Schneider Electrics Annette Clayton gives career advice

Schneider Electric's Annette Clayton gives career advice

Hearing about the career journey of other women can be inspiring. Additionally, understanding how they got where they are and the steps they took can be both enlightening and informative. Furthermore, tapping into their valuable career tips and advice can be incredibly helpful.

Annette Clayton, CEO & President of Schneider Electric's North America Operations was interviewed on an exciting Society of Women Engineers (SWE) podcast, SWE Diverse, where she joined SWE President, Rachel Morford, to discuss her background in engineering and provide practical career advice.

Early problem solving experience

Growing up on a farm, for Annette the seeds of an engineering career were sowed early by working alongside her father with activities such as building a pick-up truck and selling it for profit helping to pay for her education.

Annette highlighted that even in the early days, pragmatic moments on the farm manifested themselves in many roles during her career, such as building computers, or running Schneider Electric’s back offices, to even now as CEO & President.

“Early experiences formulated how I solved problems, how I looked at problems and my understand of how things actually get done. Not on a spreadsheet, but on the factory floor,” explains Annette.

Lifelong learning develops competency

Discussing her professional goal of being a lifelong learner, Annette explains how this can help achieve career greatness.

“It can sound cliche but I really do believe in taking the experiences you have and the know-how and competencies that you develop and then leveraging them in the next opportunity,” she says.

Believing in the concept of learning is key for Annette, who explains one should keep their mind open at all times. Furthermore, Annette suggests that people with high levels of learning agility actually ramp faster in new roles and are less likely to miss trends that are impacting their businesses.

“A really important professional goal is that I take the time in my daily schedule to learn, and surround myself with resources that help me to learn - whether its relationships with academics and thought leaders, reading particular blogs or papers. I think that’s really important,” explains Annette.

Another important professional goal for Annette, that equates to successful business, is the responsibility of being a talent factory.

She explains, “I try to work hard to be a net exporter of talent for the broader company. Schneider Electric North America has 30,000 employees – it is a large population and a large part of the company. The more talent density that we can create, the more opportunities we create for the teams here and the more talent we create for the company. These are foundational goals. Being a talent factory encourages movement amongst employees at Schneider Electric.”

Embracing opportunity in the workplace

When discussing the importance of taking opportunities that present themselves, Annette highlights that taking a chance on talent doesn’t constitute risk, it is in fact an important factor in increasing diversity and inclusivity in the company.

“When I take my own example, people took chances on me. People gave me roles that I probably wasn’t fully ready for. I’ve learned that taking chances on talent isn’t really a risk. Typically, you see great things from people that approach roles with a new lens and fresh outlook. So keeping people on the move and letting people experience things for the first time, taking chances on people and supporting them is an important factor in development of talent,” comments Annette.

Looking further at how employees can foster the most rewarding and successful careers, Annette continues, “I’m a strong believer that you shouldn’t spend too long in any single role and be open to special assignments. When opportunity knocks really walk through the door to take the chance to do something new to expand your experiences, know-how and competencies. I’m talking about professionally but also personally. Whether its living in a different country or having an experience through a vacation that you wouldn’t normally have. All these broadening things are so important in your personal/professional development.”

Diversity and inclusion is good for business 

Annette is clear about the importance of progressive diversity and inclusion (D&I) and showcases how Schneider Electric has achieved great success since 2005. Indeed, while Annette was the first ever woman on Schneider Electric’s executive board, it is now 44 per cent female.

So what makes good diversity and inclusion? Annette explains: “This acceleration of steps has been really comprehensive. From hidden bias training to anti-harassment policies to advocacy for HeForShe, to the basics such as gender pay equity, having a D&I board with the most influential people in the company on it, employee resource groups, policies around family leave, childcare, adult care and recharge breaks. Most importantly listening to employees, measuring what their accomplishments are in the organisation and the virtual circle of improvement in the company."

Overcoming obstacles for career success

Annette explains how female candidates can excel, even in industries that are viewed as male dominated. 

“Sometimes I would reflect and wonder why I would always see that in my male counterparts. On the other hand, it was always an accelerator. I feel that while I had to be more resilient and determined, it also helped accelerate my career in a large way and I think those tests were a way to let me demonstrate my capabilities,” she explains.

Courage equals opportunity

Offering helpful advice to future candidates, Annette draws on guidance from her own career path.

“There’s one piece of advice that I could give, that I was given very young in my career, which was around feedback. Its when you’re in these big tests, and moments and difficult roles, you are given a lot of feedback. The advice I was given is, when you are given that feedback, assume that you need it. It maybe sounds obvious but I think sometimes because we know about gender bias and we know that sometimes feedback isn’t well intended, we may sometimes dismiss it. But if we start from the position that ‘I need that feedback, I should on-board it’, you never lose the opportunity to make personal gain and personal improvement. And that personal advice has served me better than any other single piece of feedback.”

Annette delves further into advice for both employees and candidates. When asked what career development means to her and how can leaders help promote career development in their companies, Annette states that the most important thing is that when the door opens, have the courage to walk through it.

She continues, “I know that sometimes we self analyse that maybe we don’t have every experience I need, or every bit of knowledge I need but sometimes we have to trust that we can adapt and learn and surround ourselves with people that can help.

“The best piece of advice I can give is that when opportunity knocks, answer and have the courage. We know the statistics that women tend to want to be 100% qualified for a role before taking it, while their male counterpart would consider the position at 60%. This puts a lot of impetus on leaders to go out and look for female candidates.”

“So one of the things we do at Schneider Electric is for every role we have open, we force ourselves to go out and find at least two female candidates. Many times I find I’m calling women specifically for a role saying ‘have you considered this role?’, and they won’t have considered it as they don’t think of themselves as 100% qualified,” she explains.

Looking further at gender equality in teams, she concludes, “I think there’s some responsibility back on leadership to pull women back who may not see themselves as qualified for the role, and there’s some responsibility on women to have the courage to take the opportunity when it’s presented.”

Listen to the full podcast with Annette Clayton.

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