An interview with SEEBURGER‘s Samantha Kurtz
Just under one-sixth of employees in information and communications technology are female. We wondered why so few women are choosing to work in this industry compared to others, so asked around the office. In this article, Samantha Kurtz tells us what it’s like to be a woman in the male-dominated IT industry. However, let us start with a quick look at a little known aspect of IT history.
Did you know that for part of the last century, IT was a female-dominated industry? Indeed, the first ever universal computer was programmed by women during the Second World War!
These six fascinating women – Jean Jennings, Betty Snyder, Ruth Lichterman, Marlyn Wescoff, Frances Bilas und Kay McNulty – were called computers, because that is what they did. They computed. Since they trained and developed the computer to solve certain tasks from the beginning, they soon got to know this novel machine inside out. Before long, they were controlling this strange machine with its interfaces and electron tubes better than its inventor.
Nevertheless, their work was valued far less than that of the men. Shockingly, when this first electronic computer was presented in public, the six female pioneers were not even invited. They were even cut out of the press photos.
Since then, a lot has happened in the world of digitalisation. Unfortunately, however, women never again played such an important, significant role in IT. According to Statista, in 2020 women made up only 16.7% of the IT workforce.
As we took a closer look around our offices, however, we were pleasantly surprised. A global player in the industry, at SEEBURGER nearly 25% of our employees are female!
One of these we met during our – somewhat brief – research was Samantha Kurtz. Samantha has been working at SEEBURGER for over four years. For the last 18 months, her role has been strategic programme manager in our consulting team. She is also a member of the newly established corporate culture group. Samantha agreed to an interview.
SEEBURGER: Hi Samantha. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. Let’s get started. How did you end up in the IT industry, and more specifically, at SEEBURGER?
Samantha: Hi! After finishing school, I did an apprenticeship in business administration. At that company, I ended up moving to the IT department quite early on, almost by chance. Following my apprenticeship, I was hired as an IT project manager for application development. Two years later, I switched to electronic data exchange as systems engineer. It was while working in this area that I first discovered SEEBURGER solutions.
I came to SEEBURGER via a SEEBURGER customer day in Hamburg. I was one of the only female customers at this event. However, things seemed different at SEEBURGER. Two women gave a presentation on consulting and mapping management, and they captivated everyone. I was so impressed. As a result, I took a closer look at the offer made by a SEEBURGER recruiter. A short time later, I became part of the SEEBURGER family, working as a Team Manager in Support.
SEEBURGER: What has been your greatest success?
Samantha: Hard to say. I would describe one of my greatest successes as having the courage to leave a secure job after ten years and moving to SEEBURGER. It was a safe, risk-free job. Moving on meant leaving my comfort zone and starting something new. Yes, I think we can say that my greatest success was deciding to start working at this international company!
SEEBURGER: What skills and abilities do you need to get a management position like yours?
Samantha: You need to be able to make decisions and to have the confidence to just give something a go. Either I guide someone to making their own decision, or I need to make the decision myself. I also think communication skills are important, because I often communicate with employees or management. And a certain amount of self-confidence, courage and assertiveness, because you may also face some opposition from time to time. As a team leader in particular, I think it’s important to be able to empathize with my employees, to organise them, and to treat each other with respect. Of course, you don’t need to have mastered these skills from the start; you tend to quickly grow into a new position!
SEEBURGER: What do you think about introducing a female quota in a company?
Samantha: That is a difficult subject. Generally, there are two camps. Personally, I’m neither for nor against a female quota. It is good that it throws a spotlight on the issue of equality. I personally believe that a female manager is just as important as a man and can do the job just as well. There are simply far too few women in management positions.
I feel equality is important regardless of gender. I think it is more important that a job is filled according to a person’s skills and qualifications, and not based on gender, origin or other superficial characteristics. And what woman would want to be offered a job purely because of a quota?
SEEBURGER: What advice would you give to young women wanting to climb the career ladder?
Samantha: Everyone, regardless of their gender, should build up a network, search out role models and mentors, and find a trusted person in their company. And, be open to criticism. We learn the most from people who think differently to us. It is important to surround ourselves with people who have more skills and knowledge than we do. Only then can we learn something new and broaden our horizons. You need to approach others positively and openly, and to believe in yourself.
It’s important to try things out, make mistakes, learn from them, and set yourself goals. Find your own way and don’t necessarily pay too much attention to what others think is good. And, you need to love what you do!!
SEEBURGER: What advice would you give to women working in a male-dominated job?
Samantha: In my job, I have often been the only woman working with several men. I’ve had to work out this stuff on my own. Believe in yourself, be confident, and stay true to yourself. Those are the most important things. Be genuine, and express what you feel to be right, even if it goes against another colleague’s opinion – male or female. And regardless of where you work; it is unbelievably important to create a network and to have people who believe in you and support you.
SEEBURGER: Can you think of a particular experience you had at work because you’re female?
Samantha: I do actually have a story here. I was still relatively new to my job and needed to set up some EDI interfaces. It’s a pretty routine task, and I’m good at it. There was an older gentleman who needed an interface setting up. As is standard practice with these requests, I went through a list of questions with him. At the end, he asked me who would set up the interface, as he thought that I was just an assistant. He expected me to pass on the actual task to a male expert.
I’d never been asked that before, and was perplexed and confused. That was the first time that someone had doubted my ability because I was female. I transferred the call to a male colleague. And this colleague stood up for me, made it clear to the customer that I knew what I was doing, and told him that either I would be setting up the interface, or that there wouldn’t be an interface. It was a special moment as I could see the support I had from my team.
I did set up the interface for that customer. Everything worked fine and he never contacted me again. That was the only time I’ve ever experienced anything like that. It never happened again.
SEEBURGER: Have you experienced any particular challenges in your career?
Samantha: That’s a tricky one. I think that nearly everything I’ve gone through could also have happened to a man. I’ve never been badly treated or excluded in any way. My most negative experience was the story I told earlier about the older man and the interface. However, that showed me how much my team supported me.
The biggest challenge is finding a balance between my job and being a single mother. However, I don’t regret any of the decisions I have made and have managed to find a good balance, thanks to my fantastic colleagues.
Many thanks for the interview!
 Cf. Frauen bedienten den ersten Computer der Welt – SZ Magazin (sueddeutsche.de) [Women Operated the World’s First Computer] (accessed 2nd Dec 2021).
 Cf. Anteil von Frauen und Männern in verschiedenen Berufsgruppen 2020 | Statista [Proportion of Men and Women in Various Occupations](accessed 25th Nov 2021).
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