Moving mountains in people's heads, not only on the construction site

Barbara Hagedorn is an entrepreneur and, together with her husband Thomas, runs the Hagedorn group of companies, one of the largest demolition companies in the world and all-round service provider in the areas of demolition, disposal, civil engineering and land revitalization. She describes herself as a mother, managing director, front woman, controlled whirlwind, communicative, honest, warm and committed. zdi.NRW met Barbara Hagedorn for an interview and talked to her about women in the construction industry, entrepreneurial independence and female recruiting.

Ms. Hagedorn, in this year's zdi-Heldinnen-Oktober we are presenting female entrepreneurs from the STEM field. What's your story? How did you end up in the construction industry?

I come from a family of entrepreneurs and set up my own business in the tire industry at the age of 23. At the time, my current husband had a young company with around 15 employees. And at some point we realized that running two companies takes a lot of time. Then he asked me if I wanted to join him. I made the decision and since then we have complemented each other perfectly. At that time, our company headquarters was still a small garage.

So the entrepreneurial spirit was instilled in them. What advice would you give to other women who are considering starting their own business?

Clearly: what you do, you have to do with passion. Although self-employment involves a lot of work, those who are passionate about their job can do it and enjoy it a lot. On the other hand, children who have to take over their parents' company, although they have other goals, will not be happy in the long term.

You seem to feel very comfortable as a woman in a craft company in which mainly men work. Has it always been like this for you?

As a young entrepreneur in the tire industry, you have to prove yourself a little more, of course. A man can say that the hoop is round and black, as a woman you have to be able to explain and disassemble the hoop. Nevertheless, as a woman in a male-dominated industry, it was always a lot of fun for me. I feel the same way in the construction industry now. I love the concrete, the honest and direct language in construction. Unfortunately, there are not enough women in the construction industry.

Under the motto "Women in construction" you have launched a wide-ranging and well-received communication campaign for more young women in the construction industry. How did the campaign come about?

We still have a minority of women, but the fact is: As an industry, we can no longer afford to be unattractive to women. Because although construction and demolition is booming, it is becoming increasingly difficult to fill vacancies. And because there are hardly any female employees, you have to grow your own plants, as the saying goes. For the reasons we last yearwoman in construction“-campaign initiated to win girls and young women for commercial training at Hagedorn. Our goal for 2021 was to find three female trainees outside of administration. We did that and even surpassed our goal. This year, four young women started their training in the industrial sector with us. Three prospective construction equipment operators and a civil engineering worker. In our area there are incredibly good opportunities for advancement and the earning opportunities are usually better than in typical women's jobs, that's often forgotten.

In order to continue the campaign and also to help other companies in the region to find young women, we have also established an industry-wide network. With combined forces, we want to create role models, break down prejudices and change structures in construction. Around 30 companies have now joined the network. Together we also founded our own Instagram channel at the beginning of August, called "WE.CAN.CONSTRUCT“. There, women from the industry present themselves in order to get other women interested in construction. Because our survey at the beginning of the year revealed that girls and young women want more role models.

Not only the construction industry, but also other STEM industries are desperately looking for skilled workers. What would be a first step for companies to recruit more young women?

I always say: We not only have to move mountains on the construction site, but also in people's minds. It is essential that the entire company stands behind it and is dedicated to the topic. That can be a long road. Basically, companies must above all be willing to implement and change something in their operations. The women don't run into them by themselves. Changing your mind is the first step. The entrepreneur himself has to stand behind it and send the message: Yes, we want more women in our company. It starts with making sure that the employees feel comfortable. You have to listen to them, recognize and value their work. In this way, female employees can be bound to the company in the long term. It can also help to focus on young people when recruiting and to involve them through language. Because the right approach does not cost money. As a company, we have always been open and courageous to change something. That's what I advise all companies that want more young women.

Do you have any other tips on how companies can better engage with young women?

It can be helpful to team up with other companies, for example by creating a network like we did. It is nice to experience that so many are pulling together and the regular exchange is profitable for everyone involved. Because only together can we make a difference and drive forward structural change.

Many thanks for the interview!

More interviews and portraits with STEM entrepreneurs can be found here: The zdi heroines October 2021: Focus on STEM entrepreneurs

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