Accelerating Women in Leadership: Challenging Gender Bias

Accelerating Women in Leadership: Challenging Gender Bias to Promote Inclusivity

By: Ruth Gratzke, President of Siemens Smart Infrastructure U.S., CEO of Siemens Industry, Inc.; and Paul Kaeley, CEO, Siemens Advanta USA

Whether they are scientists, engineers, executives, or technicians— women at Siemens are key to fulfilling our mission of transforming the everyday. Siemens USA is committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and we see this reflected in the strong female representation we have in executive leadership roles, including CEO Barbara Humpton and CFO Marsha Smith. 


But there are still things we all can be doing to promote gender diversity and women in leadership roles at the management level. Currently only 7 percent of the top executive positions in the Fortune 100 are women. Only 19 percent of S&P 1500 board seats are occupied by women. The executive and senior management of the S&P 500 is just 26.5 percent women. In the U.S., only 1 in every 10 executives is a woman. The pace of engagement for potential women leaders appears to be slowing and stalling. 


So how do we challenge gender blind spots and make progress to increase gender diversity in leadership roles? In our International Women’s Day (IWD) panel discussion, “Accelerating Women in Leadership,” earlier this month, we covered  four key tactics that follow the IWD theme “Choose to Challenge.” 


Challenge the lack of gender diversity in recruitment


Creating a gender balance on recruiting panels is key because impressions really matter. If a woman candidate encounters an all-male recruitment panel, she might soon wonder if this is the company she wants to join.


Next, we must pay more attention to the recruitment process to make sure we have a diverse slate of candidates. At Siemens, we are refocusing our recruiting efforts to ensure that we expand our search for talent to more places than we have historically, This effort includes our relationships with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), PowerToFly, Mogul, and Fairygodboss (Barbara Humpton will be a keynote speaker at the SWE conference this coming October).


Additionally, we must encourage both boys and girls who at a young age take an interest in science, tech, and engineering. We try do that with Siemens STEM Day, which provides K-12 STEM content for educators and parents to use with all students. Parents, teachers, friends and mentors should challenge their perceptions. If a girl likes math, let her like math—help her build up that interest.


Challenge the established character of leadership


In the recruitment process, we find that a lot of women don’t want to give up family life and raising children for their careers. We’ve got to recharacterize the role of a leader so that it can account for the responsibilities working mothers have outside their jobs. 


But being a working mom is always double duty, and that’s a reality that companies must take seriously. Meetings at 5:30 p.m. are often difficult for moms. Let’s give working parents at all levels the flexibility that they need to do their jobs and be responsible parents, because the family needs to be the number-1 priority. At Siemens, we are embracing a new company policy to work remotely two to three days a week, encouraging a new model of flexibility, trust, and empowerment for all employees.

A strong company and team culture reenforces the message that everyone has a place and deserves to be seen, which helps all employees reach their full potential.

Challenge gender bias 


Company culture and team culture play key roles in challenging gender bias in the workplace. Both cultures should be inclusive of people of all backgrounds. A strong company and team culture reenforces the message that everyone has a place and deserves to be seen, which helps all employees reach their full potential.


Often in business settings, we carry the misperception that women are heard enough, when in reality women are less likely to speak up and self-promote if they perceive male colleagues dominating the conversation. The simple solution is to make sure the space is always open for women speakers—emphasize inclusivity. 


We must also disrupt gender bias when it appears in the way we promote people. Are more men being promoted because of personality or because of performance? The remedy here is transparency, so that the criteria and methods of promotion apply equally and inclusively so that management isn’t just promoting those people who look and sound like the people in management. 


Leverage mentoring to challenge bias and retain talent 


Mentoring is the first step in talent retention, and it can be done both as a formal program or informally, person-to-person. Those of us in management positions should be spending time with employees to have career-coaching conversations that can also give people a chance to vent and ask questions in a safe space. This is a major retention tool and a direct way to affect gender inclusivity.  


Having a complete and clear succession plan within management teams is another key to retaining talent. This is because a good succession plan makes clear the real requirements of every role, instead of basing that thinking on a single manager’s opinion. 



Leadership has a responsibility to find the top-notch candidates, whoever they are. We need to create a balance in our corporate culture, and that will involve finding the great women candidates who are yet to join Siemens USA, and creating more inclusive and equitable pathways for the outstanding women who already work here. Everyone, men and women, can contribute to creating a culture that challenges gender bias and promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion.


Published: March 26, 2021