June 14, 2019

From a spark to a lightning storm: Schneider Electric’s journey towards diversity

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Schneider Electric’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) champions share why engaging with people from all walks of life is a core business strategy. Hear their guidance on how to carry the D&I torch.

Schneider Electric (SE) was founded in 1836; just as the dust was settling on the first industrial revolution. Today, it’s a beehive of more than 140,000 employees from five generations across 100 countries. Make no mistake though – Schneider Electric is no slow-moving giant.

In fact, when Vice President of Human Resources Colleen McKnight and Talent Manager Siobhan Kelly-Bush sit down with us, we quickly learn that these women, and the organisation they represent, thrive on change. For these professionals, shaping a diverse workplace culture is their raison d’être.

Siobhan dives straight in:

If you don’t like change, this isn’t the place for you. We’re constantly reinventing ourselves – broadening our roles and evolving into new markets.

Colleen takes up the theme, reflecting on the company’s evolution since she joined Schneider in 2015, although the first diversity initiative was really introduced back in 2006.

With women representing 25% of our employees in the UK&I, we’ve had a long, hard struggle to improve gender balance – it’s a challenge in our industry. In 2017, approximately 11% of our engineering workforce was women. In the last two years, however, we’ve made giant strides. Now, we’re broadening the scope of our inclusion efforts to all backgrounds, nationalities, sexual orientations and religions. Companies need to reflect the balance of the societies within which they operate. A diverse workforce brings creativity, ideas, discussions, innovation, positive challenge, and new approaches. We aim to have meaningful representation across all aspects of diversity by 2020.

Speaking from experience: Siobhan and Colleen offer this advice to others advocating for gender diversity – and beyond.

1. Build organic pipelines

From Colleen’s experience, solutions to organisational challenges are often sitting right in front of us.

We have so many programs at Schneider but one very close to my heart is around building our own recruitment pipelines. We encourage people to look at their networks (no matter the individual’s, age, or the level they’re at in their career) to help create a talent pool for the future. Our Zone President for the UK&I Mike Hughes, has committed to interviewing at least two women from the pipeline every week, so as to understand what female professionals are looking for, and where our gaps are. Obviously, not all of the 200 women in the pipeline will want to work at SE or will be the right profile, but by building these relationships we can be in a good position to recruit down the track.

With Mike championing this campaign, we send the message to the entire organisation that we need to shift our mindset. Unless we intervene, we will not move the dial in terms of gender diversity – and that’s not acceptable.

Colleen draws a deep breath and adds,

He’s set huge ambitious goals for both me and my team – but so far, we are absolutely rising to the challenge.

2. Encourage movement across departments

When Schneider Electric realised they didn’t have enough women in sales, they turned inwards – again.

Globally, we haven’t had enough women in sales, never mind the UK & Ireland,” Siobhan reveals. “To address this, SE introduced an internal program called ‘I want to be a saleswoman’ – a boot-camp introducing women to the function. The name was then changed to ‘I want to be a salesperson’ to open it up to everyone. Last year, the program saw one of our female colleagues appointed to a sales engineering role – a fabulous outcome. For others, it has become an opportunity to enhance their awareness of the sales function and learn about pathways in a sales career.

This year, the name changed again to ‘I want to be a sales professional’ – an evolution that Siobhan and Colleen agreed better reflects SE’s inclusive message.

Neither your gender, nor your level or function within the organisation matter. You can get involved and discover a new career path that you might not have considered. This year, the response has been phenomenal. We’ve gone from nine participants last year, to nearly forty wanting to be part of the programme! – Siobhan says.

3. Pledge your commitment and be accountable

In 2015, Schneider Electric pledged commitment to the United Nations “He for She” Program; a world-recognised initiative which asks both male and female employees to embrace gender equality and live by the “He for She” values. “We all know sponsorship drives initiatives. Chairman and CEO Jean Pascal Tricoire is the face of “He for She” at SE. We also have the full support of Mike Hughes, who is also a member of the Global Diversity & Inclusion Committee – he’s a truly vocal advocate in our region,” Siobhan says.

4. Deliver varied programs and connect with everyone

Colleen and Siobhan are excited about the initiatives making waves at SE – what they’ve shared is just the tip of the iceberg. However, it’s clear that gender isn’t the only destination of the D&I ship at Schneider.

Colleen describes how:

The shift towards women has to happen – but there are other important factors we must consider now. Our vision is to achieve inclusion of all diversities by 2020, so we want to recognise potential in people of all backgrounds and profiles – this isn’t just about women.

It sounds like a big task. We probe further about how Schneider will step up to the challenge. Colleen rounds up our discussion by summarising:

We’re broadening our initiatives to ensure there is something everyone can relate to. From events such as international Women and Men’s days, to wellbeing, mental health or LGTBIQ+ initiatives… People respond to the programmes in different ways, but as long as they understand why we are doing these things, even if one initiative doesn’t resonate with them, they can connect with something constructive – and thats what is important if we want to drive change.


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About the Author
WORK180 promotes organizational standards that raise the bar for women in the workplace. We only endorse employers that are committed to making real progress so that all women can expect better.

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job.