Earlier this year, we’ve launched a Women in HR Leadership initiative involving C-level female leaders. Today we’re publishing the transcript of the interview with one of participants, Livia Freudl, Senior VP HR and Head of People and Leadership. She’s been in HR for over 15 years and has a passion for people, leadership, and diversity.
Path to HR leadership
Q: Livia, can you tell us about your career path more?
Sure. I don’t want to bore with all the details what I’ve done, but I’d like to share what I’ve been passionate about. That are functions in HR and combining that with having the opportunity to develop people. So that is a core of what was my career.
At the same time, I’ve been curious and open-minded to see opportunities out there. The one opportunity that you’ve might heard of is that I spent a lot of time abroad. I lived and worked in China, also spent 4,5 year in the Middle East which was really a life-changing experience for me. I’ve been there as Head of HR for a Country and confronted every day with big decisions. That had major impacts on getting matured as a leader and as a person.
Q: How did you get where you are now and what were the main roadblocks you had to overcome?
When I think about what got me here, I would say it was mainly the openness for seeing opportunities and being open for new things. Talking about roadblocks, I reflected a lot and I couldn’t really recall any besides a lot from within myself. Like, feeling “maybe I’m not ready”, “maybe I have to work harder” or having very high ambitions and wanting to have everything very fast and not having the patience to wait. So that were mainly the roadblocks.
What helped me walk through them was focusing on having mentors, doing coaching, continuously developing myself. and working on these topics. Until today I have a network of people: peers and coaches but also people on very different levels with very different backgrounds that I ask for help and support and the other way around.
Q: What or who inspired you?
You know, I cannot really say that it was a particular person. I think leaders, mentors, and coaches that really inspired me on my way, people who helped me to connect to myself, to my real authentic self. Because I truly believe that authenticity is a key topic as a leader to be able to truly connect with people.
Women in HR leadership
Q: What are your personal observations on this topic on the current diversity landscape and especially of course in HR?
I think that more and more CHROs that we see coming up, and that’s a great development. There is research, that shows that even though we have more and more women in these roles, they need to be heard and they need to participate at the strategic decisions level.
And I think that we always get into the same issue: when you are the only woman in a leadership team, you’re clearly a minority. It’s very difficult to ensure that your voice is truly heard and research shows that we need at least 30% to make sure that all, let’s say different groups, are really properly heard. This is where in many cases we still have a long way to go.
Looking at the pay gap, this needs to be a priority for all of us, but I think that’s also not an HR issue. It’s not a functional issue here. We have that all over the globe in all industries. That’s something that we have to prioritize all together, and I think we’re moving in the right direction, we have a wat to go in HR but also in all other functions.
Q: In preparation of this interview, we found an interesting article “My diversity journey”, and it’s about your experience in Qatar. Could you share about that experience? Also, what action Siemens Healthineers are taking nowadays to promote diversity and female leadership and how do you actually measure this?
My time in Qatar was with Siemens – now I’m with Siemens Healthineers. This was an amazing experience and mainly because you don’t just deep-dive into one culture when you work in many countries in the Middle East. There’s so many different cultures coming together in one place. For example, in HR team at that time, I had nobody or not two people with same nationality. Can you imagine that? So everybody was coming from a different country. Leading a team of that diversity is a huge opportunity and can also be challenging at times. Overall, this was an amazing experience in terms of the role, but also in terms of the diversity.
When I look at what we do here at Siemens Healthineers, diversity and inclusion is an absolute top priority. We have set ourselves stretch goals in terms of women in leadership roles particularly in Senior Management. But we also do understand that diversity is much more than gender. And so, there are a lot of different criteria. We look into and we also know that without inclusion this will all not help us. We need to have an inclusive environment to ensure that people really feel like “this is a great place for me to be in”, “I am heard”, “I can be my true self here”. Also, we as a company benefit from the value that diversity brings because this positively influences innovation performance; we all know these studies but inclusiveness is what we need for that.
Q: If other HR professionals were to ask you: Livia what can I do in my own company to make a difference in terms of diversity and inclusion? What would you recommend them?
I would say first of all don’t make it an HR topic. Every leader and particularly the top management needs to make this a priority.
The second point is always start with yourself because we are all not perfect. The most important thing is that we all are ready to question and challenge ourselves every day. Where do we support the status quo with the behavior that we show? Where are we not courageous enough? Where do we need to be more courageous to help change things?
It’s also essential to request feedback. I do that all the time, I tell my teams: “please help me see where I have deficits, where I show behavior that is not inclusive.” Because only if we support each other seeing that we can really help us moving.
COVID-19 and challenges arising out of this pandemic
Q: The new normal of work is here. We used to work in at home nowadays. What advice would you give parents, especially women how to cope with this new normal? And what’s your experienced how this continuous home office has affected to work at Siemens Healthineers?
There’s a certain tendency to talk a lot about the challenges that we have with the pandemic and they of course are very true. I would just point out for a moment all the opportunities that came with that. Because I see today a lot of companies having learned that it’s possible that people are not physically together in an office and we can still be productive and effectively work together. This is what it really brought us. It brought us the bases and the experience that flexibility is possible. That’s a great achievement, I would say. It will help us combine and bring closer together different life phases and needs that we have as human beings as well as companies.
My own experience, having young children was quite stressful at times. That’s something that we shouldn’t neglect ourselves as companies: we have a role to play to support parents, but also other groups who have challenges in these phases. So we have really set up a lot of programs locally (because the situations locally are very different) to ensure that we can support our employees. For example, programs that help parents with childcare while childcare wasn’t possible in kindergartens and schools and other programs like this.
Paving the way towards more diversity
Q: You are a true role model for HR I believe. And you are new generation of HR leaders that think beyond HR and being this role model to others who listen to you. What concrete advice can you give them for their own personal career development and leadership perspective?
Thank you! I think ensure that you truly believe in yourself, that your stay connected toward to who you are and what you want and support your own development in regards to that.
See opportunities when they are there and grab them. Grab them and ensure that you know at times where maybe things don’t move as fast as you feel they should, keep the patience. Because sometimes we just want things extremely fast. Yet, there is no problem in having a certain time in our careers, or you can focus on your own development and learning while not always moving up the ladder, for example.
Q: Skills is our passion, so of course, the last question to you is what are the skills the leaders in HR today need to have?
For me, one of the key topics is: you don’t need to know it all. You shouldn’t need to know it all because you have amazing people in your team who know a lot and are very capable. So give them the room, empower them to be excellent in what they do and see that as something to build on, not something to fight against. Because somebody could potentially be strong or know it better than you so that’s very important: you don’t need to know it all.
The second thing is focus on growing talent and yourself. I mean, as leaders we are also there to support our people on their growth journey. At the same time, we need to ensure that we always keep on learning and seeing where we have to stretch ourselves.
And I think I said that before, I think authenticity and being human as a leader is key. So these would be my three.
Thank you very much, Livia. It was great talking to you. Thanks for your insights. And we hope you can inspire many along the way!