Meet Sylvie Moisy, Training and Technical Support Manager, ABB

Sylvie in her early years within ABB (90's) - personal archives

Unstoppable highlights the inspiring stories of women who have broken down barriers. Through this series, ABB aims to raise awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion; and encourage more women to pursue careers in STEM fields.

Tell us about your background: what studies did you follow and why did you choose this path?

I followed a technical path in high school. In fact, my teachers were very surprised when they heard that I wanted to go in that direction. It's true that the subjects were quite gendered: boys went into technical subjects rather than literature or biology, for example, and vice versa for girls, that was just the way it was.

I deliberately chose to study a technical course because I'm curious by nature, I like making things and understanding how they work. What's more, I grew up with 5 brothers, so when a "bike repair" workshop was offered at home, it was open to everyone: everyone participated. I've always lived in a rather masculine world (DIY etc...), which strongly developed my interest in the technical side of things.

At my technical high school, I remember that out of 150 pupils in the first year of senior high school, there were only 8 girls in the first year and only 3 in the final year. The ratio was almost identical during my post-graduate studies in physics at Caen. I think it was a question of choice of direction rather than acceptance: at the time, technical fields didn't attract girls. Even if it wasn't openly displayed, job opportunities were more difficult for women.

Once in the industry, you still had to prove your legitimacy and sometimes face a few macho remarks. It was undoubtedly the first year that was the most difficult in my career, because I had to impose myself, show what I could do and what I was worth - even unconsciously - to fit in with the group. Looking back, I'd say it has developed my tenacity and boosted my motivation tenfold.

What drew you to ABB? And more specifically, to this position?

When I graduated, I applied for a training position. The HR manager who interviewed me made no secret of the fact that most of the staff were men. She asked me a lot about my motivations: "Are you sure you want this job? "... In the end, I turned down the job. The recruiters were surprised, because for their part they had selected my application and wanted to work with me. So another profile was selected for the initial position and I was offered a sales & technical support role. That's how I started on January 7, 1987 at Meci, representing the Combustion Engineering Group in France, which was bought out three years later by ABB.

The world of automation was new to me and I asked myself a lot of questions about whether or not I wanted to continue down this path. In fact, I put up mental barriers that shouldn’t exist. I encountered no problems whatsoever.

I then moved on to become a trainer and then "customer solutions" training manager for two entities within ABB’s Process Automation Division. It's a position I've still held, and to which I added the role of technical support manager in 2020 for ABB Process Industries in France.

What strengths have you brought to the company and to your position? What are your professional strengths?

It's not an easy question.

I would say that my strong points are:

  • Continuously learning new techniques and tools to improve my skills and share them to others.
  • Creativity: trying to find innovative solutions, especially in my job as a trainer.
  •  Sharing. I'm regularly asked to contribute my expertise to projects, and I have many exchanges with the various training teams worldwide.
  • My calm, collected side. This can help with issues of reflection or in a group to ease any tensions.

If I had to draw a parallel with one of the customer testimonials from the ABB Unstoppable campaign, it would be with that of Chithra Sharma (TATA Steel). Her story brought to mind a number of situations I had encountered in my job and during my studies:

  • in high school, when we were doing practical work on machine tools in the workshop, the question arose as to whether we should have separate changing rooms, as these didn't exist at the time. So we [the girls] went to the dormitories next to the boarders to change into our work clothes.
  • -or during on-site training sessions, for example, there were often no women's toilets in the immediate vicinity, so I had to cross the entire site to get to the administration building.

What are the most important principles or ideals you follow and uphold in your work and life (e.g. equality, sustainability, fairness, curiosity)?

Equality, for sure. Curiosity too. You have to be curious, that's the secret to opening up the realm of possibilities. This enables us to find innovative solutions that may be of interest to the company.

If we look at the pillars of ABB, I have to say that I completely identify with the shared values and especially with CARE. For me, it's important to have a benevolent viewpoint: just because you're confronted with different ideas or a different culture doesn't mean that the message isn't interesting. I think these principles are part of our DNA when we join ABB. They are reflected in our day-to-day work.

In my technical role, I've trained and managed almost exclusively men, and I think that's a shame. In my opinion, having a woman on the team gives you a different perspective on problem-solving, for example. Everyone has their place. Everyone brings their own vision, their own experience, their own feelings.
But I think the situation was even more uneven for the generation before us. In my first job, my technical and sales cell manager was a woman, and I suppose it must have been much harder for her to establish herself in her day.

Do you share these convictions with others so they understand why they're important? If so, how?

Yes. Equality, benevolence and curiosity are the convictions I share with my team. It's a day-to-day job: digging into subjects, giving people the chance to explore them in greater depth, and feeding in new ideas. I let my team members shape the projects. I also like to suggest "out of the box" topics, to help them think. I often encourage my teams to tell me what they do, to question their practices and see problems from a different perspective.

What's your greatest achievement to date?

I'm proud of my team. We have a good working relationship. Everyone contributes and shares their skills. It's not one person's success, it's everyone's success. And all are highly committed to their activities.

Women are generally less likely to work in industrial/technological companies; what has been your experience? Do you think things are moving in the right direction

This trend is clearly visible in my training activity. If I had to count the number of women I've worked with, I'm not sure I'd make it to 10. I mainly aim at operators, maintenance teams and system configuration technicians. The population is predominantly male.

Admittedly, things are changing: when I read the press, I see interviews with women in key positions in French industry and they’re inspiring. 15% in top management; 30% in industry. It's better than what I’ve experienced when I started to work but we could still do better.

We have to admit that industrial jobs don't attract: the sector suffers from a rather archaic vision. Few women apply, even though these are interesting professions. Industry has undergone profound modernization thanks to digitalization for example. There's no reason why these professions shouldn't attract more girls.

ABB regularly organizes events at schools to meet potential work-study students and present our digital solutions. It's important to say that our businesses are at the cutting edge of technology and open to all.

What would you advise other young women to do to pursue a career in an industrial/technological company

I'd advise them not to be afraid in the first place. Our fields are vast, there are many opportunities and there's something for everyone: whether it's in the technical field, or in the support we can provide to customers. There are many opportunities to learn, grow and understand the world around us.

I'd also tell them to believe in themselves and not to be influenced by stereotypes. If you are considered for a job, you have earned your place. There's no need to doubt, just go for it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

What makes you Unstoppable?

What drives me today is being part of a team where confidence reigns. It's a solid foundation that makes it easier to undertake and test innovative things. You shouldn't be afraid of making mistakes, but, on the contrary, you should dare to try. For me, it's the pillar of trust that makes us Unstoppable. And to the extent that we're hungry to learn and create things, we're in the right place. I like this group. And if I had to do it all over again, I'd follow the same route exactly, with no regrets.

Thanks to Sylvie Moisy for her testimonial.


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