Women Powering Mercer Stendal

When looking for the right career path, one may find they discover certain prejudices or stereotypes that can ultimately keep them from pursuing a field further. Technical professions are no exception to this. They can be seen as quite male-dominated, requiring a lot of physical strength in some areas or, in others, taking place every day in the same quiet room. But these perceptions are changing. At Mercer Stendal, women work in various technical areas throughout the mill, setting a strong example for what it means to be a woman working in STEM.

One of the longest-serving female employees at the Arneburg pulp mill is Simone Meyer, who started with Mercer back in 2003. “I started as a system administrator,” reveals the mechanical engineering graduate. “My studies focused on information technology (IT). At that time, there were only four women among several dozen men.” 

In spite of this, it was clear early on that Meyer would follow this path. “Even during school break, I worked in the computer center. It was difficult to learn such a profession in East Germany at the time. Today, however, I’m glad I took this path that led me to mechanical engineering. I find that, with a career change from the IT sector, you bring more user knowledge with you.” 

Since 2011, Meyer has been responsible for the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system throughout all of Mercer. In this same vein, she has also supported the switch from Navision to SAP. Although she has a technical job, the work isn’t physically demanding nor requires a particular space to conduct her work. “I work predominantly from home,” she says.

It’s a different story for Susanne Kersten. She is a Plant Operator in the power generation division at Mercer Stendal. When on shift, she is on-site at the Arneburg plant in full protective equipment (PPE). Though most of the work takes place in the central control room, where the plant is monitored, she is equipped to be on the move. “I’m out now and then with the outpost and out and about in the plant,” reports the trained machinist for thermal power plants. 

“My parents told me, when I was looking for a career, that I should learn this because it was a job with prospects,” says the operator. “At that time, there actually were many women employed in production. But we’ve seen a shift since then. Still, I don’t regret taking this step. If you have a bit of technical interest and curiosity, you’ll find your fun in this profession, too.”

Sabine Teucke was already enthusiastic about natural sciences in her school days and set herself the goal of pursuing a technical profession. After studying process and environmental engineering, she joined Mercer Stendal as a process engineer. “I still fondly remember that a professor in my studies was once irritated because the proportion of women in our cohort was so high. That probably hadn’t happened before,” Teucke recounts. 

The mother of two is now Head of Technology, making her part of the management team at the Arneburg pulp mill. “I am responsible for the laboratory and technical customer service.” This puts her in close contact with Mercer customers. “The work also has a lot to do with communication.” All in all, Teucke emphasizes one thing: even as a woman, you can make a career in a technical field – especially at Mercer Stendal. “Our company already highly encourages women to enter technical professions.”

Stephanie Stein’s desire for a job in technical arose in childhood. Growing up in a rural village, Stein was practically inclined and tinkering with many things early on. After graduating from high school, Mercer Stendal’s current Process Engineer looked for something with chemistry but found what she was looking for in industrial engineering. “I always did enjoy the technical field more, although I didn’t find economics difficult either.” 

She came to Mercer as part of an internship, also writing her bachelor’s and master’s theses in Arneburg. “It was a stroke of luck that I was also offered a job.” Her thoughts for all women when considering their career path? “Respecting a technical profession is good, but even with just a little interest, many things are possible.”

In its Fall 2021 report, the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA) published that the skilled worker gap in the technical sector can be estimated at around 275,000 positions. Furthermore, the BDA puts the proportion of women working in the technical sector at a meagre 15.5 percent. This means that not only are skilled workers in demand but women are welcomed. 

“For the future of Germany as a centre of innovation, we need to better recognize the potential of girls and young women. In lower secondary school, for example, only 8.3 percent of girls can imagine working in a STEM profession (mathematics, information technology, natural sciences, technology). Among first-year students in mathematics and the natural sciences, the proportion of women in 2020 is comparatively high at over 50 percent; but this is still low in electrical engineering and information technology at 16.3 percent and computer science at 22.9 percent. This puts pressure on the innovative strength of our country,” Dr. h. c. Thomas Sattelberger, Member of the German Bundestag/Chairman of the Board of the National Initiative MINT Zukunft schaffen is quoted as saying in the report.

Mercer Stendal enables girls to take a look behind the scenes while they are still at school. At the so-called “Girls Day,” which takes place in Saxony-Anhalt this year on April 28, they have the opportunity to learn about the technical professions at the pulp mill. Once they hold their high school certificate in hand – perhaps even sooner – our doors remain open for them to join us as an apprentice and to grow in their careers.