Tanuja joined Schneider Electric in 2015 from BT Global Services, where she served as president, strategy, marketing and transformation, responsible for the growth transformation agenda.
Prior to BT, Tanuja spent 10 years at Colt Group, in both strategy and operations roles. Tanuja’s professional career has also seen her working as vice president of strategy at EMC Corp where she led several key M&A initiatives and she worked seven years as a consultant at McKinsey, specialising in technology and sales and marketing effectiveness, both in the United States.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I am a strong believer in having a plan – if you don’t know where you are going, almost any path may get you there. In business as in your career, having a vision, a plan is key and with that you can also ensure people understand your plan and buy into it and support you in achieving it.
More than that, it is also necessary. Just look at the low percentage of women in leadership roles today – being prepared is critical if we’re to make it to the top. Early on I knew I needed to expand my world and studying in the USA was step one so I ensured I had a plan and my parents supported my applications to Boston where I got my MBA.
I also knew I needed a broad set of experiences to eventually lead a company, and I have made a point to work across industries, aross functions, across strategy and operations and across geographies to give me that breadth which enables me to lead Schneider Electric in the UK & Ireland today.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
When I joined McKinsey, it was clear that the path I’d chosen wasn’t going to be easy. As a specialist, I was an unusual hire and not McKinsey’s typical candidate. I hadn’t been to an Ivy League school, nor did I have a PhD, but I had the right attitude and a lot of intellectual curiosity and honesty. That drive and determination had to stand up to the test too. As I was working towards the partner elections, I remember one of the directors challenging me by saying I “wouldn’t make it”. I channelled this negativity into achieving my goal and celebrated with those that stood by me when I got elected for the role I’d been planning for.
Have you ever had a mentor or a sponsor or anyone who has helped your career?
When I was at EMC I worked alongside the president of the Americas business at the time. Our relationship was built around the impact we could create for the company and we developed a great partnership built on mutual respect and accountability for results.
Untill today he is one of my closest advisors and evangelists and vice versa. I followed him in my career and through his guidance I’ve led teams and businesses successfully. At Schneider Electric we encourage all our leaders, whether male or female, to support and coach their female colleagues, at every level of the organisation. Our CEO, Jean-Pascal Tricoire is an outspoken supporter of gender equality and has created a positive working environment based on a strong commitment to change. Having a mentor or sponsor is an important part of your progression, so I always encourage women I meet to find one and put their hand up for trying it out themselves. But remember you have to give to get.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
It would be to ensure that women have a chance equal to that of men before they even step through the door. Recruitment companies have a big part to play in this. As business leaders we can, and should be tougher on recruiters. I’ve made a point of refusing to see any CVs unless at least half of those are from credible women. If we all set targets like these it would help to address the imbalance in the industry. And I am glad to say as a result we are now 25 per cent women in management roles in the UK & Ireland.
How would you encourage more women to take up careers in STEM?
I would start by rebranding STEM. There is a false perception of careers in this industry – its seen as the field of geeks in a standard uniform of overalls and spanners. Not overly inspiring! We need to do more to inspire young people to consider a career in this field. Decades ago the US Space Programme set the pace, inspiring young people to literally reach for the stars.
As a result the number of students taking up engineering and science courses at university rocketed. STEM careers are diverse and rewarding. What’s more, as these industries increase in importance and relevance, there are plenty of unclaimed opportunities up for grabs. I’d love to see more women following in the footsteps of Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first computer programme in the 1800s.
Tell us about your plans for the future?
As women, we often need to work harder to stand out from the crowd. It’s also important that we don’t hold back from any decisions that could propel us forward in our careers. It’s sometimes hard to know what decisions are the right ones in the moment, but I firmly believe in trusting in your gut and your experience to make those choices. My goal is to share the knowledge that I have gained over the years and pass on a sense of ambition, dedication and belief that you deserve that position or role as much as the next person. Its within our power to make change and the momentum towards an equal society is one we must continue.