Two engineers. Two generations. One purpose.

December 1, 2020

Anne Thornton, head of the transmission services business, and Amber O’Connor, engineering programme manager at Siemens Energy, share their views on the importance of diversity and the value it brings to innovation, creativity and skills.

Having spent her entire career in engineering, joining the company in 2001, Anne Thornton has worked her way up through the ranks over the years, trailblazing the path as a leader in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

With a number of challenges to overcome during her impressive 30-year career, from being the only female student studying electrical and electronic engineering at university, to getting knocked back for jobs in what was a very male-dominated industry, it’s true to say that during the early part of her career, Anne wondered if she was ever going to break the glass ceiling within the world of engineering.

Fast forward 30 years, and she is one of the business heads for Siemens Energy in the UK, something that makes her incredibly proud.

Anne’s is a position testament to the fact that it really is never too late to achieve personal ambition.

Significantly, Anne believes it is proof the industry is changing, irrespective of gender, because “they wanted the right person for the job, with the right experience and that was me.”

With a positive outlook for future engineers, as she looks towards retirement, Anne is keen for her legacy to be centered around building sustainable futures for young people, supporting the next generation and paying her skills and experience forward through Siemens Energy’s apprenticeship programme. It is an initiative that has enabled her to take on three new recruits this year.

She is also playing a key role in identifying young women with potential, mentoring the leaders of tomorrow and championing inclusion through the recruitment of her own diverse team.

“When considering new recruits or when working with colleagues, for me diversity is less about who they are, or categorising people by their differences, rather it’s about how they are,” says Anne.

“Recruiting for attitude and training for skills is a philosophy I stick by. That, and not letting my unconscious bias influence my decision-making.

“This is something we all do, but recent training on the topic, has really helped change my outlook and perspectives.”

One key challenge she believes, however, is getting children, particularly girls, to consider a career in STEM with more inclusivity and awareness needed about the different career options available.

Owing to this, she is keen to spend more time in schools talking about roles in engineering.

“Unless you see people who look like you in those jobs, you won’t think they’re achievable,” says Anne.

She also attributes business success to a manager’s ability to identify and bring together the right parts of the puzzle to make up a truly great team.

“You need lots of different bits of a jigsaw to make a whole and it won’t work if all the pieces are the same.”

Finding a good mentor and sponsor to aid career progression and confidence is also something Anne is passionate about, having personally benefitted from similar support.

She says: “You need someone who can advocate for you at the right time of your career – someone who can not only be that voice but help you find your own too, creating an inclusive environment where everyone’s opinions matter.”

Another area Anne hinges success on is the element of family and inclusivity that runs deep throughout not just her working life building a ‘Siemens family’ but at home too, where she credits her father, also an engineer, for her inspiration and her parents for making her believe she could do anything she wanted.

These are values that extend further still through her personal support of an adoptive family in Cuba, which she is currently building a home for.

“You can’t help everybody, but you can help somebody,” adds Anne.

“Whether in work or life, we all need to play our part.”

Amber O’Connor joined Siemens Energy ten years ago as an apprentice. Today’s she’s the face of the firm’s global brand campaign and manages 180 gas turbines worldwide worth £3.5 billion. She is also proof that the engineering stereotype is fast becoming an outdated one.

Describing herself as an engineer with a chance to make an impact, Amber says: “I develop a solution and put it into the world, knowing that it’ll make a difference.”

With high hopes that the growing interest in green energy will bring more diversity to the industry, she adds: “I’d love to walk into a company like Siemens Energy and see that everyone is completely different from one another.

“It is that difference that’s really going to drive our future forward.”

Amber is aware there still aren’t enough female engineers in the industry, but the goal set by Siemens Energy of having 25 per cent of upper management positions filled by females by 2025 will undoubtedly help.

As a whole, she believes organisations need to be more diverse to reflect society, to add variety and different perspectives.

“The benefits of working with a diverse group expose you to different cultures and ultimately challenge traditional ways of thinking,” she says.

Due to the inclusive culture at Siemens Energy, Amber acknowledges she has never felt held back because of her gender, believing her impressive career progression is down to being the best candidate for the job, rather than being female.

She has noticed a real change in attitude towards diversity in the last decade but has still suffered some discrimination when she’s travelled globally on projects. This is something that has made her more resilient and determined to act as a role model for the next generation and “be the change you want to see in the world”.

Amber talks passionately about the benefit of having both a coach and mentor to support her career development, with Anne Thornton recently becoming a mentor to Amber.

“She completely understands what I’m going through, and my desire to progress in my career while bringing up two young children,” says Amber.

“It’s been invaluable having the support of someone who has been through that journey and for that I’m very grateful.”

Amber has also been keen to avoid stereotypes and is conscious of bringing her true self to work at all times.

“I get my nails done. I work at a desk. That doesn’t make me less of an engineer. It just means I’m a different kind of engineer,” she says.

Confident that significant progress has been made in the industry, Amber also acknowledges there is still more to be done.

Owing to that, she has taken an active role in recently setting up a diversity and inclusion programme, covering unconscious bias, cultural awareness and women in leadership training to give people the tools to become the leaders they want to be.

And it’s initiatives like these that are playing a pivotal role in supporting Siemens Energy’s overall commitment to creating a great place to work, where people’s ambitions are fulfilled, and potential reached.

It’s about harnessing those individual differences that allow people to be the change they want to see in the world, to make an impact, develop a solution and put it into the world today to create a much brighter future tomorrow.



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