On the occasion of International Women's World Day with this year's focus on “women in management positions in male-dominated professions", we took the opportunity and asked Ausilia Zonca from the manufacturing department a few questions on this topic. Ausilia has been the team leader of VILIDAR manufacturing at VITRONIC for 3 years.
With currently around 17% women employees, the manufacturing department is now on average at VITRONIC. However, training in this area is rather unusual for a woman. How did you come to this career choice?
As a child, I have always liked to play with building blocks or Lego. I found anything that can be built or put together more interesting than playing with dolls. In addition, my papa, who was also a tinkerer, influenced us children a lot. Under his guidance, I was already soldering circuit boards in the hobby room when I was 10 and he took me to the car workshop to help with repairs.
For me the only profession to be considered was something with craftsmanship. So, at the age of 15, I applied to train as a communications electronics technician in the information technology field. This apprenticeship no longer exists in this purely manual form. This is now comparable to training as a device and system electronics technician. Looking back, I'm still happy with my decision. The profession has remained interesting because of it‘s challenges.
Was it difficult to start your career as a woman?
20 years ago, it was not easy for women in this professional field. In the company where I did my training, I was the only female apprentice in this field. There were no more in this profession in the 18 years that followed. In addition, out of what felt like 1,000 trainees, two more girls attended school in Mainz with me. There were certain challenges. For example, there were no toilets for girls in the school area of switch cabinet construction. You then had to go a long way to find a toilet for women. Another problem was my shoe size. Work safety shoes were hard to find in size 36. My father had to drive me to a specialist workwear store further away where they could buy exactly one pair of shoes my size.
I started my apprenticeship when I was 16, when I was still quite inexperienced in terms of men’s banter and group dynamics among men. I then had to learn quickly to acquire a thick skin and how to quickly take the wind out of the sails of my male colleagues in this regard. I experienced a lot back then, the boundaries between harmless and ‘no longer funny’ quickly blur. And there were situations where I would have liked to have a female contact person in the company or training place. Nowadays much has been changed. And that's just as well. Maybe the girlshave tolisten to a line here or there, but it feels like it's no comparison to how it used to be. That being said, there are also advantages tobeinga woman in male-dominated professions. Of course, you must have specialist knowledge and assert yourself. Then the doors are open to you. You just must have the courage to go through them.
What did you do after your apprenticeship?
After successfully completing my training at the age of 19, I worked in manufacturing as a technician in the same company. Four years later I took over a small teamfor the production ofserial devices. With high numbers of up to 30,000 per year, themain focuswas on time management. In order to optimize work processes, every move counted. After 10 years of manufacturing, I made a detour into design for four years. Among other things, I designed electrical accessories in the circuit plan, created parts lists and prepared and obtained offers for customers. This was a completely different, incredibly interesting area because it increased my understanding of the product. I understood what it means when material cannot be delivered or what defines the duration of the delivery dates, what is easy to order and what not. All of this helped me to get a good overview of the interconnections.
How did you come to VITRONIC?
After four years in design, I realized that a pure office job wasn't the right job for me, so I looked around for another job. I discovered the job advertisements from VITRONIC.
There was one position as a skilled tradesman/tradeswoman and one as a team leader in manufacturing.
I then applied as a skilled tradeswoman because I was not courageous enough to apply directly as a team leader. I wanted to get into the company first and then learn from scratch, that was the plan. During the interview with DirkReichpietschand HaraldWinkowski, it quickly became apparent that the two had prepared for an interview with the team leader, but I was prepared for an interview as a skilled tradeswoman. After the mistake had cleared up, Dirk asked "What should we do now?" And I replied spontaneously, "Then we'll do the interview as team leader as long as we're at it." So, in the end, by a happy coincidence, I did get my courage up and was immediately hired as a team leader.
What have been the major challenges as a team leader so far?
It was of course a challenge to get to know the company and at the same time to take on management tasks. Especially in the first year. The team at that time consisted of seven employees. I had to get to know the product, the processes, the people and, at the same time, incorporate my management style. I've learned a lot when it comes to team building. In the meantime we have grown into a team with 14 employees. The product has seen a 93 percent increase over the past year. Introducing and coordinating shift work was also a major challenge.
Da muss man schon sagen, Chapeau an uns alle, an das ganze Team.
What do you particularly like about your work?
I love the craft. I like to work with my hands. It does happen, after several weeks of solving problems, organizing and running around, that I sit down for two hours to “relax” and work on a production order. That grounds me and I can then be available again with full strength for the tasks and employees.
Is work with men different than mixed?
Men and women differ in the way they communicate. In my experience, the very best teams are mixed teams.
Speaking of team. Morale is high in your team, as your employees themselves like to confirm. How does that happen?
The team spirit is really very good now. I am happy about that. We currently have 50% women and 50% men on the team. You support each other in different ways.
We also work on maintaining harmony in the team. If I notice something, I ask about it. The employees also speak to me directly if something is bothering them. If a problem cannot be solved by myself, I also say “If you have a problem, or you have a problem with me, you can also talk to a manager about it at any time.” I expect us to be respectful and honest in dealing with each other and I lead by example.
Actually, everything can stay as it is. In relation to this company, we have great advantages. I’ve had and heard about very contrary experiences ... (in other companies).