The number of women working in industry and trade is growing slowly but steadily. The most popular professions include gardening, carpentry and joinery, painting, tiling and mechatronics. In order to pursue these activities to the full extent of their abilities, women must be appropriately dressed – a requirement which the leading providers of protective and professional clothing are now meeting. At the A+A 2011 trade fair in Düsseldorf, Germany, the leading international industry event for safety, security and health at work (to be held from October 18 - 21), exhibitors will showcase numerous innovations specifically geared towards the need of women.

Women are no longer a rare sight in many career paths with “roll up your sleeves” requirements. These include, for example, horticulture, interior construction, and many jobs in industry. Last year in Berlin, a job ad had several newspaper readers rubbing their eyes in disbelief. “Speedy Street Sweeper Seeks 60 Female Colleagues,” read the announcement placed in a major Berlin newspaper by the BSR, Berlin’s municipal cleaning department. As it turned out, 63 women were recruited. They have been keeping the city streets clean by wielding cleaning carts, brooms and street sweepers alongside their male counterparts ever since. An article published in the 8/2011 issue of Der Spiegel on the same topic, entitled ““Speedy Sweepers and their Mighty Machines” features a quote by Genevieve Krüger, one of the newly-hired women: “During the first couple of weeks, they (the male street-sweepers) tested us to see if we could pull our weight. After that, no more was said.”

More and more companies are now developing different approaches in order to attract women to typically masculine jobs. This is confirmed by Wenka Wentzel from the Girls' Day - Future Prospects for Girls campaign organized by the Competence Center Technology-Diversity-Equal Chances: “Organizations which have taken part in our career orientation campaign on several occasions have increased their outreach activities and are offering more technically-oriented internships and placements. They are also working closely with schools to attract girls and young women. The opposite is also happening. More and more girls are developing an interest in careers in technology and the natural sciences and are seeing the opportunities available in these fields in an increasingly positive light.”

Looking back shows that there is nothing unusual about women working in industry. This long tradition has its roots in the industrialization which took place at the beginning of the previous century. Since then, Germany as a location for industry has completely changed, as have its resident industries. While women were once frequently employed in the textile and food industries, nowadays they tend to work for IT, solar power companies, and the automotive and pharmaceutical industries. The bigger the company, the more likely it is that all its employees will be outfitted with the appropriate work attire. In many cases, female employees receive uniforms designed for the female figure – like, for example, those made for female police or security officers.

Pants - the decisive difference

Joachim Geyer, Key Account Manager at Kübler Bekleidungswerk, one of the exhibitors at A+A 2011, explains: “Previously, workwear for female employees was simply the men’s sizes minus 6 inches. As the smallest men’s size available was usually a European 44, the women’s sizes 34 and 36 were not even available. Nowadays most companies – like Mercedes, for example – have workwear designed especially for women. In general, tops are less important than pants. Women usually just wear XS polo shirts.” Kübler provides uniforms for companies like Solarworld Werke in Freiberg. “Just over 16 percent of our workforce is female,” says Susanne Herrmann of Solarworld Freiberg. “That’s more than the national average. Our female employees wear the same as the men – pants, a t-shirt, and a jacket, all in Solarworld AG’s corporate design. The only difference is in the cut, which is more feminine.” The workwear was introduced back in 2006, following trials to test (primarily) the workwear’s comfort and washability.

“Major industry customers are now coming forward with their design ideas and clothing requirements. Workwear for women is now being required as a matter of course,” says Stephan Schwarz, Head of Product Management at Bardusch, a linen rental company (one of the exhibitors at A+A 2011). “When it comes to smaller companies, it depends entirely on the relationship between the provider and the company, and whether the boss is female”, says Dirk Hischemöller, Managing Director of DBL. On the other hand, as workwear has become more casual and modern, it is becoming more accepted and increasingly popular among employees. Women don’t necessarily want to be clothed differently from men. As pants have to fit properly, though, they are the exception.

BP Bierbaum Proenen has therefore created special women’s “work pants” for employees in trades and industry. These pants are part of its “Workfashion³” collection and are specifically tailored to fit the female form. The company will also showcase its range of women’s polo shirts, which come in a wide assortment of colors, at A+A 2011.

Overalls – it’s the little things

Kübler provides women’s overalls with higher waists. These dungaree-style pants feature an elasticated waistband which ensures a snugger fit and prevents unwanted exposure. The bib is somewhat smaller than the men’s version, and there is no bib pocket, as experience has shown that women don’t like them. A small interior pocket, on the other hand, has proved extremely useful. The voluminous “bellows-shaped” pockets have also been eliminated. “While they do require pants and dungarees with smaller waistbands, larger hip measurements, and more narrowly-cut legs, women are happy with unisex work jackets and t-shirts. These are less form-fitting than fashionable women’s tops – and this is seen as an advantage when performing manual labour,” Joachim Geyer explains.

In other areas, clothing specifically for female workers has been (as yet) neither designed nor requested. “No-one has requested it yet. Only the shoes are different”, says BSR spokesperson Sabine Thümler of the city’s “speedy street sweepers.” “One of our female employees is very small, but that’s not a problem. She wears the same uniform as everyone else – just in XS.” In workplaces where the proportion of female workers in “workshop” jobs is very low, like the Frankfurt Airport operator Fraport AG, which currently employs about a dozen women, the female workers tend to wear smaller-sized men’s clothing. The number of women in boiler suits is expected to increase. “Young women are becoming increasingly prepared to take up technical professions and trades,” says Gudrun Müller, Head of Fraport’s Social Affairs Service Department. “We need and want more women, so we’ve modified our images, our approach to the public, and our job descriptions.”

Clothing as a factor in image and identity

In traditional trade professions, too, women’s workwear is not yet very widespread. This is presumed to lie in the fact that the number of workers in trade professions is so small that standardized, specialist workwear is relatively expensive to procure. Individuals therefore choose to wear their own clothing. The number of women employed in trade professions, furthermore, is still relatively low. Nevertheless, an increasing number of women are opting to take up horticulture and landscaping, forestry, joinery and carpentry, painting, tiling, and even vehicle maintenance. Physically demanding professions, like those in the building and steel industries, however, remain male preserves.

Germany’s capital boasts a particularly high number of women in trade professions. In March 2011, the Berlin Chamber of Crafts reported that women accounted for 27.7 percent of new business startups, 30.1 percent of new apprenticeship contracts, and 31.6 percent of master craftsman examinations passed. Even considering all the different areas of employment in industry and the trades, women’s workwear today still makes up only a fraction of the total.

This picture will, no doubt, continue to change – and with it, the need for appropriate equipment and clothing for workers. Already, half of all employees in today’s German labour market are women, a figure which has increased by 5.7 percent over the past 20 years. According to an article on the labour market published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on May 1, 2011, most women work part-time or in minimum-wage jobs. According to the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) in Nuremberg, many women want more. Half of all women in part-time employment and two-thirds of those in minimum-wage jobs would like to expand their working hours. This corresponds precisely to the findings of the German Federal Employment Agency (BA), which, according to its January 2011 10-point plan to prevent shortages in the specialized labour force, also aims to integrate women better into the workforce through full-time employment. As the numerous exhibitors at A+A 2011 will impressively demonstrate, this aim will not fail due to a lack of appropriate protective and professional clothing for women.

Information on A+A 2011 as well as on the exhibitors and their products, is available online