Meet Henriette Albrecht, an HR leader being in this domain for >15 years. Currently, Henriette is Head of Talent Management and Organizational Development, Employer Branding and Recruiting at Vitesco Technologies. Along with that, she’s is in charge of performance management, learning & development, employee engagement, as well as diversity and inclusion initiatives. We had an insightful conversation with Henriette Albrecht within ‘Women in HR Leadership’ initiative, and are glad to share the results of it in this interview.
Path to leadership
Q: Henriette, can you tell us more about your career path? How did you get to where you are now, and what roadblocks did you have to overcome?
I guess my CV is not the typical corporate career path as you may see it elsewhere. It’s a sum of very diverse experience, which I regard, is very helpful for this exciting business transformation we are going through at the moment at Vitesco Technologies.
I started my career as a Human Resource (HR) consultant with Kienbaum Management Consulting after studying Business Administration, focusing on HR and organizational development. In this first position, I learned more or less all employee life cycle topics from scratch.
In 2010, after eight years of having been engaged in various HR projects in Europe, I made the decision to go to Australia to broaden my international experience even further and beyond Europe. I wanted to live and work abroad to have the authentic experience and also to improve cultural sensitivity and learn more about different working styles.
In Australia, at that time, there was a big mining boom, and that was also a huge interest for me because such opportunities weren’t existing in Europe back then. So, especially the projects in Australia and also Singapore helped me very much to strengthen not only project management skills at that time, but also remote leadership skills, as you can imagine in such a vast country.
Back in Europe in 2014, I worked for two years as a self-employed consultant and HR Interim Manager in Luxembourg. After that I started my career in a global company set up.
Q: What or who helped and inspired you along the way?
In my career, I have come across really a lot of exciting projects and very diverse clients and stakeholders. But what inspired me the most were the encounters I made during the time I was self-employed and abroad – especially with other self-employed experts and professionals responsible for their own business.
I was impressed by their endurance, self-motivation and how people dealt with setbacks. The way they stayed flexible, reinvented themselves and trusted in their own skills moved me. This experience still helps me today in my current role, because we are also exploring a lot of new pathways at Vitesco Technologies at the moment and have to deal with many uncertainties. It’s important to see the positive aspects of such a situation to keep learning.
Gender gap in HR leadership
Q: In this conversation, we’d like to focus on striving for more diverse leadership, specifically having more women in HR leadership roles. What are your observations on the current diversity landscape, especially in HR leadership?
Thankfully, here within Vitesco Technologies I do see a lot of female talent around me, not just in HR. However, when you have a look at the very senior roles, it’s still surprising for me to see fewer females at the very top. In comparison to other functions, we have many engineers for example, where we are missing a strong female talent pipeline which explains the scarcity of female leaders.
However, that’s generally not the case in HR. According to the many females working in HR, the female succession pipeline is much stronger than in other functions and thus it is even more surprising that women are underrepresented at the very top position. I do think that we need mechanisms for stronger support in organizations to turn this around.
Developing diversity at your company
Q: Talking about supporting, what strategies are you taking at Vitesco Technologies towards development and promoting more diverse leadership, and how do you measure success?
We are a very technology-driven company, providing career opportunities are the best for women in so called MINT subjects, including mathematics, information, natural sciences, and technology. But as there aren’t that many women in these fields yet, our strategic approach starts way earlier before females begin even studying. We are trying to address already pupils and organize events such as girls days to show how exciting engineering disciplines can be. From an employer branding perspective, it’s essential for us to reach out to universities and pupils as early as possible in order to show the benefits when working with us. Our huge employer branding ambassador network supports us here whenever possible.
We also have a specific Employer Branding campaign, called Female Pioneers, which we use specifically social media to inspire other females. It’s about executive or other female talents at our company who share their experience, enthusiasm and passion for science, engineering, and software-Qrelated jobs. It’s similar to your ‘Women in HR Leadership’ initiative, just for other target functions. We also just re-launched our Female Talent Community.
We’ve just kicked it off last week with almost 300 female talents worldwide. We are identifying female talents during the annual talent management conferences, and besides the community identifies dedicated development actions. This Female Talent Community lives from each other’s support, the women’s interaction and inputs. They strengthen their network and that’s what ultimately creates a strong dynamic in the organization. The community members benefit from internal and external keynote speakers and learning and development measures such as mentoring.
Besides that, we are monitoring and reporting female shares across all functions and levels. This is an inherent part of our succession planning throughout the year.
Q: What advice would you offer to HR professionals trying to make a difference in their own companies?
I do think that females should support females. We should make sure that women around us are getting enough attention. Either in official programs, as buddies or coaches, or to simply listen to each others’ concerns and give genuine advice when its needed. It sounds trite, but I think women should be there for one another.
Challenges caused by the pandemic
Q: The pandemic caused by COVID-19 had a great impact on many professionals, and in particular, women who combine their leadership role with the parent role. It is challenging to stay productive, fully involved in the decision-making process, and sort things out with the children. How has constant home office affected this? Could you share a few thoughts on how companies can support working mothers in this case?
Vitesco Technologies has already offered flexible working conditions worldwide prior to the pandemic. This helped us to react very quickly when the pandemic hit to adjust to the new situation, and for many employees it was nothing really new. It was the extent of home office hours. We had a survey deployed in the middle of last year, and we will repeat it this year to see how things after almost one year with the pandemic changed. Last year, we had seen that actually around 80% of our workforce during peaks of the pandemic felt well or even very well and adapted very quickly to the new circumstances.
The open feedback of men and women alike confirmed a positive effect on families when working remotely. They spent more time at home, were more present and gained quality lifetime without long commutes. On the other hand, of course, we see the increased difficulties with juggling condensed working times during the lockdown and homeschooling. I am full of awe for all parents doing this already for such a long time. As a company, we are of course supporting any need to shift e.g. working times due to required family engagements.
Seeing the pros and cons of home office, we want to support our employees further in future and started a special project team working on this topic to explore a new path and solutions that are needed. For us at Vitesco Technologies, we believe in balanced working, in the office and at home alike, and we want to make the best out of both worlds. The office will be the place for meaningful interactions and there are also good reasons to work from mobile work.
Paving the way to other women
Q: Finally, we’d like to ask you to share a couple of tips: Can you recommend actionable steps women in HR should take in their own leadership journeys?
My time abroad was a really positive experience and great development for me. I would recommend this to everyone who wants to grow personally and professionally. It always will pay off – for men and women alike, if you take ownership for your own career and make decisive steps instead of waiting for an offer.
What I would also recommend due to my own very positive experience is mentoring. I always encourage female talents in executive or senior roles to ask their direct supervisors for a mentor recommendation. Someone in the managerial hierarchy, someone they can learn from and get access to different networks.
Q: What skills do women need to build to become better leaders?
Women ARE very good leaders! They only have to believe in their strengths, leverage natural skills such as emotional intelligence, and be less self-critical. I recommend that woman regularly ask for feedback to get a realistic perception of themselves.
Women should remain true to themselves and not try to copy men’s behavior. Instead, they should be very attentive listeners and observers and should learn from effective behavior and integrate it into their own skillset.
You asked me about roadblocks earlier: I have come across women who were competing more than supporting each other. That’s definitely no value add for any woman in business. Instead, women should support each other much more. And I’m truly convinced, that this will pay off, for themselves as well.