Having worked all her life fi rst for Messer and, since the merger in 2004, for Air Liquide, Dietlind Gillner is one of the most experienced ladies within the industrial gases business.

When she joined Messer in 1969 the circumstances were somewhat different to today. Back then the number of women was even smaller, which made many women struggle in order to survive among their fellow male colleagues.

Dietlind still remembers when she started to head the Messer production business and its 300 staff. She said: "When I, as a woman engineer, was put in charge of the operations they (men) didn\\$quot;t like it at all. They tried to get me out.

"There were several occasions when they came to me and said, \\$quot;˜oh the oxygen fi lling line doesn\\$quot;t work. We don\\$quot;t know what\\$quot;s wrong, what should we do?\\$quot; I always said fine, we\\$quot;ll go together to the line and you will explain to me what\\$quot;s wrong, and then we\\$quot;ll come to a conclusion together.

"This happened two to three times or until the male staff were convinced that yes, this is a lady with knowledge. They tested how far could they go."

Career opportunities

\\$quot;High ranking women are silently cheered on by younger women who definately look up to them.\\$quot;

But Mrs Gillner passed all the tests with flying colours, and now, when she is on the verge of retiring, she is pleased to see that the number of women is increasing. "I agree that the number of the women has grown but I think this has happened only in sectors such as IT, finance and admin."

Air Liquide America\\$quot;s president Kim Denney, on the other hand, feels the opportunities for women are many and varied. She says women make terrific leaders when they use their natural abilities to actively listen and to build consensus. She said: "Strong leaders need these talents in today\\$quot;s business climate.

"This is still very much a male dominated industry - as are most heavy industries. There have not been many role models for women my age. There was no woman to look to for advice as I was advancing. Our mentors were men.

"Young women today, however, value women above them. High ranking women are watched and silently cheered on by younger women who defi nitely look up to them as role models and attempt to emulate their approaches and career paths."

So how can women progress faster? Kim thinks women should take more risks and think about the whole business rather than being only task oriented and hoping that their work speaks for itself. "We often make the mistake of failing to make our expectations for our career or our next job clear to those who can make a difference in our careers.

"It\\$quot;s critical that the decision-makers know what you want to do and what your expectations are. Too many women silently hope they get their dream job instead
of asking for it. In asking, we learn how to prepare for that job; what the expectations are, and we make it clear what we would like to do next. Everyone wins!," she says.

At the same time Dietlind feels the problem in employing women lies within the management of gas companies. "Yes, women do get interviewed but they are interviewed and inspected much more critically than male candidates. And the management always has a problem making decision in favour of a woman."

Kim Denney, President, Air Liquide America///

Gillner also feels the technical side of the business deters many women. Although ladies are given good training programs and they do progress within their paths, the progression is not straightforward. "Many women decide to have a baby after couple of years and when they come back they find they have to start from the beginning. I think this a pity and not an easy problem to solve.

"Women also have to work 120 per cent at all times but if they make a mistake it is inspected and treated totally differently than if it was made by a man. I think many women are aware of this and therefore recognise that it can take up to five years to become accepted."

Still she feels Air Liquide is an exceptional company that has training programmes in all areas to make careers possible. "To me this is very good and positive. Career opportunities in this company are getting better but when I look to other companies I am not convinced that they really do more than they have to.

Experience from multiple fields
Gillner\\$quot;s career within the two gas companies has been fascinating. Although she has always stayed loyal to the same company, she has experienced many roles and progressed well.

"I started from Messer\\$quot;s R&D and speciality gases area but soon moved into the production side of the business, which I found impressive. After this I had a
discussion with my manager, which lead me to move on again, this time to customer services."

Today Gillner is responsible for production, logistics and cylinder management in Germany.

Kim also has an extensive 13-year long list of experience from solid operations, project experience and energy procurement to sales.Today she is driving Air
Liquide America\\$quot;s distributor and cylinder business.

But what about the newcomers? What would be the ladies\\$quot; advice to them? In Kim\\$quot;s eyes it\\$quot;s all about willingness to take those risks.

Gillner on the other hand stresses the importance of communication. "If you have a problem speak to people because if you don\\$quot;t the problem will become bigger and bigger, and in the end the discussion may not be very pleasant.

"Be strong and be open, and that will become your strength," she advices.

Additional Articles:
Women in industry - glass ceiling, does it exist? - June 2006
Women in industry - July 2006