Today we celebrate International Women’s
Day and applaud the extraordinary accomplishments women around the world have achieved. We
salute the strong female leaders we see increasingly emerging in the fields of
business, politics, industry, and the arts.
Women are seizing opportunities as never
before, so why are we still under-represented at the highest professional levels?
I was the first woman on the executive
management board at Siemens in the Netherlands. You might have expected me to feel intimidated,
but ,= that wasn’t the case. My predecessor had given me some sound advice:
“Stay the way you are. Don’t overcompensate and don’t compromise yourself.”
So, I did stick to my guns and I didn’t
change my approach and I didn’t feel intimidated. But I did sometimes feel
It’s human nature to form club cultures, to
gravitate to people who are like you. In my experience, a break in the meeting,
or on arrival or leaving, my male colleagues would naturally group together to
discuss topics (often football) that interested them, but generally didn’t
The danger of this is when everyone thinks
alike, nothing changes. If everyone in one group is similar, there is no
challenge. There is no diversity of ideas, and that can weaken a company’s
With this widely acknowledged in the corporate world you might ask: where are all the women?
what I’ve learned:
are well represented in senior management:
Despite an improvement in the last 10
years, women are still under-represented at board level.
The remedy to this isn’t to arbitrarily
promote women to meet a quota, we need to learn why we aren’t rising through the
corporate pipeline. If there is little
difference in how well girls perform against boys at school, why aren’t we
seeing an equal flow from entry level to the boardroom?
gender pay gap is real: truth.
Caring responsibilities are still shared
unequally causing inequality in pay.
A carer should never be penalised for
wanting to be a carer. However, if we take starting a family as an example, that
critical first promotion often happens at the same time as deciding to have a
child. With men typically being a bit older, they will already have been in
work longer and earn
more, so it’s the woman in this situation who ends up compromising her career
Once this decision has been made, it’s hard
for her to get back on the career ladder. When she does return to work it’s
often to part-time hours to allow her to continue as principal carer and with
part-time work comes a pro rata salary, which leads to a greater pay gap.
She’s also more likely to forego promotions,
concerned that her working hours won’t be accommodated in a different role.
This is precisely the point where she starts to feel static in an organisation
and where a man without the same caring responsibilities will start to push
himself confidently up the career ladder to more reward and more pay.
We can overcome this by promoting
flexible working, educating our workforce about the positives of diversity, and
designing roles that work for everyone.
aren’t natural leaders: myth.
Companies are most effective to have a
combination of “masculine” and “feminine” styles. Women are different and lead
differently to men, and that’s not wrong. Women are great leaders because they are
more inclined to listen and take an inclusive and democratic approach to
decision-making, while men tend to take more assertive and pro-active action.
Neither are wrong! Diversity in leadership promotes the wellness of an organisation
is a gift.
Strength is in diversity. Performance is in
There is power in a diverse group. We
benefit from different angles to problems and profit from alternative views to
When I joined the board at Siemens UK in
2016, it was already fairly diverse and that felt great. Siemens is forward
thinking in creating inclusivity and has made significant investment in
diversity education. But there is still a lot to do, and we can do more. The
focus is on changing behaviour. Everyone’s opinion matters and we want to hear
them equally from our male and female colleagues.
don’t have to sacrifice to achieve.
Perhaps 10 or 20 years ago there was a
place for the ‘motherhood instead of career’ argument. But it’s easier now than
ever before to be in contact with the world 24/7. There is a level of
interconnectivity that allows us all to have an equal balance of everything
that’s important in our lives.
The only limitations are the ones we place
on ourselves. We often feel that if we’re not putting the right amount of time spending
withour friends and families or achieving in the workplace then we’re not doing
it right. How productive are we, though, if we don’t pause to consider and
We’re working in an era where a healthy
work-life balance is respected and even encouraged. We need to embrace this as
an opportunity and stamp out the notion that extreme sacrifice is the only
route to success.
Productivity does not equate to desk time.
Flexible working hours, part-time work, and work-from-home schemes are offered
by Siemens but with minimal uptake. As a leader I encourage my team (both men
and women) to adapt their working day to the times when they’re most
productive, when they’re at their best. Successful business is about output and
performance, to be there when it really matters, not the conventional 9 to 5.
On International Women’s Day, as a female
leader, I want to say this: we must become more inclusive if we want our
women – and our men – to achieve their potential.
We must judge people on capability and what
they contribute to business, not life choices or circumstance. It should be a
gift to hear different voices in our meeting rooms and boardrooms.
Siemens’ brand – Ingenuity for Life – is about how we positively impact peoples’ lives through more than 170 years of inventiveness and originality. To do that, to be ingenious, we must continue to challenge outdated attitudes and beliefs to get the very best out of our people. To create ingenuity, we embrace diversity.
Find out more about Diversity & Inclusion at Siemens: http://www.siemens.com/diversity