Why has BAE Systems joined 25×25?
We joined 25×25 because we believe in its mission. We do want to increase the level of representation we have on the executive committee level, but also throughout the company, and we feel that we probably can’t do it by ourselves, because getting input and sharing of best practices by other companies who are also on the same journey would help us tremendously. I think that’s one of the reasons why we joined 25×25.
Can you tell us about your personal journey?
I started my career a long time ago. So I did Chemistry at university. I realised that I didn’t want to spend more than 20 hours in the lab because it wasn’t just for me so I joined HR.
I’d worked for seven years in Pricewaterhouse in Indonesia. I moved to Indonesia from the UK in the mid-nineties after university, two years after university, because Asia was booming at the time, it was a tiger economy. I wanted to join in that peak.
So I joined Pricewaterhouse and then I joined the oil & gas industry, where I stayed for 23 years. And I was fortunate enough because the company that I had joined was very much a multinational company. They have always recruited people where they work because back in the 1960s, I believe, they had a visionary CEO where he had stated that if they wanted to be a multinational company, they had to recruit where they work.
So being Asian working in an Asian country for a multinational company, I had the same opportunity as a Brit would have, a white woman or a white man would have working in the UK. So I travelled around the world with that company for 23 years and it was great, it was wonderful. And after 23 years I left and joined BAE Systems.
Can you tell us about some of your specific challenges?
Being in the oil & gas industry was pretty challenging as a woman in the early days. We didn’t have a lot of women back then and we did embark on the gender balance journey pretty early on. But for me personally, being the lone woman on a management team was quite challenging. There were a lot of micro behaviours so to speak. So if we had a meeting and we wanted to go out for dinner, they would always look at me and say: “OK, where do you think we should go?” “Like why are you looking at me?”
Or, if someone walks into a room and there isn’t an extra chair then they will look at me. Or I remember one time we had a team building event offsite, and we would have, breakfast, lunch and dinner. And on the first day the headwaiter kept giving me the invoice which I then passed on to the financial controller to settle.
And I think on the second day in the morning, I ask the head waiter: “Why did you keep giving me the invoice?” And then he said: “But aren’t you the secretary of the team?”
What can be done to overcome this type of challenge?
I have seen a huge difference in the way women are treated within the oil & gas industry. We see an increased numbers of women engineers joining the industry. Having said that, it is still sometimes quite lonely and quite difficult, especially if you are the lone female engineer on site, in a location.
So we just need to make sure that they are not always the lone female engineer; that they have another colleague who is a female engineer working with them. But I hear anecdotal stories from men who work on the rigs and they actually prefer it when there’s a female engineer or female engineers because that changes the behaviour of men on the rig and they become more civilised.
And this is coming from, male colleagues who have seen a change in behaviours of their male colleagues when they see that there are female engineers on the rigs.
Can you tell us about best practices you have used or learned?
Well, the best practices I’ve learnt are to give line managers the accountability for talent management and succession planning; it should be woven into their roles basically, and [line managers should] not rely on HR to do it for them. HR should be working alongside them to identify talent within their teams and to identify successors for those roles within their teams. And I think this is something that should be implemented across all the different organisations.
We are on that journey at BAE Systems. It is now becoming more and more integrated into what we do. We’re not there yet, we’re on that journey.
And how important is the leadership team in establishing best practice for succession and talent planning?
It comes from the top. I mean, we should all set an example there. It’s very important that leaders believe in it. I see it happening in a lot of organisations whereby it’s mainly been an HR thing.
Best practice says: line managers have to do it alongside with HR. But the tone needs to be set from the top. If it is not set from the top, then the line managers won’t do it and they will just see it as an HR exercise.