Women are still underrepresented in engineering, and female leaders in the industry are rare. What can we do to create a more gender-balanced industry, and what does it take for a woman to make it to the top? Nadine Crauwels is the first female president of Sandvik Coromant. Her story is one of courage and persistence.
How did you get into engineering?
I am a naturally curious person; I want to know how things work and why. I guess you could say that engineering was in my blood - my father was a math teacher and my older brother studied engineering, so it was something I was around from a very young age.
Why do you think the number of female engineers is so low?
To generalize, I think that women often look for the broader perspective and the social purpose of the company or job more often than men do. Tell a male engineer to design a really fast car and he’ll be triggered by the challenge. I would ask, “Why do you need a faster car?” Engineering has to make sense, and it does make sense, but we have to start communicating engineering opportunities in a more clever way. I found my years in the university a bit too academic, while the years after were truly inspiring, with a lot of practice and work in different companies. That’s when it started to make sense for me.
How can we attract more women to the industry?
There is a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion everywhere today, but I feel that the industry can do more to really get more women into engineering. We need to embrace – and utilize – the differences between men and women. Different thinking and different perspectives are the diversity keys for success. I also think that we need to engage with students at a younger age than we usually do. They often make up their minds as early as 14 or 15 years old. It is our responsibility to support them by creating an open-minded approach and showing them all possible options without building barriers. By doing that, we can make them aware of the purpose and human progress that can be achieved through engineering.
What is Sandvik Coromant doing to increase the number of women?
We try to walk the talk, striving for diverse teams in all levels of the company. One important example is to challenge ourselves when we review applicants for an open position. If there are very few women on the list, you can either think that there are no women with the right qualifications or you can ask yourself why the qualified women do not choose to apply. We actively ask ourselves that question today. Often it’s as simple as designing the ad differently to attract women.
What do you think it means from a symbolic viewpoint that Sandvik Coromant has a female president?
I meet a lot of women in my current role who express that they are encouraged by having a female president. If I can do it, they can! This makes me happy. I think it also shows that Sandvik Coromant walks the talk.
What is your recommendation to young women with a technical interest?
Live your dreams and don’t think so much about what others might think about your choices. I learned at an early stage to open doors and explore things, rather than hesitating so much. You never know where you’ll end up, but there is a world of opportunities out there if you challenge your comfort zone and just go for it.
How can women help closing the competence gap in the industry?
Yes, there is a general competence gap in the industry where digitalization and automation call for completely new skills than we are used to. The complexity increases, and we are constantly pushing boundaries to stay in front of the competition. In general, women think a bit differently and can often provide other perspectives and values, so again, the mixed teams will benefit. Digitalization might also be more attractive to talented female engineers as it requires new competences and will offer more flexibility in the workplace, therefore opening up completely new opportunities. In the twenty-first century, gender equality and empowerment are more important than ever, and careers in the digital industry offer a pathway to achieve gender equality and empower all girls and women in traditionally male-dominated sectors.
How can men be better at including women in the industry?
Diversity in a team is actually quite tough. It’s easier when everyone thinks and acts alike. However, we need diversity to progress. We all need to acknowledge the power of difference and let other views and angles intermingle. That’s when the results come. This goes for women and men alike, but in the industry, women are usually the strange birds. When I was the only women in sales, my male colleagues were often hesitant to ask me to join them after work, as they didn’t know how I would react. We need to ask, and we need to involve one another. Women can help out in this process, too – not by adapting a male behavior but by acknowledging their differences, conveying their opinions clearly, and not taking things personally. That’s what I have learned from my career. We simply need to find ways of working efficiently together.