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Women in Engineering Day:
"It's about competence, not gender"

Dr. Alexandra Hirsch

30,000 tons of crude steel are produced every day on an area five times the size of Monaco: Dr. Alexandra Hirsch's way to her workplace at the Schwelgern plant in Duisburg takes her past the sintering plant with its three sinter belts, among other things. When the ore in the fine ore mixing beds on the right is prepared for further processing, she has almost reached her workplace. This is where Alexandra Hirsch's specialty begins.

"Even after all the years I've been working here, it's still fascinating. There's always something new, somehow the terrain looks different every day". For Alexandra Hirsch, the location of her workplace has a decisive advantage: "Production and research are not far apart here. This is very exciting for us because we can directly see the results of our work in processing."

Only a few women work in the steel industry

At thyssenkrupp Steel she is team coordinator for ore and iron technology. Among other things, the materials used are tested here and then processed in the blast furnace. In the metallurgical-technological laboratory, standardized test conditions are used to determine how the feedstocks behave under the influence of gas and at the same time at high temperatures.

Up to 30% women are not uncommon in some ore and iron technology teams. For the steel industry, this figure is well above average. In 2016, only just under nine percent of all employees in the steel industry were female, according to the German Steel Economic Association. Undisputed: Even today, Alexandra Hirsch still works in a profession that is more dominated by men.

The technological ore and iron testing laboratory
The technological ore and iron testing laboratory is part of Alexandra Hirsch’s daily business. Here the raw materials are carefully examined before they are further processed.

From university in Aachen to thyssenkrupp Steel

This was not planned - even though the fascination for the profession was awakened early on. "My school took part in a predecessor model of Girls' Day. RWTH Aachen also introduced itself. Among other things, we visited an iron metallurgy course. For me, that was already totally exciting at the time, because they worked with different disciplines such as mathematics, physics or chemistry."

After school, however, Alexandra Hirsch initially decided to train as a draftswoman. "Nobody in my family studied. I wasn't sure: 'Will this work, will I be able to do it?

The dream of studying metallurgy should nevertheless come true. Even at RWTH Aachen University, Hirsch worked mainly with male fellow students. Today she holds a doctorate in metallurgy. "I am proud that I managed this alone. I've worked everything out for myself and I'm independent."

The first automated sinter test plant
The sinter test facility in Duisburg is one of a kind in the world. Alexandra Hirsch uses it to see how raw materials can be used as efficiently as possible.

More appreciation for the work that women do every day

Since 2008 she has been working for thyssenkrupp Steel. When asked whether she had a harder time as a woman compared to her male colleagues, she says: "I was always very supported here. All in all, I would say that it never mattered that I was a woman. I'm consider myself very lucky." The positive and supportive working atmosphere played a decisive role.

Nevertheless, women in the industry are still strongly outnumbered - even if the numbers continue to rise. So what is the solution? The much-discussed quota for women? "It can certainly help to make women more present in engineering professions. But a quota can only be a start - it has to be about competencies, not about gender," says Alexandra Hirsch. A woman should never have the feeling that she only got a job to fulfill a quota. She gets it because she's best qualified."

Dr. Alexandra Hirsch
Alexandra Hirsch has built an impressive career at thyssenkrupp steel. In May 2019, she was promoted to team coordinator in her field. A women’s quota can’t be more than a first step to build awareness, she says.

Providing equal opportunities for men and women is important for thyssenkrupp steel

Equal opportunities for men and women - this is something very important for the company, says Dr. Sabine Maaßen, CHRO at thyssenkrupp Steel: "In our industry it is still the rule that the proportion of men predominates - especially in management positions. This makes it all the more important that colleagues like Dr. Alexandra Hirsch act as role models and are perceived as such. Today's Women in Engineering Day is a good occasion to recall this."

Alexandra Hirsch generally wants more recognition for what women do every day in their job. She hopes that in the future more women will be enthusiastic about the area that fascinates her every day anew. "It's not a "Nine to five" job - but it's anything but boring."

Equal opportunities for men and women - this is something very important for the company

Dr. Sabine Maaßen, CHRO at thyssenkrupp Steel
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