germany increases, the inhibition threshold for other women who have not yet dared to gain a foothold in these areas drops at the same time – these are the assessments of our female employees. Their message to women who want to enter technical professions:
- Believe in yourselves and your abilities and don't let your environment put you off!
- Try things out and learn what you like! Don't be impressed by the clichés.
- Educate yourself further! This is important for yourselves and for discovering new areas and not standing still.
- Have courage and trust in your strengths!
- Do not be afraid of failure! It helps you to find your way.