Manuela Kummeter


Stepping loudly:

How I found

my footstep

European Production Excellence

"You always walk too loudly."

Okay, feedback. And one that irritated me. Walk too loud? Is that possible? As a 1.64m tall person?

Apparently yes. As the only woman in a group of male technologists who were all 20-30 cm taller than me, I heard: “The others are scared of you. Even if they hear your step.” My irritation was increased rather than decreased by this supposed explanation.

"You always walk so purposefully."

This explanation finally helped the penny drop: I was different. And that scared my colleagues.

In a group where patterns had been established over the years and working relationships had formed (in many cases a kind of non-aggression pact), I – with my new ideas and the will to combine everyone’s work into something greater – was a threat to the status quo, albeit with good intentions.

The road to hell and all that...

Until then, I thought that as a chemist in technology, I was anything but diverse. But here in this group, I was suddenly “The Other”. Not because of my education, but because of the way I thought – and walked.

And that was just as threatening for me as it was for my colleagues. After all, I saw my work primarily as bringing people together. To work together on ambitious goals and tough targets. And it wasn’t even possible to do this in my own team without people feeling threatened by me and my way of walking?

So I made a decision that, in retrospect, was wrong and almost made me leave the company for the first time:

I adapted.

At least as much as I could. The open-plan office became my nemesis.

A place where you had to be quiet. Walk quietly. Not engaged, making inspired phone calls. As a Cologne native: impossible. So: into the cube. But there were only a few of them. And if I blocked one too often, would the others think I was better than them?

So, if someone called: into the printer room. That way I could make sure that no one was listening to the content of my phone calls, making up things that would scare them again. It would be better if I told the man later in well-dosed portions. But it also meant that I broke out in a sweat every time someone came into the room to pick up their printouts. What had he heard now? And understood what?

I got help from an in-house coach:

He was supposed to turn me into a good, technology-compatible employee.

I named the development areas, questioned my inner team and was asked by my coach: Are you sure you’re in the right place where you are? In the team and in the chemical company in general?

I was completely shocked. Of course I was. I was a craftsman’s daughter. I was able to switch and mediate between management and production employees. I had degrees in communications and chemistry. Why shouldn’t I suddenly belong there?

My coach’s advice: then look for sources of energy. Don’t go out to lunch strategically for networking, but with people you like, who give you strength.

And make sure you work from home as often as possible.

Two pieces of advice that were completely counterintuitive in the company – before coronavirus. They contradicted everything that was necessary to make a career. When I heard them, I was… relieved.  It was about the cause. Not about the career. It was always just a means to an end, because if you got higher, you had more influence. That was my way of thinking.

But if I had to make a decision, the cause was more important to me. So: working from home and energizing myself. No longer trying to be like everyone else, but instead trying to get into the flow as often as possible.

So instead of leaving the company, I started what I have now turned into my own business:

Bringing (wo)man and machings into the flow.

To do this, I had to start with myself. Not by continuing to work on my weaknesses and becoming like the others, but by embracing my strengths. And reducing my weaknesses as best I could. Then I built my job the way I needed it to be successful.

Today, this is called job crafting.

And I decided: I want to get closer to the grassroots. Out of the global technology, into the sites. Here, the question – do you belong here? – was suddenly very far away. And it stayed that way for a few years. It came back again. But along the way, I found something very important: myself and my purpose.



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