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Women have played a key role at Siemens since the company’s early days. Just as society has changed, the importance of women workers at the company has steadily grown. From the first women workers in incandescent lamp production to power at the top levels of management: here are some historical notes on how women have contributed to the company’s success.
Siemens has traditionally always desired to be a conscientious employer. Besides financial support measures already in place, from 1907 onward the company had its own facilities to assist groups that were especially in need – including single mothers. And in 1911 Siemens began offering "factory care workers" who maintained direct contact with women workers and provided them with support.
In 1907 Siemens assisted with setting up a residence for women workers in Berlin-Charlottenburg. The home was based on a very advanced concept for the age – residents should have control of their own lives and support themselves. It was followed by a Siemens children’s home (1912), which especially provided care and supervision for children while their single mothers worked, and a year later by the Siemensgarten convalescent home for unmarried women (1913).
In keeping with the dominant ideology, the image of women in the Third Reich took a twistedly nationalistic turn. Housewife and mother were seen as a woman’s highest roles. Yet preparations for war amended the image: after 1936–37, the state propagandized working women, if only because of the labor shortage.
By 1938, German electrical companies were already working at full capacity. In that situation, Siemens needed every man – and every woman. For a time, the economy had caused a slump in the number of women in the company’s workforce, but in 1934 the figure began rising slowly but steadily to more than 30 percent. Many women worked in mass production of consumer and capital goods like radios, telephones, mini-motors and vacuum cleaners.
The electrical industry was already working at the limits of its capacity when the war began. As hostilities continued, the need for skilled workers only grew more acute. To compensate for the shortage of male skilled workers, at the end of the 1930s the company started its first training courses for women.
At first, some research departments trained their own female lab assistants, whose job description was then expanded and upgraded to an electrical assistant. The requirements and training for the new vocation were clearly defined. There was a special preference for women with a high school diploma that qualified them for university study, combined with a "special predisposition and inclination" for scientific fields and mathematics. The occupation was officially introduced in the spring of 1942. The first electrical assistants were assigned to the Siemens laboratories.
After 1939 the Siemens plants, like all of German industry, were increasingly sucked into the war economy. The gradual shift of production to essential military goods and the shortage of male laborers altered the structure of the workforce; the percentage of women soared.
Siemens’ day-to-day business during World War II was plagued by shortages of raw materials, transportation problems, and shortages of skilled and unskilled workers. Yet the authorities kept demanding for production to expand still further. In 1940, more and more civilian workers began being shipped in from the occupied territories in Poland, Ukraine and Russia. Although these men and women came voluntarily at first, as the war went on they were impressed into forced labor.
Immediately after the war, employees mainly worked at repairing and clearing away damage, and in emergency production of items for everyday use.
The company could not begin making simple electrical equipment products until its production facilities in Berlin and the western occupation zones had become operational again. Yet a considerable number of male employees were still prisoners of war in 1946–47, so women had to take on their duties. The percentage of women working at Siemens rose.
Siemens consistently enjoyed double-digit growth rates during Germany’s postwar "economic miracle" – thanks most of all to women, whose nimble fingers and precision proved their worth in making small appliances and telecommunications products.
Most women were untrained or trained on the job; the pathway to higher levels of the hierarchy was largely barred to them. So the requirements for potential applicants for jobs in industrial technology were correspondingly low. Want ads from the era always emphasized that the work was "clean, physically undemanding, not difficult to learn, and performable while seated."
Changes of perspective
The "Promoting Diversity" project began in 2000. For the first time, Siemens offered a wide range of programs to enhance diversity within its team, from fostering the next generation to work-home compatibility. The project was absorbed in 2008 into the activities of the newly established Chief Diversity Office.
This program was an important way to increase the number of women working at Siemens, especially in technical professions. It was also intended to lay the groundwork for more women to become established in specialized and management positions. And the company’s officers also realized it was high time to improve compatibility between job and private life. Promoting Diversity became a declared corporate objective, worldwide.
The Chief Diversity Office was established in November 2008. Its objective was to increase diversity within the company worldwide. Every position was to be filled by the best person, no matter what their gender, background or ethnicity.
At Siemens, diversity stands for inclusion and cooperation among diverse mentalities, backgrounds, experiences, skills and individual qualities, across all levels and dimensions of the company. So the diversity initiative encourages a multifarious composition of the workforce, without regard to nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation, origin or religion. The initiative also enhances Siemens’ global innovative strength and competitiveness, as well as its appeal as an employer.
In November 2008, Barbara Kux became the first woman to sit on the Siemens Managing Board. Brigitte Ederer followed in 2010. Lisa Davis has been in charge of Siemens’ energy business since August 2014. And Janina Kugel has headed the company’s HR affairs since the beginning of 2015.
Barbara Kux, in charge of purchasing and sustainability, was the first woman in the company’s 170-year history to join the top management body. At that point Siemens was the only company in the DAX 30 index to have a woman in such a top management position. Barely six years later, Lisa Davis was the first woman on the Siemens Managing Board to have a technical remit. Janina Kugel became Chief Human Resources Officer at Siemens AG in February 2015.
In 2011, Siemens set itself the target of raising the percentage of women in higher-pay positions in Germany from 10 to 12 or 13 percent by 2015. The goal was already reached in 2014, at nearly 13 percent. Between 2015 and 2017, the percentage of women at the two levels below the Managing Board also rose from 8.5 to 10 percent. All in all, women account for about 23 percent of the workforce at Siemens in Germany, and 24 percent worldwide.
Siemens’ commitment to encourage women at all levels of the company doesn’t end at mere compliance with the law. The company plans to increase the number of women in top management positions. By the end of June 2022, the number of women is to be kept stable at one of the two top management levels in Germany, and increase to 20 percent in the other. Siemens is also pursuing further initiatives, programs and measures to encourage a change of culture in equal opportunity, diversity and integration.
Gerda Hesse was the first woman to be appointed to the Siemens Supervisory Board, in March 1978. Since 1993 this body has always had at least one woman member. At the start of 2018, seven of the total of 20 members of the Supervisory Board were women, including Nathalie von Siemens, a great-great-granddaughter of the company founder.
Gerda Hesse, Deputy Chair of the German Union of Salaried Employees (now ver.di), was a member of the Supervisory Board from 1978 to 1983. Women board members were subsequently recruited from among employee representatives. Since 2008 the shareholders have also been represented by women. Another new development: at the end of January 2015, Birgit Steinborn, Chair of the Central Works Council, was the first woman to become Deputy Chair of the company’s Supervisory Board.
History News, March 08, 2018
A hundred years ago, the idea of a woman occupying a management post was simply inconceivable – which makes the career of Marie Busch all the more remarkable. She began her professional life at a predecessor company of Siemens Healthineers at the end of World War I and retired as a member of the management board over 40 years later. To mark International Women's Day, it‘s well worth taking a close look at Marie Busch’s career, which was extraordinary for the era in which she lived.