Commissioner for Equal Opportunity

Protect, motivate, equalize - that is the goal of Saskia Lange and Carin-Sonja Weinhold. For the past five years, the two have been equal opportunities officers (BfC) at Fraunhofer ISIT. Their office pursues the goal of centrally and consistently applying equal opportunities for women and men and anchoring them in administrative actions. In this interview, they talk about what motivates them and why they believe the office will still be relevant in the next 100 years.

If you ask Saskia and Carin why they decided to run for the office of BfC, they both have to think for a moment: "It wasn't that we fought for the office at the institute. One of our colleagues more or less advertised for it at the time and was looking for someone who had a certain standing - could assert themselves, had the trust of their female colleagues and was well-known among the staff," Saskia explained. The group leader Module Services already completed her training at ISIT, Carin Weinhold will soon have been at the institute for about 30 years, always in different positions. "So we've had a lot of contact with very different people and tasks," Weinhold said, "which creates the trust or the certain degree of familiarity that you need for this task in the best case. Someone who comes to us with sensitive issues might have a hard time doing that with someone who's more of a stranger."

Sensitive matters - that is the keyword that probably best describes the BfC's task. Parental leave, personnel measures, salaries, hiring new female employees, changes in working hours or (sexual) harassment in the workplace are the practical examples they deal with. "You can basically come to us with all kinds of concerns," Saskia explained, "it's just important that women come to us actively, because it's not like we approach people. The workforce has to be proactive themselves." And that goes "around the clock," so to speak: the two are available at all times, whether at the institute or in the home office. They coordinate their vacation times with each other, and if it's not convenient for someone, their evening off can also be used for "company volunteering.

The important thing here is that their task must not be used against them. "We are allowed to argue without it being held against us," says Carin Weinhold, "in doing so, we work on our own responsibility and are not obliged to report to the institute director. This ensures that we can deal with the affairs of our female colleagues confidentially and in a seriously supportive manner."

Their office does not cover a position in its own right, but is an internal body that represents the interests of the female employees vis-à-vis the employer in a similar way to a works council. So although the two are partially released for their tasks and training, their actual positions are not reduced. And yet Weinhold and Lange are now in their second term of office as BfC. But they still don't consider it to be the last: "Among other things, we can see from the salary differences between women and men that the problems still exist. It has to be learned over generations, which is what we are striving for right now. That's why the work of BfCs will definitely be needed for longer. How do you say it again? It's taken 100 years for women to be allowed to vote and work. It will take the next 100 years for them to have equal rights." 

The two see reasons for the deep-rooted inequality beyond the professional, particularly in the social sphere. After Saskia Lange completed her training at Fraunhofer ISIT, she went on to study electronics engineering. In the end, she graduated with a bachelor's degree along with two women; in the master's program, she was the only woman among many men. "That's when everyone asked me if that wasn't terrible. Even then I asked myself: what's the problem? Why does this always have to escalate? Today I know that this binge is often just ingrained in people's minds." 

And there's another problem that resonates in this context. "Especially in Corona times, I often witnessed women being at home more again and taking over the carework," observed Carin Weinhold, "I tend to get the feeling that things are getting worse again and women are being sent back to their old roles. Because in crisis situations, it is women who take a back seat. That's why we have to recognize: There are other models than woman at the hearth and man at work."


Nevertheless, the two see success in their work. These are not reflected in huge projects, but much more in simplified processes for female employees. The two are also in close contact with colleagues from other regional groups of Fraunhofer institutes. "When we exchange tips with each other, when we all recognize the same problems and realize that we are not alone in situations, a network is created that welds us together and uses swarm intelligence to bring about change and help," as Saskia explained.

But the biggest success here is usually not an administrative one. "Fortunately, we haven't had any bad cases at ISIT so far. Most of the time, the counseling alone is enough to encourage women to stand up," says Carin-Sonja Weinhold, "then the women might get the idea faster: 'I'll go there and address what's bothering me.' In this way, we can encourage the female employees to go and stand up against their problems. In such moments, it was good that we existed. And then it pays to be BfC."


Career programs for women at Fraunhofer

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is committed to equal rights for women and men at all hierarchical levels and offers various career development measures specifically for women.


Currently available job offers at Fraunhofer ISIT


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