in: “The Engineer” – Magazine for women in technical professions, Nr. 118, October 2016.
Interview conducted by: Afsar Soheila Sattari.
Goldita Nasta, born in Bucharest in1950, came to Germany when she was twenty to marry her fellow countryman. She is a mechanical engineer (Cologne Technical University) and certified mentor (INeKO – University of Cologne).
You can look back on a long and successful career as an engineer. How did you get to where you are?
I came to Germany as a 20 year old from Bucharest, in Romania, to marry a fellow countryman in 1970. After graduating from high school back home, I had already begun studying at the Technical University in Bucharest. Because of the move, I had to interrupt my studies.
Did you already speak German?
Only the basics but on arrival, I intensively pursued learning German.
Did you immediately continue studying?
I didn’t trust myself because my language skills weren’t up to par and I was missing a lot of technical vocabulary. That’s why, for starters, I took a job in technical drafting with a large firm in Cologne. But four years later, I realized how much I wanted to become an engineer. By then, I was on solid ground with my language skills and my integration in Germany had gone well.
Why, of all things, did you want to become an engineer? In 1970 that was certainly more exotic for a woman than today.
How true. I was the only woman in my class but my affinity for mathematics and technical construction motivated me to study mechanical engineering.
Was your gender a disadvantage during your studies?
I experienced no discrimination – neither from fellow students nor from professors. However, my background was too theoretical so I needed reach out for support from my colleagues. That’s the source of my team-working abilities.
Were you discriminated against because of your origins?
No, I wouldn’t say that. Everyone at the Technical University got along very well, no matter our origins. I even received support from the Dean’s Office when they learned that I was also holding down a strenuous job parallel to my studies. Since I had come from Rumania, no student subsidies were available to me. Fortunately, the Department provided me with a merit scholarship and a job as math tutor starting in my 4th semester. To this day, I am grateful.
And otherwise? How about when you began to work. Didn’t you encounter difficulties as an immigrant in a technical profession?
From my employers, not at all. At the time, as is the case today, engineers were in high demand. Just two weeks after my final exams, I had nailed down a permanent job as a construction engineer in a mid-sized firm. Even when I became pregnant during my trial period, the management didn’t protest. They even arranged for me to work part-time when my daughter was born.
And your new colleagues. How did they react?
Most of them were surprised and curious. In general, everyone was sympathetic. I think my self-assurance, my openness for German culture, and my willingness to integrate were all a big help. However, I should probably mention that some of the German civil servants didn’t always treat me with respect. They could be quite unfriendly and certainly drove home the point that I wasn’t German. But I didn’t let them get me down. I’d even say that I was able to develop my eloquence thanks to those experiences!
Were there other stumbling blocks along your path in Germany, aside from the bureaucracy?
Not really. Of course there was a time when I was out of a job because the firm I was working for shut down. I used this time to do some advanced training. This included a CAD certificate and attendance at a management school. Both were a big boost to my career. I spent the past 20 years working in management, 15 of those as head of an engineering support department with 175 employees.
Isn’t the automobile industry the preserve of men?
That’s an old stereotype. This industry is particularly global and women engineers are in high demand. Diversity is written in capital letters! Based on personal experience, I can truly recommend that women with immigration backgrounds study STEM subjects in preparation for jobs in this industry.
Although you’ve reached retirement age, you’re busy mentoring; not retired at all.
I still feel fresh enough to transfer my experience to younger generations. As department head, I continually endeavored to increase our quota of women and to support the development of colleagues from diverse backgrounds in the German workforce. That was based on my positive experiences as a woman and immigrant in the field of technology. And that’s why, when I ended my career in management, I decided to volunteer as a mentor at “X Mentoring” (Zentrum Frauen in Beruf und Technik) and with “KIM” (Competency in Management). My idea was to help young women in their career advancement by sharing my experiences with them.
Do you see your background as an immigrant as an advantage or disadvantage?
I see my background as an immigrant as a plus although, as already described, there were some less pleasant episodes with the bureaucracy. Generally, though, I see my background as helpful: I can communicate in several languages, understand non-verbal communication of other cultures, and am more flexible for the wear. I’ve always applied these advantages to build bridges between cultures. During my career as an engineer, I participated in international trade fares and conferences, managed projects in my country of origin, was able to offer internships in Germany to students from Rumania and finally, I was able to attract well trained Rumanian engineers to my Cologne-based firm. Today I use my experiences as an immigrant and woman to mentor other women of all backgrounds who have chosen to work in a STEM profession.
What message do you have for young, women immigrants who are interested in working in a STEM profession?
My advice is: Be courageous! Trust yourselves to apply for jobs and market yourselves actively!
Be resilient. That means being ready to pick yourself up after defeat and to continue trying to reach your goals.
Be prepared to learn from your mistakes and to balance out any weaknesses through alliances. And finally, take advantage of the many mentoring programs offered by universities or official unemployment offices. Continuing education should be on top of your agenda. And don’t forget to network and make real friends. Above all, be open to German culture and perfect your German language skills!