International Women in Engineering Day 2023
In region Europe, Schaeffler has two women managing plants who chose to embrace it as a career: Tanja Weckend, plant manager for Haguenau, France and Ellie Matthews, plant manager for Sheffield, UK. On the occasion of International Women in Engineering Day 2023, both women talk about why they chose this career path and why it is important to highlight this to make women who work in engineering, not news, but the norm.
What do you think ‘being a woman’ helps you to bring to the role and how does it differ from predecessors?
Tanja Weckend: It has led to my leadership style being situational and cooperative – but this is not a purely female characteristic. It is important to get people onboard and give them a framework in which they can succeed. Allowing the person to drive on their own will lead to better results because people can share their ideas.
Ellie Matthews: The best way to describe this is cognitive diversity – whether we are male or female. Our skills are not just based on our gender, but on our experiences and background. Your personality is what you bring as a skill set, each person is different.
In terms of accepting your position, what are your challenges, both professionally and personally?
Tanja Weckend: In these volatile times, every plant must adapt to big changes and realign to new situations. This means getting the balance right between the daily work, achieving good output and having motivated employees, as well as having the right strategic approach and ensuring everybody is pulling in the same direction. This is the major challenge for me, but also the most fun to be honest.
With every new position questions arise such as: ‘How do we organise that? How can I ensure that I still have enough time for my family?’ It works differently for some men, it is seen as the norm for a man’s career to take precedence and that their, usually female partners, will step back and take a more ‘family management’ role. I suppose we are in the process of this mindset changing. I have been lucky to have strong family back-up and good mentors, both men and women, who supported me when I had to make these big decisions. It helped me to say yes, I can do that.
Ellie Matthews: A woman’s mindset and how we see ourselves in a role needs to change. I remember sitting with my family and saying to them, for me to take this new job, we all need to get on board because I'll need you all to help if I'm going to do this role, because I can’t do this on my own. It became almost a family decision, as I needed that support network. Modern day families are changing and it’s not as expected that just the wife supports the family workload.
What kind of impact do you think your appointment had on the plant, and the wider Schaeffler world?
Tanja Weckend: As plant manager, I have a significant influence over the strategy of our factory, this hopefully plays a role in encouraging and inspiring other women to pursue leadership positions in technical and industrial fields. Everything that brought me to my role today is down to the work that I did, the managers that challenged and trained me on the job. These role models inspired me. Nothing in my career is different to male counterparts. It’s important for other women to see that it’s possible. I’ve had so much positive feedback from other women saying now they’ve seen me in a management role, they now believe they can do it too.
Ellie Matthews: For some, me taking the role was viewed as hope and an attainable goal. I remember talking to someone who I was very close with, and she said to me, ‘knowing you've got that role is really motivational for me.’ I needed to hear that, to know that for some people it may resonate with them. There is something about being able to see something, to open people’s minds to seeing things in a different way, whether that’s your leadership style being different to what someone has experienced before or the perspective that you bring.
What are you doing in order to cope with stress and your workload? What do you recommend?
Tanja Weckend: I enjoy my work so much that it’s sometimes hard to be home on time. What can I do that will ensure I don’t bring my stress home with me? I have a specific time between leaving work and arriving home when I’m driving. This is when I recap the day and align my head with my family. Sports are also very important for me and I enjoy clearing my head whilst kickboxing.
Ellie Matthews: My big challenge is always about getting the balance right. I have to keep perspective. I have to remind myself to put the other things in, as I get so passionate about my work. I enjoy the problems, but what makes me better at work is the balance. Making sure I spend time with family and friends to relax, read, whatever it may be, is the part that makes me better and more focused at work, then I can then see things objectively.
In conclusion, what is your advice to those who wish to reach a management position?
Tanja Weckend: The first thing is to trust yourself. Secondly, use your support network. Stay connected with them, ask them questions and try to get others involved, trying not to solve everything on your own. The support network can also be in your private life. Don’t feel restricted by things you think somebody else thinks are right. You must find out for yourself what suits you best.
Ellie Matthews: You must trust in yourself. I think women sometimes are more likely to not trust themselves. Trust your abilities and understand your value. Don’t just accept what feels comfortable. Challenge the norm, educate, and learn. Constantly do that and you’ll be prepared for anything.
Profile of the plant managers
- Plant manager for our industrial plant based in Haguenau, France
- PhD in physical chemistry
- Mother of a two-year-old son
- Plant manager for our Automotive plant based in Sheffield, UK
- Degree in mechanical engineering
- Mother of two girls