Interview with Nathalie Huynh, Country HR Director (Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei), Schneider Electric

To reach sustainability goals, HR professionals need to ensure that employees are fully on board this journey, and are equipped with the skills to transform sustainability aspirations into reality, says Nathalie Huynh, Country HR Director (Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei), Schneider Electric.

During World Earth Day 2022 last month, the Google Doodle reminded us how much Mother Earth has suffered - and still is - from the effects of climate change. It is telling how much we, as a planet, have to pull up our socks in reducing the damaging effects of our generation, and become more sustainable.

As working members of the society, more has to be done than saying 'no' to non-biodegradable materials and using every drop of water effectively. More, according to Nathalie Huynh, Country HR Director (Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei), Schneider Electric can be done through HR professionals via something called the 'green workforce'. This is what Nathalie, who has been in HR for more than a decade, sees as an opportunity to "empower people to reach their greatest potential", and be in "a unique position where we can effect change".

Put it this way: the perfect starting point to lead the fight against climate change.

"We in the HR sector must therefore be cognisant of these [sustainable] developments in order to better support our companies and employees. This includes looking at ways to attract and retain the right and skilled talents needed," says Nathalie.

Tying the HR function to sustainability objectives, she affirms that sustainability is "becoming the new norm in business operations". In her day-to-day at Schneider Electric, she draws from that connection - sharing how the organisation has been pursuing sustainable business operations for more than 15 years. "It gives me great satisfaction and pride that we are an impactful company that is hiring and nurturing individuals to empower all to make the most of our energy and resources, bridging progress and sustainability for all."

Read on for the interview, as Nathalie shares more with HRO's Lester Tan.

Q Prior to your time in Schneider Electric (SE), you used to be in the aviation sector. What are some of the learnings you brought over to the sustainability & manufacturing side that continue to be relevant? From your point of view, how different- and challenging - is the role of a HR professional between such contrasting fields (one serving for the environment, and another serving in it)?

The aviation and energy sectors are more closely related than one would expect, and both industries have similar aspirations to build a more sustainable future. I had my first exposure to the concept of sustainability when I was working for an international airline. As we know, airlines have long sought to reduce their environmental footprint, and become more fuel efficient.

Just as important as environmental sustainability is social sustainability. During my time with the airline, I was part of the team that managed post-merger integration projects where I learned to bridge between different work cultures and practices, boost the morale of employees, and define common values through management training programmes and various initiatives. This continues to be important in my current role with Schneider Electric where we champion a diverse and inclusive work environment.

My years of experience in the sector has also shown me that HR plays an irreplaceable role in empowering employees to be confident, and realise their full potential. When employees feel at their best, brilliant ideas emerge, and this is to the benefit to everyone and the company.

At Schneider Electric, we are always looking for passionate and motivated people to help us shape the future. As a Director of HR, my role is to ensure we empower employees to build their careers within a high-performance environment that puts a priority on learning & development, collaboration, and wellbeing.

Q There’s a recent article about how Asia’s green workforce needs to improve. Share with us briefly what is a green workforce, and why is there a stronger urge – and need – to boost it? What does a truly green workforce look like? What investments are needed to build green talent, and how important is the HR function in achieving them?

Sustainability-related jobs are indeed gaining traction in recent years as more businesses consider sustainability a key pillar in their business strategy.

Based on Schneider Electric’s Singapore Green Pulse Survey, ESG and sustainability efforts increasingly matter to employers, and business leaders. 70% of business leaders polled that they plan to create new green jobs within the next 12 months, and an overwhelming 93% of respondents indicated that they will switch jobs based on a company’s ESG and sustainability performance.

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To me, a truly green workforce is created by employers who not only actively hire talent for green jobs, but also look to implement programmes that equip current employees with the skills to see their existing remit through a sustainability lens.

For example, our engineers are incorporating sustainability into their existing workflows by studying how automation can result in more energy efficient processes. Similarly, our procurement teams are taking deep dives into the operations of our suppliers to ensure that they are like-minded in adopting sustainable business operations.

Partnerships with schools and educational institutes also play a vital role in creating a strong pipeline of future green talents. At Schneider Electric, we have the opportunity, the capability, and the commitment to invest in shaping the future of the next generation. Earlier this year, we launched a Sustainability Experience Centre with Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Engineering with the aim of developing interest amongst students in green technologies. By investing in the value of learning, we can better deliver on our promise for a more sustainable and equitable future.

Q SE's research report that you just cited did reveal the sentiments of business leaders and talents regarding ESG & sustainability efforts. Clearly, saving the environment isn’t just for the greater good, but also for workforce longevity, motivation, and relationship. On that note, share with us why this is so – especially in the context of the 'Great Resignation' era – and how can a strong ESG & sustainability strategy benefit employers? For those who are just starting on their ESG & sustainability journey, what practical steps do you suggest to improve their company’s sustainability efforts and employee engagement?

The Great Resignation has shown that talent attraction and retention go beyond remuneration alone. In interactions with potential candidates, I note that a growing number of candidates wish to affiliate themselves with organisations that are purpose-led and have a strong ESG and sustainability policy.

I believe that the idea that businesses exist solely to generate profit is an archaic concept that is also untenable in the long run. Studies have shown that businesses with strong sustainability programmes have employees with comparatively higher morale as compared to companies that do not prioritise sustainability. As citizens of the world, it pays to be wise in being good stewards in effective management of the earth’s finite resources.

It is because of these beliefs and the collective aspirations to build a sustainable future for generations to come, that I know that the focus on ESG and green jobs will be here for the long run.

For companies looking to actively incorporate sustainability in their corporate strategy, a practical step the management can do is to start off with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and examine how involved their company is in respect to each of the 17 SDGs. These SDGs work towards social and environmental justice with the aim of enriching and creating more equitable lives for all. Business leaders can then set sustainability goals for the company to work towards. To ensure accountability, the use of independent sustainability audits and reporting should be adopted. In the same way, we are also seeing more companies tying executive compensation to meeting corporate sustainability goals.

Q With that, what has Schneider Electric’s own sustainability journey been like, and how this is part of corporate culture and employee engagement? Where does the HR function fit in all this?

Sustainability underpins everything that we do, and we have been at the fore of implementing ESG practices in our business for over 15 years. Schneider Electric’s goal is to be carbon neutral by 2025, with net zero operational emissions by 2030, and a net zero supply chain by 2050.

Achieving these goals certainly will not be easy, and therefore a successful HR strategy will be instrumental to achieving our sustainability ambitions. To get there, we need to ensure that our employees are fully on board on this sustainability journey, and are also equipped with the skills to transform these aspirations into reality. Lifelong learning is very much a part of our culture and employees are encouraged to go for training courses. For example, Schneider Electric partnered with leading business school INSEAD to formulate a series of programmes to drive purposeful leadership in this digital world.

Beyond refreshing the skills of current employees, we also look to inculcate the values of sustainability right from the start when someone first joins Schneider Electric. As part of our graduate programme, we have begun to include sustainability modules in the various job rotations. This allows our employees to combine the technical skills they have in areas like finance and law with knowledge of how they can contribute to our sustainability goals within their functions.

Q Schneider Electric has often been cited as among Singapore, or Southeast Asia’s best employers, as well as a company where innovation thrives. Citing specific industry-leading programmes, can you take us through what went right for the organisation that led to these milestones? How important was the role of HR in this? And what's next for SE and the HR function - how are you (and the team) going to take this higher and farther?

People are our biggest asset. Innovation and ingenuity stem from employees that are like-minded in wanting to contribute towards a more sustainable future. Over the years, we have created a culture that truly values diversity – where individuals feel empowered and uniquely valued to be at their best and be innovative.

We embrace our values of putting our customer first, daring to disrupt, embracing diversity, learning every day, and acting like owners. Our HR strategy, policy, and programmes aim to enable employees to bring these values to life.

We are also always looking for new opportunities where we can fuel that professional curiosity amongst employees. We believe that curiosity drives innovation and in turn, lead to projects where employees feel proud to be part of. At Schneider Electric, we have created an AI-driven 'Open Talent Market'. Through this platform, employees can find jobs and projects within Schneider Electric that align with their professional interests. In doing so, we achieve greater transparency around job opportunities which paves the way for diverse, global collaboration, and innovation.

Q Before we conclude the interview, the role of HR has evolved much beyond its core functions – and now into caring for the planet. What do you foresee the HR function managing next, and how can we prepare for it?

We are living in very interesting times where we see great intersection and convergence of various industries. For example, when I first started at Schneider Electric, we were mostly a products-driven company. But today, we have enhanced these products and services to be even more efficient and sustainable through the use of data, software, and improved machinery.

As we continue our journey of digital transformation, we must never lose sight that HR is at its core, a business involving and engaging humans.

How do we balance interpersonal relationships and employee preferences while not compromising on business efficiency? Questions like these and more importantly, the answers to them will shape the role of HR in the future.

In the age of the Great Resignation, people want to know who they work for and why. The future of HR will see more involvement in wellbeing, diversity & inclusion, volunteering, and community work. Employees will look at how companies fulfil those commitments and impact their society. HR will need to continue to build strong partnerships with business leaders and ensure sustainability remains a top priority.

Q On the fun side, we’d love to know what keeps you growing personally – what are some activities that you love to indulge in that help keep you mentally and physically engaged and active?

While I particularly enjoy and find deep fulfilment my job, I greatly enjoy the work-life balance which Schneider Electric provides.

After a challenging day at work, I eagerly look forward to spending quality time with my family. I am a mum of two wonderful girls and they inspire me to do my best every day – to contribute to a better environment. I also practice mindfulness and Pilates on a regular basis which keeps me healthy – both mentally and physically alike. Finally, with the progressive reopening of borders, I am very excited to plan holidays in the East Asia region.

Also read: 5 conversations, 5 minutes each, 5 times a year: How SABIC is ensuring employees and leaders are constantly aligned


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