IWD: Gunda Röstel
For International Women's Day, we spoke to Gunda Röstel, our German representative on our General Assembly
Gunda is the Commercial Managing Director at Stadtentwässerung Dresden GmbH & Executive Officer of Gelsenwasser AG
How did you end up working in water?
I grew up in the former German Democratic Republic and therefore remember well the prevailing indifference to environmental concerns, especially with regard to water pollution. The rundown infrastructures, especially in the last years of the GDR, led to wastewater in Dresden, for example, being discharged into the Elbe River completely untreated for a long time. A condition that we hope we will never have to experience again. These impressions certainly had an influence on the fact that I wanted to accompany environmental issues during my political career after reunification in Germany and later continuing my career in a large German drinking water company, Gelsenwasser AG and later on as Commercial Managing Director of the Waste Water company Stadtentwässerung Dresden GmbH.
How have things changed since you began your career? What have you seen change? What more needs to change?
A lot has changed for the better since then. Environmentally, we introduced in 2000 the European Water Framework Directive, a real milestone for water protection. A common European framework that ensures the same standards and objectives regardless of national borders and since then water quality has improved in many places. But of course, we have not yet reached our goal. The numbers and concentration of harmful substances have continued to increase as prosperity has progressed, and we as a water industry have to compensate for that by improving our treatment technologies. This is mainly due to the lack of implementation of the precautionary principle, where there is still a clear need for improvement.
But change has also happened on a social level. I can remember that at the beginning of my political career, I was often asked by my colleagues in West Germany how I managed to reconcile career and family. It was a question that my male colleagues, who were also fathers, were not asked. I think that has changed today; In the last 10 years in particular, there have been significant and positive changes through investments in daycare, but also in shared parental leave, which can help women in particular to organise their career paths. But of course, there is still something to improve, especially in the number of women in leadership positions and all sectors of society, and of course in terms of fair pay.
How can companies/utilities encourage and retain women into this sector? What are the challenges companies face with respect to gender equality? How can they have a concrete impact?
One of the few good things in the GDR was the equality of men and women in the labour market. To this day, we have a comparatively high proportion of women in technical professions in eastern Germany, although here too the number of young women is now thinning out more and more. We, therefore, make sure that when we offer jobs and training opportunities, we encourage women in particular to apply. For example, we use apprenticeship fairs, open days and our connection to the local university, the Technical University Dresden, to acquire future, hopefully also more female, skilled workers.
What are the main obstacles that women face in their equal participation in our sector? What are the gender stereotypes etc that can and should be challenged? How can companies/utilities do this?
As a former teacher, I believe that gender stereotypes, which we are often taught from an early age, play a major role in the career choices we make. Boys are expected to be more interested in science and technology than girls would be. This thinking then continues into adulthood, and so girls and young women have a hard time identifying with technical or skilled trades careers. In our company, we greatly value openness among employees, which means that female colleagues in technical professions are treated and valued in the same way as their male colleagues, and this works out pretty well. However, we have to make sure that discrimination does not become or remain a structural problem. When it comes to filling management positions, fixed quotas as a target can help to have a balanced gender ratio in companies in the long term.