Catalysts of change: GEA's female engineers

June 21, 2024

A women engineer working in front of computer

GEA’s female engineers provide important leadership in their roles as innovators. Their contributions in systems design, sales and project management enable customers around the world to produce more sustainably. By breaking barriers and sharing their insights, they inspire the next generation of young female engineers.

When Anne Han, a Product Engineer at GEA, recently entered a local supermarket in her hometown of Shijiazhuang, China, and saw a familiar milk brand from her childhood, she reflected on how much her life has changed since then. As a young girl she loved math. Today, she applies that same passion – and the expertise she’s developed over the years – to real-world situations. “It’s great to see my work applied in practical solutions,” she says. For example, one of her designs was used in a turnkey project to build and install one of the largest spray dryers for infant formula production in all of China.
A woman engineer working at GEA

Anne Han, Product Engineer, at GEA’s production facility in Suzhou, China. Anne joined GEA China in 2013 (Image: GEA).

While at university, Anne decided to pursue a career in mechanical engineering. Before that, she had no insight into engineering – she simply loved numbers and formulas. “When I graduated from Hebei University of Science and Technology with a major in mechanical design and manufacturing in 2001, there were very few women in my classes. This was a trend that continued as I began my professional career. In fact, I was the only woman in my team,” she reflects. However, times are changing. In the past decades there has been a steady increase in the number of female engineers, with the share reaching roughly 20 percent globally in 2021, according to the Society of Women Engineers. Today, after 11 years at GEA, nearly half of the engineers in Anne’s team are female, reflecting an important shift in the industry. Nevertheless, women remain significantly underrepresented in engineering.

It’s great to see my work applied in practical solutions.

Anne Han

Product Engineer, GEA

This disparity originates long before women enter the labor market. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the gap emerges in the formative years of early childhood. The 2022 results of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed girls often select educational paths that lead to careers which are generally lower-paying and considered less prestigious. Jobs centered around mathematics and science tend to offer higher pay, yet these sectors remain overwhelmingly male-centric. The gender gap becomes even more pronounced at higher education levels. For instance, in 2021, women made up only 32.8 per cent of graduates in STEM fields within the European Union, according to the European Commission. Addressing this challenge requires a comprehensive approach, engaging various stakeholders and highlighting female role models in STEM fields. One such role model is Carolina Andrade.
From childhood curiosity to becoming an engineer

From a young age, Carolina Andrade, Project Manager at GEA Brazil, found joy in pretending she was an engineer. She used to sketch intricate designs of imaginary machines that produce delicious juices – clearly emulating her mother who is also an engineer at GEA. These drawings were not just a coincidence. Carolina’s mother consciously tried to bridge the gap between her young daughter’s world and her own more complex professional environment by relating engineering to something as enjoyable as juice. By making this connection, she gave her young daughter an accessible introduction to engineering and nurtured curiosity that would later shape Carolina’s own career trajectory.

My younger self would be thrilled with the engineer I have become.

Carolina Andrade

Project Manager, GEA

“Engineering was part of my upbringing,” explains Carolina. “During the school holidays, I would visit the GEA offices where my mother worked. I always looked forward to meeting other engineers and I would ask them relentless questions. I became affectionately known as the 'inquisitive' child,” she explains with a smile.
A women engineer working at GEA

Carolina Andrade, Project Manager, joined GEA Brazil in 2013 (Image: GEA).

Carolina’s passion for sustainability led her to pursue a degree in environmental engineering at the Universidade Estadual Paulista in Brazil. In parallel, she gained hands-on experience at a variety of engineering companies, including GEA. When she joined GEA Brazil in 2013, she discovered the potential of engineering to safeguard the environment and preserve resources: from valorizing whey, once considered just waste, to understanding the pivotal role of pumps in water recovery efforts. Over the years, she’s contributed to diverse engineering projects, including the design and building of several milk processing and cheese production lines. Reflecting on her early drawings of juice-making machines, Carolina says, “My younger self would be thrilled with the engineer I have become.”
Anything is possible, whether you’re a boy or a girl

As a teenager, Annika Engman had no plans to become an engineer. “I was more interested in skiing,” she admits with a chuckle. But one day in her early twenties, her father proposed she enter the family business, an electromechanical workshop where pumps and gears were sold and repaired. To her surprise, she discovered that pumps were not only interesting but also fun to work on. After a period of working alongside her father, she left the workshop to explore engineering roles in other companies before accepting the position of After Sales and Service Engineer at GEA Sweden in 2023.
A woman engineer working at GEA

Annika Engman, After Sales and Service Engineer, joined GEA Sweden in 2023 (Image: GEA).

“My father taught me that anything is possible, regardless of whether you’re a boy or a girl," shares Annika. “When I joined the family business, he showed that he believed in my abilities; he encouraged me to interact with customers – who were often surprised to see a young woman handling their needs instead of my father.” This is a lesson Annika now shares with her 11-year-old daughter – whether it's encouraging her attempts to troubleshoot repairs for the family car – which her mother says she has very good instincts for – or any other future dream she might have.

“After nearly 30 years of working in this field, I still love the ever-evolving nature of engineering,” says Annika. “Since gaining my Marketing & Sales Economics Engineer degree from Försäljningsakademien Mölnlycke in Sweden, learning continues to be an important part of my professional journey – whether that’s more formal training, getting insights from colleagues or from our customers. Curiosity and a love of learning are attributes that help engineers innovate and adapt to changing needs in the market.”

After nearly 30 years of working in this field, I still love the ever-evolving nature of engineering.

Annika Engman

After Sales and Service Engineer, GEA

Encouraging the next generation

Like Annika, Carolina knows how important it is to instill confidence and encourage girls and young women. As a daughter of one of Brazil’s pioneering female engineers, Carolina seeks to emulate the inspiring example set by her mother. She is actively paving the way for future generations by mentoring female trainees at GEA Brazil and promoting initiatives to dispel pervasive gender stereotypes. She has used International Women’s Day to organize events aimed at promoting gender equality in the workplace and made sure these events are open to everyone. “Eradicating gender bias requires a collective effort which means we must involve our male colleagues in the conversation as well,” she says.

Anne, Carolina and Annika, along with all of their female engineering colleagues at GEA, are transforming their field and the industries they work in. By setting positive examples for girls and young women and actively passing on their knowledge, they ensure even greater diversity in the engineering community for years to come.

GEA employee

People with purpose

In pursuit of its core mission – Engineering for a better world – GEA is building an employer of choice culture that offers employees the opportunity to reimagine solutions, collaborate across disciplines and contribute to a transformational moment for industries around the globe.
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