Christina Fry will remember the day when she photocopied an article from the Cosmopolitan Magazine about a glass ceiling that many women still confront at some stage of their career, and handed it over to one of the senior managers at Air Products. It was the day that still makes her laugh and reminds her about the times when the issue of women\\$quot;s career opportunities was a very sensitive topic.

\\$quot;When I first joined Air Products, there was a senior manager who had been headhunted to the company couple of months before I joined,\\$quot; tells Christina.

\\$quot;He used to stop by my desk on his way in to his office and enquire how I was getting on. I felt I could talk to him quite informally and he seemed genuinely interested in my views as a young female engineer.

\\$quot;I remember that there was an article in the Cosmopolitan Magazine about the \\$quot;˜glass ceiling\\$quot; for women, and about the fact that when women arrive to a certain level they don\\$quot;t progress much higher. So I photocopied it and put in on his desk.

\\$quot;Next time he passed by he said he thought the article was very interesting and asked me what I thought made this glass ceiling happen? I remember telling him in front of my colleagues that: \\$quot;˜I am sitting here as a young engineer and I am looking at you so many levels above me how you come in to work very early in the morning and work until very late in the evening, you travel internationally and never seem do just an eight hour day. So what incentive is there for me to aspire to your position?\\$quot;

\\$quot;And he just looked at me and said: \\$quot;˜Well if you put it like that I can understand it completely\\$quot;.

Christina Fry, Air Products UK EHS team leader for Merchant Gases and Healthcare///

\\$quot;The funny thing was that everyone else in the office was so shocked that I had copied him that article and said what I did. They (men) were in awe and thought it was a very risky subject to bring up.\\$quot;

Why teach a tortoise to run when you can take a rabbit in the first place?

But does the glass ceiling really exist? I spoke to a number of women, and although none of them had reached board level (yet), they had all already attained a very high level within their companies.

Christina has been working for Air Products UK for 16 years and held various positions from process engineering to her recent promotion to UK EHS Team Lead for Merchant Gases and Healthcare. She started her career in the nuclear industry but soon left to pursue a career within the mainstream chemical engineering in the gases industry.

\\$quot;When people asked me in the pub what I did for a living, whilst working within the nuclear sector, the conversation always ended very quickly,\\$quot; she laughed.

\\$quot;Ever since I have been with Air Products, I have been able to talk about my jobs and roles because they have been something of interest and understandable to all. People can comprehend what the company does, whether it\\$quot;s making liquid nitrogen, filling oxygen cylinders or supplying gases to the brewing industry. The industrial gases business is understandable and a nice industry to talk about, and being part of that gives me a buzz and makes my days worthwhile.\\$quot;

Dr Carla Kriwet, Head of Linde Homecare, Munich Germany///

She continued: \\$quot;I don\\$quot;t think women are a minority because we are not interested. The industrial gases business is not very well known by the public. As an undergraduate engineer you would have heard about at least one industrial gases company but what that means in terms of a job, what that company does and what the opportunities can be, may not be clear.\\$quot;

Christina is also a leader of Air Products\\$quot; EHS global diversity team and says they have very good discussions on minority issues. She continued: \\$quot;In America they actually elect what is called a \\$quot;˜diversity slate\\$quot; and they have an incentive for the managers to select somebody who is a minority. That is illegal in Europe.

\\$quot;All the European women who I talk to know that we have got a job based on competence and competence only. We don\\$quot;t want to work within an industry that is easy for us to get in. We should rather better educate women at universities about the opportunities. The myth that if you go to work for an engineering company, you are going to be an engineer all your life needs to be broken.\\$quot;

Also the Head of Linde Global Homecare, Dr Carla Kriwet, is not a big fan of special programmes encouraging or helping women to join the \\$quot;˜club\\$quot;. In fact she thinks that those kinds of programmes are nonsense. She said: \\$quot;For me it would not work. I would not work for a company who would say that because you are a woman you have especially good chances. I would think what rubbish.

\\$quot;I always seek to work for a company where I have a sincere feeling that performance counts. I want to be selected because I am the best for the job. When you see an environment where something else but the overall principle of performance weighs more, then I would start getting doubtful.

\\$quot;For me gender is not a separate issue. The whole discrimination issue relates to gender, nationality, age and background. If one of these factors becomes a deciding factor, then I would start to doubt. It doesn\\$quot;t matter if a person is white, black, male, female, man, women, old, young, gay or not, performance must become first. People who fear that they belong to some kind of minority group need to know there\\$quot;s an overriding performance principle in the career selection process in the first place.\\$quot;

Carla also believes in transparency in selection process. She says it\\$quot;s more important than all kinds of development programmes. \\$quot;Why to teach a tortoise to run when you can take a rabbit in the first place? Good people don\\$quot;t need that much of training or support networks. The successful work they have done talks for them.\\$quot;

So what about career opportunities for women? Well, according to Christina they are very good within Air Products. She says this is partly to do with the fact that the company has a wide portfolio of businesses. However, women still represent a significant minority and may miss a great career opportunity within the industry due to lack of knowledge.

Special Industry

\\$quot;I left Boston Consulting because I wanted to have an operational business responsibility. I wanted to be more than an advisor. I wanted to see the bottom-line at the end of each month and feel responsible for it.

\\$quot;What is interesting in the gases industry is the variety of applications, not the technology itself but the new developments in food, electronics, steel etc. In mature businesses, better use of gases can develop them and actually lead to a real step change. It is still possible to optimise the steel world for example. That for me is very fascinating.

Carla also notes that the gases industry is dominated by only a handful of players. She continued: \\$quot;The growth has to come from application, innovation and drive come out of that, rather than market share. It\\$quot;s a very local business where you have to be competent with each and every customer in your local area. If you look at my field of responsibility, healthcare, the whole application side of it is particularly fascinating.\\$quot;

Career satisfaction

\\$quot;I am not happy enough where I am; I am still wanting to climb and do more.\\$quot;

\\$quot;Healthcare is one of the most attractive growth markets for gases. Firstly because of demographic trends; ageing population, and secondly because of social trends; the baby boom generation who now gets through retirement doesn\\$quot;t accept second standard healthcare services.

\\$quot;They don\\$quot;t accept to stay at home being locked up to a heavy concentrator when they know that they could go out and play golf. Demographic changes, people getting older, social trends and market development benefit this business segment enormously.\\$quot;

Christina also finds the variety of applications fascinating and she feels the industrial gases industry is an area she can whole-heartedly support.
She said: \\$quot;Industrial gases is a very clean and environmentally friendly business and as a young engineer I felt I could whole-heartedly support it.

\\$quot;Now when I am learning more about packaged gases, I am surprised how little of the actual business mechanics I understand. I don\\$quot;t need to know all that but its very enlightening when you have been working with one kind of business for years and then when moving into something new you realise how much new information you need to pick up.

\\$quot;I am also getting to understand new businesses I haven\\$quot;t been exposed to before, like the homecare medical businesses, which are fascinating. It is almost like putting a new hat on and thinking about things in different ways.\\$quot;

Whether people who enter the industrial gases business enters it by accident or not, they all seem to thoroughly fall for it, and stay.

Both ladies agree that the industrial gases business is facing a huge challenge in Europe and vast opportunities in Asia. Christina says the wider industry in Europe is going to have to change because of the changes in the chemical manufacturing base. \\$quot;There is a top tier chemical plant across the road from where I sit and it\\$quot;s closing in two years time. Although we need to be involved globally and continue to supply the customers moving into Asia, we also have to manage and have a healthy business base in Europe. Partly that is finding new applications but also being prepared to create new opportunities, working with people, being innovative and being prepared to do things differently.\\$quot;

\\$quot;The fact that manufacturing base is moving is a huge opportunity for us,\\$quot; Carla continues. \\$quot;At the moment Linde Homecare is investigating in Asia. On the one hand we can get cheaper and high quality devices from China. This fits well into the overall Linde Homecare strategy of offering best service to our customers, more effective treatments to patients, more reliable services to doctors and convincing cost saving models for the insurance companies. On the other hand there is an incredible market potential. There are about 30 - 40 million Chinese with COPD as a main disease who we could be treating with oxygen.\\$quot;

Carla has been working for Linde for three years; two years as the Head of Corporate Strategy and since last year she has been responsible for Linde\\$quot;s global homecare operations. Her career has taken her from ABB India to Boston Consulting based in London.

\\$quot;I do not wish to remain in the same job for the next 15 years; I am still wanting to climb and do more. I had a recent promotion but for me it\\$quot;s a stepping-stone to the next position,\\$quot; Christina says.

\\$quot;In a few years time the question for me is, do I stay within the EHS function and try to grow based on my area of competence or do I make that leap to an unrelated job. I think that\\$quot;s the question you need to ask through your career rather than assume that you are going to develop one straight-line path. You always need to keep looking what the opportunities are.

\\$quot;Being a plant manager somewhere is not something I have direct experience of, such a move might be seen as a risk, but I know I would do a good job. And some risks are worth taking.

\\$quot;My career moves have been unforeseen. Nowadays a career comes together from little pieces of a puzzle. If you do this extra job here and there it might expose you to a new group of people in the company. And its the variety of those jobs that adds value to your profile, and sometimes a young engineer doesn\\$quot;t necessarily understand that straight away.\\$quot;

Carla on the other hand has had her operational responsibility only for a year but although she says her business segment with €200m sales is still small, she believes there are a lot of opportunities to make her segment and role bigger. \\$quot;I am getting a lot of support from the organisation, and this helps me to grow the homecare business, both organically and via acquisitions.

\\$quot;Compared to other gases areas, my business segment is still developing, and there are lots of opportunities. We just have to get the right competence on board and just do it.

\\$quot;That is my short-term career plan. Long term, I don\\$quot;t know,\\$quot; she sighs. \\$quot;But I need the challenge, the opportunity to learn and I need to see that I can advance. If these three are somehow met I would be happy, and motivated to continue.

\\$quot;I can also see the BOC \\$quot;“ Linde deal creating more opportunities. There\\$quot;s a lot of learning we can get from BOC, also in the homecare field. I am sure that we will not only benefit from their experiences, but also from their geographic presence. Whilst we are still undertaking our first researches in Asia, they are already there.

\\$quot;I also believe this is another testing case to see whether the best win; not the Germans, not the British, not the ones who have been there forever, but the best ones.\\$quot;

Climbing up the ladder

Undoubtedly both women have had a very successful and bright career so far. However, neither of them have yet reached their final goal and they are eager to achieve more and keep on climbing the ladder.

Additional Articles:
Women in industry - July 2006
Women in industry - August 2006