If you ask Marion Meissner what she wanted to be as a child, she replies like a shot: "Master roofer". Not a craftswoman, not a roofer - she knew very early on that she wanted to do a master's degree. "My father was a master roofer and it was always clear to me: I want that too," she recalls. “I always wanted to run the business and you can only do that as a foreman. I didn't want to be determined by others, I wanted to know how things work myself."
David vs. Goliath - your way into the craft
When 16-year-old Marion Meissner was accepted for an apprenticeship as a journeyman roofer, everything seemed to fall into place. Two of three daughters have taken a different career path, so Ferdinand Meusch is all the more pleased that his youngest is now following in his footsteps. "I think he was a bit proud, even if he never showed it," remembers Marion Meissner. "Others said I was crazy." Back in the 1980s, women were forbidden to work in construction. The working time regulations from 1938, which are still valid, state that the employment of young women and women "in buildings of all kinds with the actual operational work" is prohibited. The justification: In the roofing trade, specific health impairments for women cannot be ruled out due to the "general difficulty of the work."
"Today something like that may be unimaginable, but back then the Chamber of Crafts really didn't want to accept my apprenticeship contract," reports Marion Meissner. Meissner and her father didn't let that sit on them. They knew that there were already a few exceptions to this rule, after all Marion had gotten an apprenticeship with a master roofer. They wrote to the then Minister for Labour, Health and Social Affairs of North Rhine-Westphalia. And he answered them promptly: The only exception provided for by the law, he wrote in his letter, were the "master's daughters". Women were therefore allowed to do manual training if this was necessary to keep the business going. So only when there were no male descendants who want to continue the family business.
On the condition that an expert opinion proves that the job as a roofer is physically harmless for Marion Meissner, the minister gave her permission to start the training. It was a happy coincidence that she was finally able to take her master's examination: Another prospective craftswoman complained about the old-fashioned regulation and was given the go-ahead.
The ban on women working in the construction industry was abolished in 1983, a year after Ms. Meissner began her apprenticeship. The ban on night work for women contained in the same law lasted until 1994.
women in crafts
Today, 35 years later, she still raves about the job of a roofer. "Every roof is different, no day is the same." And that, although it wasn't always easy for her. "I had the illusion that at some point I would no longer be seen as 'the woman' in the trades," says Marion Meissner. While it was normal for colleagues, the fact that she is a woman was often a topic of conversation for customers. This is very rare nowadays. Nevertheless, she is aware of her status as part of the 1,5% women in the construction industry: “Everyone sees me. That in itself is not a bad thing, but you have to be able to deal with it.”
But there is not only a lack of young women in the trades, young men are also increasingly being drawn into other professional fields. There is a shortage of 65 craftsmen across Germany. More than every third training position remains vacant.
Marion Meissner knows from her own experience why that can be - school and upbringing. “Craft is a stepchild. It doesn't even take place in careers advice," complains the master roofer and mother of two. "At most schools, the Abitur and studies are in the foreground." She, too, has had to turn down orders due to too few employees.
Training to become a roofer
Training in craft trades is divided into three parts:
1. the on-the-job training, i.e. the practical work on the roof.
2. the vocational school. There they mainly learn the theoretical basics.
3. inter-company training. In training centers, prospective roofers can learn everything that is neglected in everyday life.
The roofing trade has become more and more diverse over the years. In the meantime, roofers are installing: inside Smart home systems and take care green roofs, modern insulation and the installation of photovoltaic systems for more environmental protection in everyday life.
Dream job: craftswoman
Another problem: learned gender roles. In order to break down gender stereotypes, the roofers' association has published a children's booklet in which male and female roofers appear equally. "I wasn't really aware of how important this is for children's understanding of roles. For my children, women in crafts were nothing special. For them, being on the roof was the most normal thing in the world,” she says. But most girls lack such role models. That's why the Meusch roofing company regularly invites girls to spend a day getting a taste of workshop air as part of GirlsDay. "So that girls can dream of becoming a craftswoman," says Marion Meissner with a smile.
Even if Marion Meissner's business still bears the name of his great-grandfather, a lot has changed since the company was founded more than 100 years ago. This is not only due to the changed times, but above all to Marion Meissner's leadership.
Safety and vigilance are the top priorities for the Bergheimer Dachdecker:innen - macho behavior has no place here. Heavy material and tools are lifted together, everyone wears gloves and when the child is sick, dad stays at home too. All these things are not standard in many craft entrepreneurs. "I don't know if that's because I'm a woman. I'm just empathetic when it comes to the personal problems of my employees. After all, we spend more time together than with our partners,” emphasizes the entrepreneur.
From the roof to the desk
While as a journeyman she packed up the materials early in the morning and spent the whole day on roofs, as a foreman in her father's company she was primarily responsible for the distribution of work and monitoring the construction site. "Since I've been running the business, our master roofer Peter Mokry has taken on this part," she says. That way she can focus on the things that need to be done behind the scenes - costing, billing, public relations and all the financial stuff.
Self-employment means a lot of responsibility, but above all it has advantages. The biggest: You are self-determined and can organize your time flexibly. she takes over the business from her father in 1994, she is pregnant with her second child. Without further ado, Marion Meissner sets up a children's room in the office so that she can always be close to her children.
"I knew from my parents that independence is compatible with children, but many still think they have to make a decision," says Marion Meissner. In order to reconcile work, household and raising children, one thing is particularly important to them: handing over tasks and accepting help.
"In the beginning it was difficult. But it's something you have to learn when you go into self-employment. No one can do everything alone,” emphasizes the entrepreneur.
Since 2014, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) has been using the “FRAUEN unternehmen” initiative to encourage women to become self-employed through role models and to inspire girls to become entrepreneurs.
Have a plan B, C, D and F!
For women who are faced with the question of whether entrepreneurship is the right thing for them, there are many free advisory services at the Chamber of Crafts and the Chamber of Industry and Commerce. According to Meissner, a list of pros and cons can also help in the classic way. What speaks for entrepreneurial independence? What about working as an employee?
It is important to Marion Meissner to be prepared for everything: “I always have a plan B, C, D and F. What do I do if I get sick and have important appointments? Who takes over? How do I deal with it if there is an emergency at school?
Ultimately, however, one thing is certain for her: "Everything is possible!"