B4SI News

In conversation with…Olivia Whitlam, Corporate Citizenship Manager, Siemens

Please describe your role and responsibilities, how many years you have been in the company?

I look after our strategy, management processes, impact measurement, and reporting  for CSR in the UK.  This involves working with our executive management team and their businesses, as well as the 26 key CSR Agents (Champions) in various locations from Glasgow to Poole to engage the business and increase the maturity of their local CSR outreach.  In a couple of cases this means getting things going from scratch!

Reporting is a large part of my role, as what you measure you value, and developing better measures is always on the agenda.

What was your background previously and where did your interest in community begin?

Before my current role I worked for two years in our Digital Factory and Process Industries business  where I helped achieve the BiTC community Mark accreditation. Before that I was a professional athlete competing for the GB Rowing team at two Olympic games; and even longer ago I was an Environmental Science Bsc, so Sustainability and society is definitely in the blood despite the slight divert via sporting excellence!

How has your community investment program evolved at your company?

It all started about seven years ago with a focus on creating STEM Education materials for schools, then we started to volunteer to support STEM in schools, moved our sponsorships budget to support STEM intiatives, and expanded the scope to not just target pupils but parents and teachers too, in the hope of doing our bit to tackle the STEM skills gap.

Over the past few years I have introduced a widening of focus, tying CSR to some of our other challenges like Wellbeing and Environment, so we introduced partnerships with Mind and the Wildlife Trusts to broaden the scope of our activities.

What are the challenges you encounter in driving the sustainability agenda and how do you stay inspired?

The massive blind spots people both senior and junior have.  Some topics just come from nowhere to having plenty of collective action to tackle them, take Ocean Plastics, whilst others that are arguably more fundamental and are catastrophes in the making such as global warming but take years to get any action going.  I wish business was a little more logical about the risk some of these sustainability challenges pose and didn’t just ignore them till the pressure was really on.

What is your biggest accomplishment or learning so far?

I hope my biggest accomplishments are still to come.

But learning wise it’s about the “1 percenters”, don’t try and do something 10% better, if you can make something 10% better you should have sorted it already!  Work to improve 10 things by 1%, and these will all add up to an overall 10% improvement.

Conversely it’s often about realising that the first 80% of something takes the same amount of energy as the last 20%, so you have to question the value of making something perfect, versus getting on with something else worthwhile! This one was a pretty big learning curve post elite sport where perfection is the aim of the game.

What is your motto in life?

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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