International Women’s Day: AVEVA’s Jennifer Allerton
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we sat down with Jennifer Allerton, non-executive director at AVEVA and one of the 100 Most Influential Women in Engineering. Jennifer talks about her experience in the STEM industry and talks about diversity in the industry.
What does being recognized as one of the most influential women in Engineering in Europe mean to you?
For me, it is something that brings awareness to the wider public of what women in engineering can, and already have, achieved. I think it is important to show that working in Engineering and Technology can lead to a really interesting and fascinating career, where you can make a difference in people´s lives and in society. A lot of the solutions to our current climate change issues will come from developments led by engineers - electric and hydrogen powered cars, wind and solar energy, plant-based food, carbon capture – the list is endless.
As an engineer, you must embrace lifelong learning as the field is growing and developing so quickly. I myself have had to relearn everything I know about technology every three years, meaning you never get bored and are always learning. I would certainly encourage women to go into engineering as a career.
During your years in business in general, and in technology, what changes have you experienced when it comes to attitudes towards women in business?
When I started in IT about 40 years ago, it was a new industry. The technology was brand new and it was about 50/50 men and women going into the profession. There were no preconceptions about who was good at IT and companies were open minded. If you could pass an intelligence test you could start a career in IT.
About ten years later I looked around and asked myself – where have all the women gone? Many women took a career break, having children, and because technology was moving so quickly it was difficult to get back to work. At the same time, companies were not helping with flexible working, child-care facilities or other support.
Later, when I retired from my executive role and decided to follow a portfolio career as a Board member, it was unusual to have women non-executive directors, and especially those with a technology background. Today women on Boards are more common but more women are needed as CEOs and on executive teams. That´s important, because study after study during the last ten years has proved that diversity of thought leadership drives better business performance.
What is the best way forward in your opinion to achieve better gender balance in business?
I believe that women in general have better skillsets to run global businesses; they communicate better, they don´t play politics, they understand people and they have often been caretakers in their family. You don´t have the advantage of being able to fire your family members, you have to make it work, so if you can run a family, you can probably run a business.
What is important is to create a level playing field so that women can perform to the best of their abilities. That takes flexible working conditions, predictability at work and inclusion. You can´t have casual sexism at work or unconscious bias; that cannot be tolerated if you want to create an environment where people can flourish.
Studies show that you need about 30% representation in a group before you stop feeling like a minority. Meaning it´s not enough to appoint one woman and think you are done; you should appoint at least 30%.
Gender diversity is one important part of the larger sustainability agenda in a company. What role do you see companies like AVEVA playing in contributing to a more sustainable world?
AVEVA is making a huge contribution. Our software makes the world a more productive place. It can help develop more energy efficient plants and operate production lines in an optimal way. We are expanding into new areas and working closely with our customers to solve their real-world challenges. Engineering is at the heart of everything we do.
You have been a Board member at AVEVA since 2013. What was your impression of AVEVA before you joined, and has your impression changed in any way?
I was very excited and honored when I was asked to join the Board. AVEVA had a terrific reputation for great software and for collaborating closely with customers, which was something that I heard loud and clear when I asked around among peers before I joined.
Today, my first impressions have been reinforced many times over. Businesses are made up of people and it is the people in AVEVA who make the difference; there are so many incredibly talented and passionate people who enjoy their roles and who flourish in the company.
Looking at your other current Board assignments and your former management positions, technology is a red thread. How do you, as a Board member, see AVEVA best taking advantage long term of the opportunities from the rapid digitalization happening in industry today?
Boards typically make an impact over 3-5 years and since 2013, when I joined, we can see the results of the decisions we made: joining forces with our colleagues in Schneider Electric Software, moving into adjacent customer sectors, establishing ‘digital twin’ as the target our customers have adopted - they all demonstrate the terrific journey we are on.
When I look to the future and to new technology it is evolving in so many different areas. 5G will have a huge impact, enabling driverless cars for example. But we must make sure we don´t adopt technology for technology´s sake. It must be because it makes our customers more efficient or the world more sustainable. At the end of the day we all want to leave the world a better place for our children and our grandchildren.
Join the International Women’s Day conversation by using the #IWD2020 and #EachforEqual hashtags on social.
Jennifer Allerton is non-executive director at AVEVA and one of the 100 Most Influential Women in Engineering.