First female head of department at Bosch starts as apprentice in 1950
History

The first female department head at Bosch

5 minutes

She was not the first female associate at Bosch, as that particular lady had started work as a typist and stenographer in 1950 – but she was the first female department head.

In 1970, Ursula Blaich became the first woman to head a corporate department – the HR department at the company’s headquarters on the Schillerhöhe in Stuttgart. The ascent to senior management was a long climb for women, and equal opportunities for women were unheard of for a long time.

Increase in working women

By 1910, three percent of Bosch manual workers and ten percent of the office staff were female. When war broke out at the start of August 1914, women made up a good 14 percent in total. As more and more men were called up for military service, creating a shortage of manpower, the proportion of women increased, reaching 65 percent by August 1918.

In manufacturing, women were employed as semi-skilled labor. At the end of the war, however, soldiers returned to their day jobs, and by March 1, 1919, the proportion of women in the workforce had dropped to just 30 percent. A similar trend occurred during the second world war.

First female apprentice

On October 1, 1950, the first six female apprentices began working at Feuerbach, one of whom was Ursula Blaich, who said: “In 1950, the daily newspapers reported that Bosch would also start taking on female school leavers as apprentice industrial clerks.

Back then, that was considered rather progressive. This was one of the reasons I applied, and I also found technology interesting and exciting.”

Preconceptions

Once she had qualified, Ms. Blaich started work in the Frankfurt sales office. “That was by no means a matter of course at the time, and it wasn’t easy for me at first. On the phone, the Bosch Service owners usually first asked to speak to the boss, because they simply couldn't imagine a woman might understand technical matters. You had to be pretty thick-skinned.”

Brave bosses

Workplace of the first female head of department, Ursula Blaich, 1970
Workplace of the first female head of department, Ursula Blaich, 1970

Her stamina eventually paid off and with the support of others she made it into the HR department. Although Ms. Blaich was initially only responsible for the selection of apprentices, vacation workers, and some of the female associates, she was subsequently put in charge of the HR department at Schillerhöhe. This required courage not just on her part: “It called for brave bosses, as this now put me in charge of male associates, too. Fifty years ago, this was still inconceivable, and it took a lot of getting used to for supervisors and staff alike.”

Unique for long

“For many years – 15 at least, I would say – I was the only female department head at Bosch. I was the only woman at meetings, seminars, and conferences. When I was present, the group was always addressed as “Ms. Blaich, gentlemen…” – I didn't particularly like that, and I even found it embarrassing sometimes. So I was overjoyed when more women took on leadership positions,” she explained in an interview.

Targeted advancement with equal opportunities

An agreement on equal opportunities for women was ultimately concluded in 1988, which soon became known internally as the “equal opportunities plan for women” and aimed to recruit more women and make it easier to combine career and family life. In 1994, the board of management set up the working group “Women in leadership positions,” which gave rise to the women’s network one year later. In 1997, a project was set up at Bosch to advance women that became known as the “Equal Opportunities” project in 2004.

In 2011, the advancement of women was expanded into diversity management, focusing on the aspects of gender, working culture, generations, and internationality. The following year, the Bosch Group was named the most family-friendly large corporation in Germany and presented with first prize by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and Federal Minister for Family Affairs Dr. Kristina Schröder for its exemplary efforts to help associates combine career and family life.

Bosch was named the most family-friendly large corporation in Germany and presented with the first prize by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, 2012
Bosch was named the most family-friendly large corporation in Germany and presented with the first prize by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, 2012

The proportion of women today

Women currently make up 24 percent of the workforce worldwide and hold 15.1 percent of leadership positions. In order to increase this proportion even further, flexible working-time models are being expanded and worldwide mentoring and training measures are being used to advance women in leadership positions.

Kathrin Fastnacht

I am the head of Historical Communications at Robert Bosch GmbH, and I work on preserving and communicating our company’s long and multifaceted history. Before joining Bosch in 2007, I was employed for over ten years in various museums in an academic capacity. I also worked freelance in the same field. As a historian and specialist in cultural studies, I want to show that history is far from dusty and lifeless, but rather relevant and exciting.

Picture of Kathrin Fastnacht

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