Career opportunities – no matter the gender

Discrimination against women encompasses all areas of life, from health and nutrition to schooling, employment and politics. Still, there are many good examples that change is possible.

DATE 2018-11-15 AUTHOR Cari Simmons & Ulf Wiman PHOTO Marcos Romano & Maurizio Camagna

WOMEN ARE ROUTINELY discriminated against in all industries worldwide. Equal pay for equal work and equal career opportunities are still way off in the distance. But, even though the progress is excruciatingly slow and there are backlashes, there are also rays of hope.

In the corporate arena, a growing number of companies are seeing that diversity and equal opportunities – and not only regarding gender – are right from a social and an ethical perspective, but that they also create a dynamic working environment that promote creativity and innovative thinking. And – the bottom line – business growth.

Alfa Laval’s vision is to create an inclusive workplace where diversity is essential to achieve company objectives. One proactive company initiative deals with attracting, developing and nurturing female managers.

Senior and junior managers

Penny Peng, Senior Manager, Parts & Services Division, China, and Sara Billo, Product Group Quality & Safety Manager, Italy, are two successful Alfa Laval managers that have made the journey. They are inspiring role models, showing that it is possible to be a woman, and a top-level manager in the manufacturing industry.

When Penny graduated from university as an engineering student in 1992, China was opening up to the world. Many international companies came to China and established branches. “Young Chinese, like myself,” Penny says, “were eager to learn the advanced management skills and technologies from these international companies. I joined the Marine department at Alfa Laval soon after my graduation.”

Sara decided to work for Alfa Laval because it is a well-known and solid international company with a good reputation. She wanted to continue to develop her knowledge and competences in the HSE area and be located at an important manufacturing site. “I have a degree in chemical engineering and a master’s degree in Health, Safety & Environment management systems, and when I started at Alfa Laval in 2004, I felt so lucky to have the possibility to work in an area that I really liked.”

Key to success

LOOKING BACK ON their careers, Penny and Sara agree that an open and feedback-based company culture has been crucial to their success. Support, guidance and coaching from managers as well as mentorship are essential to boost self-confidence and to show direction. Asked about personal success factors, Penny says that, “For me, it’s important to be calm, consistent, never give up, and take training opportunities.”

Sara says: “My specific and deep knowledge in the area of Quality, Health, Safety & Environment, supported by energy, passion and a strong will to improve processes and drive cultural changes.”

Make no mistake, it takes a lot of hard work, and there will always be bumps in the road to success. Sara says that a particularly challenging experience for her was the change from a site to a product group dimension, and the responsibility that comes from working with multicultural teams and organizations with different maturity and structures. At the same time, there was a complete reorganization in Alfa Laval.

“My manager helped me understand the underlying reasons and focus on goals with the same energy and commitment,” she says. “Having demonstrated that I can accept and lead change has been appreciated. As a result, I have seen my role confirmed and empowered.”

PENNY, A BIG challenge was a titanium crisis in China that meant all contract prices with shipyards had to be renegotiated. “Then there was the 2008 financial crisis, when orders were cancelled,” she says. “In these situations, it all depended on the team working together, and finding solutions to achieve a win-win situation with our customers.”

Career in Alfa Laval

One of Alfa Laval’s strategic equal opportunity objectives is to decrease the gap between the proportion female managers and the proportion of female employees. But what does it take to become a leader at Alfa Laval?

“You need to show direction, take responsibility, and be willing to make sacrifices, so that your team members will trust you and be willing to go further with you,” answers Penny.

Sara stresses, “the capability to influence and drive change, with strong focus on achieving goals and always having in mind customer satisfaction and people commitment.”

Having come a long way themselves, Sara and Penny have good advice for women who is just starting out in their career, or who want to take the step into management. Sara’s recommendation is to always work with high standards, focusing on your strengths and creating a solid network within the organization. “It’s also vital to get energy and support from family to stay stable and focused on objectives,” she says.

Penny agrees: “Support from family members is very important. Be brave and insistent and do not fear for the future.”

IN BRIEF: SARA BILLO

Product Group Quality & Safety Manager, Alonte, Italy. Also responsible for coordinating and standardizing Quality, Health, Safety and Environment (QHSE) processes for sites in other countries. Started at Alfa Laval in 2004, applying her Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) skills at a time when few companies were investing resources in HSE management systems.

IN BRIEF: PENNY PENG

Senior manager, Service Division, Shanghai, China. Twenty-five years ago, she was the first woman at Alfa Laval China to sell marine equipment to China’s shipyards. Not only did Penny introduce new products and technology to the shipyards, but she also crossed a cultural and gender divide.

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“Having demonstrated that I can accept and lead change has been appreciated. As a result, I have seen my role confirmed and empowered.”

Sara Billo, Group Quality & Safety Manager, Alfa Laval Italy

“You need to show direction, take responsibility, and be willing to make sacrifices, so that your team members will trust you and be willing to go further with you"

Penny Peng, Senior manager Service, Alfa Laval China

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