Romy Päpke, Product Development Team Leader
DMK wants to ensure a gender balance at all levels. Also in STEM professions. We talked to Team Leader for Product Development Cheese Romy Päpke about the challenges for female managers and her career at DMK, among other things.

Hello. What is your name and what is your function at DMK?

My name is Romy Päpke. I am currently working as a Team Leader for Product Development Cheese in BU Industry. Over the last 20 years, I have had the opportunity to get to know several stations in the company. I started in 2002 in the ZMV-Dargun as a dairy laboratory technician, then I did my diploma in food technology and directly afterwards I worked as a process manager in the ZMV-Dargun. Since 2009, I have been working in cheese research and development in Edewecht. 

What are your daily tasks?

My areas and locations of responsibility vary greatly depending on the order or company situation, as in addition to classic product development we also provide support with process or product optimization, as well as working with purchasing to find raw material alternatives or discussing new product / strategy ideas with marketing. In any case, my job is all about communicating to a wide variety of interfaces and organizing and planning our development resources. 

What are the challenges here - especially as a female manager?

The challenge in my role is that as a woman, you are also taken seriously. You have to work for that. But in my view, this is a challenge that every young professional has to face at first. Here, it's more of an advantage that as a woman, you might be underestimated more often. 

How easy or difficult was it for you to get to this position? Were you supported professionally, did you invest a lot of your own initiative?

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to prove my abilities in various projects at different locations. In some situations it was difficult for a young woman to make herself heard in technical/technological discussions with older, mostly male colleagues. But perseverance, curiosity and a certain ambition definitely paid off here. I was also able to count on the help of my superiors and my teammates at all times. Where and what I am today is only because of and together with my colleagues and employees. Now, it may not be desirable for one or the other to "only" become a team leader, but we are all about making a difference. That's what drives us as a team, regardless of whether we're men or women and regardless of our functional level.

I have never been limited in my development. My boss, Dirk Euwens, in particular, encouraged and challenged me in every respect from the very beginning and always encouraged me to try out new things and go beyond my limits. He is also the one who made it possible for me, after my return from parental leave, to find a work model in which I could combine family and my duties as a mom with my duties and responsibilities as a team leader without having to go part-time. At DMK, that's possible, and that's great. 

What "different" skills do women bring to leadership positions as opposed to men?

Women sometimes have a different view of things, approach problems differently and often bring a somewhat greater degree of empathy, which unfortunately is often wrongly interpreted as weakness. But this empathy is a very important point in my eyes, because in our company it is not only about the products, but also about the people who make them. 

Why is it so important for DMK to ensure a gender balance at all levels in the company?

In my world, neither all-male nor all-female teams are an optimal solution. In general, I am in favor of a balanced ratio of men to women in all functional areas and areas of responsibility. In my eyes, everyone definitely has the skills to do this, regardless of gender, faith or other beliefs. Mixed teams are an opportunity to do things in a way that makes everyone feel part of the whole, part of the DMK and the decisions that are made in each management hierarchy.

Women are still in the minority in STEM professions. How can DMK - and in general - succeed in encouraging women to work in these areas?

We need to do much more educational work in schools and also at universities and colleges. Reports on the experiences of DMK employees who have gone down this path can help here. The potential employees of tomorrow are at these educational institutions. We have to get them excited about these professions. Someone once said to me: "Only those who burn for something themselves can light a fire in others." That's what it's all about. Unfortunately, it's often not enough just to hand out flyers.

Do you ever come up against authority boundaries with customers/employees/supervisors because you are a woman? Where do you still notice the differences?

In my early days as a process manager and also as a developer, I've been laughed at a time or two when I've been sent to a plant or meeting about a project or problem. The image of someone who can solve a technical/technological problem was, and unfortunately still sometimes is, a different one. The only thing that helps is "close your eyes and get through it" and convince with results. In this case, success is the best proof of one's own abilities and acceptance then comes on its own in most cases.

What needs to change? What is going well? How did you experience equality at work ten or 20 years ago?

In my eyes, we have already made a good deal of progress in terms of equal rights for men and women in the last 20 years; but we are still a long way from the actual goal. If we look at the gender distribution in the organizational charts, we know what I mean. Women can't just do marketing or quality assurance, and men can't just do engineering or plant management.

We want equal opportunities when it comes to filling management positions. Only in this way can we become a modern company that is attractive for future employees. All in all, DMK offers women numerous opportunities to try out their careers. Limits exist only in one's own mind. So take the plunge!