Now with 4 Portraits

Women and Girls in Sciences

Women in sciences are tackling major global challenges, but gender biases in STEM are still significant. Less than 30 percent of the world’s researchers are women and long-standing biases continue to discourage girls from entering STEM fields. With women and girls underrepresented as leaders and users in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the gender gap will only widen as the jobs of the future shift to technology and innovation. To bring awareness to the issue and change the narrative, the UN declared February 11th as International Day of Women in Sciences. We introduce you to four women at Freudenberg Performance Materials who have chosen a technical or scientific career.

Portrait of Terry Palaian


Terry Palaian:

"Finding myself in a building with 2,000 men and 11 women was a pretty special situation.”

Read more about Terry Palaian experiences

Terry Palaian at work

After graduating in fashion design 30 years ago, Terry Palaian took her first job at the Ford Motor Company, where she was responsible for the cutting and assembly of automobile seat covers. Over the years, she became specialized in the entire construction of car seats. For the past eight years, she has been employed at Freudenberg Performance Materials in Durham, USA. As a development engineer, her area of responsibility includes the approval of new products for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), which include major automotive manufacturers among others. 

Ms Palaian, would you choose to shape your career the same way again?

When I was promoted to the position of car seat engineer at Ford, I was working in a building with 2,000 men and just 11 other women. That was for sure a pretty interesting situation. I encountered a lot of obstacles, but I also had encouraging experiences that made the whole journey very exciting and interesting. Ultimately, I was able to make a big difference with my specialized knowledge in design and pattern development. I would take the same path again anytime. There are challenges in every profession. The important thing is not to give up.

What advice would you give to young women who are interested in entering a technical profession?

I would definitely encourage them. My daughter – partly thanks to the example I set – completed her studies as an engineer in 2017 and will shortly take up her first position at General Motors. My son is also studying engineering. I think that a degree and a profession that involve technology are a great choice.


Terry Palaian, Development Engineer, Durham, USA

Hoa Pham


Hoa Pham, Research and Development Manager, Durham, USA:

“Now that more women are breaking the glass ceiling and working in technical professions, I’m proud to be part of this community effort.”

Read more about Hoa Pham's experiences

Hoa Pham

Hoa Pham studied chemical engineering, polymer science and modern languages. Born in Vietnam, she has been working for Freudenberg Performance Materials in Durham, USA, since December 2014 and has just completed the LEAD management program.

Who or what inspired you to take up a technical profession?

I have the good fortune to grow up with parents for whom the education of their children was very important, regardless of gender. Looking back, it was my father who was ahead of his time. Although he had enjoyed a liberal arts education, he recognized the importance of scientific and technical developments early on. My father always encouraged me, my sisters and my brothers to take a scientific or technical direction.

Was there a turning point when you decided to pursue a technical career?

Because my parents had always encouraged me in that direction, it was clear to me that I was going to study science. While completing my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, I also completed courses in arts. I enjoyed the arts courses very much and eventually graduated with a dual bachelor’s degree in engineering and arts. Afterwards, I had the choice between studying for a graduate degree in either law or polymer science. This was a difficult decision for me, but my love of the natural sciences won out.

What fascinates you about your job?

I love research and development. I really appreciate the joy and frustration that many researchers experience in their work when something succeeds but sometimes also fails. I find the process of working with colleagues to guide a product from the concept stage, through development to commercial success extremely satisfying. In the manager role, I find that developing and demonstrating leadership skills are valuable. A cooperative management style, open communication and sensitive coaching of employees are all very important to me. In this context, the Freudenberg LEAD program has been very helpful to me in improving the performance and behavior of the team. I find that extremely motivating too.

Which hurdles did you have to overcome?

When I started my first job after graduation, I thought that if I worked hard and contributed to increasing turnover, I would be recognized and rewarded. In concrete terms, this means I try to achieve the best possible results for my company. If I can do that, my career will follow “automatically”. Of course, I quickly learned that things often turn out differently in the tough reality of business life. I think that high impact mentor programs can help develop, engage and retain employees.

Have you encountered prejudices in your career, such as that women have no technical understanding, that they are not good engineers or that they are not good at math or science?

Working as a woman and manager in a technical environment has advantages, but you also face challenges. Because the working environment generally reflects the composition and behavior of a society, it is almost impossible for women to avoid coming up against more or less subtle prejudices. That is something I’ve encountered over the years. Above all, women have to do a lot more to be recognized.

Would you pursue the same career path again?

I believe that human progress is driven by technology. Now that more women are breaking the glass ceiling and working in technical professions, I’m proud to be part of this community effort. For that reason, I would choose the profession of an engineer again any time.



Margarita Messerle:

“One trade fair visitor asked me to get him a coffee.”

Read more about Margarita Messerle's experiences


Margarita Messerle has been working for Freudenberg Performance Materials in Weinheim since February 2016. The graduate chemist was born in Kazakhstan and moved with her family to the Southern Palatinate at the age of four. Messerle completed her first one-day internship in the laboratory of a large chemical company at the age of 13. After graduating from high school, she studied chemistry in Mainz and then worked for several years in research at RWTH Aachen University. Today, the 28-year-old is responsible for the sales and marketing of separators for lithium-ion batteries.

Who or what inspired you to take up a technical profession?

My high school in Herxheim organized one-day internships for us in the chemical industry from the eighth grade. So there I was in the lab and found the work fascinating. Later on, I wrote my thesis about flavorings in the food industry, did a lot of research in the process, spoke with researchers over the phone and learned a lot about vanilla yoghurt. Since then, I can’t eat any more (laughs), but my fascination for chemistry has remained.

What fascinates you about your job?

My job challenges me in two ways. On the one hand, I am responsible for marketing and sales and on the other I need to deploy my technical know-how as a chemist. The separators we make for lithium-ion batteries are nonwovens impregnated with ceramics, which makes them a still young and promising business segment at Freudenberg. We made our breakthrough three years ago and are now in the growth phase. My job is also to generate interest in the product among new customers and industries. The regular exchange with colleagues worldwide also makes my work very exciting and diverse.

Would you pursue the same career path again?

I would do more internships in industry and do them sooner, but otherwise I am very happy with my career so far.

Have you encountered prejudices in your career, such as that women have no technical understanding, that they are not good engineers or that they are not good at math or science?

In actual fact, not so long ago, a visitor to the trade fair asked me to get him a coffee. I replied that I would be happy to introduce our new product to him and that we could have a cup of coffee while I was doing so. He was perplexed at first, but accepted my offer. Afterwards, in his very amusing way, he gave me the tip that as a young woman I should speak with a deeper voice, so that my counterpart would take me more seriously. Then I said to him with the deepest voice I could muster, “Thank you, but I prefer to go my own way.”

What advice would you give to young women who want to take up a technical profession?

Not to be discouraged. Arguments such as saying that only men work there or you’re going to have to deal with craftsmen shouldn’t stop women today from taking up a technical or scientific profession. It is also a lot of fun to surprise the person you’re talking to with knowledge that he or she doesn’t initially expect you to have.



Michaela Rau:

"The chances and opportunities in technical professions offer good prospects and are very diverse."

Read more about Michaela Rau's experiences


Michaela Rau (35) has been working at Freudenberg Performance Materials in the area of Global Innovation & Technology in Weinheim since January 2016. The textile engineer, who grew up in Reutlingen, Germany, completed her studies in textile technology in 2012 and initially worked for three and a half years as a research associate at the Institute for Textile and Fiber Research (DITF) in Denkendorf. At Freudenberg PM, Rau is mainly responsible for mechanical bonding processes, such as hydroentanglement and needling technology. She thus finds herself at the interface between product and process development and works closely with the company’s own technical center in Weinheim, Germany, where Freudenberg has its headquarters. She is the contact person for the new hydro-entanglement line and the new needle loom in the pilot plant. As a development team member coming from process development, she is involved in various development projects too. She also leads a global team of experts on “mechanical bonding methods”, working with colleagues from South Korea, China, USA and France.

Who inspired you to pursue a technical profession?

If I had to name someone, it would be my older brother, who is an engineer himself. Actually, my decision to get into this profession came from my interest in textiles and the way they are manufactured, as well as their wide range of applications. As a young student, I also took part in an open day at Reutlingen University in the machine shop and was already impressed back then by the machines and their different ways of producing textiles. That’s when I realized that textiles involve much more than just clothes. However, I only really became aware of the enormous variety of textile applications during and after my studies.

What fascinates you about your job?

I am fascinated by machines that make nonwovens of any kind. I also find it exciting that I can personally stand and work on the machine from time to time. The constant expansion of knowledge, which is partly a product of technical progress, combined with the chance to contribute my own ideas and try out new things is a big plus in my job. No day is the same and I work a lot with colleagues from other countries. All this makes my work extremely varied and exciting.

In the course of your career to date, have you been confronted with prejudice, such as that women have no technical understanding, that they are not good engineers, or that they are not good at math or science?

Not directly. And to be honest, the things you mention are mostly widespread and obsolete clichés that are rare or absent in real life. I have never experienced them as an obstacle.

What advice would you give to young women wanting to pursue a technical profession?

The chances and opportunities in technical professions offer good prospects and are very diverse. “It’s all in the mix” – that saying is true for professional life as well. The combination of older, experienced and young colleagues, the mix of men and women, different nationalities and professions all contribute to success. The prejudices that exist in some minds are in the process of changing or are already almost nonexistent, at least in the younger generation.

The Sites of Freudenberg Performance Materials