Research Summary

TopFem@AkzoNobel: A girl’s guide to AkzoNobel

Every month we’ll be posting a summary of research that has been done by TopFem members as part of the Leadership Programme (formerly known as the Talent Programme). This month features a commentary on being a female science graduate at AkzoNobel, as told by Jessica de Ruiter.

Academia and industry are very different worlds. This commentary set out to provide an outline of what a young female science graduate might expect at AkzoNobel, as well as providing some hints as to how to approach the ladder to leadership.

Many students of the natural sciences nearing the end of their degree (be it MSc or PhD) realise that a career in academia is not sustainable. At this point, their attention inevitably turns to the business sector. Though they have a strong academic foundation, graduates are often unprepared for scientific industry. Considering the small percentage of female graduates going into scientific businesses, it seems that for them, taking this step is decidedly more difficult.

Not only is taking this initial step more difficult for women, it has long been recognised that it is more challenging for women to reach the top echelons within the sector. TopFem strives to encourage ambitious female graduates to reach these highest management levels. To facilitate the move to industry, as well as the climb to positions of higher responsibility, this commentary aimed to provide a sketch of a scientific company, based on interviews of male and female employees throughout AkzoNobel. A number of conclusions from the commentary are given below.

As only 11% of women in AkzoNobel work within Research, Development and Innovation, the female graduate should realise that it is unlikely that she will continue her research career within such a company. However, there are enough opportunities for further development, as employee crossover within different business units is encouraged. In applying for these crossovers, it is likely that the graduate will encounter the subconscious phenomenon of ‘cloning’. To counter for this, it is necessary for the graduate to communicate why her expected output would be worth the initial investment by the hiring manager. This output is best reached by working efficiently, rather than working long hours. For this reason, working part time is not frowned upon within AkzoNobel. The possibility for doing so, however, does depend on the area of employment.

When considering the climb to positions of higher responsibility, the graduate should realise that there are two main hurdles: one to leader and the second to leader of leaders. Though reaching the first may be accomplished on merit alone, moving further is often dependant on happenstance, as well as people’s willingness for you to succeed. This willingness may be based on the visibility of the employee. Maternity leave and the role of primary caregiver of a young family can severely decrease visibility. Visibility may be increased by means of networking, or by the role enacted within a team.

When facing insecurity about moving into industry, the graduate should realise that it is not the subject of her degree, but rather the skills that she obtained while completing it, that is important.

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