IWED 2020: How Siemens is tackling workplace diversity

Posted on 23 Jun 2020 by Jonny Williamson

As the world marks International Women in Engineering Day (June 23), Siemens has taken concrete steps to proactively make its job adverts more gender neutral and supported applicants with videos to help bust a few myths about working in manufacturing.

Siemens is constantly striving to build an innovative and diverse culture. With a 78% male employee base in the UK there is still an urgent need to attract women to the company and to engineering and manufacturing in general.

Siemens hired 40% female graduates in 2019, compared to 29% in 2018. In January 2020, from a total of 555 apprentices across all Siemens businesses in the UK, 96 were female, around 17%, a slight reduction from previous years but a realistic indicator for the 2020/21 academic year.

Described as ‘trailblazer’, Sarah Black-Smith is the Head of factory operations at Siemens’ award-winning factory in Congleton, a site which employs 300 people and produces 1 million drives and controls a year using the latest digital tools and automation.

Sarah Black-Smith - Head of factory operations at Siemens’ award-winning factory in Congleton

Graduating from Loughborough University in 2004 with a BEng in Manufacturing Engineering and Management, Sarah went on to complete a Masters in Operations Excellence and worked on her placement year for Alstom in Lincoln.

Six months into her placement, the site was sold to Siemens in 2003 and Sarah was then sponsored through her final year and taken on as a graduate aged 22 as a Lean Implementer.

The role was within Assembly and Test, meaning that once the gas turbines were assembled, they were put into the test bays and run up to speed. Core to this early role was identifying process improvements and trying to save costs, but most importantly, working with diverse sets of factory teams.

Sarah explains: “I moved through the ranks quite quickly, going from Cell Manager to Manufacturing Manager looking after teams of 30 people on the shop floor. I was quite young, but it gave me a great footing in a factory environment.

“After a few years in Lincoln, a Production Manager role came up at our site in Congleton. I jumped at the chance, my husband and I had already decided we were ready to move back to the North West to be closer to family.”

It was here that Sarah was promoted to her current role, Head of Factory Operations, where she is responsible for all of production, the engineering teams including maintenance test engineering, product and process engineering, and leads the Lean Operations.

Sarah adds: “We have seen a significant increase in the number of women joining the manufacturing sector but more needs to be done. What needs to change is the mind-set of women and those working in factories.

“The options in engineering are wide and varied, from mechanical and electrical and now there is convergence of internet technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Students aspiring to be engineers already come with knowledge of computing from school and this is an added bonus in the world of engineering.”

Sarah Black-Smith and Ashleigh Sumner at Siemens' Congleton Factory - image courtesy of Siemens

Sarah has recruited and mentored many graduates, interns and apprentices over the years and since the launch of the Congleton Junior Factory in 2014 has taken a lot of them under her wing.

An example is 25-year-old Ashleigh Sumner. She joined the Siemens apprentice programme as part of its first cohort of trainees at the Congleton Junior Factory.

While there, she completed her Higher National Certificate and then achieved a first-class honours degree in Control and Automation Engineering from Salford University in 2018. Six years on she is a product manufacturing engineer at Congleton.

With an ambition to get into management, Ashleigh explains: “If you’re presented with an opportunity, no matter how small, and your initial instinct it to run in the opposite direction because it scares you, that’s a sign for you to jump at it as it will definitely open new doors.”

Siemens is constantly looking at new ways to encourage women into engineering. It has invested in initiatives like ‘Future Females’ which sponsors engineering scholarships and bursaries through The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s Horizons bursary programme.

Siemens continues its push with grass roots level initiatives, which include ‘SeeWomen’ an interactive show helping schoolgirls think seriously about careers in engineering.

In 2019, the programme was attended by 1,000 schoolgirls across the country and 2,400 teachers accessed the supporting downloadable resources. For 2020, the programme has been re-branded to ‘SeeMe’ with a view to reaching diverse groups and encourage careers in STEM.

The company also has many dedicated employees who go into local schools to inspire young people to consider STEM careers.