20 years ago, in Istanbul, Turkey, I was one of the 6 girls out of 100 students in my class, and my first professional experience was on a construction site – I’m an engineer. I did feel “different” on several occasions but I was always convinced this was an opportunity to learn more rather than a weakness. Yes, stereotypes exist for women in tech industries, but I decided to never let them define who I am.
Today, I lead the Digital Plant Business at Schneider Electric, in which we develop high-tech solutions for factory automation, work on “trendy” topics such as industrial internet of things (IIoT), digital twin, augmented reality, cyber security, etc. To be the leader in this high-tech business, I must build the best team, putting together advanced technical expertise, application expertise and diversity of views and experience.
Gender balance is one of the drivers of diversity that has been proven to have positive impact on our business. But our talent pool is still not well balanced, and we must accelerate on closing the gap.
As a woman in an executive position, I want to actively contribute to build a better balance at all levels of the organization and am trying to inspire young women engineers in the industry to be bold in their career aspirations.
For any recruitment, I push to have gender balance in the candidates short list, but the reality is that for many technical positions we post, we receive male candidates only. If we want to change the picture, we have to act earlier in the value chain.
Women in Tech ambassador
This is when I joined the Network of Schneider Women in Tech ambassadors (réseau d’ambassadrices des métiers techniques). The objective of this initiative of Schneider Electric France is to break gender stereotypes early enough to promote technical career paths to young girls, working with local associations and the French Ministry of Education to organize presentations, testimonials and debates in schools, typically junior high schools. Last year SE ambassadors in France were in touch with 2900 teenagers, an achievement that we are rather proud of, and motivates us to have even more impact next year!
While relocating to Carros (South of France) at the beginning of 2018, I met several other colleagues that shared similar views. We shared our experiences, ideas and enthusiasm, and set-up the Carros branch of the SE Women in Tech network with about 15 active ambassadors already.
I’ve spent time with several groups over the last 18 months, and really want to encourage those young girls to not limit themselves into believing that some roles, engineer as an example, are meant for men only, and to embrace whatever studies they want, for example scientific or technical studies.
At our Horizon site in Carros, we are lucky to have both R&D and manufacturing entities, so we can showcase many different technical roles they typically had no clue about before meeting with us. But the one key message I want them to remember is “do not limit yourself, dare to do what you like”! Many of them love computer science class at the age of 13, so they should not be discouraged later on by people saying “it’s not a cool thing to do for girls”.
I believe that our action is embodying the role model’s function of “representing the possible” and thus we can influence those young girls’ motivation and goals by changing their self-stereotyping and perceived barrier, as per the Motivational Theory of Role Modeling.
You can’t be what you can’t see
I typically spend time sharing my own experience and explaining how you can have a career as a woman in a technical role. I testify that technical roles can be inspiring and fulfilling, and that they don’t make you less of a woman. I’m always careful to insist on the fact that while you don’t have to be a superwoman to do so, it is not always easy. Every woman could have a career in tech and a personal life, if you accept that you will not be able “to do it all” and are happy from “doing the best you can”.
To make it more real, I often illustrate my speech with basic examples. For example, when we relocated to Nice, our main priority was to find an apartment located in a way that each of our 3 kids could become self-sufficient in their transportation. So, they walk to school, take public transportation for their sports or social activities, etc. It’s helping me from a logistic standpoint of course, but I think it’s helping them as well to become autonomous at a younger age, making them more proactive and responsible. There is nothing good to be gained from me feeling guilty because I can’t bring them to school like other moms (or dads!)
During the sessions with the teenagers, it also gives us the opportunity to answer many of their questions: how does it feel to work in teams with only few women? What is the best training curriculum to become an engineer? Is our company taking any action to create a “women friendly workplace”? Do we make more money than our life partners – and if yes, how does our partner accept it? Do men easily accept to have a woman in tech as a manager? Is English so important even if you work in France? How do we manage work life balance? And so many other questions! Debating the straightforward questions they bring to the discussion is quite refreshing, and the girls as well as my colleague-ambassadors are a great source of personal inspiration!
I don’t expect that those young girls will join Schneider Electric in the next 3 years, but as part of our local community, I do have a societal responsibility, and that’s one of my ways to contribute.
I feel privileged to work for a company that not only tolerates my personal engagement in this kind of initiative with no tangible short-term business benefit but has put societal responsibility as part of its core values and thus proactively supports such initiatives. This makes my professional commitment even more meaningful. I do feel very proud of Schneider Electrics commitment to diversity and inclusion – for example with HeforShe and other societal causes.
About the Author
Sophie is the Senior Vice President of Digital Plant Business, developing industrial automation products and systems for hybrid and discrete industries, with a strong focus on Digital Offers and Industrial Internet of Things.
Since she joined Schneider Electric in 2001, Sophie has gained a strong international exposure in Africa, China, France and Italy while leading teams in many different functions: marketing, business development, process automation systems testing, customer support, industrialization, supply chain and training. Sophie holds a Master of Science Degree in Civil Engineering from Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées (Paris) and an MBA from the Collège des Ingénieurs (Paris).
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