NAME: Bettina Schrittwieser
BACKGROUND: University degree
POSITION: Lawyer, Head of Consumer Protection
ORGANISATION: Styrian chamber of labour
My Background and Career
I began as a consultant in the department for labour legislation where along with providing advisory services, I also represented our members in the labour and social courts. I gave lectures, was active in social policy, worked on claims made by the Austrian chamber of labour against the federal and regional governments and reviewed legislation. Working for the federal chamber of labour for employers and employees, I was involved in the preparation of legislative reforms as well as the creation of new legislation.
From 1996 to 2008 I was the women’s representative in the Styrian chamber of labour and in this capacity also a member of the commission for equal opportunities in Vienna.
As women‘s representative along with the advisory, representative and lecturing activities, I was also responsible for media relations. I personally created a manuscript on the topic of maternity leave, maternity leave pay and equal opportunities for use by employee representative as well as brochures for mothers and parents on the same theme. I also co-created a statement on maternity and paternity leave for the Austrian Trade Union Federation.
Since April 2009 I have been head of the department of consumer protection with the Austrian chamber of labour.
As the first female lawyer at the Styrian chamber of labour, from the beginning on, I was entrusted with representing the interests of female employees in so called “women’s issues”. What I first viewed as a form of discrimination, I quickly turned into an opportunity and began to specialise in an area which appeared to be uninteresting and unimportant to my colleagues. I began to acquire specialist knowledge which allowed me to become a renowned expert in this field at a nationwide level. My work in the area was officially recognised in 2010 when the Käthe Leichter prize for equality was awarded to me by the minister for social affairs.
Above all, the recognition of being a national expert led to me being entrusted with the position of head of the second largest department in the Austrian chamber of commerce.
The most difficult time for me was definitely beginning work in an organisation which was very hierarchically structured and which operated on an “old boys club” basis. Women outside the administrative/ secretarial sphere were extremely unusual at this time and their presence was not deemed necessary. My family were not an obstacle which I had to overcome as they had always provided me with their support. Overcoming prejudices against women in the workplace was however very time consuming, energy draining and psychologically demanding particularly when your qualifications are not recognised or seen solely because of your gender.
Expert knowledge, perseverance, social competence and the necessary composure and endurance. In order to head a department organisational skills and being self organised are absolutely essential.
Hints & Tips
It has always been important to me to take pleasure from my work. I didn’t want to be content with just a run of the mill knowledge. I have always been interested in the processes with an organisation and wanted to become involved in influencing these processes. At first I could only achieve success through accumulating knowledge. Now in my new role I am able to reap the rewards from the “difficult years”.
As head of a large department other skills are now at the fore. It is my employees rather than I who are now the ones with the specialist knowledge. This is a big change for me. You need to be able to take on new roles and challenges even when they don’t exactly correspond to your previous grand plan.