Gabriele Sons is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Thyssenkrupp Elevator, a manufacturer of a range of industrial, domestic and passenger lifts and escalators.
You’ve had an interesting and diverse career – what led you to your role today?
It is hard for me to identify an exact turning point in my career which led me to my current role as member of the Executive Board and Chief Human Resources Officer at ThyssenKrupp Elevator. Since I joined in 2012, my area of responsibility comprises the field of Human Resources as well as Health and Safety, Communication and Legal and Compliance issues.
Prior to joining I worked in various HR and Legal functions in different business areas such as service, airline and consumer goods. Throughout my career, I found the diverse experience and challenges the roles offered to be very attractive; you could say that it has helped me get to where I am today.
When it comes to working in a male dominated sector like engineering, what advice would you give to women entering or working in this environment?
At the beginning of my career, I quickly learned that you don’t have time to be hesitant or worried. Sometimes you have to jump straight into new roles and environments with little prior knowledge, learning on the job and from the mistakes you make. Trial and error is a great way to hone your skills and develop new talents. Confidence stems from this, and is one of the most valuable assets you can have – irrelevant of your gender or the environment.
I have taken many steps in my career without 100% knowing where the journey would lead to but ultimately recognizing that what I wanted was at the end of it. I think it’s important for women not to be put off by certain roles, especially within engineering where jobs are usually dominated by men. Companies such as Thyssenkrupp Elevator understand that women have different qualities and perspectives and we should use these to the company’s advantage.
When it comes to diversity, is this a big focus for your company and what systems do you have in place to ensure the depth and breadth of skills in your employees?
There are a lot of issues with multi-national companies not doing enough, supporting and valuing the input of their female employees. We try and put a large focus on ensuring we have an internationally diverse network of people. We understand that to succeed in today’s competitive landscape, it’s important that the business reflects the global community that we are working in.
The global presence of our company also demands effective collaboration across all dimensions of diversity. This is why we started a program called “SHE” in 2014. SHE is a workshop event where female participants are guided to identify and discuss the challenges of the workplace in a multi-national company like ours. Through the workshops, participants are encouraged to become ambassadors for promoting diversity and its different dimensions (not only different genders but e.g. also multi-generations in the workplace) and are able to further establish their professional network.
Another example of our commitment to diversity is the group wide Women at Work network, which was founded by female employees from all over the group and offers more than 800 female employees the chance to meet and promote a cross-functional exchange of information among their female peers at all levels of the business. We are very thankful for this initiative as it also provides our female staff with the opportunity to receive specialized training and qualifications.
Going one step further, we have also set internal targets for women in leadership positions. For example, 11.6% of our Senior Managers are female; a percentage that continues to grow to achieve our internal target of 15%.
Can you pass on any valuable advice to future women leaders?
One of the biggest pieces of advice I would give to others is to be committed to learning, and to get involved with as many opportunities as possible. Don’t be put off or scared about an opportunity – instead jump straight in and gain valuable experience that will do you wonders in the future. At times juggling different roles in both your professional and personal life can be a challenge and make some days in the office particularly tough, but believing in yourself and your abilities will help you perform at your best and encourage your co-workers to believe in you too.
It’s also really important to remember your benefits as a female in the workplace. People assume that by being on the Executive Board, I must be mimicking male behavior, but this is very much not the case. Females often offer a new perspective in a male dominated environment and we should work to our strengths and bring that to the table.
Read more of our Inspirational Women profiles here.