There was no real question as to whether Monika Gerschau would become a women's affairs officer. When she joined HSWT in 1990 – as the university’s first and longest-serving female professor – university management created the position of women’s affairs officer. It was fairly obvious at the time that Gerschau would accept the university’s request to take up the position, but they probably did not anticipate that, with a couple of interruptions, she would still be in the role 30 years later. "The eternal women's affairs officer", the professor jokes, while emphasising that "I’m just part of a team" – something she considers very important. "Since my early days as women’s affairs officer there have certainly been a few changes to the Bavarian Higher Education Act. In addition to the university’s women’s affairs officer, today there is also a deputy officer and a (project) staff team. Each faculty also has its own dedicated contact person and representatives. What’s more, the importance of gender equality and diversity as a whole is firmly established at HSWT."
Monika Gerschau holds her position as a university women's affairs officer in addition to her teaching and research post as a professor of Agricultural Marketing in the Department of Sustainable Agriculture and Energy Systems. It is her job to make sure that the equality of men and women is a reality at the university and to detect the inequalities which often exist unconsciously. Her work includes supporting the appointment process alongside her colleagues and organising opportunities such as mentoring programmes and workshops for female students, women in teaching and research, as well as prospective students.
Her task is not always an easy one, and certainly is not one that immediately reveals the fruits of its labour. "It sometimes takes generations to see a change in people’s attitudes", remarks Gerschau. So a great deal of resilience and passion is required. "What motivates me is that I can make a difference. When students or colleagues experience moments of inspiration and it becomes clear which socially relevant issues are found in apparent trivialities, then I get the feeling of having triggered something", says the professor. "For example, I’m delighted to now see male colleagues jumping up in afternoon faculty meetings at half past four because they need to collect their children from nursery – and that issues like combining family and career are no longer just a matter for women."
During her degree in Economics and the Social Science of Farming at the Technical University of Munich, Gerschau felt that women’s advancement and equality were not an issue and she did not feel underrepresented. "But then in my professional life, I entered what was entirely a man’s world", she remembers. "Back then there wasn’t yet an awareness about it. Fortunately, it’s different now. Today if there’s a gender imbalance in a particular area we talk about it and discuss how mixed teams are more successful in every way."
Monika Gerschau gives young women advice for starting out in their academic and professional careers: "Go for it! That’s the main thing. Take proactive steps to move forwards, it’s better to act than to reflect too much. Don’t keep comparing yourself with others. You don’t always need to have everything 110% perfect before you get going."
'Get going' is also Gerschau’s motto when she’s out and about on her gravel bike in her free time. On this special racing bike, which is also designed for rough terrain, she explores trails in Freising’s surrounding area and south of the Alps. Her second passion, Bavarian folk dancing, is more traditional. Gerschau mentors young, sometimes international, scholarship holders as part of her Rotary Club responsibilities and frequently invites them to the dance evenings which feature a brass band and the traditional Bavarian 'Tracht' costume. "Even years later, lots of them still enthuse about the dances", says Gerschau. As in her roles as professor and women’s affairs officer at HSWT, this is another way that Gerschau seeks to enrich the lives of those she works with.