“Focus on people and not a system.”

Regina Beumker, Project Operations Risk Management
Life at Siemens

A roundtable on mentors, gender and staying true to yourself

“I kept asking for a Matchbox car but instead I got a stupid Barbie. So I took my brother’s car.” Silvia Bohrisch laughs as she tells a childhood story of shrugging off stereotypes, to the rest of the table. 

The four of them have gathered in an office in Erlangen, Germany to talk about diversity, rising through the ranks and the importance of mentors. 

 

There’s Silvia Bohrisch, Methodology Developer and Senior Consultant at Corporate Technology who has worked at Siemens for 21 years in different countries and roles. Sitting next to her is Silke Wistuba, also a Senior Consultant in Corporate Technology. She’s worked at Siemens for 28 years, including a stint working in wind power in Denmark. Regina Beumker has worked for 10 years with Siemens assessing risk for Industry and Mobility; now, she covers project operations risk management and is a Leading Women in Industry (LWI) network chairperson. Rebecca Mack is a Legal Counsel at Digital Factory & Process Industries and Drives. She’s been with Siemens for 4 years. They’re all based in Erlangen, apart from Regina who works half an hour away in Nuremberg.

In 2009 Peter Loescher (former Siemens CEO) said he thought Siemens was “too white, too German and too male” – do you feel that things are changing?

 

Regina: We’re on the right track but still not where we should be. Looking at females at Siemens worldwide, we have around 23% at employee level, 15% in management and about 11% in senior management. At Siemens in Germany the numbers are even lower. At management level, there is still a big gap.

 

Silvia: Diversity is so much more than just gender. It would be great to also show a trend with regards to ethnicities, sexual orientation and disabilities.

 

Rebecca: To accept diversity you have to realize people’s potential. It’s such a good thing that we have different viewpoints, different thoughts, different abilities and behave differently.

 

Silke: In Denmark, a gender imbalance at work is less of an issue. It’s normal for men and women to share responsibility of caring for the kids and leaving work early for the kindergarten is accepted. The culture feels open. 

What do you think the perceptions are of what it’s like to be a woman working at Siemens?    

 

Silvia: If you ask a woman here what it’s like to work at Siemens, you won’t get just one answer. There is no one-dimensional woman. Each woman combines so many diversity traits in her. It’s much more complex than saying: how do you as a woman feel?

 

Regina: Siemens is seen as a traditional, technical company. Technical functions covered by men with female assistants. Internally, we know it’s not.

Rebecca: To challenge that perception we need more people, especially women, talking about their work.

 

Silvia: Things are already changing, but we need more women working in technical positions within engineering and technology. There just aren’t enough women studying those subjects so we have to start earlier to get girls interested. We have to start at home, at kindergarten and in schools.

 

Silke: It’s not just “one Siemens”. We have all different cultures here. It all depends on the group of people you talk to.

 

What do you, as individuals, do to promote the visibility of the contributions being made by women at Siemens?

 

Regina: Five years ago we established the LWI network. Our mission is to raise the share of women in leadership positions in the Siemens industrial divisions. We also want to set trends that improve our management culture, create a better work-life balance, facilitate personal development and increase the company value. I believe it’s important to strengthen the position of women and foster a diverse team culture at Siemens. So, we bring different topics to the table and work on them. These topics are so various, affecting all employees – for example, a forum about pension schemes.

 

Silke: I know a lot of young people and I coach them personally. Especially the younger women, I encourage them to ask for things. For challenges. For responsibility. To sometimes say no. I hear their stories and ask them: why not try it in a different way?

 

Silvia: I mentor high school students through the Business at School program. We’re analyzing businesses and creating startups together. I also mentor women at Siemens.

 

There is no one size fits all in mentoring – it’s about listening, and asking the right questions. We do a little role play sometimes which helps before important presentations or job interviews.

 

Rebecca: I’m a member of the Young Talent Circle in Erlangen and we all work together on social and technical projects, organizing events and meetings with experienced mentors to learn what it’s like working in management. 

Siemens is seen as a traditional, technical company. Technical functions covered by men with female assistants. Internally, we know it’s not.
Regina Beumker
My boss said: “I have someone on my team who’s so much better than me. I’d really like it if you invited her along and let her do this.”
Silvia Bohrisch

What sort of mentors have you had?

Rebecca: My first mentor was a judge at the court in Nuremberg who motivated me to be the way I like, to look the way I want, to follow my goals and be authentic without fear of judgement. He’d say: “Bring your full self to work. You’ll be happier and healthier for it.”

 

Regina: One mentor really inspired my approach to teamwork. He was focused on working as a team together and pushing the goal of the group, not just your own. This showed me the power and influence of every single individual, as well as the power of a team. I see this every day in our LWI network, because we have many motivated women ready to adopt a group culture and mindset. That really inspired me and still motivates me. It’s a different way to view your work or even your life.

 

Silvia: As a mentor, you have to have a genuine interest in the person you’re mentoring. Not somebody who thinks “Ugh, mentoring time again.” It’s a passion, not a task. A manager I once had asked me how I wanted to be led. Nobody had ever asked me that before. She gave me direction and challenged me to test everything, try things out and she’d be the safety net if I fell. She told me “you have to do the flying”. She pushed me and gave me a lot of self-confidence.

 

Regina: This is very important. A good relationship with a mentor has so much to do with trust. Self confidence, trust and a certain degree of freedom is very important for everyone, especially in a mentor relationship.

 

Silvia: True diversity starts within – it is about understanding people and bringing out the best in them. My manager was invited to the embassy as a female representative of the business but she said: “I have someone on my team who’s so much better than me. I’d really like it if you invited her along and let her do this.” I was like: “You’ve got to be kidding me!” And she said: “No, try it out now. Because I’m here and we can practice for it.”

 

Silke: One of my managers was the first to set up monthly one-to-one meetings. We talked about everything, just an open talk about work and about life. He said to me once: “Don’t just work; take time to talk to the people you work with.” 

What do you think about tackling the “Boys Club” culture within a traditionally male-dominated industry?

 

Regina: To me it’s not an issue. The situation is changing – these days we’re looking at your potential or professional background and not your gender. We have to keep on this track and don’t look back. If you feel restricted, speak up and take your position.

 

Silvia: I think it would be even worse if we just started forming reverse “Girls Clubs.” That wouldn’t improve anything.

 

Silke: But I remember the kind of networking some men used to do. There was a real old-men’s meeting once a month, drinking beer and smoking cigars. I was never invited, no women were. I felt “out of it” because I wasn’t involved in their chats.

 

Silvia: We need sponsorship more than mentorship. Just being in a network won’t promote you to the next position. Sure, it might give you visibility but it doesn't give you a pay raise. A sponsor uses their good name to help you into a position. They’ll tap into their contacts to help others along.

 

Silke: We should feel free to ask people if they want to be sponsored. I started to ask people if I could give them a reference – and it’s been working.

 

If you had one piece of advice to give aspiring women who might want to enter this industry, what would it be?

 

Silke: Stay curious and have courage.

 

Regina: Team up. Focus on people and not a system, be yourself and be self-confident.

 

Rebecca: Be authentic. Be the way you are. Behave the way you are.

 

Silvia: Yes, always be yourself. No matter who you’re with, no matter who you’re talking to. That’s what I find with myself; as soon as I try to be someone else or play a role, it doesn’t work for me or anyone else. Be passionate about what you do and remember that a good team can get you anywhere. 

I encourage them to ask for things. For challenges. For responsibility. And to sometimes say no.
Silke Wistuba