Meet Kathleen, Head of Marketing & Communications at the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute, a research institute for the digital society, and the Executive Manager of the 3IT – Innovation Center for Immersive Imaging Technology. Kathleen develops innovative scientific business and product solutions in the fields of Augmented Reality, XR, AI, and human-machine interaction.
Kathleen, you have been focusing on solutions and technologies to serve the evolving Virtual Reality market since 2014. In a nutshell: What role does technology play in your job?
My role is to translate the development of deep tech to the market, to different stakeholders and thus to the common public, I would say technology is my bread & butter.
What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?
I guess that would be the consumer readiness of VR & AR. In deep tech most of development goes back more than 15 years, so seeing other people now talking about it and using it in education & medical applications (short AR&VR for good) makes it more than a gimmick and that has much more potential than 3D itself had.
Women in the field of technology are definitely in the minority. Why did you decide to pursue a career in tech?
I actually never decided purposely. I only saw a job offer for a part time job for organizing international trade shows and being an assistant to the Marketing team at Fraunhofer HHI. I was not working in the deep/high tech world before that and got the job because I was living for an internship in Australia – thus I spoke fluent English, that’s it.
None of my two brothers or any of my family members and friends worked in any tech industry (back then). The curiosity and fun came with the job! And so I became a geek over the years and after 2 years as a working student and another 2 years as a project manager for the Marketing in-house consulting at Fraunhofer (helping Scientists to understand marketing), the head of division Video offered me a job as the Executive Manager of the 3IT. It only worked out, because he saw that I am a fast learner and had the faith in me that I could run this network and build the Center.
That was in early 2011 and everything else built up from there. I guess that was one of the keys for my career: my boss said: “you will grow with your duties and the network will grow with you, go on.”
Me being a woman is an advantage and a disadvantage but I can only encourage all women to step out there and be a creator and not just a consumer of high tech. That’s why I’m giving a lot of talks and presentations on public stages to show other women that it only takes your courage and curiosity to work in that field. Only after the first 2 years full time, I purposely decided to work in the tech industry and that came with the 3IT or as it was named back then – the 3D Innovation Center.
What has been your most challenging project and why?
The most challenging has been not related to tech at all. Nowadays you can google everything and my colleagues (male and female) helped me to understand certain technologies in detail. The greatest challenge was and still is to sit in the boardroom with other Heads of Departments – all male. It’s a challenge to make myself be heard at times. It’s getting easier with the years after I learned how to deal with certain situations and how to answer certain things in a male dominated context.
What would you say are the most important skills women need to bring to the table if they want to be successful in tech?
Most importantly for tech: Curiosity. And the tech world is male dominant you need to bring some other general skills to the table: don’t take everything personally; don’t try to be the better man, bring yourself and your female strength to the table. SIT AT THE TABLE, don’t be a nice host who brings the coffee. Be fast, learn fast. Learn to say NO.
Who are your (tech) role models and why?
Alissia Quaintance, Alysha Naples & Simone Menne. All three are inspiring and impressive in their own ways. Google them, they have totally different backgrounds but they all are strong & creative women.
Simone Menne told me to not give up, because if we give up, we don’t make it easier for our nieces or daughters, we need to show the next generation and the once working with us, that tech development & leadership (in general) is not a male “thing”.
What steps should be taken to attract more women to tech?
As said: first of all: tell them that the tech world is not made for “male only”. It is only like that because of historical facts. How girls have been raced in a patriarchal society for centuries now, is not giving them enough courage to believe in themselves. We have to start in elementary schools; we have to start with the role models of young girls.
Also, the entertainment industry plays a huge role in that. As long as we have to hear and read, “be as smart as daddy and as pretty as mommy” nothing will change.
Look at Marvel and Disney who are already understanding (to some extent) their power and influent. Marvels “Black Panter” with a lot of strong female roles, and Disney’s princess as a fighter e.g. Moana, resp. Vaiana as German title. We need more of that. If we only start at university or by the end of school, then it is too late. If someone had told me that I could understand physics and chemistry, who knows, maybe I would have studied any STEM mayor.
To attract the young adult generation now: Show the use cases. Because man tend to develop something for the sake of showing that, it is possible. Female tend to ask “why and what is it for”. If you make tech benefits visible, women will start to use it and might start to develop with and for it (as we see in the VR industry).
What would be your message/advice to women trying to get into technology?
Just come! Don’t worry, you will be trained on the job. CURIOSITY is the key.
Kathleen Schröter is Head of Marketing & Communications at the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute, a research institute for the digital society, and the Executive Manager of the 3IT – Innovation Center for Immersive Imaging Technology. She develops innovative scientific business and product solutions in the fields of Augmented Reality, XR, AI and human-machine interaction.
For several years Kathleen Schröter has been developing technologies for immersive media such as 360° video. And she is looking for ways to make this content globally accessible. Kathleen Schröter also participates in international committees for immersive imaging technologies, such as the European Committee of the Advanced Imaging Society and the Global VR Society. In 2018, the Advanced Imaging Society awarded Kathleen Schröter the Distinguished Leadership Award as one of 13 women.