Profile: Birgit Krenn, Head of Manufacturing Science and Technology at the VTU Group

Women in Tech: “Stop telling women what they are doing wrong”

Dominik Mohilo

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Birgit Krenn, Head of Manufacturing Science and Technology at the VTU Group.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Birgit Krenn, Head of Manufacturing Science and Technology at the VTU Group.

Birgit Krenn

Birgit Krenn

Today’s woman in tech: Birgit Krenn, Head of Manufacturing Science and Technology at the VTU Group.

Birgit holds a degree in engineering and has worked for the VTU Group since 2007. She is the Head of Manufacturing Science and Technology at the leading process plant planner. With her team of 20 employees, whom are spread across locations in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, she works on international projects in the biopharmaceutical field. She primarily focuses on process development, the buildup of the commercial production, and studies on successful administrative approval.

She has built up this division from the very beginning and is now generating seven-digit annual sales. She studied biotechnology at the Graz University of Technology. Before joining the VTU Group, she worked for the Fresenius health care company.

What first got you interested in tech?

In school I was a well rounded student and curious, although chemistry was my worst subject and thus I had the feeling that I needed to do a lot of catching up there.

The path to my current position was relatively linear.

And at the same time studying at the renowned Graz University of Technology promised a reliable socioeconomic advancement. So I decided to study Technical Chemistry and later with the follow-up of Biotechnology.

The path to my current position was relatively linear. Towards the end of my studies and shortly thereafter I held a few brief scientific positions in start-ups, which have all disappeared from the scene by now. After a flying visit at a pharmaceutical company I switched to the VTU Group, where I relatively soon started to work in the current subject area. It was interesting to me on the one hand and on the other it gave me the opportunity to thrive and to build up something for myself.

Did someone support you and do you have a role model?

My employer did not have a woman in an executive position for long time, hence, there was also no woman who could have supported me. However, I had the support of a colleague – a Tyrolean, who was notoriously decried as being extraordinarily conservative and anti-progressive. He supported me like a good colleague and, thus, paved the way for me.

As an executive, I try to appropriately support the next generation, this means, on the one hand, to encourage or respectively support women and, on the other hand, to appeal to colleagues and the organisation.

Megan Rapinoe has been impressing me lately. She can put herself in the limelight well, has political and social integrity, and can play fantastic football. Christine Nöstlinger was a great writer and woman, and raised me next to my mom. Simone de Beauvoir taught me at an early age that economic freedom is fundamental to personal freedom. I think my mother is great, she had a really hard life and is the kindest, bravest, and funniest person I know.

A day in Birgits’s life

I am the Head of Manufacturing Science and Technology and lead a team that does projects and consulting for biopharmaceutical i.e. mostly genetically engineered drugs. Although we represent a division within the company, we actually work like a start-up. In concrete terms this means that I do quite a bit myself: I define the business cases, develop the project/product together with my colleagues, take care of marketing and sales, and acquire and support our customers. Furthermore, I handle the organisational and technical aspects of my team and manage, as well as work on and coach some of the projects. Since the team is scattered across the DACH region, and also because of our work on international projects, I travel quite a bit, even if a lot of things can be done remotely in the meantime.

Men recognize more potential in men.

I have build a business unit within my company, i.e. I developed a new business case and the associated product or service offering. It goes without saying that this portfolio needs to be further developed: For example, I am currently working with our colleagues from the Data Science sector on data analysis issues and respective solutions for the biopharmaceutical industry.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

Like most other industries, the tech industry is led and governed by men, who create a culture that reproduces itself. In practical terms this means that men recognize more potential in men, because they are similar to themselves or to other existing executive personalities. Woman do the same – but are in less crucial positions and therefore women have a harder time getting ahead. Of course, this representation is a gross simplification. By now there’s a great deal of knowledge regarding the topic, which is also taught in management seminars, and there are also many men and women who are very reflective in their perceptions and decisions. Although there are also many people who aren’t – and whose hubris leads them to regard all their — clever and less clever — decisions as contributions to the company’s success.

Would our world be different if more women worked in STEM?

Well, primarily women would benefit economically because the tech industry pays well. Society would benefit economically because women could contribute more to the economy. And Companies would benefit economically because they would stop overlooking female talent. Products would also be designed from male and female perspectives and they would be better. There would be more gender-justice and freedom in everyone’s way of life.

Women would benefit economically because the Tech Industry pays well.

In my immediate environment I see an evolution towards gender justice and diversity equality in general. My colleagues in my age (I am 40) do not have the same gender bias as the previous generation. We recently had a talent discussion in the leadership committee (over 20 men, 2 women) and many women were identified by my male colleagues as potential candidates for future leadership positions. Globally and politically, however, the right-wing conservative backlash does worry me…

What obstacles did you have to overcome?

It would be an exaggeration to say that someone would have consciously put obstacles in my way, but I already have heard statements like “You will never lead a big project. This was not supposed to mean harm or be a personal attack, but it simply was my opposite’s lack of imagination, who simply could not imagine women being in roles of responsibilities. Surely, I could have used my energy much more efficiently — in regards to myself and also my employer — instead of trying to disprove such prejudices.

There are some real nasty clichés: Women don’t know tech, women go on parental leave and are then only interested in family, and that women are only capable of simple projects. People (even women) say this out loud and, astonishingly, don’t think of themselves as dim-witted. But more essential, even if less obvious, are subtle mechanisms: women are more likely to be asked a favor, they are assigned the less prestigious projects, and are more likely to not get a promotion because one believes that this okay. This is not bad in single cases, but then it does adds up to a less brilliant career.

Absolutely every human being has a bias in his/her perception and as a result also in the resulting decisions. A decision-making body is just as much a social filter bubble as it is so often discussed for the “social” media – people who are similar (men of the same age and educational cohort) confirm each other’s own views.

What advice would you give to women who want a tech career?

I think it is most important to not constantly keep telling women what they are doing wrong.

The tech industry, as well as other industries, should be like this that all who can do a good job and also want to, should be able to do so without these senseless hurdles. It is not enough to celebrate individual women who bite their way through anyway. It just has to be normal for women to be in tech and too make a career there. There should be more women in executive positions so that the perspective of women is sufficiently represented in decisions. There should be more women at all levels because then women will also feel more comfortable. And no man shall no longer claim that there aren’t women around, who can get promoted.

Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:

For even more Women in Tech, click here.

Dominik Mohilo
Dominik Mohilo studied German and sociology at the Frankfurt University, and works at S&S Media since 2015.

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