In many countries, the STEM professions are heavily male-dominated, and it is not common to find women working in STEM-related fields, let alone rising to senior positions. When they do, however, they become important role models for the next generation.
People Matters reached out to Saisunee Jommed, the first woman to head the country services team for the Thailand operations of smart buildings specialist firm Johnson Controls, to understand more about what it’s like to have achieved a leadership role in a field with few women. Saisunee, who has spent almost two decades with Johnson Controls Thailand and was appointed to her current position in 2018, received a Bachelor of Engineering degree from Rajamangala University of Technology and a Master’s Degree of Entrepreneurship and Innovation from College of Management Mahidol University. Her career has been hands-on all the way, and she shared as well that it was in fact the hands-on curriculum of her college days that drew her to the field in the first place.
Here are the highlights of the conversation.
When you first started working as an engineer with Johnson Controls in 2001, how common was it to have women in engineering roles?
Engineering is traditionally one of the most male-dominated professions and in my early days working as a Project Engineer (in 2001), it was not common to have women in engineer roles. This could be due to the daunting job scope and tasks assigned which might cause women to doubt their problem-solving abilities.
However, being in this industry for more than 18 years, I have seen more and more women venturing into engineer professions and climbing up the career ladder, which is very heartening.
What do you think has helped bring more women into the field?
I can speak for Johnson Controls, where I am proud to have seen and worked with strong and capable women engineers. We have a strong culture of diversity and inclusion and we offer women equal opportunities to explore the challenges at work. We take pains to ensure that our hiring slate always includes female candidates. An example of this is in Japan, where we continue to hire more female engineers than the industry average.
Of course, we are not just looking for the best women employees, we want the best employees, period.
I myself have been given many opportunities to grow professionally and to learn on the job. Promotions are based on merit and performance, and not dictated by gender.
From your own experience, and from seeing those around you, what do women in the STEM professions need most to advance their careers?
Work ethics and dedication is key for women in STEM to advance their careers. At the same time, it is crucial for these women to be provided with an inclusive working environment which extols fairness, full participation and creates employee engagement.
For example, at Johnson Controls, we have a women professionals network where female colleagues can discuss the challenges they face in the workplace and brainstorm ideas on improving gender equality. We have also established a company-wide, organizational support system that not only empowers women, but also supports them to be successful at work and at home.
It is important for young women to have someone to look up to. As such, strong and inspiring women leaders in STEM professions must be good examples and continuously inspire these young women.
Being leaders in this field, we need to work together and change this stereotype that STEM is a “male-centric” field with limited opportunities for women. We should not limit women to what we can or can’t do but instead empower them to take up the challenge and pursue a fulfilling career in STEM.
As a leader, what would you say is your best characteristic?
My attention to detail is one of my strongest traits. I am able to pay more attention to each and every one of my team members, allowing me to mentor them closely and provide them with important guidance as they advance in their careers.
What inspires you the most?
Today, what continues to inspire me is my fellow women in this industry. I strongly believe that the knowledge and experience we have acquired will drive the technological innovations and advancements in Thailand and the region.