Have you ever wondered what your head of department really thinks when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion? Are they really for it? Or just ticking a box?
Well, the SI RSS REU D&I UK team wanted to know. So, keep your eyes peeled as this is the first of many interviews to come.
For this interview, I am pleased to introduce Katrin Ziesig, the Financial Director for Siemens Smart Infrastructure Regional Solutions and Services division. Wow, that’s a mouthful!
Katrin has worked for Siemens in various roles over the last 20 years. After starting her career in Information & Communication, she spent 13 years in Energy, where she worked on construction sites and in project management roles across the globe. Katrin joined Siemens plc as FD in August 2020.
Before we committed to booking any interviews with the heads within RSS REU UK, the D&I team came together to determine 12 questions which will be the basis of each interview. So, let’s get to it.
1. What’s your perspective on how you think, we as a division, are doing when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion?
Katrin: At the moment I would say that we are doing quite well. But of course, we can always do better!
What I have noticed is that when we are advertising positions, we do not really get many applicants from more diverse backgrounds. And I’m not necessarily talking about different countries because that, we do get. I’m talking more about people with neurodiversity or with physical impairments. Applicants from these diverse backgrounds I don’t see that often. And I’m not even talking about jobs out in the field. I’m talking about office jobs. I haven’t quite figured out why that is because we as a company make it a point to make sure that we embrace these things in our advertisements.
So yeah, I think this is where we can perhaps have another look and see why that is. And why, we do not get as many applicants from those backgrounds.
2. What is it that personally drives you to work on progressing Diversity and Inclusion into the workplace?
K.: What personally drives me?
Well, I grew up in a former mining town in the western part of Germany, a very industrial area. We had about 20% of migrants from various countries, the majority being from Turkey and Poland. That was a while ago now. But I grew up in a diverse classroom, and this automatically makes me appreciate the viewpoints from people that come from a different background, different ethnicities, and different social circles. I would even say that we learned to live and breathe diversity before it became a hashtag. So for me, it was normal. It was just normal!
It wasn’t until later when I went to live and work in different countries. So far, eight different countries with different political structures and social systems. It’s within these different countries where I would usually be the odd one out, and that helps you to develop different perspectives. Because you are the one who is IN NEED of inclusion. You need to be included in their system, not the other way around. And that really helps you going forward to put yourself into somebody else’s shoes. So yes, I would say this is where my personal drive comes from.
3. Why invest in Diversity and Inclusion as a business in REU?
K.: I would rather say “engage”, then “invest”. Because “invest” always implies some kind of financial commitment, whereas “engage” is, for me, the most important part in whatever way, shape or form that happens.
C.: So, why as a business is it important to thoroughly engage with diversity and inclusion?
K.: To me, it is quite simple because in any case, we, as a leadership team, always need the best people for the jobs at hand. And in my opinion, we simply cannot afford to miss out on talent just because we might be perceived as non-inclusive, or if the perceived entrance hurdle is too high for people who do not fit what is “normal” or “standard”.
4. The company is in the process of creating an EDI (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion) standard so that each division can be measured on where they are when it comes to D&I. What are your thoughts on this?
K.: I see two-fold.
On the one side, I fully embrace that Siemens takes an active role in making those topics more prominent and wants to further work on improving the way the company approaches this subject. This is always a good thing, and I embrace that fully because you need to start somewhere. I see this standard as a minimum starting point of what we are thriving/trying to achieve.
On the flip side, I see a certain danger in putting what we call KPIs on something like diversity and inclusion. Because you always run the risk of limiting yourselves once you introduce measurements.
However, as long as people are aware of why they’re doing it and that doesn’t become the end all and be all. Because at some point in the future, it may not be necessary as you have a diverse organisation and therefore it is just the culture.
5. Any advice for the leaders and Senior Management Team in the REU business?
K.: Well, No!
I don’t want to be presumptuous, that I am the one in the know of knowing what’s right. I’m not, so who am I to give advice on this matter?
This is pretty much the advice! What I would like people to appreciate more is that, whenever you talk to somebody, whenever you interview somebody, try and keep an open mind. Only because you think in a certain way, or you behave in a certain way, or you look a certain way, doesn’t mean that this is the only way.
C.: Is that what you wish or hope for from the senior management team, the leaders, and employees within our business then?
K.: Yes, that’s basically it. I wouldn’t give advice in this regard, but I would hope that over time people learn to embrace more and more otherness.
Otherness, where we now say Diversity.
Diversity is everybody who is not like you, and that goes for a lot of people. I would say almost everybody is not like you. And there are some forms of otherness where people are still familiar and close enough to perceive it as alike. This makes them easier to embrace for you than others. This is where the whole part of understanding kicks in. So, if I had to condense it down, it would be to prioritise understanding over judgment.
6. What is the one thing every REU employee should understand about D&I?
K.: I’m going to sound like a broken record. But I would say true diversity and inclusion can be achieved if you do not perceive your “normal” as the normal.
It’s almost like limited thinking in that sense really. Take a 2D map of the world for instance. In Europe, we are used to seeing a Europe centrical map and the moment you put a different country in the centre or spin the world around a bit, it seems entirely different. It feels strange. And the first thing you might think is that it’s wrong. But just because it’s different doesn’t make it wrong.
C.: Would you say that this is more around curiosity and having an open mind set then? As in seeking to understand first rather than to judge.
K.: In my opinion, nobody should assume that they are entitled to teach you how to think. However, you do get people who try to make others see things their way and that prevents them from truly embracing other viewpoints, and that extends fully to diversity and inclusion. This is because we try to bring everything back to how we see the world. It makes us comfortable, it’s a cozy feeling matching our way of thinking. Every time you step out of that little bubble, it feels uncomfortable, a bit cold, a bit weird. But with what I said before, by living in so many different countries, working for so many different divisions and departments, I’ve met so many people from different walks of life. You stop trying to put people in those boxes and just try to take every individual as they are. And I think this is a really good starting point.
7. In your opinion what does good D&I look like?
K.: For me, what good D&I looks like is encouraging others to do the same, encouraging others to talk to people, to understand the individuals. And that is not limited to the groups that you would classically put into a D&I box.
I don’t have a D&I box.
I just have a workforce, a team, a group of people. They consist of mothers, brothers, sisters, fathers, … Everybody comes with their own luggage, no matter the level of pigmentation of their skin, or how many limbs they have, all of this is inconsequential. It’s just different personalities you deal with and the moment you narrow it down to just personalities, I believe you would have achieved full inclusion and diversity.
8. What role do you think a leader plays in helping people towards that open mindset?
K.: Well, it sounds a bit old-fashioned, but it starts with the classic “leading by example”.
The moment you as a leader start treating people differently because of certain traits they bring to the table is the moment where you allow everybody else to do the same. As a leader, you play a vital role and are a role model. On top of that, it’s calling out behaviour that goes against diversity and inclusion. There are certain things as a company, I strongly believe we cannot tolerate. And everybody, independent of hierarchy, should feel encouraged to call out wrong behaviour. That allows for a self-regulating group. Then suddenly, the few people who may not buy into a truly diverse and inclusive culture become the odd ones out. You may not always be successful in changing their viewpoint, but at least you can change their behaviour in the workplace.
9. Do you have any experience and advice you would like to share, on how we can get everyone onboard/ on to the same boat when it comes to D&I?
You don’t have to go on a 20-year trip around the world to develop diverse viewpoints. What I would usually recommend is for people, who are uncomfortable on these topics, to immerse themselves in some form of community that is as far away from their comfort zone as possible. This would enable them to experience how it feels to feel different and not be part of the fold, not be part of what they perceive to be the norm, and that in reverse helps you to understand how you would actually like to be treated and how you would like to be included. This doesn’t mean you need to spend weeks and weeks on something. It can be something as simple as an Atheist going to church on a Sunday. Start discussing with people and understand where they’re coming from and not convince others that your viewpoint (in this case Atheist) is the right one. You won’t have a chance! So, that is a good playground to do that.
But to actually understand where they are coming from, why do you believe? Why is this important to them? And by doing that maybe you can go away with that understanding.
You stay as you are! But what it does is it helps you to learn and understand somebody else’s perspective without judging it. And then you take that gift that you’ve been given and you go ahead and apply it.
The funny thing is, the more you start immersing yourself in communities that are away from your normal go-to things, it becomes so diverse that you automatically revert back to the individuals again. i.e. In every community you will find the class clown, you will always find the introverts, the smart people. You will find all those people no matter which community you enter. And I believe there’s a lot of power in that because it makes you appreciate individuals and all those other criteria fall away.
10. In an ideal future where do you see us as a company/division with regard to D&I? What would be the biggest hurdles we would have overcome and in what order?
K.: But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any remaining obstacles. For example, in the REU business, physical disabilities can be a limitation when you want to go out into the field service. This is because there are certain things that just cannot be done because there are limiting factors at the customer front – and that’s OK! There are certain things that I, as an individual can’t do. For instance, I can swim very fast, but I can’t run very fast, so I shouldn’t apply for a job where I have to run fast.
There are other things where barriers or obstacles to employment are removed or adapted. Engineering for example, with modern technology can be simple enough to accommodate if you’re hearing impaired and/or sight impaired. And I think, understanding what is required in how we can make people from various backgrounds feel more comfortable entering a job within our organisation is the starting point. I still think we as REU, maybe even as Siemens do not yet have enough of an understanding of what for example somebody with a mild form of autism actually needs. They might need a quiet environment. They might need to work from home most of the time. They might be awkward in some meetings. They might need more time to prepare for something, so it really starts again with understanding and then taking action & show leadership to support different ways of working.
I think we need to take those understanding hurdles first to make it to the end of the road. The second step is then, making diverse the new normal as opposed to everybody’s own definition of what is normal.
11. After hearing about what is planned from the survey outcome where do you think we should be focusing our efforts and how will you support?
K.: I think we would need to start at the beginning, which means at recruitment. And this is something where, in collaboration with HR, I believe we should look more into, especially neurodiversity. Because, as I said previously for technical jobs, physical impairments in that sort field is a struggle because you cannot guarantee that they can be successful at their job. And that always, as a business, comes first. It always comes first, and that is also to the benefit of the employee because nobody wants to fail at their job. If you have made it through your studies and you start a job but fail because the company hasn’t created the right environment for you to succeed then I think that can grind down on your self-esteem.
I would say the focus should be on exploring further those access points. Where do people of any physical or mental diversity actually look for jobs? Do they look at the job and automatically have a perception, that they shouldn’t even apply? Because, how could “I” do that job at Siemens? Do we do enough around this?
And the second part we should focus on is neurodiversity. There are some very gifted people with different thinking patterns that might shy away from applying to a big Corporation. Just because they might think that we would not accommodate them. Whereas in a small company, everybody looks after each other. It’s more like a small family. They might think they could feel more at home there. So, I think we need to increase the external perception that Siemens is actually that! A big group of small families. Every Department is a family. Every segment is a family and that Siemens is a company that cares where we look after one another.
12. Where would you like to see REUs D&I push for the next 12 months?
K.: Exactly the answer I just gave. Recruitment, access ability, neurodiversity…
C.: Do you think they will be coming into an environment that’s ready and if not, what is your opinion on what we could do?
K.: This could be something that could be tackled by a buddy system. Currently, we already have a buddy system for new starters, but maybe we need a more caring buddy system. So, maybe somebody outside their own organisation where they can say, I have a problem with this and how do I address that? And then it’s maybe more about helping people to understand that it’s OK to ask.
There’s another experience I haven’t mentioned yet as to why diversity is such a big topic for me.
Way back when, when I started my career as a commercial site manager, I was the first woman ever to do this job. I would go to conferences where all the site managers and commercial site managers would come together, so 75 men… and me. And from this point onwards I noted that over the years, I was being treated differently. And it doesn’t feel good to be treated differently because I did the job and I think I did a good job. But me being a woman was always somewhere either on the forefront or somewhere in the periphery of their minds, but it was always present. So, when you turn it around and think about other types of diversity it’s OK to ask, it’s OK to understand, but don’t make it the dominant factor. You are still dealing with a colleague, a fellow human being. You’re not dealing with colour, ethnicity, the lack of a limb or how somebody’s brain functions.
That is not the person! That is just one aspect of them.
People have walked up to me and actually asked, “how it is to work in this job, this industry as a woman?”. That happens. It seems an odd question, but yeah, there’s merit to the question.
C.: As long as it doesn’t shape everything that happens after that, I suppose, and they’re just trying to seek understanding, that’s OK, right?
K.: Yes, and I took a step forward after about a year and basically said that I wished they wouldn’t put the fact that I am a woman into the forefront of their minds. Because it makes me uncomfortable. Yes, I am a woman, So what?
C.:You are a worker doing the same job as this other person.
K.: Exactly, and by saying this, there’s merit in understanding how it feels to be singled out. So, let’s maybe apply this to a different scenario.
If I didn’t possess full eyesight, I wouldn’t want to sit in a meeting where everybody always says, “Oh yeah, now you need to explain what’s on the slide so that Katrin can understand what’s on it”. I’d rather be sitting with the team at the beginning of the meeting and have them ask me what they can do to make it easier for me. And by doing something like this it would give me a comfortable feeling that they actually want me to be a fully functioning part of the team, so I can do my best. So, I can show them what I can do, and they would help me to take on those hurdles. And the more these questions of understanding come, the more comfortable I would feel to voice whenever I have a problem. If I had the feeling that nobody cares, why would I bring up if I had a problem.
I think it’s more about creating this type of environment. A caring environment, an environment of curiosity and a seeking of understanding. That would, in my mind, make colleagues who are struggling with things feel more comfortable and more part of the team.
Wow, what an interview!
Thank you so much Katrin for taking the time and sharing your experiences and thoughts with us when it comes to diversity and inclusion. My mind is slightly blown away with what’s been said. However, if I had to sum up some of the things spoken today, I would say:
- Be open and try to understand others point of view,
- Your normal isn’t everyone’s normal and remember that!
- Don’t force your opinions on others,
- Get out of your comfort zone and experience being different,
- It’s OK not to be able to do everything!
- Be the difference you want to see in others.
Finally, I would like to finish with a wonderful quote from Katrin that naturally came out through the flow of this interview.