Not just a man’s world – the transformation in the machinery sector

The world of mechanical engineering, industry, construction and workshops has long been considered a male-dominated field. This is because it is believed that women are not interested in technology and machinery. However, this view is outdated. In fact, there are four women in key roles at the industrial auction house Surplex who prove that women are just as capable in these fields as men.

The industrial and mechanical engineering sectors are on the verge of significant changes. For decades, traditional gender roles have shaped these fields, making it difficult for women to access technical professions and leadership positions. However, this situation is gradually changing, and the rigid boundaries that have hindered women’s progress are being broken down. The proportion of women in these fields is growing, which is encouraging. This development is highlighted on International Women’s Day on 8th March and shows that the importance of diversity in the workplace is being recognised. However, women still face many challenges in these fields.

New perspectives: women in technical professions
Surplex, an industrial auction house for used machinery in metalworking, woodworking and construction, is also a typically male-dominated company. This is reflected not only in the industry but also in the professions: The Surplex project managers and sales managers, often with technical training, are responsible for acquiring machinery and conducting individual auctions, serving as direct contacts for predominantly male providers. Therefore, it is not surprising that two-thirds of Surplex’s employees are male.

However, Karin Schneider, Head of HR at Surplex, sees a positive change in the proportion of women at Surplex. A major problem, however, is the applicants’ experience. “The trend for more women to take up ‘typically male professions’ is still relatively new, so unfortunately, the depth of experience of most female applicants for higher positions is often not sufficient.“

The Surplex management team consists of three people, one of whom is a woman: Ghislaine Duijmelings. “It has been proven that diverse teams lead to better results. Therefore, it is crucial to consciously steer in this direction. In terms of internal labour mobility, we want to directly address women about new opportunities.“ Schneider also adds, “For us, gender is less important than a person’s qualifications. Such attributes should be irrelevant in a modern society.“ Despite the suitable working environment, why are there still fewer women in this industry?

Overcoming challenges, reducing self-doubt
“I think it’s due to cultural aspects such as stereotypical gender images, the way education is structured, and there are fewer female role models in these sectors. Also, the image of these sectors as a man’s world can deter women,“ says Duijmelings, echoing Schneider’s argument: How modern is our society today?

Women at Surplex: Pioneers in the technical sector. Ghislaine Duijmelings, Managing Director (top left);
Karin Schneider, Head of HR (top right); Kristina Voosholz, Acquisition & Purchasing (bottom left);
Nancy Castañeda, Project Manager (bottom right). (© Surplex).

The fact that there are few women in this industry is not because men exclude them, as Nancy Castañeda, Project Manager for Surplex in Spain, and Kristina Voosholz, Acquisition and Purchasing, know from their own experience. “Of course, there was the occasional remark, ‘Do you even know anything about machines?’, but you have to rise above that and charmingly convince the conversational partner otherwise,“ says Voosholz about her experience in the used machinery trade.

Her long-standing expertise in the business has given her enough confidence to face sceptical business partners. And Nancy Castañeda feels the same: “Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t in the right place because men surrounded me, but I was confident that my work was good enough and I believed in myself.“ Sceptics were quickly convinced; today, she has many excellent relationships with her business partners. Both women have not experienced outright rejection during their time at Surplex.

Balancing career and family: a management task
The combination of family and her role as CEO is not always easy, but for Duijmelings, it’s no obstacle. “It’s important to be flexible. I don’t stress when unforeseen circumstances arise. Taking responsibility also means setting priorities.“ And even though her children will always come first, it’s important to her to demonstrate that it’s important to be independent and to fulfil oneself.

Castañeda shares similar challenges between career and family. As a mother, she finds the time away from family the most challenging, an experience she shares with her male colleagues. “But the truth is, I have the support of my husband.“

So, flexibility is key for mothers – not just in technical professions. Surplex actively strives as an employer to create an environment where all employees can combine family and work, whether through flexible working hours, part-time offers, workation (work and location, i.e., working in a different country than usual), or a home office.

Diversity as the key to success
Women bring a new perspective to the market. Studies show that teams with a mix of different cultures, genders, and age groups are the most successful. It sounds like a cliché, but a balanced gender distribution leads to better decisions because it balances the extreme risk-taking of men and the excessive caution of women. The most important thing, therefore, is to encourage women to dare to enter technical fields.

For all women considering whether they are cut out for the machinery market or whether they should opt for a different career, Ghislaine Duijmelings has a tip: “My advice to other women: You are exactly right the way you are. Just take your position as a woman! Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know.“

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