According to the Federal Association for Logistics, the proportion of women in the logistics, transport and traffic sector in Germany is 20.7 percent. This is often due to a lack of role models and a rough image of the industry. Yet we have known for a long time that the numerous logistics fields of activity also offer female employees diverse and exciting challenges that are fun. Logistics is much better than its reputation.
Cornelia Rippe-Gasche, Managing Director of Rhenus Port Logsitics in Hanau, and Dr Kerstin Stegner, Member of the Management Board of Rhenus Warehousing Solutions Germany, provide the proof in the podcast. They reveal what it means to be a woman in a management position, what special skills women bring with them and how they have managed to maintain a balance in their private lives despite their responsible positions. And they report on how they face the question in their daily work of how the male domain of logistics can become more attractive for female employees in the future and what challenges have to be overcome in the process. Because in their professional lives so far, both have come to the conclusion:
A balanced ratio of women and men in a company not only has a positive effect on the working atmosphere, employee motivation and satisfaction can also be significantly increased through diversity and thus contribute to the company's success in the long term.
Note: This episode is currently only available in German.
Andrea Goretzki: Welcome to a new episode of Logistics People Talk, the official Rhenus podcast for everyone who also thinks that logistics moves the world. Presented by:
Gwen Dünner: Gwen Dünner.
Andrea Goretzki: And Andrea Goretzki.
Gwen Dünner: Logistics has always been a classic male domain. Historically, this is due to the high level of strength required for tasks such as reloading and loading, lifting heavy objects or the long periods of time spent at sea or in lorries. But male-dominated does not mean that women cannot also be successful in an industry. Today we want to talk to two such successful women about women in logistics. We welcome Cornelia Rippe-Gasche, Managing Director of Rhenus Port Logistics in Hanau, and Dr Kerstin Stegner, Member of the Management Board of Rhenus Warehousing Solutions Germany. Welcome both of you. It’s good to have you here!
Andrea Goretzki: Hello, nice to have you here.
Cornelia Rippe-Gasche: Good morning to everyone!
Andrea Goretzki: Yes, shall we jump straight into the topic? Conny, maybe we’ll start with you. You have been with Rhenus for 46 years this year. When you started, you were still called Miss Rippe. That has changed in the meantime, of course, but tell us: what has your career been like?
Cornelia Rippe-Gasche: I did an apprenticeship as a forwarding agent as Fräulein Rippe. That was a normal term back in the day. And I remained Miss Rippe until I got married at over 30 years of age. My original goal was to study Business Education. For that, I needed a twelve-month internship. To have a good basis, I then decided to do a shortened apprenticeship. That turned into a very, very long internship. 46 years long. After the apprenticeship, I was responsible for building up the department power plant supply and disposal, building materials trade and for our subsidiary with the production of radiation agents. There were always new projects I wanted to complete. Transshipment and interim waste storage were part of this and have become very important for our site. You needed difficult BImSchG permits for that. I had to familiarise myself with it. And it is still a great challenge due to constant changes in the law. After three or four years, I gave up my goal of studying and took over the departmental management of the new areas. A highlight and a great recognition was being granted procuration while I was on maternity leave. At that time, I had a boss who gave me the necessary flexibility, even though the term ‘home office’ was not yet on anyone’s lips back then. After my boss retired, I became Managing Director of the subsidiary SHG Sakresiv Hanau GmbH. And in July 2019, after the location companies merged, I was then appointed Managing Director of Rhenus Port Logistics GmbH und Co. KG in Hanau.
Andrea Goretzki: You have my respect, Conny, very good. That really sounds like a very, very eventful professional life. A lot has happened in 46 years, and not only to you personally. We just heard about that; you touched on it. Marriage, daughter, maternity leave, you’ve had all that. But a lot has also happened at Rhenus and in the Rhenus Group. You just said something about that. From your point of view, are there things that have remained the same over time?
Cornelia Rippe-Gasche: Yes. Just like in my first years, Rhenus continues to develop, both in terms of locations and in terms of overall objectives. The people responsible for the sites can act as entrepreneurs and also go new ways. Back then, I had a great interest in new things and was able to specialise in specialist areas. I was given the opportunity and also the time. People say I am very curious. That was helpful. I am convinced that if a young employee today brings these qualities with them, they will also get many opportunities for further development, room to manoeuvre for ideas and will find very good prospects. They have to seize the opportunity and make something out of it. Rhenus provides them with the prerequisites.
Andrea Goretzki: Yes, look, Gwen, just like us. We are also so curious and we were given a podcast.
Gwen Dünner: We play to our strengths.
Andrea Goretzki: Exactly.
Gwen Dünner: Awesome. To recap that a little bit. As a woman, at a time when you were laying the foundations for your career, there were of course not the same opportunities to combine work and private life as there are today. But you still managed to have a family and a job at the same time. How did you do it? What were the biggest challenges and how did you meet them?
Cornelia Rippe-Gasche: I had a very good personal network for the care of our daughter, a kind of back-up, so to speak. There was no other way at that time. There was no time for hobbies. Our hobby was our daughter, and it became tricky when she was ill. We didn’t have a well-equipped home office like we have today, nor did we have the digital possibilities we have today. Even back then, travelling for several days was difficult for me. I think it’s important that children get the feeling that their mother likes to go to work and doesn’t have a guilty conscience. But they should also know for sure that if they need mum, then that must also take priority. Our daughter often told us very proudly that she could always call if things were urgent and that even the boss had to wait. She also told him what she thought about it once.
Gwen Dünner: What did she tell him?
Cornelia Rippe-Gasche: She didn’t take advantage. She said it was her turn now: ‘We’ll finish playing and then you can call again.’ And he had the humour necessary for that. So at least for our daughter it was very important that she could also get to know my workplace, my work. That she understood – not in the first years, of course, but from school age onwards – what her mum does. And that her mother enjoys it. One day, when a friend of mine was visiting, the friend asked her what her mum’s job was and she said: ‘My mum makes phone calls and drinks coffee and that’s fun.’
Gwen Dünner: Did she understand everything?
Cornelia Rippe-Gasche: Exactly. It really became a familiar quotation around here. Even when I asked myself in the evening what I had been doing all day: ‘I drank coffee and made phone calls. Why am I exhausted?’ What I missed was networking with other working women. There was simply no time for that. There weren’t many women in the same situation back then either. I think that it’s a bit better today with social media. I also usually cancelled evening social events because evenings were simply devoted to our daughter.
Andrea Goretzki: You mentioned a very, very important keyword and that was networking. Kerstin, we also want to get to know you a little. You are a manager, and a mother, and you did your doctorate and dealt with the topic of employee leadership and motivation in your thesis. You still pay special attention to this topic in your work today. Tell us about your role at Rhenus.
Dr Kerstin Stegner: Thank you, I’m Kerstin, I’m a member of the management of Rhenus Warehousing Solutions Germany. If you ask my son, who will soon be seven years old, he would echo Conny’s daughter and also say: ‘Mum doesn’t work at all. She chats to people in a box all day and drinks coffee.’ There might be a bit more to it than that. In the children’s perception, I can understand why it looks like that. At Rhenus, I am, on the one hand, the operational Managing Director responsible, together with the respective branch manager, for two large locations in the middle of Germany. One is in Hesse, a little further north of Hanau, where Conny comes from. The other is in Thuringia. Plus I am conceptually responsible for what is known as agile leadership and operational excellence. That means that we are becoming familiar with the topic of the agile mindset in warehousing, experimenting with different methods and tools. This inspect and adapt phase, as it’s called in ‘agile’ jargon – i.e. trying out what works, what feedback we get – is currently occupying us very, very intensively. I find that super exciting because it’s also a bit of a link to my doctoral thesis. I find it totally fascinating that Conny was already at Rhenus when I was born. My 14 years of with the company seem like a really long time to me now. I also started out very operationally back then, quickly taking on management responsibility. I benefited from what Conny also said, curiosity and a bit of an adrenaline junkie. I then very quickly got a big project in Eisenach. It was a classic greenfield investment, where we built 40,000 square metres of space on a greenfield site. I found that very special about Rhenus. That is also what we have just heard, that you can take on responsibility very early on if you want to, if you are up for it. I am very grateful that I was given this responsibility. It worked really well. The other topic, which was certainly a highlight, was that we implemented a change project in our large central department for project and solution design in Holzwickede, with an agile approach, completely self-organised with the employees, where we developed what the new organisation would look like with the people in a super transparent way. This also has a link to the topic of employee commitment, which has accompanied and preoccupied me for years. I think it’s absolutely great and incredibly meaningful to see what’s possible when you trust your team and also seriously implement the trust in your own leadership approach with all the courage and all the trust and all the consistency.
Gwen Dünner: Really cool. I think what we take away from what you’re saying is that all this working on the phone or on the computer has increased a lot in the past few years. Let’s face it, Kerstin, even if there are better childcare facilities today than 25 years ago, with the COVID-19 pandemic, everything was suddenly back to square one. How did you experience the time with the job and with a small son, and how did that perhaps affect you?
Dr Kerstin Stegner: How did I experience it? Certain experiences that I wouldn’t want to go through again. Looking back, I am super proud of the fact that I managed to do it and how I managed to do it. But also, to express this very clearly now, hopefully in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a very, very great effort. Privately, on my own responsibility. But also on the part of my environment, individual people in the family, in the neighbourhood, and in the care facility too. I am also very, very grateful to my employer for the consideration and understanding with which my boss, colleagues and the team reacted. I was already a single parent at the time, my son was still very, very small. I spent I don’t know how many calls with a child on my lap. My son found it quite funny to make faces into the camera and scare people or to toot across the picture with a horn. It’s all super fun if it happens once. But when this is the constant state for months, it’s just super exhausting. Personally, I also can’t concentrate that well on numbers when a carnival stream is being tootled in front of my face. Socially, in hindsight, even with increasing reflection, I still find it absolutely shocking how irrelevant – in my perception – the needs of families and children were. Childcare was really a disaster for years and personal responsibility was required. It was at least two years that we had limited kindergarten care. To talk about the promotion of women and families now, after the experience of the last few years, is ironic, I have to say.
Andrea Goretzki: I can understand that very well. I was in a similar situation, with a daughter the age of your son. I have also had those tootling sounds on the screen. During that time, it really has to be said, everyone was very understanding and dealt with situations that had never happened before. Of course, that was a special challenge. You had to deal with it that way first. Nevertheless, experience has also shown that it is not so important that you sit at the computer and work at certain times or in certain places, but that things can actually be handled very flexibly if need be. So it is also important to deploy employees according to their strengths and to keep an eye on that. You deal with this topic not only in your doctoral thesis, but also to this day. What should leadership ideally look like from your point of view?
Dr Kerstin Stegner: The topic of leadership has been haunting me for a long time and is still the reason why I come to work every day. Our warehousing reason is this: ‘We work together as one team to unlock the full potential of both our customer and our people.’ This is not only what we post everywhere, but what really comes from the heart of many of us. For me too, just this ‘unlock the people’ is really my thing. It is super important to me that we employ people according to their abilities and strengths. And in such a way that we achieve as much intrinsic motivation as possible in order to then get into what is classically called the flow. Where the work is fun, where you don’t perceive it so much as a burden, where you are creative. The Hessian says, ‘With oomph is simply at the start.’
Dr Kerstin Stegner: I can’t make anything at all of the performance measure of hours worked. I have been asked so many times, ‘How many hours do you do in the management function now that you have the child?’ I find the hours have relatively little to do with the output. That’s what I would really like to see, that we generally tend more towards seeing a person’s strength-orientated contribution and move away from such classic patterns as hours and attendance. Then it would also be easier for me to tackle the issue of promoting women or families. Because I also know many, many fathers who would like to reduce their hours in order to share in looking after the family together, share in the care work. They still experience – and much, much more than women who have known this for a long time – this prejudice that certain jobs can only be done full-time. That’s one point I don’t believe. In a second step, I would like to see this care work in the sense of: I take care of the family, I take responsibility for children, maybe also for relatives who are a bit older and need help, as a skill and as an ability and something that helps people grow. Not just as a drag, a restriction on flexibility and as a negative aspect, because I really believe that you develop as a human being and you acquire skills that are also beneficial for everybody in the job. I think that these two points are very important, also in order to make progress in the future with regard to promoting women or families, to break away a little from the traditional pattern of thinking and to go new ways. You have to be a bit more flexible with your employees and also recognise the advantages of taking on responsibility, also in the private sphere. It is very clear to me that this is still a relatively idealistic picture because it involves major cultural change and cannot be implemented at the snap of a finger. But I hope that we can make a tiny bit of progress and perhaps contribute something to this today with the podcast.
Gwen Dünner: I hope so. You’ve just mentioned it too, women’s and family support. Conny, if you look back now, your leadership position has also given you the opportunity to hire and promote women. How did you experience that and what do you see as the biggest achievements for women in logistics?
Cornelia Rippe-Gasche: Through my own development, I know that competence and motivation are the most important things. I don’t see any limits there at Rhenus. That’s what I try to exemplify. Women sometimes set limits for themselves and don’t demand the next career step. I think we have to be much more courageous in this respect. It is a mistake for a company to forgo the special skills of women. Even today, women take on more social tasks in their private lives than men. To forgo these competences because, as Kerstin says, you think you have to count hours, is a big mistake. But I also see that Rhenus is on the right track. When the opportunity arose for me to hire a woman, I did it and with a very good success rate.
Gwen Dünner: You’ve built up the network then?
Cornelia Rippe-Gasche: Exactly.
Andrea Goretzki: To come full circle.
Cornelia Rippe-Gasche: Now I have more time. Our daughter is now 32, so I have more time to network.
Gwen Dünner: I wanted to ask another question, since you just mentioned your daughter again and also the network. What does your daughter do for a living?
Cornelia Rippe-Gasche: She is also in logistics, in concrete logistics. She always said there was no way she was going into logistics. When she was older, as a teenager, she perceived it as stress. But in the end she did go into logistics.
Andrea Goretzki: But there she’s on the phone and drinking coffee.
Gwen Dünner: I was just going to say, but you still inspired her and logistics returned.
Cornelia Rippe-Gasche: She drinks absolutely no coffee, only tea. She’s an industrial engineer; she takes after her dad. He’s a technician, she’s the mixture.
Gwen Dünner: I can identify with it 100 per cent. I also come from a logistics family and absolutely didn’t want that and ended up here. But in the writing field, so it’s mixed for me too.
Andrea Goretzki: I could go on forever talking to both of you about this topic. I can relate to some of it as a working mother as well. Unfortunately, however, we have to find a way to wrap up this episode. Perhaps we can close with a little treat. I would like to ask you both again: What do you think are the biggest challenges for women in logistics? What do we still have to work on? Conny, would you like to start?
Cornelia Rippe-Gasche: The biggest challenges? When we go into the technical area, that there are still reservations. I think if I go through the port area, we don’t yet have a woman operations manager in the commercial sector. I think it’s high time for that.
Gwen Dünner: So post the job vacancy now.
Andrea Goretzki: That was the advertising segment.
Gwen Dünner: And for you, Kerstin?
Dr Kerstin Stegner: I agree with Conny. For me, the top priority is that we move forward on the issue of tolerance and break away from traditional ways of thinking. That, as Conny said, it is just as possible to plan, for example, as a female manager in the commercial sector or very operationally as it is for a female engineer to plan highly complex automation systems.
Gwen Dünner: Dear Conny and Kerstin, thank you so much for taking the time to be our guests today. I hope you had as much fun as we did. Please continue to be so inspiring for other women at Rhenus.
Andrea Goretzki: Thank you.
Cornelia Rippe-Gasche: Yes, we are happy to do that.
Andrea Goretzki: Thank you very much for being here today.
Gwen Dünner: With that, we would also like to thank our listeners very much. For anyone who would like to listen, rate or share this and other episodes of Logistics People Talk, there are links to our profiles on Spotify, Google and Apple Podcasts as well as on our expert blog Logistics People Community. We hope you’ll listen in again next time. Greetings from your hosts:
Andrea Goretzki: Andrea Goretzki.
Gwen Dünner: And Gwen Dünner.
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