Interview: Siemens’ chief human resources officer Janina Kugel
Siemens’ chief human resources officer Janina Kugel was in Doha recently to speak at the 2016 How Women Work Annual Conference. Kugel, who is also responsible for the company’s human resources function globally, spoke to The Edge on increasing the number of Qatari hires and investing in growing the skills of local employees, increasing the diversity in the workplace in Qatar and the region, and intensifying Siemens’ collaboration with higher education institutions in Qatar.
“At Siemens in Qatar, we started to put a strong focus on gender diversity within our organisation about 12 months ago, and in that time, we have increased the number of females within our business from nine to 11.5 percent. Of course there is still work to do, we have committed to a female workforce of 20 percent by 2020 in Qatar,” says Janina Kugel, Siemens’ chief human resources officer.
Tell us about yourself, your educational qualifications and your professional experience both before and at Siemens.
I started my career in consulting, and working for various clients around the globe which allowed me to experience of many different perspectives. Now I am a member of the Siemens managing board since February 2015, and as chief human resources officer, I am globally responsible for the company’s human resources (HR).
Prior to this, I held various positions in Osram and Siemens in the areas of HR, corporate executive development, strategy and innovation management in Germany, Italy and China.
I think the most important thing in every career path is that you constantly learn and are open to new developments, tools and especially people. I often took the chance to try out interesting new tasks. You have to be courageous with regard to new challenges to be successful. And you have to accept the opportunities when they are offered to you – and they do not always come when you await them.
The number of graduates that Siemens will employ from Qatar by 2020.
From your experience, what HR practices can Middle Eastern companies learn from the West to improve a more gender inclusive workplace and encourage a higher degree of diversity in the workplace in Qatar and the region?
Siemens believes that different thinking, backgrounds, experience, expertise and individual qualities all foster creativity in high-performance cultures, and this of course means building a highly diverse workforce. Achieving this is not necessarily about learning from Western practices, but looking at the needs of employers and employees – or potential employees – and finding solutions to match these. For employers, this means, where possible, developing a culture of flexibility in such a manner that creates a family-friendly environment without affecting the business.
The ability to be flexible with working hours will also enable employees to work around the family commitments, and this is something we have addressed at Siemens in Qatar and across the Middle East. We have identified core hours for our employees with flexible start and finish times allowing our people to plan their work day around other commitments, and we are receiving extremely positive feedback about this.
For gender diversity, it is also important that companies are clear about the opportunities available to female employees. Women working in senior management send a clear message that a company values gender diversity, and – crucially – has the necessary practices in place to allow women to take advantage of the same opportunities as men.
At Siemens in Qatar, we started to put a strong focus on gender diversity within our organisation about 12 months ago, and in that time, we have increased the number of females within our business from nine to 11.5 percent. Of course, there is still work to do, we have committed to a female workforce of 20 percent by 2020 in Qatar. But in general, we can all learn from each other, no matter where you are in the world.
What is Siemens’ collaboration plan with higher educational institutions in Qatar?
We feel that as a local company, it is our responsibility to contribute to Qatar National Vision 2030. The country is experiencing an extraordinary transition towards a knowledge economy, and this is where Siemens can make a real contribution. Our aim is to support knowledge building in Qatar, diversifying our company in order to drive success. We have made a commitment to employ 75 local graduates by 2020, and by being a part of the education process and offering training and learning opportunities with our organisation, we are making a real contribution to Qatar’s future knowledge economy. We already operate collaborative programmes with educational institutions in Qatar, including participating in a programme with Hamad bin Khalifa University which will provide scholarships for exceptional students majoring in electrical engineering, business administration, computer science and information systems.
Just recently, we celebrated the first three graduates from a joint talent training programme with Qatar Foundation, and a second group will follow in April. We also work closely with Texas A&M University, most recently with our week-long presence on campus engaging with students, and our Innovation Center in Qatar has a series of collaboration projects with Qatar University.
“It is the responsibility of educational institutions and companies to work together to bring the private sector into the education process, rather than simply trying to ‘bridge the gap’.”
What is your view on the workplace readiness of graduates who are going to be hired by corporates/public sector companies? Do you think that educational institutions have a role in getting a curriculum that makes students more workplace ready, or is it the role of the employers to bridge that transition?
This is an important point, and there is work to be done. Of course if graduates are better informed about the working world before they enter it, this is to everyone’s advantage. Educational curriculums are tight, and it is the responsibility of both educational institutions and companies such as Siemens to work together to bring the private sector into the education process, rather than simply trying to ‘bridge the gap’.
We believe that work experience at Siemens is an extremely valuable asset for students, whether they eventually join us or not, and it is important to work closely with universities to make sure there is enough flexibility on both sides to create this opportunity. In the next three months, we will be hiring approximately 10 graduates, and every year we welcome on average of 15 working students into our Qatar business. We would like to see this figure doubled in coming years.
Why is diversity becoming more and more important?
For a company such as Siemens, being active in more than 200 countries all over the world, it is not only natural but indispensable to be diverse. We are acting in a wide variety of markets, working with a number of different customers, so our employees need to serve all that diversity, too. Furthermore, diversity is crucial in times of demographic change and skill shortage. We cannot risk losing potential talents for our businesses, be it women, older individuals and their profound experiences or young people belonging to Generation Y who have a new and different attitude towards leadership, innovation and new media. At Siemens, we proactively foster diversity, for example, by women mentoring programmes, we try to hire people with physical handicaps and we establish global exchange programmes to increase international experiences and to include different nationalities in our international apprenticeship programme called ‘[email protected]’.
And we are setting ourselves ambitious targets, one instance being the corporate thrust at constantly working on getting more women into leading positions.
Our employees benefit from diversity, too. In today’s complex and dynamic world, different perspectives, open-mindedness, lifelong learning and a high degree of flexibility are key to market share in times of digitalisation.
Siemens is focusing on digitalisation. What does that mean for your company?
Digitalisation is one of the most radical changes to how we innovate, produce, sell and service our goods. It also influences our workforce and our working environment. The world around us – and here I mean the digital revolution – is getting more and more disruptive and it’s getting radically different. Through digital and social media, we get more freedom and flexibility, but also more responsibility. We have to rethink not only the way we are doing business and how we support innovation, but also on how we recruit and retain people. We will constantly have to check out new ways to stay competitive.
What would you rate as your contribution to making Siemens more accepting of diversity and an equal opportunity employer?
We believe in the potential of diverse teams. It is a fact that we need to manage the most diverse workforce ever to use collective intelligence. To be successful, you need to appreciate and even foster this diversity. We are in the middle of a transformation of our company. And we want to be a role model by coming to a new leadership style.
But what does that mean? We make a lot of different people work together – across countries and across hierarchies. Thus, leadership is getting more horizontal which essentially means being less hierarchical and more team-focused. Today, as a leader, you cannot just tell your employees what they have to do – you need to really take them with you, coach them and convince them, discuss with them in an open-minded way. We have to use the collective intelligence within the company, but also outside. That’s why – as a leader – you have to communicate with a broader range of employees like before. Social media channels can facilitate this new leadership style but of course meeting people in person remains very important to build trust.