Barbara Humpton recently became U.S. CEO of the German industrial giant Siemens and, among other things, has been charged with helping accelerate a digitization push that will continue to transform a company with a vast range of products, services and operations across verticals from energy to health care, from drive technology to industry services.
At the same time, Humpton has been tasked with another pressure that is at least uncommon for a CEO, while not unique: She’s one of the still-few number of female chiefs of major manufacturing companies in the United States, and Humpton acknowledges that she occupies a “rarefied” position. She realizes she’s modeling success for many executive women.
Humpton, who will be the keynote speaker at Chief Executive‘s 2019 Smart Manufacturing Summit in Dallas, Texas, says this is a conversation that is occurring among Siemens board members as well as many other places. “I hope our board will recognize the talent that surrounds them and will select more women for [top] roles,” she told Chief Executive.
Humpton had been a 27-year veteran and a senior executive at Lockheed-Martin in 2015 when she was recruited to become president and CEO of Siemens Government Technologies. Then Siemens AG Joe Kaeser tapped her for the top U.S. job.
Among other things, Siemens is in the midst of a digital makeover that has already made it one of the top 10 software companies in the world and which has included, for example, the recent acquisition of Mendix, a low-code platform outfit. Siemens recently revealed a “Vision 2020+” manifesto that calls for growing its Internet of Things integration services.
At the same time, Humpton explained, Siemens USA has an ambitious “people agenda” that includes significant new investments in talent-pool development “that will feed our future and the future of our customers,” she said. Efforts to drive interest in technical careers comprise a crucial feature of the drive.
And that brings Humpton to consider women’s roles in the future of Siemens—and tech. “The statistics are so discouraging on how few women are entering technical-degree programs,” she said. “But one thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is whether we necessarily have to attract them to degree programs – or would some women choose to enter technical careers later in life?
“It used to be that women and their desire to balance with family became a huge factor in career planning because, quite frankly, a career was supposed to be only 25 to 30 years long – and many women wanted to take off a huge chunk of that time for kids. But people are working longer now. And my sense is [that] we can start talking with women about the idea that your family years are going to be precious—and that you don’t need to make choices about your career based just on your plans for family, because she may have 40 productive years now for a career.
Continued Humpton, “Women can start later or start [careers] earlier and take time off. They can pick a sequence that works for them because their minds and motivation may be well suited for the work we have for them to do.”
Humpton also says that the determination of more companies to adopt a broader corporate purpose than the traditional bottom line will attract more women to technology and industrial companies. For Siemens, its overarching purpose is to use its knowhow to address important megatrends including digitalization, automation and electrification as well as background concerns including urbanization and climate change.
She said that women also may gain an increasing leg up in board decisions on top executives in part because they’re not only “capable of creative thinking” but also because females tend to be more skilled in “cooperation and co-creation” as business enters a phase in which “’co-opetition’ is more of the rule.”