The attitudes towards women engineers is not the same in Serbia and Germany

Milena Milosavljević is the team leader for the EU Action Plan for sustainable financing in a leading ESG company and the author of the platform, whose goal is to provide potential investors with all the necessary information to get their first solar systems.

This successful young woman has been building a career in Germany for years, but she took her first steps in Serbia, despite prejudices.

She first faced stereotypes when she decided to enroll in the Faculty of Electrical Engineering as a student at the PTT Technical High School. After finishing the ETF, she got a job at NIS and EMS, and three years later, at ProCredit Bank, where she once again encountered prejudices – what would an energy engineer do in a bank. But the bank was looking for a specialist in Renewable Sources and Energy Efficiency, which was Milena’s dream job.

Milena talks to our portal about all this, but also about the career and status of women in Germany, as well as her plans to join one of the world’s largest banks in January, where she will lead the decarbonization team for the EMEA region.

How and when did you decide to study at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering?

– Math was always my favorite subject, and at times it was so interesting to me, that sometimes I used it instead of play. In order to find job easily, I have studied Secondary Technical PTT School (*a high school for future postal workers), intending to get a job immediately after, as this school offered right after graduation job at the Serbian Post Office. However, after the first lesson from the basis of the subject of Electrical Engineering, I fell in love with this topic and on the first page of my notebook I noted Electrical Engineering Faculty and <3 (a heart). So at that moment, I knew I will continue my education at the university and when the time came to choose a University, I wanted to take the entrance exam at only one – The Faculty of Electrical Engineering in Belgrade (*ETF in further text).

Was it a generational trend among girls or did you stand out from the crowd?

– Even though there was an equal number of girls and boys in our high school, very few planned to study Electrical Engineering. In my class, it was just four of my male friends and me. In my generation at ETF, there were 30% of female, but most were from gymnasiums. In the Energy department which I have chossen, there were just 10 girls out of 100 students. Given that Energy or Power Systems is the only department at ETF related to high voltage and consequently more dangerous jobs, it was considered more of a ‘male choice.’

Did your environment, family and friends encourage you or challenge your educational choice?

– When I was choosing my high school, my family suggested that school, but Electrical Engineering Faculty was only my choice for university. Interestingly, many were afraid of that choice, even my head teacher at the time suggested to try getting into Faculty of Organizational Sciences, but I said I would either get into Electrical Engineering or wait until I make it in.

However, my friends and people around me could not understand why a girl would want to go to, first, a technical high school and then to study electrical engineering. Even I felt sometimes sad because all my girlfriends went to the gymnasium, economy, and law schools. But once I have entered the building of Electrical Engineering Faculty, which in my view the most beautiful building in Belgrade, I was no longer interested in other people’s opinions and was more than happy.

You built your career in the banking sector, although an electricity company was a more logical choice. How did you start working in the banking sector, and precisely in ProCredit Bank, which is the leader in financing solar power plants in Serbia?

– This was another stereotype I struggled with, even internally, thinking about what an energy engineer in a bank would do. I spent the first three years of my career in the classic energy sector companies, working for NIS (Serbian oil and gas company) and then EMS (Energy Market Operator in Serbia), where I primarily dealt with topics such as energy efficiency. However, considering I wrote both my bachelor’s and master’s thesis on renewable energy sources, I wanted to find a job in that field.

In 2012, there were no such jobs at Infostud (Serbian job board portal). In 2015, when I saw a job ad from ProCredit Bank looking for a specialist in Renewable Sources and Energy Efficiency, I recognized it as my dream job. However, I didn’t understand why a Bank wanted to hire an engineer.

I remember feeling strange even telling my university friends that I work in a bank. However, upon meeting the highly enthusiastic green team of the bank (whose current or former members speak at almost every conference about green energy and sustainable business) and seeing the strategy of the ProCredit Group and the vision of the comprehensive need for sustainable businesses, I realized that my contribution could be even greater to making the economy greener than if I had only worked on the part of the project.

Working at ProCredit Bank, I saw all of this in action – how the choice of what is financed or not financed affects the entire economy, all types of business, and society as a whole. As ProCredit Bank is a leader in green financing, today I feel it was a great choice, and I spent a total of 7 years at ProCredit Bank in Serbia and later at ProCredit Group in Frankfurt.

I worked on the first biogas power plants, the first self-consumption solar power plants, and the introduction of electricity with guarantees of origin, but also on the group’s huge projects in Ukraine and Kosovo. And some exciting challenges, such as energy communities in Greece of 100 MW or larger credit lines with EBRD and EIB, which we started.

You found a business future outside of Serbia? What do you do now?

– After working at ProCredit, I moved to a leadership position in the EU Action Plan for Sustainable Finance regulatory team within one of the top ESG companies.

When choosing a new job, the situation was quite different than in 2012. On the one hand, because now jobs in this field are more in demand, on the other hand, fewer people have long-term experience. I had the opportunity to choose positions in development banks, investment companies, and project development.

However, this choice that I made at the beginning of the year was short-term, and I made it again as a balance between career and, let’s call it, women’s obligations (because the job allowed working from home). But I realized I still enjoy working at the bank on decarbonization projects and greening the economy. Therefore, in January, I will return to banking and join one of the world’s largest banks, leading the EMEA region’s decarbonization team.

Is the business position of women in Germany different from the status they enjoy in Serbia?

– The status of women in Germany is much better, especially in the area of sustainable business. And here, you will often see more women in that area. However, when it comes to just energy jobs, men still have more power and presence. I remember many meetings in Serbia when we were meeting clients to discuss financing projects. There were usually more than 10 of us, including the client, consultants, and contractors, and I was often the only woman present. It is the same here when it comes to power plant construction and financing. There are many more women in other sustainable business and financing areas, primarily reporting, legal services, and financial analysis.

The attitudes towards women are different. In Serbia, for someone to respect you as a female engineer, you must first prove you know what you are talking about, prove you are a great expert, and mostly do it unobtrusively. It’s different here (in Germany). Although there are more men in some circles, it’s easy for them to treat you as an equal from the moment you meet them.

You became known to the public as the creator of the Solar Calculator. How did you come up with the idea and what exactly does the Solar Calculator calculate?

– Considering that I am for now more than 10 years in the area of Renewable energy  and that I have spent last 4 years working on decarbonization projects in Europe, I wanted to use my accumulated knowledge and experience in the Serbian market, for something that will be useful for speeding up energy transition in my own country. I realized that now interest is getting higher, but still, our citizens need help in achieving reliable and independent energy and ultimately cleaner source of energy for which they have more than ever higher need, having in mind day by day higher pollution.

Namely, even though some of the first solar power plants in Serbia were connected 10 years ago, the Serbian solar market was stagnating. Many reasons have influenced this, but firstly higher cost of equipment, low energy price, and very low quotas for subsidies that the government has introduced to support such a projects. Even though today we have very modern law for renewable energy, which allowed for the first time to connect prosumers, there is still many open conceptual questions and confusions around how all the regulation function in the practice.

Potential investors are having higher interest but still looking for “simple” answers on the questions such as:

●          How much of installed power do I need for my consumption?

●          How much such a system would cost me?

●          What would be potential savings?

●          What would be payback period?

●          What is the procedure for connection?

●          Who are possible installers (what are their references)?

●          Which banks offer loans for financing solar systems (are there available grant components)?

Platform offer all those answers.  The goal of the platform is to provide all the needed information to potential investors that they need to install their first solar system. The ultimate goal is to increase energy independence, and secure energy source, but also have a greener and cleaner energy for all citizens and future generations.  Development of the platform is supported by the project “Promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency in Serbia” which is deployed by German international cooperation, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. This support actually made another very important goal, that I had in mind for the platform which is to be a public good and not a commercial webpage, so it can be freely used by citizens/users and all information available to be unbiased, focusing on the user’s needs.

What are your plans for the future?

– When it comes to my professional career, I will continue working on decarbonization projects in Europe, but still I have ideas for possible projects for the Serbian and Balkan markets. One of them is that this platform is available in all Balkan countries.