“I felt completely accepted from day one”

Women in Tech - Marloes Moerman, Pergen site manager
Behind the scenes
17 February 2020

Marloes Moerman – a Rotterdam native and mother of two - is friendly and charismatic, but that doesn’t stop her from being successful as Pergen site manager.

Pergen is a cogeneration plant capable of supplying up to 300 megawatts of electricity and 700 tonnes of steam per hour. The plant is located in the extensive grounds of the Shell refinery - one of the largest in the world - in the port of Rotterdam. Marloes Moerman was appointed site manager two years ago.

“I’ve always been interested in physics and mathematics,” confides Marloes. “I remember when I was a little girl my parents would often drive us to Oostvoorne beach near Rotterdam. We drove past a whole series of chemical plants that I found fascinating even though some of them didn’t smell very good.”

Girls in the minority
After completing secondary education, Marloes went on to study science, and a few years later graduated from Delft University of Technology with a Master of Science in Chemical Engineering. It should come as no surprise that there were more male than female students in such disciplines back then.

“The proportion was probably about 80/20 at the time, but it wasn’t really a problem” she confirms. Though when I told the people closest to me the subject I’d chosen, some of them said that I’d picked a very difficult discipline. As if it were a bit too ambitious for a girl. As a young woman, you could be confronted with prejudice, and you might have to defend your study choices,” she recalls. “Today I can laugh about it, but at that age you usually don’t have that much self-confidence. It is definitely wise to ignore such comments and not allow yourself to be put off by them.”

DSM & Kerry Ingredients
“When I was appointed site manager here, I heard similar comments. ‘Isn’t that awfully difficult for you?’ they’d ask. Curiously, it was mostly women who asked me that. And that despite the fact that I’ve really found my niche here.”

“I started my career at DSM Food Specialties. After a while I was promoted to product manager and then global marketing manager. I learned a lot about methods for successfully launching new products on the market and the best way to deal with customers. When I ended up at a business unit that didn’t suit me very well - this was when I was still at DSM - I started looking for another job. After a stint as a business developer at international food company Kerry Ingredients, I landed a job at Air Liquide.”

“It was around then that I also decided that I wanted to get back to ‘real’ chemistry, because I had strayed off course a bit towards marketing and sales in food & pharma. Not that I have any regrets about that, because the experience still serves me well today.”

Marloes has been at Air Liquide for over five years. She started out as business development manager for the Large Industries branch, where she negotiated a number of important contracts. One of her accounts at the time was Shell, and that’s how she got the opportunity to get to know the Pergen site up close. Through her background in technology, her ability to bring challenging projects to a successful conclusion and talent for maintaining good business relationships at all levels, Marloes was appointed site manager not long after - a job she still carries out with great enthusiasm to this day.

Satisfied employees
“It’s my responsibility to ensure that the various teams - 38 people work here - can work well together to achieve our objectives while ensuring that all operations are carried out safely. I also set priorities - there are always ideas for improving safety, supply reliability and energy efficiency - and make sure that the necessary resources are available.”

“In addition to this, I’m the face of the site to the outside world: I help preserve the image and maintain contacts with government. I also act as a commercial relationship manager for our customers, including Shell. I’m also involved in human resources. I try to make sure that our people get opportunities to move forward in their careers and that working conditions are good. And it seems to be working, because we score very highly in employee satisfaction. The atmosphere here is very collegial, it’s almost like a family.”

“Sometimes, our customers or suppliers react with surprise when they discover that they’re dealing with a woman. Occasionally, they’ll say something like ‘Let me explain it to you’, as if I’d be slower to understand because I’m a woman. Sometimes I do take advantage of that underdog position, but it still feels uncomfortable, whichever way you look at it.”

“There are a few other female plant managers here at the Shell site. Sometimes the world is still a bit conservative, but fortunately this is not the case with companies like Air Liquide or Shell. I felt completely accepted from day one. Of course, they were quite curious at first when I got here, but that seems only logical to me.”

Children versus work
“You can’t just combine a job like this with the workload of an entire household. So you need to be well organised and look for outside help. Find companies who deliver groceries for example, or a babysitter. A man would never dream of taking on an entire household on top of a hard job, and a woman shouldn’t try to either.”

“Women aiming for a career in the tech sector should above all not be put off by what people around them say or think. If you want it, go for it. You can be sure of finding somewhere you feel at home.”