VQT: Siemens Energy’s Maria Ferraro on the Importance of Allyship

Todd Pruzan, HBR

Welcome to the “HBR Video Quick Take.” I’m Todd Pruzan, senior editor for research and special projects at Harvard Business Review. Today, I’m here with Maria Ferraro, chief financial officer and chief inclusion and diversity officer of Siemens Energy, to talk about allyship and being an effective ally. Maria, thank you so much for being with us today.

Maria Ferraro, Siemens Energy

Oh, thank you, Todd. It’s my pleasure to be here.

Todd Pruzan, HBR

Maria, why does Siemens Energy feel so strongly about allyship?

Maria Ferraro, Siemens Energy

It’s a really good point, Todd. The fact is we want to hear from our employees. We asked them a little while ago about inclusion and diversity at Siemens Energy and were we doing a good job.

What came back to us were a couple of observations. One was, maybe we can improve in certain areas. For one of our large business conferences where we invite, let’s say, the top 800 to attend, we went out globally, and we asked them to tell us a little bit about your inclusion and diversity experiences at Siemens Energy.

From that, we quickly learned there’s some room for improvement. In certain areas, we are progressing. This is a journey. This is certainly not something that happens overnight. But in other areas, we could do much better.

What further came from that was a cry for how can we help our employees, which was excellent and very positive. That’s where we started to talk about allyship.

It’s also we want, together with our employees, to understand where they’re coming from, how we can do better, and essentially, how can we engage our large population? We wanted to create a movement at our company, and we thought this is a very effective way to do so.

Todd Pruzan, HBR

OK, so from your point of view, what does it take to be a truly effective ally?

Maria Ferraro, Siemens Energy

So it’s actually not that difficult to be an ally. And it takes a few things, though, and one is to be a good listener, just listening. I think that what came back from those in our organization where they thought they had an effective allyship relationship is that the person was present. They listened to their concerns. And more importantly, they weren’t judgmental about what was happening.

It was really being there for that individual, being a shoulder to lean on, perhaps a helping hand. But it was not about finding solutions. In certain areas, you can’t find solutions. It was about being supportive.

A few examples even from my past where, in my career, I’ve had a number of allies, some male colleagues, for example, who, with their support and their ability to listen to what I was going through at the time, were able to really nurture my career.

For example, even a straight person in the Pride community can be an ally to someone in need from that community. I think, even when you’re thinking about things like ethnicity and race—I mean, there’s so many ways that people can be an ally.

But there’s one thing that I also stress. It’s not just a one-time deal. It is a time commitment. It should be seen as that, as building a relationship as an ally. And I think that it should be a relationship that’s built on trust. It’s based on consistency, accountability. I think it’s really about ensuring that you’re there for that individual.

Essentially, being an ally is, at the core of it, waking up every morning and choosing to be that support system for someone else, choosing to be kind, really kind, and choosing to make a difference in someone’s life. It’s an extremely effective way to be that difference in someone’s life. What we saw is, in our organization, allyship is a very effective means of really getting that movement of inclusion and diversity embedded in the culture.

Todd Pruzan, HBR

Maria, what is Siemens Energy doing as an ally to its inclusion and diversity networks?

Maria Ferraro, Siemens Energy

Thank you, Todd. I think that’s such an important question. One thing I have to remind not only others but myself is we are a young company. We’re still on a journey. And are we there yet? No, certainly not. I think it’s step by step.

We are progressing, and I’m very proud of the progress that we’ve made. Allyship is a part of that. But maybe let me take just to step back to tell you how we’re dealing with I&D at Siemens Energy.

One thing that we’ve developed is what we call a coalition of allies. This was very important, because this is what I call my holistic overview on all I&D matters within Siemens Energy, because it’s important. It’s not just one-faceted, is it? It’s multifaceted. It’s about our people, so HR, of course, is included. It’s about also health and safety, mental well-being.

It’s also about our facilities and how we have a welcoming environment here at Siemens Energy that everybody believes they can bring their true self to. But of course, this is the other side of me—I am a CFO. So we also have some KPIs in place to manage and to ensure that we’re progressing in the right direction.

For example, we do have a gender target, which is 25% by 2025 and 30% by 2030. We also have resource assigned to this very important topic at Siemens Energy. And what’s really great about trying to be inclusive again is we have a little bit of a Dragon’s Den approach to new ideas or different ideas that one of our individual employees in another country, for example, they pitch an idea for something that they would like to do. I think this is really great because it allows everybody from our networks to get involved.

One area where I’m very pleased—and why I talked a little bit about facilities management and our coalition of allies and how we ensure that our office buildings or manufacturing facilities are accessible to all—we’ve launched this accessibility project. This is something of personal importance to me, and it’s also extremely important because we are a global company. We’re in over 90 countries all over the world, and we want to ensure that people are able to access our buildings so they can bring their full and whole self to work.

Of course, it goes without saying we’re also working with our Pride networks. You know we’re just on the cusp of Pride Month, so a lot of exciting activities are ongoing there we want to discuss. This is something that I think is slightly different—we are discussing with the individual networks and trying to not only have downward communication but upward communication, because we want to listen. We really want to ensure that we’re on the right track on this journey. Again, we’re not there yet, but step by step.

Also, one thing is we’re launching what we call a self-identification survey. This is what we’re considering doing right now. We have a small pilot happening in UK, and this is really great, because it’s about making sure people feel comfortable saying here’s how I identify.

It’s also going back to the networks, even thinking about our LGBTQIA+ network. How can we ensure that we’re making progress in certain areas and ensuring that everyone feels comfortable to speak up but also that they’re in a place where they can bring their full self?

I mentioned a little bit about facilities management and our facilities globally. We’ve launched a project in a pilot in Norway, where we’re looking at gender-neutral facilities on-site. We’re really pushing the envelope in certain areas.

In line with our Speak Up Culture, we announced an ombudsman person in our company in February. Why? We wanted to ensure that everybody had a place to go and to ensure that if they see bad behavior that they’re able to talk to someone. We address those and look at each and every one of those cases.

I think there’s a lot of things that we’re doing as a company. What’s really important is touching back into our networks and making sure that we’re on the right track.

Last but certainly not least—and that’s why I’m here today—is the allyship campaign. I mean, this is the one that touched all our employees, all of them globally, and it’s where we really tried to make that difference.

I mean the videos, the campaign that we made where we asked just our employees to tell us, give us some stories about how you were positively impacted by an ally. What came back to us was too many stories, actually, to provide to our people. But we selected some and said, look, everybody can make a difference at Siemens Energy when it comes to inclusion and diversity.

You can be an ally. It doesn’t take too much to be one. But the impact that you have on people is long-lasting and extremely positive, so why not be an ally?

I’m an ally. Hopefully, you are an ally, Todd. And really what we’re trying to do is create a movement at Siemens Energy. We see that as extremely effective, and it’s progressing our inclusion and diversity initiative.

Todd Pruzan, HBR

That is very inspirational to hear. Maria, this has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for your time today, for your insight and your information about what you’re doing at Siemens Energy.

Maria Ferraro, Siemens Energy

Thank you, Todd. And thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited about our journey. And hopefully we’ll see you again. Thank you so much for listening.

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