Promoting women
in STEM jobs

Petra Scharner-Wolff, Member of the Executive Board, Finance, Controlling and Human Resources on promoting women in STEM jobs.


Petra Scharner-Wolff, Vorständin Finanzen, Controlling, PersonalDigitalisation is changing markets fundamentally. In all areas of the economy and therefore also in online retail there is a need for specialists and managers with excellent digital skills. Traditional professional paradigms are being completely supplanted by new ones. 

Already today we are desperately looking for specialists and managers with a university degree in STEM areas – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – who can take on related tasks in a digitalised world of work. Besides this we are looking for specialists for whom there is no specific degree course yet. There is an acute lack of specialists: the Otto Group, for example, is currently advertising for around 400 new employees in STEM-related professions at its Hamburg headquarters campus, which include BI specialists, e-commerce experts, online marketing managers, and IT managers.

The following graph shows that in Germany the amount of STEM jobs far exceeds the number of employees available

Arbeitskräftelücke im Bereich Mathematik, Informatik, Naturwissenschaft und Technik (MINT)

Amongst the university degree courses from which we would like to hire more young female employees are Computer Science and IT Management, as well as from candidates for Dual Studies degrees such as Business Informatics and E-Commerce.

The digital sector has so far been dominated by men, as jobs here are mainly filled by graduates in STEM subjects – most of whom are male. If we intend to satisfy our requirement for specialist professionals from the millennial generations and those that follow, we need to focus on young women more strongly than we have so far.

The digital transformation is also a cultural revolution that offers outstanding opportunities for women in the digital sector. In particular, qualities such as a team-player mentality, excellent communication skills, spontaneity, empathy and a less hierarchical mindset are in strong demand. Managerial styles are being redefined. Women who offer technical knowledge on top of these competencies have all the right cards to carve out an excellent career for themselves.

Given the increasing level of digitalisation there are very good opportunities for women with digital media skills to be able to balance family and professional commitments later on – and the same holds true for men. This is because in future, digital professions will require progressively less in-company time from employees.

The vital role of the parental home and school

As the mother of a daughter I am convinced that as parents we need to break down established beliefs. Nature provides women with just as much talent for digital subjects as men – and for generations that have grown up with Instagram and Snapchat etcetera, this is in no doubt whatsoever. Parents, relatives and family acquaintances need to raise girls’ and young women’s awareness more strongly that digital professions offer them long-term career perspectives, and that digital skills are a genuine career asset.

Girls and young women often lack the necessary self-confidence in STEM subjects. In maths, for instance, boys are attributed higher skills than girls from the very beginning – and this is a belief trap. Together with parents, teachers need to break down this stereotype and motivate young girls in particular to focus their skills and talents in maths-based science subjects. In addition, schools need to focus more strongly on STEM subjects overall.

Since universities and technical colleges began to make a concerted effort to make STEM degree courses more attractive to women, the percentage of female students in these subjects has already risen by around a third. However, in my own opinion there is still a great deal to do to break down obsolete structures and curricula further, and to drive women-centred communication and networking forward. This is where companies need to start taking responsibility and, through cooperations with higher education institutes, commit more strongly to women with digital competencies.

Companies need to establish networking and promotion platforms at an early stage. At the Otto Group we have gathered very positive experience in this area though ‘Boost your career’, our development programme for young female managers. In business we need to demonstrate much greater courage in filling digital specialist and management vacancies with women.

This notwithstanding, women themselves need to show much more determination in achieving their career goals. I find it a pity that women in particular attribute such negative implications to the term ‘power’. Taking an ambitious yet sporting approach to challenges has helped me reach my objectives in the past, even in difficult situations. Through providing stronger mentoring, companies can encourage women in STEM professions not to hide their light under a bushel.

Companies can also exert influence by working to improve the image of individual departments. In particular the IT and BI Areas need to be consciously ‘socialised’: by this I mean showing increased openness to other specialist Areas, and further diversifying their employee mix with staff from other professions. Besides this, greater willingness to communicate would help to attract women as lateral candidates for positions in these Areas.


„Boost your Career“

Das Management-Programm für Frauen