Category: Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, Siemens, Equal opportunities, Female Engineers, careers in engineering, not belonging
As the proud owner of a master’s degree in engineering, you might wonder why I work in equality, diversity and inclusion? It’s a story about not belonging.
At university, I was in the minority as a female on an engineering degree course. I rather liked being different and felt special. Most of the time, I didn’t really think about it.
But during my final year, I remember being given a factory tour by an engineer who spent the entire time explaining the manufacturing processes to my colleague in finance, not me. He barely acknowledged my presence, even though I was the one with the engineering degree and experience.
Once I started working I also recall often being told by colleagues: “Oh, we’ve tried that before, and it didn’t work”. My ideas were disregarded outright with little thought or consideration. Eventually, I took a job away from engineering, simply because I didn’t feel like I belonged.
A sense of belonging is a fundamental human need. At work, it promotes a culture of openness and acceptance, leading to greater empathy and inclusion, especially for under-represented or marginalised groups. Feeling that we belong boosts our physical and mental health as well as our performance, enabling us to bring our true, and best, selves to work.
This is good for business: people who feel comfortable and can be their authentic selves spend less time worrying what others think of them and have more energy for pursuing goals, innovation and career development.
Research by EY shows that when people feel like they belong, they are more productive, motivated and engaged, as well as 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their full potential.
Equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) are the key factors underpinning the sense of belonging.
If a person belongs, they will speak up and share their ideas and perspectives, and we will be able to capitalise on all the diverse thinking that we already have.
When I began the role of ED&I Community Manager three years ago, I was focussed on creating a culture where everyone is valued, and all voices are heard. Personal experience had shown me how the feeling of belonging impacts engagement and achievement at work. From the beginning, I wanted to create an environment where all our people feel they belong and are fulfilling their potential. They are, after all, our most important asset.
At that time, two employee networks existed and were already playing an important role in creating an inclusive culture and a sense over belonging.
Employee networks are informal groups of employees with a shared interest. Often this is a characteristic such as gender, race, cultural heritage, sexual orientation, faith, age or disability. But it can include other interests such as parents, carers, ex-military or intersectional groups. They are built by employees for employees, on a voluntary basis.
Over the past few years we have promoted and fostered the development of employee networks. It has become a clear strategy to create an environment where they can grow and flourish.
The strategy has support from the highest level. Carl Ennis, CEO, Siemens GB&I, says: “The core element of why we do this is that mixed diverse groups generate better decisions”
Anyone at any level, can form a new network, and anyone can join, irrespective of personal characteristics. There are many benefits for individuals as well as for Siemens as a whole.
Community building and support
At their heart, our employee networks are there for their members, enabling them to build a community and find a sense of belonging and support as a group.
AMBITION aims to give individuals who have a disability or long-term condition the confidence to be themselves at work; to normalise the topic and to create an adaptable, supportive work environment.
As Justin Kelly Head of Business Development and Corporate Communications, Siemens plc, and also Sponsor of the AMBITION network says: “I just love the name the team chose: AMBITION – Disable the Label. Breaking the language taboo and opening the conversation is one goal of the employee network.”
The Lean In network brings people together across the organisation, and delivers events focused on personal development topics. Insights are shared in its environment of inclusivity and learning.
After one Lean In circle a colleague commented: “I was confident knowing that others are in the same position as me. Sharing experiences made it more relevant.”
Listening and learning
Employee networks enable us to create an inclusive culture and understand about different experiences, especially from individuals in under-represented groups. This helps ensure everyone can speak up and be heard.
Last year, after George Floyd’s murder, a group of employees bravely shared their own personal stories with some of our senior leaders. Their openness and candour brought the stark inequalities to life for our senior leaders. The group formed the EMPOWER network for ethnically diverse people.
Julian Hobbs, CEO, Siemens Financial Services, who is also Co-Sponsor of EMPOWER, says: “I’d like to personally thank the many colleagues who engaged with us on these difficult conversations, and want them to know just how valuable they have already been in improving my leadership.”
On Transgender Day of Remembrance last year, I hosted an Ask Me Anything podcast with a group of Trans colleagues from our SPARK network. I was able to ask all those awkward questions, which others might not have known how to articulate, and this opened my eyes to the different experiences that transitioning employees have during their daily lives.
Network members have become invaluable in helping us evolve our policies and ways of working. Last year we developed our new Transitioning at Work policy, with our SPARK colleagues reviewing our draft to ensure we used the right language and tackled the important topics. They said they were delighted to be part of the process: “It is a moment to be proud to work for Siemens.”
Our neurodiversity network colleagues have helped us to shape recruitment and selection processes to ensure that we’re benefitting from the talents that they can bring. In turn, we benefit from broadening our talent pool.
Our employee networks play a big role in helping us to celebrate difference. Their work helps us see that people with diverse backgrounds bring a different and valuable way of thinking, and this needs to be celebrated. The International Network Community (INC), for example, is another network which is keen to create a culture in which Siemens employees from international backgrounds can thrive.
Benefiting to our members
Siemens has benefited so much from the passion, dedication and commitment of those who lead and join our employee networks. But I also hope that individuals see the value to themselves.
Employee networks give members the chance to develop skills outside their day-jobs, such as leadership skills. Activities include developing a business case, facilitating strategy, planning a roadmap, and networking widely. This has often given individuals more visibility to leaders beyond their own business unit, who in turn sponsor their career progression goals.
One individual who got involved with EMPOWER soon after joining Siemens, organised a reverse mentoring scheme and communications for Black History Month. They were subsequently selected to sit on leadership meetings to represent a diverse voice.
Another colleague formed a local employee ED&I group in their business unit and connected with the wider ED&I champions group to know what was happening. They have run surveys, written newsletters and blogs, and presented to leadership teams, influencing ED&I strategy and involving 121 discussions with senior leaders.
At Siemens, we strive to transform the everyday – for our customers, employees and society. Creating a sense of belonging for all of them is the key to that transformation. Our employee networks are central to meeting that goal because they bring the different ways of thinking and the wide ranger of perspective and ideas that are crucial to becoming a successful company.