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International Women’s Day: women in technology

Some strong Agidens colleagues share their stories

Women in technology

Men are from Mars, Women from Venus. Boys play with lego and girls with dolls. Men are better in technology? A stereotypical statement that is, in our experience, all too often expressed in the wrong way. It is a well known fact that more men than women choose an education and career in technology and science. But fortunately, the time when there was no place for women in a professional technological environment has been behind us for decades. And if working with women in a technical position is perceived as different from cooperation with male colleagues, does this have to do with the gender difference or rather with the person as an individual? A lot of ink still flows on this subject. We will sort it out and today, on international women’s day, we are happy to let some strong Agidens women share their stories.

Inge Swaelen – Buyer Agidens Infra Automation NV

From an early age I have been interested in science and technology. So it was an obvious choice for me to choose a technological study, that could also offer me a wide range of possibilities after graduation. In technology courses I was the only girl in a group of about 200 boys. However, I felt well integrated.

When arriving at the supplier’s booth, the representative just assumed that I was my colleague’s wife.

My first job was at a technical installer company. Then I moved to an electrical wholesale company where I first worked building electrical cabinets for 2 years. This was the ideal opportunity to gain some practical experience. This has definitely helped me make the switch to the technical consultancy department within this same company. At that moment I first experienced that I needed to make some additional efforts to prove my skills. Even though I had the support and trust of my colleagues, it sometimes happened that an installer came by the support desk and asked to be helped by a man instead of me. And on some occasions it occurred that after being helped by me, they would ask the same question to one of my male colleagues. Even though it was frustrating in the beginning, after a few years everyone was convinced of my technical knowledge and I earned their trust. During all these years I have continued to learn new things, not just to prove myself but mostly out of interest. Technology is always evolving and so you constantly need to expand your skills.

In 2013 I started at Agidens, where I was at the other side for the first time as a buyer for the Infra Automation division. I didn’t have any experience in purchase but I knew that my technical experience would benefit me a great deal. I have always been well excepted here and I never experienced any doubt from my colleagues about my capabilities. Which wasn’t always the case for suppliers. I visited a trade fair once with one of my male colleagues. When arriving at the supplier’s booth, the representative just assumed that I was my colleague’s wife that had come along with him. This was only about 3 years ago so it goes to show that this stereotype still remains, at least for some people.

These small anecdotes have however never stopped me in being confident that I have absolutely made the right decision to pursue a career in technology. But to stand your ground it definitely helps to have a strong personality

Yael Vandenbussche – Process Engineer Agidens Life Sciences NV

Growing up, my father had a great interest in nature and science. I remember watching National Geographic together and I guess this is where my interest in science grew. After completing my bachelor degree in Biology, I realized that my professional options in this domain were rather limited. I didn’t see myself teaching a class for example. So I decided to pursue an engineering degree, where career opportunities are more expanded.

Because I have a non-distinctive name, people that don’t know me always address me as sir Vandenbussche in emails.

I started my career path in the life science industry by joining a consultancy agency, initially as a global Data Manager, working on clinical trials for J&J. Then moving to process validation at Novartis and my last assignment was as a Project Engineer at Pfizer. My interest in process engineering grew and this is when I found a job opportunity at Agidens as a Process Engineer for the Life Sciences division.

While studying and in the validation business there had always been a good mix between male and female colleagues. This isn’t the case in the process industry where the majority are still male, also in my team. Because I have a non-distinctive name, in written communication the majority of people automatically assume that I am a man and address me as sir Vandenbussche. I always correct them of course and it doesn’t bother me that much but it is striking that they would just assume that I am a man. But even though women form a minority in this industry, I have never felt inferior to my male colleagues or treated differently. Nor have I felt the need to make an extra effort just because I am a woman. Being a woman in a male dominated industry can also work in our favor, during negotiations for example, the female charm can come in handy at times. Also when muscle power is needed, I am always grateful when a man offers me to help. On the other hand, people easily assume that it is harder for me to travel because I have a family. But I would like to make my own decisions about that. This assumption would less easily be made with a man.

This being said, I am convinced that as a woman and if you have the ambition to grow in your career, you have the same opportunities as men. How you combine and organize your work and family is, in my opinion, and especially within two-parent families, a joint choice. In most cases the man will still be the biggest earner and women can find it slightly more difficult to hand over the care for their children resulting in this stereotypical role division.

Annick Verschooren – Team Manager Agidens Life Sciences NV

I always loved mathematics and science and in high school this was my absolute favorite. So when I graduated I knew that I wanted to make the most out of this skill. My first interest went towards natural sciences but teaching was not my goal so I started to look at other possibilities. In the end I followed my older brother’s example and chose to get a degree in Industrial Engineering, a course that is very broad and would offer me lots of possibilities. After two general years I chose Electromechanics in my third year. And even though I had no experience in this domain, it triggered my interest so I took a leap into the unknown. I ended up as one of 9 girls in a class of 60 students. I always felt accepted by my fellow-students and the atmosphere in class was always great. I even met my husband there.

I have a lot of young engineers in my team and this female side helps to guide them and take them under my wings.

Once I got my degree it turned out much harder to find a job than it is nowadays. Back then when you got a job offer it was not an option to be critical concerning job content or growth possibilities. For me it has proven to be the right choice because I’m still here after 25 years. When choosing this path, I never realized that women in the industrial world are really a minority. I grew up with two older brothers so I knew how to stand my ground. But when it comes down to doing my job, I never experienced the necessity to compete with men. Looking back I do remember one occasion at the end of my fourth year in college, when some companies had sent out invitations for job selection procedures to the male students only. This was a long time ago, I can’t imagine this happening today

So I started at Agidens as a Junior Software Engineer. I had some good interviews and I was accepted to join 2 different teams. When it came down to the final decision, they assigned me to the team where there wasn’t a female colleague yet. Apparently this was a big thing at that time and it had some funny advantages I must say. When it was time to celebrate secretary day for example, I would also receive flowers, as the only woman in the division apart from the secretary. From Junior Engineer I went to Engineer, Project Leader, Senior Engineer to Team Manager. At the moment I am both Team Manager and Software Engineer for the automation software group in the Life Sciences division. I guide a team of 25 people, 23 of them are “I have a lot of young engineers in my team and this female side helps to guide them and take them under my wings.” men. This is a tendency I also notice when searching for good candidates, I hardly see any women applying for job openings in my team. Maybe that is because they do not see themselves working in automation projects as it is not always a 9-5 job?

During all this time I have never even thought about the fact that I am a woman amongst all these men. On the contrary, when I think about it I even feel that I am granted more favors or that I am ‘spared’ more. So I have always experienced this in a positive way. Many advantages that are linked to female stereotypes such as women being more precise and less sloppy are in my opinion more related to your personality. However I do experience that in my role as a team manager it helps me to feel people, maybe more than some of my technical male colleagues in the same role. I have a lot of young engineers in my team and this female side does help to guide them and take them under my wings.