We need to continue promoting women in decision-making positions through mentoring, showing role models, empowering them in skills development, providing networking guidance and encouraging them to take on new challenges.
Brenda Méndez is the Industrial Applications Director for Oil & Gas at Siemens Energy for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean and a great advocate for women’s equity in the power industry. Brenda and her colleagues started Energy Without Limits (Energía sin límites), an initiative to help women within the company develop a range of key skills, from networking and communication to leadership. In an interview for Women in Power Systems, Brenda talked about the challenges and highlights of her career, the importance of family support and how focusing on goals helps her organize her everyday life.
Petra Curlin Women in Power Systems are honored to share the story of the first women who rose to the position of Vertical Business Leader & Board Member at Siemens Energy for Latin America, and a great champion for equity within the power industry. Brenda, thank you for joining us today.
Brenda Méndez Thank you, Petra.
PC You are now at a position of great responsibility in your company, but every career journey has a beginning. How did you first decide to choose this career path? What first inspired you to join power systems?
Industrial engineering was interesting to me because it offered career flexibility – you could be involved in a variety of roles, from tech to administration, and the market demand was very high.
BM Well, I can tell you that there were no engineers in my family at that time. My first option was to study journalism, since I like to write articles about soccer. But my mother made me open my mind, she told me that journalism was something that I already knew, and I had to look for a career that is both very different but also based on my interests. I did some research of what my options are, and one of them was industrial engineering. It was very interesting to me because it offers a very flexible career: you can be involved on the technical side, but also in the administrative part. The market demand for industrial engineers was very high at the time. And that is why I was inspired to try this career.
PC It is wonderful to have people in your life who motivate you to challenge yourself and try something is perhaps out of your comfort zone, your mother was obviously a great factor in your decision. What about the rest of your family and people close to you, how did they react to you choosing this career?
BM My whole family always supported me in this decision. They told me to do what I love and that they would support me. My father was working in finance, so he told me that industrial engineering would be a good choice for me. He was glad that I was able to choose something that I love, that is very important.
Women represent only 10% of the workforce in the energy industry worldwide. But the world is changing, and we will achieve a better balance in the future if we continue pushing for equity.
PC What is your experience of being a woman in the oil and gas sector of the power industry?
BM I believe in balance in terms of capabilities. I think men and women are equal. But of course, it was a challenge to enter the power industry because, globally, there are not many women who choose this career. Women represent only 10% of the workforce in the energy industry worldwide. But the world is changing, and we will achieve a better balance in the future if we continue pushing for equity, from educating girls at a young age, to supporting women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.
PC You mentioned the importance of balance between men and women in the workplace. Balance is also key on a personal level. Given the responsibilities of your position as industrial applications director, how do you achieve the balance between the professional and the private side of your life?
I always try to focus on objectives and to work towards achieving them, instead of running by a schedule.
BM It is not easy, (laughs) but I am trying all the time. Something that I believe is necessary is to separate your personal time from your time at work and to respect each. We have to strive for this kind of balance all the time, otherwise everyday life can get impossible. During my work time, I always try to focus on objectives and to work towards achieving them, instead of running by a schedule.
I love to share quality time with my family, it is very valuable to me. I don’t have kids, but I have two small dogs that are like kids to me, and I like to spend time with them. I try to plan family activities in advance and organize my work time well, that helps me to achieve objectives at work and allows me to have uninterrupted private time. Having this kind of balance is always a challenge for a woman in the energy industry.
PC Exactly, achieving work-home harmony is difficult, no matter the position or even the career that we choose. What are some of the challenges that you have come across in your career?
BM When I started my career in the manufacturing industry with the maintenance team, for example, it was a great challenge to join a men’s team. It was very different from being a trainee, being a member of a group brought new responsibilities. It was not easy at the beginning, but I think there is always a test period. I managed to achieve synergy, collaboration, and excellent teamwork with my male colleagues. They had the technical knowledge, but I brought the knowledge of processes. We complemented each other, and they realized this. The same thing happened in the power industry when I took over the responsibility for the Customer Service business unit. There was a test period when both my team and my customers wanted to know my experience and my expertise. But they let me in, I gained their trust by showing them good results. That is the point when you are no longer regarded as merely a woman in the industry, and you are valued as a person.
PC You just mentioned one of the words that we at Women in Power Systems love, and that is synergy. The collaboration through complementarity that you described is one of our main goals. We want to emphasize the fact that women have a unique mindset and skillset that, in combination with that of their male colleagues, can contribute a lot to the energy industry – from creating new solutions and products, to improving practices.
What would you say was something that you achieved – maybe as a trainee, maybe at some of your later positions – that you are particularly proud of?
I gained the trust of my colleagues and customers by showing them good results. That is the point when you are no longer regarded as merely a woman in the industry, you are valued as a person.
BM One of my personal proudest moments, when I experienced great recognition of my work, was in 2016 when I was selected by the Expansíon magazine as one of the 30 promises of Mexico in their 30s. And this I achieved by working really hard for five years in the mining sector. I have to say I was living in a mine for the project at Siemens at that time, I was in charge of more than 150 people. It was not easy, but it was one of the most important challenges in my career. We also got very good results as a company, so I am very proud of that.
PC Speaking of Siemens, we see that there are great efforts in the company to implement and promote diversity and equity, through projects such as as Niñas con Energía (Girls in Energy) an initiative by Siemens Energy and Epic Queen to boost girls’ interest in STEM, and Energía sin límites (Energy Without Limits), of which you are one of the founders. Could you tell us a little bit more about this initiative?
BM Sure, I really like to talk about that because I am one of the main sponsors of Energy Without Limits. It is a program that we have created as part of Siemens Energy focusing on supporting women’s skills. There are six main pillars: learning together, communications, mentoring, management skills, networking, and workshops. We have a leader in each pillar who develops a whole platform for women in the company. We do different activities in each one, and all activities are focused on the development of women’s skills. We currently have 60 participants. Our goal is to generate inclusion and to ensure that more women have the skills they need to achieve their career plans.
PC Women’s networks within the power industry are a big topic that we at Women in Power Systems are focusing on this year. Connecting and mutual support are key for improving the work environment for women, not only on company level, but on industry level as well. This is why networking taught as part of the Energy Without Limits program really is an essential skill for a woman in power systems to have. What other skills do you think are going to be required given the changes we are seeing in the industry? What is your perspective of the changes we are seeing in energy and what do you think it will mean for the people joining the industry?
BM The energy sector in general is promoting having more women within each organization. This gap is not going to be bridged in the short term, but we are on the right path. We need to continue promoting women in decision-making positions and to facilitate spaces where we can strengthen them in terms of mentoring, showing role models, empowering them in skills development, providing networking guidance and encouraging them to take on new challenges.
I think that the skills in the power industry that will be needed in the future are not different than today, such as being analytical, agile, adaptable to change in the industry, all part of strong and disruptive leadership that is not gender-specific. We need more women in this industry, this has been proven in organizations that benefit from having both men and women. So why not be accountable for our roles and make a difference today?
Energy Without Limits is a program that we have created at Siemens Energy to help women develop the skills they need to achieve their career plans. There are six main pillars: learning together, communications, mentoring, management skills, networking, and workshops.
PC Speaking from your personal and professional experience, what advice would you give young women who are either contemplating or starting their career in power systems?
BM I would like to offer two pieces of advice. The first is to take the opportunities that come to you. Even if you don’t completely fit the profile, it is very important to believe that you can do it. And the second – it won’t be easy the first time, and we will fail many times. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes. You have to keep trying and trying so that tomorrow you will be the chosen one. I want to continue promoting women in the power industry. We each choose what to support, and I choose to support you, women, so that you have an inclusive tomorrow where equity is not the main topic to talk about.
PC Thank you very much, Brenda. With women like you doing amazing work to help others develop and use their skills in this industry, I think the future is very hopeful. Thank you very much for sharing your story with us.
BM You are welcome. Thank you very much.