Foundry-Planet: Ms. Feitsch, as chairwoman of the VDI Young Engineers, you are voluntarily active for the VDI. What is exciting about your work?
Fenja Feitsch: The exciting thing in this position is that I can act in so many ways and work with so many different people on so many different fronts. On the one hand, I represent the interests of the VDI Young Engineers. On the other hand, I am the interface to the main association, where I participate in meetings and sessions. In recent years, I have been committed to placing us as VDI Young Engineers in various committees of the association. Because I think it's important that young people are also represented there, which means representing their view of things - especially when it comes to future issues.
Foundry-Planet: How did the collaboration with the VDI come into being?
Fenja Feitsch: My way to VDI was quite classic. I was studying in Stuttgart, where the network speaker of the VDI Stuttgart team invited me to join the table of the VDI Young Engineers. Soon after, I joined the VDI and participated regularly at various events. This was how I got in contact with the federal board of VDI, who suggested me for the position as chairwoman of the board. At that time, I had already gained a lot of expertise and experience in other associations. A short time later, I ran for election and was voted as chairwoman of the board. That was in June 2021.
"Women in engineering are automatically in the focus," - Fenja Feitsch.
Foundry-Planet: Women are still underrepresented in engineering. In the past, changes occurred maximally in decades. What is the status of women in engineering professions in 2023?
Fenja Feitsch: I have to say that the percentage of women in voluntary positions at the VDI is higher than in companies. If you pursue an engineering profession as a woman nowadays, in my opinion, you are still perceived as strange. On the one hand, women in engineering have to "prove" over and over again that they are good. On the other hand, they are automatically in the focus as. And this is exactly the point which scares many women to get into engineering - even though they are interested in it. Similar to engineering men, women simply prefer to stay in the background and not speak in front of running cameras or being in the newspaper. They just want to pursue their engineering career.
Foundry-Planet: What opportunities do you see for women in STEM professions?
Fenja Feitsch: I think the future prospects for women in STEM professions are great!
Women enrich the engineering profession enormously because many of them have good communication skills and can bring the technical world closer to the "normal" world. Women are very strong in the transfer of knowledge, because they can explain complex technical content easily. A female colleague of mine recently presented "The Railway World." The balancing act here is not to become too technical, but still holding an exciting presentation that brings the audience closer to the topic. Not that men can't do that as well - but I think that women provide a lot of empathy and sensitivity - in this regard - and are therefore a great enrichment for the engineering profession.
"I think it is very important to stand up for yourself and your convictions" - Fenja Feitsch
Foundry-Planet: What do you see as the biggest barriers and challenges?
Fenja Feitsch: In my opinion, women in engineering are not always taken seriously. Sexist jokes already exist, which has happened to me personally. At this point, it's important to make things clear and not to deny them just because you're afraid to say something. I wouldn't say that women have to stand up for all womankind - because that creates immense pressure. But I think it is very essential to stand up for yourself and your convictions.
Foundry-Planet: You have already worked for well-known companies such as Daimler Truck AG and Mercedes-Benz. Which steps were the most decisive for your career, and how significant is the voluntary work at VDI?
Fenja Feitsch: After many years of voluntary work, I was optimally prepared for the job at VDI. Though this work I gained a lot of experience, for example how to lead groups and organise large events. At the age of 18, I was already involved in organising an event for 1,500 people. But my studies also prepared me for my voluntary work, especially in terms of meeting deadlines and project management. My professional career, in turn, taught me that daily business and routine tasks should not be underestimated even in voluntary work.
Were there moments when you reached your limits?
Foundry-Planet: Were there moments when you reached your limits or had to overcome a particularly big challenge? (How did you solve it?)
Fenja Feitsch: Yes, of course! But it was not the compatibility of my job, dual studies and voluntary work that pushed me to my limits. It was more about the fundamental question of the extent to which my employer allows me to take a public position - especially on technical issues. It was also about the issue of flexibility in the workplace. I am very happy that my current employer allows me to work where I am. This flexibility allows me to balance both my main job (internship), my studies and my voluntary work.
Foundry-Planet: Despite gender equality measures, the separation of male and female is still very much anchored in people's minds. What needs to change so that more women join the engineering sector?
Fenja Feitsch: It starts very early, namely that girls are said to prefer playing with dolls and boys with toy cars. That's why I think it's important that children grow up in an environment where such "supposed boundaries" are not drawn, but rather taught: Follow your interests, do what you want to do. I was very lucky that my parents were open-minded and allowed me to do that. But it was different at school, where my physics teacher told me, "... You are not as good at physics as you are in the other subjects." And this despite the fact that I had a B in physics! This incident took all my joy out of the subject. So I began to study politics beside school, with the wish to engage for climate and environment. During my studies, however, I realised that I was more interested in the technical side, which is why I switched to industrial engineering after my A-levels. If I had the choice again, I would study mechanical or electrical engineering.
"Young people should be encouraged to study engineering" - Fenja Feitsch
Foundry-Planet: Apropos studying: engineering studies are still among the most difficult in Germany. Do you agree with that? What needs to change here?
Fenja Feitsch: I can only confirm that. The difference is that men tend to "try" even "difficult" studies, while women often underestimate themselves and prefer not to do it at all - even if they are interested in. I think that the image of engineering studies has to change fundamentally: It has to become more positive. It can't be that these studies are still seen as impossible. Young people should be encouraged that they can succeed in engineering studies. However, engineering studies are still the most important for technical scientific careers.
What the engineer of tomorrow should bring to the table
Foundry-Planet: What should the engineer of tomorrow bring to the table?
Fenja Feitsch: Flexibility, i.e. quick rethinking and learning new topics, as well as a certain resilience. The requirements of engineers are currently undergoing major changes. For decades, the combustion engine was the focus - today we are confronted with new developments and technologies that demand flexibility and permanent rethinking. In the engineering profession, it's not about having to know everything in detail, but being able to quickly familiarise yourself with new topics and find solutions.
Foundry-Planet: Last question: What tips do you give women for asserting themselves in this male-dominated industry?
Fenja Feitsch: I think women shouldn't be too rebellious, but they shouldn't accept everything either, they should also be able to say "no". Therefore, my tip is to choose a middle way of both. Nevertheless, women have to prove their professional competence harder than men. But you must not let this drag you down.
Foundry-Planet: What future projects are planned with the VDI?
Fenja Feitsch: Our last project was an online exit game about how engineers in different fields can contribute to stop climate change. Our current projects are about career and education in engineering. We want to show the positive aspects of the profession in a new way as well as to balance negative things at the same time.
Foundry-Planet: At which events can we meet you in the future?
Fenja Feitsch: There are no events planned at the moment, only internal VDI events. The last event was the German Engineers' Day at the end of May. All events are also published on our website: www.vdi.de/veranstaltungen.
Foundry-Planet: Thank you very much for the interview!
The VDI (Association of German Engineers) counts more than 30,000 active members in its Young Engineers network, who are either still studying at university or have been in professional life for up to 4 years. However, this also includes people who are studying again or who count themselves to the VDI. In principle, the VDI welcomes every engineer. The 135,000 members have the opportunity to take part in events at the federal level, where they can exchange ideas with others and make contacts.
Fenja Feitsch's involvement with the VDI
Fenja Feitsch has been chairwoman of the VDI Young Engineers since June 2021. Her responsibilities include organising nationwide events such as excursions, networking events and congresses. "As chairwoman of the VDI Young Engineers, I work a lot with local teams. There are about 50 of them all over Germany. Thereby, each team is different. For some, networking plays a bigger role, for others it's the acquisition of soft skills. The exiting thing is to bring all together on one table."
The interview was conducted by Foundry Planet editor Diana Engelmann.