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International Womens Day 2021

International Womens Day 2021: Let’s talk to Kerstin Koch-Ugolini, managing partner at KOCH Group, about challenges women are facing in male-dominated industries.

1. As a woman, how do you make your way through a male-dominated industry?

Kerstin Koch-Ugolini: Yes, it is true, in the wood working industry it is normally the case that you deal with men rather than with women. After over 30 years in this industry, I gotten used to often being the only woman in a conference. In the beginning of my career, it was sometimes not easy, as a young woman, I found the combination of being the youngest and female very hard because I did not have the experience that I have today. Men were just not used to talking to women about technical matters and it took more time and effort to gain their trust. However once one gets to know each other, the trust remains and that is worth the effort. Now, in my mid 50ties, I am so used to dealing mainly with men that it does not make much difference and I must say, it definitely has its advantages. Being a managing partner in a family-owned business is also an important factor, since there is a lot of passion and enthusiasm that I have for my work and the men see this. Surely today it has become much more normal to have women in leading positions than 30 years ago. Although we still have a long way to go. Especially for women with young children it is hard to combine family life and the responsibilities at work. In retrospect, my children had to become independent very soon, cooking lunch on their own at a young age and so on. But the reward is that now they are happy to have a mom that can give inputs on their own working career, which makes me proud.

2. Are there any particular challenges you have to face?

Kerstin Koch-Ugolini: Especially as a young woman the first approach with people that did not know me or the company was sometimes difficult. Even today a woman has to be convincing with their knowledge and experience more than a man would have to do, almost everywhere in the world and especially in technological fields. The main obstacle is that industrial machinery manufacturing has not attracted many females over the years and finding one is always seen as a peculiar situation. This can lead to prejudices.

3. Despite all the prejudices, are there any advantages to working as a woman in a male-dominated industry? Is it even easier for you as a woman to work in the industry?

Kerstin Koch-Ugolini: Today I feel more equal to the people I am dealing with and I do not think about being a woman in a male-dominated industry any more, it has become normal for me. I feel that many of the men I am dealing with are curious and find it encouraging because it is different and unusual having a woman to deal with in our industry. And yes, I believe that a real advantage is that women can bring a different perspective to problem solving and strategic thinking. Needless to say, the quality and professionality has to be provided.

4. What advice do you give especially to young women trying to gain a foothold in male-dominated industries?

Kerstin Koch-Ugolini: Trust in yourself and as a consequence you will encounter the trust of the others. Make people feel at ease with you as a person and underline the things you have in common with your business partner rather than the differences.

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