"I consider myself fortunate to have such a strong support system and I am committed to help break any bias within Schneider or the industry," affirms Auinger, VP and Partner of the Sustainability Business, Schneider Electric.
Globally, women are underrepresented in STEM fields, making up only 28% of the workforce. The gender gaps are particularly high in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs of the future such as engineering and sustainability.
Schneider Electric aims to shine a light on the positive contribution women are making in the world of energy. Most recently, Schneider joined the World Woman Foundation to promote the role of women in the energy sector. The company continues to challenge gender stereotypes and inequality to foster a gender-balanced workplace and #BreakTheBias.
In this edition of Breaking Barriers, Aditi Sharma Kalra speaks to Giuliana Auinger, Vice President and Partner of the Sustainability Business, Schneider Electric, who speaks out on Schneider’s commitment to women’s empowerment and diversity, in the form of regional initiatives supporting gender equality, equity, and inclusion.
Q Tell us about your role. What spurred your interest in joining this role, and in joining the energy sector?
I am Partner and Vice President of Schneider Electric’s Sustainability Business in Asia Pacific. Our team’s mission is to bring all of Schneider’s acts together to provide unprecedent, end-to-end support to our customers to achieve their sustainable transformations - from formulating climate strategies (such as creating net zero roadmaps, structuring decarbonisation programmes) to executing and deploying sustainability solutions (such as monitoring resources and emissions, identifying savings, electrifying operations, replacing energy sources etc.)
It is an exciting and purposeful time to be in the energy sector, especially with the urgent call to address the current climate crisis.
So, when the opportunity with Schneider came about, that drew me in. Schneider’s drive to decarbonise its own business and its mission to advance corporate climate action dovetails with my passion and knowledge in consulting and belief that corporates can make a positive difference to our planet.
Q In your view, what does it mean to break the bias in the energy sector? What is one step you are taking in your personal life, towards this?
I’ve spent many years in traditionally male-dominated fields. From engineering to management consulting, and even when I was studying at university. Despite low female representation, I never saw myself competing on a gender basis. In my mind, it was always about capabilities and smarts versus gender. And I believe that was an important mindset to have especially when it wasn’t a level playing field, statistically. I think that is the first step.
Thanks to the right support structure and mentors who believed in me and became advocates of my work, I became a successful business leader. Not only that, I am also a working mother and wife and I don’t have to compromise between these three roles. I consider myself fortunate to have such a strong support system and I am committed to help break any bias within Schneider or the industry. At Schneider, I aim to be a role model and a mentor to young talented women who one day will become senior business leaders. It is up to us to shape them and instil the values of equality in them right from the beginning.
Recently, Schneider has gained a lot of momentum and progress on its diversity, equity, and inclusion journey with strong commitment from our leadership. At Schneider, 44% of our executive committee comprises women. Our ‘Global Pay Equity Framework’ identifies gender pay gaps within comparable groups of employees and ensures consistency, fairness, and greater transparency. Schneider is committed to reaching <1% pay gap for women and men by 2025.
And for the fifth year in a row, Schneider Electric has joined the 2022 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI), which measures gender equality across five pillars: female leadership and talent pipeline, equal pay and gender pay parity, inclusive culture, anti-sexual harassment policies, and pro-women brand.
Q What drives you? Are there any personal beliefs & people from whom you draw strength?
Clichéd as it may sound, my mother is my greatest role model and source of strength. Growing up, I watched her wear many hats.
From being a mother of two children, to someone who chose to pursue her dreams as an entrepreneur during a time when it was uncommon. She was smart, brave, fearless, and more importantly she dared to dream. And despite her successes, she was always humble and treated people with sincerity and kindness. I too, try to live by such high standards especially for my team and those around me.
My daughters are also my greatest source of motivation and inspiration. They push me to work harder and use my voice as a leader in the industry to drive change. We need to act and implement solutions to repair our planet now so our future generations have an Earth they can call home. I am very grateful to be in a position at Schneider where I can contribute my skills to push for progress when it comes to actions taken by global leaders to address the climate urgency.
Q On the professional front - I understand Schneider recently joined the World Woman Foundation to promote the role of women in the energy sector. Tell us more about this. What is your role in this, and what are the top two to three challenges you are aiming to tackle/address in your role?
Schneider Electric has joined the World Woman Hour to inspire future generations of women to work in energy. Together with the World Woman Foundation, we aim to shine a light on the positive contribution women are making in the world of energy and in the STEM sector. During the World Woman Hour online event held on 8 March, Schneider joined a panel of female energy leaders to encourage the next generation of female 'LEADhers' to lead a thriving economy, sustainable planet, and healthier world to deliver the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
Personally, I believe we should inculcate gender equality from a young age. Education both at school and at home plays a massive role in shaping an individual’s perspective and contribution to sustainably achieving gender equality. Hidden gender biases in curricula and the socialisation of gender roles leads to inequitable education for girls and for boys. I had experienced this first hand when I elected to take design and technology as a subject in high school. My teachers gave more support and attention to male students, on the assumption that female students were less likely to excel in the subject. Boys and girls must feel welcome to explore traditionally male/female-dominated subjects in a safe and secure learning environment. I firmly believe that females must receive honest coaching in whichever fields they choose to pursue.
Going back to the workplace context, companies should have clear policies on gender pay equity and high-quality skills training programmes to advance both female and male employees. Senior management must continue to acknowledge gender inequalities in the workplace and avoid unconscious bias. Female leaders also play a crucial role in gender parity, and we should evaluate performance based on accomplishments and potential and ensure that women colleagues get the credit they deserve and look for opportunities to publicly acknowledge their accomplishments.
Q Looking at STEM as a whole - according to UIS data (2019), women only make up less than 30% of the STEM workforce globally. As a woman in STEM, how are you aiming to drive awareness of this and to advocate progress, and where do you expect to see it in the next 5-7 years?
Many women in STEM careers don’t feel like they have mentors to ask questions, learn more about their career path, or have some guidance when they are feeling lost. There are many women who are first-generation college students who do not have family members in the industry, or know anyone who is in the position they would like to pursue. So I think it’s very important for us to provide a support system through mentorship to younger women currently or intending to pursue a career in STEM.
In Asia, Schneider’s Access to Energy training and entrepreneurship programme is aimed at developing skills in the electricity trades and supporting women entrepreneurs to promote sustainable and inclusive local development. We have set up Centres of Excellence in Indonesia focused on electricity, automation and renewable energy for vocational teachers and laboratory technicians with total target of 240 teachers trained and 10,800 students graduate for the next five years.
In 2020, 7,804 unemployed young people, including 665 women, received vocational electrical training through the Schneider Electric Foundation in India. A total of 7,000 women entrepreneurs have also received entrepreneurship support in Mali, Senegal, and Niger through the Schneider Electric and Plan International partnership.
In this series of interviews, titled Breaking Barriers, HRO speaks to women leaders globally who have forged their paths and made a mark in their career of choice, doing what they love best — living out their passions and uplifting others to go further and faster. Read all our Breaking Barriers interviews here.
Photo / Provided