Touring the expansive maintenance hangars that belong to Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg and Frankfurt this summer, Runway Girl Network kept an eye out for women working on aircraft, and spotted just one, in Hamburg, working on the refit of a Boeing 747-400. Two more women were working on component testing in a lab we later visited, but that was it.
Later, in the maintenance and repair operator’s Hamburg Innovation Centre, we posed the question to the newly appointed CEO of Lufthansa Technik, Dr Johannes Buchmann: how many women does the company have in technical and managerial positions?
“Not enough,” Buchmann responded immediately. “But it’s a very difficult task, especially on the engineering side. I studied engineering myself, twenty years ago, but we were a thousand who began, and we had sixteen women. Out of those sixteen women, twelve finished. That ratio has not significantly changed, and that is a big problem.”
In that case, how is Lufthansa Technik working to increase the number of women engineers and managers?
“We have female engineers, but the number is really little. If you’re then part of that group that develops into management positions, the skills are the same between the genders. The debate is going on in Germany: what do you need, good signals with women managers who attract girls to study engineering, or is it the other way around? Or is it both?”
“We do a lot of bringing people to the technical related subjects.” he added. “We do this together here in Hamburg with the universities and the schools, so we bring in school classes twice, once in their fifth grade and once in their ninth or tenth grade. They see what we do here, they spend a week here with us and it interests them in a university career. That’s an initiative across Germany, but it’s still not enough.”
In terms of what’s been successful, Bussmann cited “trainee programs and other programs like apprenticeships. We try especially for women to help them bond together within the company so they don’t feel alone, in the literal sense of the word, because when they go to a department 95% of people are men, especially on the technical side. We try to bring them together so that they have a community and regular platforms to meet. If there any things they need help with, or if more than one of them has a similar problem, it helps a lot.
Those employee networking opportunities are important for retention of talented women: “They stay longer,” Bussmann said plainly. “That’s one of the ways where we have already seen results.”
“We do special programs for women in management positions as well. I ran Human Resources before, and that only started three years ago. To say whether there’s a reasonable result that we can report on? It’s too early. We’d have to wait another two or three years. We try to do the best we can.”
Lufthansa Technik also operates a mentoring program for women: “We give them mentors, and there is a framework to set that up. We try not to match them in the subject they work on — we try to match people, so that if somebody is quiet, we give them somebody who is more outspoken or outgoing to develop communication skills they need. They work in the program for one and a half years together on a voluntary basis. There’s one pair that separated, so to say, but all the others are working nicely,” Bussman said.
Practical efforts, too, are being made.
“We have an initiative with a kindergarten close by, which is important because we saw that once women had a baby, a lot of them didn’t come back due to the complexity of taking care of the children. Our cooperation with the kindergarden helps keep their kids nearby, and that immediately had an impact. The number of women who didn’t come back went down by a lot.”
Bussmann summed up Lufthansa Technik’s progress so far to inspire women to begin and continue careers with the company as at the early stages, but so far promising.
“First of all, I want to double the number of technical staff who are women. Out of that, we will grow management positions. It will come. We need to do more with the universities as well.”
As part of a Hamburg-wide initiative to promote the full range of aviation careers to women of all ages, particularly including young women and those looking for apprenticeships, formal training and tertiary education, Lufthansa Technik is well positioned to do just that.