Women in The Chemical Distribution Industry: New Opportunities in A Changing Environment?

By Dorothee Arns & Maria Grineva
March 6 2020 | Interview

Where are the opportunities for women now that this industry is changing? Which key skills are required for a specialist (woman or man) in the chemical business? What kind of employee profile could support a paradigm-shift in a supplier-customer relation? These and other questions were discussed in an interview with Ms Dorothee Arns, General Manager of the European Association of Chemical Distributors.

Key Words: Gender, Chemical Industry, Chemical Leasing

The chemical industry is still dominated by men. Where are the opportunities for women now that this industry is changing? Which key skills are required for a specialist (woman or man) in the chemical business? What kind of employee profile could support a paradigm-shift in a supplier-customer relation?

Indeed, business conditions are changing more quickly than ever before. Our societies including our industry and its customers are becoming more and more diverse. We can only embrace the diversity in the markets and anticipate the trends properly, if our industry in-house reflects the diversity out there in the world. Additionally, all independent studies have proved the business case for diversity: diverse teams simply perform better. So, in this sense, there is a big opportunity for women in the chemical industry.

Nevertheless, our industry still comes across by far too often as male-dominated. It has become better over the past decade, but there is still a lot to do, especially when we think of the low numbers of women in top management positions. This can only be achieved by female role models, flexible, family-friendly working schemes for women and men alike so that they can share private and professional obligations in a fair way. Digitalization will certainly help further in this respect.

What proves to be a frequent obstacle for promoting women to leadership roles is that women are more focused to get their actual job done at the expense of building up and retaining networks.

Additionally, there is a traditional tendency in our industry (and others, too, by the way) to promote men on the basis of their potential, while women are promoted on the basis of their achievements and performance shown in previous positions.

This has nothing to do with bad intentions, but with unconscious bias.

Experts say that industry in the near future will require more and more specific skills because of technological progress, namely “a combination of technological know-how, problem-solving, and critical thinking as well as soft skills such as perseverance, collaboration, creativity and empathy”. Do you agree with this? Will this also be the case in business/operations with chemicals? In this regard, do you think that women, in general, could be more in demand by the industry and get more chances for professional development?

Yes, I agree with this assessment. Our societal challenges have become so complex – just think of the circular economy, marine litter or recycling – that one sector alone cannot solve them anymore. What we, indeed, need is innovation in all aspects from new technologies, new designs to new business processes, new concepts on how to deal with products at their end of the life cycle and with waste. This can only be achieved by open-mindedness, achievement drive, problem-solving skills, the willingness to learn from others and to collaborate across traditional communities and across all sectors.

These skills are also key for Chemical Leasing and other performance-based concepts: the supplier must be open to such business models, understand how the customers “tick” and which technology they are applying. Also, in this respect out-of-the-box thinking is needed, because all this means a paradigm shift.

Is this gender-specific? Personally, I think it is more a question of personality and mentality, less of gender and of age.

How can performance (service)-oriented business models in general, and in particular Chemical Leasing, benefit from more women in the industry and vice-versa: how can women benefit from the wider implementation of performance (service)-oriented business models?

What we are seeing already now is a much stronger diversification trend in the chemical industry than ever before, starting with a whole series of highly diverse chemical raw materials up to final applications. This trend will for sure continue.

Consequently, also the jobs and their profiles in this industry will change and further diversify, accelerated by digitalization, which implies emerging new job profiles for people who have these specific skills, regardless of whether they are men or women.

In your current position, do you discuss gender issues and encourage the self-realization of women in the chemical industry? Do you consider such activities important and why?

Yes, this topic has always been close to my heart and that I have the opportunity to actively contribute to it at the interface between the economy and politics is definitely one aspect of my role in Brussels which I enjoy most. For example, in late 2018 I had the pleasure and the honour to represent the chemical industry in a workshop of the European Parliament with senior leaders of the EU Commission, the Parliament, the Council, the Austrian EU-Presidency and the ILO, the International Labour Organisation. It was great to exchange views, combine the expertise from different angles and see that the room was absolutely packed with interested women AND men. Moreover, I had the pleasure to speak at a high-level roundtable event related to the upcoming EU Gender Equality Strategy and how to bring more women into European Parliaments and into top management positions a couple of weeks ago. This meeting brought together major representatives from all EU Institutions and academia upon the initiative and invitation of Dr. Carola Reimann, Minister for Social Affairs, Health & Equality of Germany´s Federal State Lower Saxony. In my private time, I am mentoring young ladies from all parts of the world in their first professional years, and if I can help, it really makes my day.

@DorotheeArns at the European Parliament, 2018.

Read more
  • Explore more about Chemical Leasing and performance-based business models

Source: The article was published for the first time in: www.linkedin.com/pulse/women-chemical-distribution-industry-new-changing-maria-grineva
Image copyrights: illustrations: UNIDO and FECC; graphical elements: Freepik

Dorothee Arns

General Manager of European Association of Chemical Distributors.

“My passion? In bringing the European chemical industry forward”

Maria Grineva

An external consultant of UNIDO, experienced in the coordination of industrial development projects, PR and communication solutions. Conceptualized and developed the web-version of the Chemical Leasing toolkit and IAMC toolkit. Communication manager for the Global Chemical Leasing Award 2020. Co-founder of Athenea International.

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