People could really do without the commute.
The first measure Sabine Simeon-Aissaoui took when appointed Chairwoman of Schindler’s Diversity Committee in 2016 was to offer her teams the option, job-permitting, to work from home – a move considered bold at the time.
This was acknowledgement that juggling the demands of personal and professional life could be tough – and that a little flexibility could go a long way in making the workplace more welcoming to all.
Fast forward five years, and Sabine, a French citizen, has newly become a member of the Group Executive Committee of Schindler, where driving diversity continues to be top of mind. She was promoted to Global Head of Escalators and Supply Chain at Schindler in January of this year, after serving six years as Head of Supply Chain Europe.
In her new role, she manages a combined unit of 19 teams spread across four continents – a challenge in and of itself. But managing teams remotely while navigating several time-zones pales in comparison with the challenges she has had to contend with in past months, i.e. keeping a functioning supply chain running during a pandemic.
Ensuring business continuity – her second order of business, after safeguarding the safety and health of employees – took on a whole different meaning. A convergence of fluctuating commodity prices, supply chain disruptions, volatile currency markets, and skyrocketing transportation costs – all by-products of COVID-19 – made last year one of the toughest on record for the industry.
A self-confessed "geek", Sabine says her keen interest in all things tech helps her with another core component of her role: keeping track of the latest developments in technology, critical in an industry marked by increasing digitilization. "I don’t see technology replacing humans – I see it enhancing our capabilities."
Another clear driver of performance is inclusion and diversity, according to Sabine. A growing body of literature points to companies with a diverse and inclusive workforce being more productive and innovative. She certainly agrees but believes the whole gender equality conversation is first and foremost a matter of ethics. "It’s a moral imperative," she says.
Sabine admits she initially had reservations about International Women’s Day. "Are we such an endangered species that we need a special day?" she quips. Her thinking quickly evolved, however, after seeing the strong momentum created by the celebration. Today, she is encouraged by what she sees as a growing consensus on the need to root out gender inequalities.
For all that, the UN-backed celebration is not to everyone’s liking. So what does she say to those arguing that International Women’s Day runs the risk of stigmatizing the opposite gender?
"There is a risk of polarization, that’s certain," she says. But, in her view, it would be even more damaging to not shed light on the gender inequalities that run through society. "In effect, by not talking about it, you’re perpetuating this massive blind spot and not tackling gender bias."
So how do you help advance gender equality? While public figures, celebrities, or – in a business environment – senior management, can champion a cause and help propel it into the spotlight, real change will be effective – and long-lasting – when it comes from the ground up.
It’s this philosophy that has informed Schindler’s own Inclusion & Diversity efforts. "We were not going to transform things overnight," she says. "Instead of going top-down, the focus has been on evolving the culture organically." Sabine points to Schindler’s culture of compromise, a trait quintessentially Swiss.
Does she have a word of advice for other professional women? "There will still be moments when, despite your best efforts, you’ll be seen as a woman and not as a professional. Stereotypes won’t go away overnight and perceptions and expectations of how a woman should behave in a certain situation will persist," she says. "Navigating this is a soft skill that you will need to develop."
And Sabine to conclude: "Working against these limiting stereotypes is really the work we have to do in organizations like Schindler. We need to do our part to ensure everyone has an equal chance to contribute to achieve their full potential."