Getting young women interested in technology: Many things are already being done to achieve this, such as dedicated women in industry days, which give young women a taste of scientific and technical careers. Nevertheless, women in STEM professions – i.e. Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – are still under-represented, according to an international study by the career portal StepStone. How is the situation at VACUUBRAND? So we asked three female colleagues: Dr. Barbara Richarz from Product Management, Sri Priya from Electronics Development, and Patricia Lang-Schreck from Quality Assurance, to talk about their personal experiences in the technical environment.
How did you get into the technical profession?
Barbara: Maths and physics already appealed to me at school. Once you understand the principle, it works by itself. My father also taught me the fun of practical technology. We repaired bicycles and heaters, for example. That had a distinct influence on me, leading me to study physics and influencing my attraction towards very application-oriented projects.
Patricia: With me it was similar. My father is a car mechanic, so I have always worked on cars and tractors. That's why I did an apprenticeship as a mechatronics engineer, because I'm really interested in it.
Sri Priya: In India there are already two engineers in every family. That is why my father did not want me to pursue this profession. But out of curiosity I always liked to take apart different devices to explore the inner workings, like my grandfather's old radio. So I decided to become an electronics engineer anyway.
Dr. Barbara Richarz has a degree in physics. She worked for many years at a company specializing in surface metrology, where she built up her experience in Product Management. At VACUUBRAND, Barbara is head of our Product Management Team, developing product ideas and creating new technical articles to accompany the market launch and beyond. She acts as an interface between the sales department / customer requirements on the one hand and the technical department with concrete implementation on the other. The end result and goal is new, innovative products for the laboratory market. Outside from work, Barbara likes to spend time with her dog and go hiking or relaxing with yoga.
What is special as a woman in a "man’s world"?
Sri Priya (laughs): If I am to lift a 20 kilogram pump, I need help! But seriously, I have only had good experiences so far. It was different in my mother's time, nobody would have listened to a woman. Today there are many influential women internationally, even in top positions. I don't think it depends on the gender. Women should simply do what they want to do. There are also many men who are interested in fashion, all top brands are run by them.
Barbara: As one of only five women out of 250 physics students I already stood out 30 years ago - nowadays the percentage of women in physics is much higher. Also, sayings like "Girls can't do it" or "Why don't you stick to the kitchen" are now fortunately a thing of the past. Incidentally, my experience is that working in mixed teams works best. Both sides behave in a more social way and are less prone to stereotypical behaviour than among their peers.
Patricia: I have never really thought about it. Both privately and professionally, I have always been in a very technical environment surrounded with many men. Admittedly, sometimes you have to assert yourself. But fortunately I haven't had any bad experiences yet.
Sri Priya is an electronics engineer. She has studied both in India and Germany. VACUUBRAND is her first job, where she is a hardware developer creating circuit diagrams for printed circuit boards. In some cases this means ensuring that more than 100 components get incorporated on a circuit board that is only 5 cm in size. The challenge is that numerous criteria have to be met in order to deliver a fully functional circuit board. Sri Priya works closely with designers and software developers to achieve this. Before the finished circuit board is put into operation, extensive testing is undertaken to check both the hardware and the software. For relaxation, Sri Priya listens to music, sings or plays traditional Indian music on the Veena, a plucked string instrument.
What is it like working in STEM professions at VACUUBRAND?
Patricia: I think that a lot is already being done to encourage women to take up technical professions. VACUUBRAND participates in Womens’ Day, for example, and provides a concrete insight into the world of work in a relaxed atmosphere.
Barbara: I enjoy working with both women and men. But fewer women apply for the advertised STEM positions, for example in product management. That's why there are more men in the STEM departments at VACUBRAND. VACUUBRAND offers flexible working hours, which I find very helpful in balancing work and family life.
Sri Priya: All colleagues are very helpful to new employees like me. I really wanted to work in hardware development and I am very happy to have had this opportunity as a young woman straight after my studies. The mixed-gender teams work very well together and I can still learn a lot from my colleagues.
Patricia Lang-Schreck is a mechatronics engineer and completed her training whilst at Bosch. There she was already able to gain experience in the tracking of components. At VACUUBRAND, she works in quality assurance, where she is responsible for error analysis and cause determination, where she works in close cooperation with the process colleagues from engineering, production and purchasing. She gets a feel for example, whether the faulty component is still being installed in other assemblies, to which countries and to which customers it is being shipped. As soon as she determines the cause, the fault can be rectified and the quality assured. To keep body and mind fit, Patricia regularly does Budo. This is a mixture of kickboxing and judo, which is used for self-defence.
What does the job mean to you?
Barbara: I think it's nice that I have found my way in the technical environment, btw I don't want to become chancellor either! Professionally, I can do what I enjoy doing: Working in a team and in contact with many people on exciting and challenging topics at the interface between market, sales and technology.
Patricia: My goal is to develop myself further, to get to know new tasks. I just enjoy my job in quality assurance. Some people can't understand that one likes to deal with problems. But I find it very varied and interesting to have contact with many people in the company in order to find a solution.
Sri Priya: My job means a lot to me. There is so much to learn and discover every day and it never gets boring. I look forward to one day working on my own project as an independent woman in this field at some point. There is still a long way to go until then.
Is there a need for more support for women?
Sri Priya: In Germany there is already some support, I think. The same is true in India, for example reserved study places for women. On the other hand, there are still some countries where women are not allowed to study at all, so there is still much more to be done.
Patricia: Women should not be brought to STEM professions by hook or crook. Someone who is interested will do the job well. A quota for women, for example, is not necessary in my opinion.
Barbara: It's about creating a technical world in which interested women who can contribute something feel comfortable to stay. That starts at school, where we can get girls engaged in and excited about technology. It’s also about making them aware that it is an interesting field of work where other women are already being successful. Then in the working world, it is important to create the necessary conditions, such as the compatibility of work and family. A mentoring system would also be good, where young women are coached by experienced women after their studies. In the meantime, being a woman in technology is no longer unusual. I am happy about every new female colleague who joins us.
Thank you very much for the interview.
Of course, there are other women working in technical areas at VACUUBRAND. Their stories can fill many more pages. We may soon be reporting on our women in the technical world again.