Séverine Cranz: "My wish is that it will not matter to Swiss companies whether to hire a young woman or man."
By: Selma Hardegger
For Séverine Cranz, being a new mum turned out to be the main challenge finding her first job - even with an ETH Masters in Biomedical Engineering. Today, she manages to successfully combine family and work. As a mother of two and manager at a large medtech company, she advocates sexual equality at work.
You have a Bachelor’s in Health Sciences and Technology and a Master’s in Biomedical Engineering. How did you come to study at ETH?
As a child, I wanted to be a doctor. When I left school, I completed a patient care traineeship with the intention of studying medicine. During this time, I found that the job of a medical doctor was not what I had expected it to be. So I decided not to pursue this degree course anymore. Alongside medicine, I had always been interested in sciences and technologies. Therefore, I decided to study Health Science and Technology. In my Master’s, I specialised in engineering with the aim to work in research and development.
"I often encountered stereotypical preconceptions of what men and women are supposed to be interested in and capable of."
Do you feel that you received enough encouragement to pursue your keen interest in technology and maths when you were at school?
Looking back, I was not encouraged enough. During my time at school, I often encountered stereotypical preconceptions of what men and women are supposed to be interested in and capable of. Even at primary school, my teachers told me that girls are good at languages and boys at mathematics. This was confusing for a girl that prefers maths.
Later on, in secondary school, I was the only girl opting for maths. I believe that these small stereotypical experiences meant that I initially chose an interdisciplinary subject at university rather than going for a purely technical and mathematical degree.
How did your degrees from ETH help you get onto the career ladder?
When applying for jobs, I noticed that a degree from ETH in biomedical engineering has a very good reputation among Swiss companies. However, I embarked on my career in Germany. My first job was a PhD at the Helmholtz Institute in Munich. But after a year I decided to move into the private sector.
My course had given me knowledge which could be applied to many disciplines. I can speak the languages of mathematics, physics and medicine, so I am able to converse with people from various disciplines and act as an interface between them. At university, I also learnt how to quickly familiarise myself with new topics. This is incredibly important in my job.
"I found that I had fewer opportunities on the labour market than my husband despite us having the same academic qualifications." Séverine Cranz
You became a mum just after you completed your Master’s and put your career on hold. How was this for you and how did you find getting onto the career ladder afterwards?
After giving birth, I experienced huge amounts of pressure and a great fear that I would not be able to find a job without any work experience. I found that I had fewer opportunities on the labour market than my husband despite us having the same academic qualifications. I made it very clear in my CV that I had a small child, which meant that I was invited to far fewer interviews than my husband. If I did manage to secure an interview, I was always asked how I would manage both childcare and a job, and whether I was certain that I was up to this challenge. In contrast, my husband’s job interviews tended to focus on standard, gender-neutral HR matters. This unequal treatment was one of the reasons why we decided to start looking for jobs in Germany.
Interestingly, being a mother was never an issue in Germany. The only question I got on the subject was when my childcare place would be available and so when I could start. My husband and I then decided to both look for part-time jobs, each working on an 80 % basis. I do not believe that our experiences in Germany happened by chance. I think that we are too restrained in the way we tackle the issue of families and work in Switzerland. I am now working in Switzerland again as a manager for a large company. We now have two children and we have retained our part-time jobs. I do, however, believe that I have to thank the successful launch of my career in Germany for the fact that I now have a successful career here in Switzerland.
In the future, I really hope that one day it will no longer matter to Swiss companies whether they hire female or male applicants. I consider a part-time job as an advantage. Working part time means that I complete my work with determination in the time available to me. I always have to set the right priorities for my work and work efficiently. It is important for there to be more part-time positions for both women and men. People are only just starting to accept that a man can work part-time too; it’s something that is not commonplace enough in our society. For many families, it is important for the man to also participate in family life and be able to support his wife both at home and in her work. The state and private sector shoulder vital responsibility for a successful part-time working model.
"Having children is a skill." Séverine Cranz
Where do you think that Swiss universities could do more?
A career for people with a family, regardless of gender, should be promoted at a much earlier stage – during academic education. I see the universities as having a role model function by offering flexible working hours, part-time models and internal childcare. For example, these should be available to PhD students – both young mums and dads! One very pleasing thing to note is the increasing number of female professors.
Do you have any tips for how young engineers can better combine family and work?
We must not let ourselves be intimidated and put off from our visions. Looking back, I am happy that I was always very open about being a mum. Right from the outset, I have said that I can and want to work part-time on an 80 % basis. Everyone, male and female, should be able to say this without being disadvantaged.
If we women continue to omit our time as parents from our CVs, nothing in society will change. We need to admit to having families and children. Having children is a skill. As a mother of two, I know how to deal with opposition. Since becoming a mother, my assertiveness has grown, I have more endurance, am more focussed on goals and am able to better control my emotions. All of this stands me in good stead for the world of work.