Sophia Hatzelmann is a successful businesswoman with a degree in electrical engineering. Nonetheless, she is concerned, not about her own career, but the lack of progress being made with respect to women in the STEM professions (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).15 Jan 2019
Speaking of her efforts to promote women in these areas and encourage more of them to study process technology, electrical or mechanical engineering, she says: “Nothing’s changed. Our activities have achieved very little.” Sophia was named Engineer Power Woman in 2018 – a title of which she is justly proud. As she says, “It is not a title bestowed on women, it has nothing to do with gender. It is an acknowledgment of my achievements as an engineer and entrepreneur. So it is not a social media popularity vote.” It is important to her to make this point.
She finds the current trend among students frustrating: “I have to question myself and the efforts I’ve made because, despite an absolute increase in numbers, in relative terms we have not moved forward.” There is no question that she and many of her clients need and want women.
“Our female colleagues are generally put to the test to see how competent they are and once they have passed this scrutiny their authority is accepted – all settled,” reports Hatzelmann, laughing. In male-led teams there tends to be more internal competitiveness: “This is not conducive to a successful project.”
She has many women engineers in her team: “Obviously, there are also some highly qualified men.” When asked what are the differences between engineers of different gender she pauses: “I don’t want to generalize, but my view is that men are inclined to be interested, for example, in an excavator in its own right and in technical specifications, whereas women tend to be more interested in what the excavator can do. Technology, for the sake of technology, doesn’t work in this day and age.” Nonetheless, she finds that this attitude still prevails among some clients – especially small and medium-sized companies.
In her experience there is a real desire at the lower management level of medium-sized companies to test, innovate and place pressure on their executives to put the digitization of processes and manufacture on the agenda.
However, the conclusions tend to be wrong: “It is not simply about cost benefits. Platform architecture matters too and most companies have not understood that yet.”
So what needs to be done? “Change. Transformation. But that is something that many people, including entrepreneurs, dislike. Improving process efficiency is the first step but it can be difficult because it involves shedding routines and trusted methods.” This raises the question of business models – analyzing strengths and weaknesses, platform dimension tests. Testing? “Yes. Of course, the idea of testing is quite daunting for some customers.”
Hatzelmann says the problem is that companies are too attached to their own way of doing things. “Companies do not take a structured approach.” Yet it is precisely this aspect that motivates Hatzelmann in her work as an engineering consultant: “We are often the catalyst that triggers the development of a new business model. Testing can be quite an experience. Working with our clients we test their ideas on their target group and then refine and develop it together.” Working together with the client, testing ideas is something she believes might interest women returners, possibly women in their mid-forties whose children have left home and who have since been retrained or refreshed their technical qualifications.
“A new approach is needed if we want to see more women in technical and engineering jobs.” Sophia Hatzelmann is keen to offer training for women: “Not completely retrain or school them academically ‒ I want practical in-house training.” Companies need to strategically analyze and nurture their employees’ abilities and skills. Hatzelmann thinks it is worth pointing out that at the age of 40 most people still have half their career ahead of them. She believes it is time to try something new:
One pleasing side effect is that when kids see their 40 plus mother learning a new programming language and developing apps for a machine learning platform it inspires not only them but other women. “That is what it’s about for me,” says Sophia.
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