Same knowledge, different approach
Austrian Universities of Applied Sciences educate personnel that the market needs – and in the third millennium, that clearly means highly qualified women in technical professions. They are among the most sought-after specialists, as it is becoming clear to more and more organisations that gender diversity makes an essential contribution to success. Scientific studies show that the combination of different perspectives offered by male and female researchers to solve problems generate more ideas and creativity and, thus, make more radical innovations possible. This is an advantage that successful players want to use, which is why graduates from technical study programmes can look forward to good chances on the labour market – and use these possibilities more effectively by choosing the specific study programme.
One of these is Regina Schönherr, who chose the bachelor’s study programme “Information Technology and Systems Management” at the FH Salzburg. Although she isn’t one of the majority in her study programme as a female – currently 5 of the 50 students in the programme are female – it seems as if “the girls are more certain in their choice of study programme than the guys – and maybe also a bit harder working,” says Schönherr. The UAS assesses the students the same way, she stresses. And the university also helps with the creation of a network for its female specialists: “Our head of programme supported us in founding an Austrian group of the world-wide association ‘Society of Women Engineers’,” reports the student. In addition to that, the engineering student takes part in workshops on the topic of robot programming in schools, helping girls to eliminate their reservations and scepticism towards engineering: “They see right away that the guys are no better than I am,” laughs the future information scientist. Martina Strohmayer did not have any reservations either. She got her master’s on the subject of Media Technology at the St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences as part of a “Women in Engineering” course offered by the employment office and already has years of experience as a woman in the engineering profession. “I had already had training in engineering at a technical secondary school and then got into programming,” reports the 43-year-old, “so the topic ‘women in engineering’ isn’t really an issue for me now or during my studies.” And although she is often the only woman among 30-40 males during her work placements, this isn’t relevant for applications anymore. Her ability to hold her own in terms of her expertise is partially due to the education at a UAS. Only in one particular area would the IT specialist wish for greater competence: “In salary negotiations, men are always a bit more confident,” she says. “It would be great if we could learn more about negotiating techniques, especially for women.”
Engineering with a Surplus of Women
Some of the few technical study programmes in which women dominate include the fields of Biotechnology, Biomedical Engineering, Medical or Pharmaceutical Biotechnology or Renewable Energies, whereas specialisations such as Electrical Engineering or Mechatronics or Robotics still have potential in reaching equality. This is also the experience that Marilis Gerhart has had, who is studying in the bachelor’s programme “Radiological Technology” at the University of Applied Sciences for Health Professions Upper Austria. “As far as health professions are concerned, the males are not so well represented,” says the 22-year-old, who found the perfect combination in this programme of her wish to help people and her interest in physics. In this field, the fact that she, as a woman, chose a technical profession is never an issue – neither during her studies nor when applying for jobs. “I think it is good that it is generally understood and believed that we are as good as men.”