Women in science, technology, and batteries: Saft offers equality of opportunity in every role
Saft celebrates the number of women we have in leadership roles, but at every level of our company, talented female scientists and engineers are driving our business forward.
Saft’s battery technology is used in an extraordinary variety of ways, to power everything from sophisticated medical devices to space satellites to data centers. We also have a global footprint, with offices and factories in 19 countries, and 4,000 staff from 49 nations. In every division of our diverse business, female scientists, engineers and technology specialists are using their expertise to maintain the high degree of innovation and quality our customers expect.
As with other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-based companies, we recognize we have work to do to achieve full gender equality. Around a quarter (24 percent) of Saft employees working as engineers, managers and in other professional roles are women, and our overall workforce is 30 per cent female. As a result, we have made supporting and developing the most promising talent a priority in our organization.
In recognition of this on International Women’s Day, we wanted to highlight the work of three women in very different STEM roles at Saft:
Nada Hasnikova joined Saft four years ago as a project manager at Saft's Product development center in Raškovice.
Nada’s team is responsible for developing Saft’s Flex’ion battery, a lithium-ion battery for data centers and other essential applications, which offers more power and better safety but can operate at higher temperatures, reducing its environmental impact because it requires less energy for cooling. The Product development center is currently working on further improvements for the second generation of Flex’ion. As well as carrying out the classic project management tasks of making sure the team sticks to its timeline and budget, Nada says her work at the Product development center is incredibly varied.
“We are a team of 13 people, I do all kinds of things,” she says. “I know a lot about the certification process we go through, the components we use, and the technical aspects of the project.”
Nada originally gained her PhD in food chemistry and technology from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Prague, but it was never her intention to stay in academia.
“I knew I wanted to go into industry and make use of what I had learned,” she says. She started her career working in new product development for a local juice brand owned by Pepsi, and after three years moved to Norway. There, she worked for an aquaculture research center owned by Skretting, one of the world’s biggest fish food makers, and during that time, she had her two sons.
She credits Norway’s parental leave policies, which offer a year of paid leave which can be split between both mother and father, for ensuring she did not have to step back from the workforce when her children were young, which is still the norm in the Czech Republic. When the family returned to their home country, she started working at Saft.
Nada appreciates the culture of flexible working at the Product development center, which is not tied to a 9 to 5 routine, but may move the working day to 6 to 2 to suit the team. The pandemic has also made home working far more common, and she believes this will be a benefit for both men and women, erasing old-fashioned routines around family responsibilities.
I didn’t know a lot about batteries at the time but I had a technical background, and Saft were looking for someone with an understanding of complex projects.Nada Hasnikova Project Manager
Sandrine Cobrun, production unit manager for the Connected Energy division at Saft's Poitiers factory, has worked at Saft since 2015.
As a child, Sandrine was fascinated by understanding how objects worked, and loved making things with her sewing machine. This led her to engineering because “I wanted to do something useful and this was the way to achieve it,” she says. She graduated from INSA Lyon as a mechanical engineer and went to work for a luxury brand, as an industrial engineer and then project manager in their leather goods factory.
“As a young engineer, I was really interested in new product development, and I chose the luxury industry because of the product,” Sandrine says. “When I became a manager, my point of view changed, because the product is not the most important thing anymore, the priority is making the team work successfully together, managing relationships and development.”
In Poitiers, the production unit Sandrine manages produces 750,000 small battery cells a week, for applications such as electricity meters. The unit has two workshops, one with automatic production lines and one where battery assembly is done manually. Production runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the team have worked full time throughout the pandemic.
When she was offered the production manager’s role, Sandrine was expecting her first child, and the continuous nature of the unit’s work made her pause before accepting the position.
“It was a difficult choice for me because a production unit manager needs to be available,” she says. “But my managers really encouraged me and pushed me to go for it, and I started the role when I came back from maternity leave. It was sometimes very tiring but it was possible, and I have had great support from my managers and my team. Having a family and an interesting job has been a really positive challenge.”
She adds that, although men are still in the majority in technical and production management positions, she has never felt held back as a female engineer.
I have had the chance to work with inspiring women and men during my time with Saft, and they have all encouraged me to progress and take on more responsibilities. I can say that my gender has never been an obstacle.Sandrine Cobun Production unit manager for the Connected Energy division
Amelia Halsted, sales manager with Saft's aviation segment, is based in Minneapolis and has worked for the company for five years.
She is a trained pilot, as well as holding a business degree, and is a confirmed aviation nut: “There is no boundary between my interest in aviation in my personal life and my work,” she says. “I went to school to be a pilot because I had never thought about doing anything else, I had always been interested in airplanes.”
She graduated from university during 2001 into a slump in the aviation industry in the wake of the September 11 attacks, and took a technical operational role because it was one of the few available at the time. Happily, “I loved it,” she says. “I started learning about maintenance and how it’s managed by the airline industry.”
At Saft, she works with commercial airline customers who use Saft’s batteries for two mission-critical tasks: powering avionics and the radio, and as the back-up battery for emergency situations, when it provides power for the auxiliary power unit (APU). Two-thirds of the world’s aircraft fleet use Saft batteries.
With so many planes grounded during the pandemic, Amelia and her aviation customers have learned a great deal more about what happens to critical systems when an aircraft is not flying.
“So many aircraft were flown to storage locations, often in the desert, and parked, so we were working with customers to understand what happens when the plane sits for a long time,” she says.
Working in the aviation industry, Amelia says she is “almost always” the only woman in the room. Although she has not encountered overt discrimination, she says there is still an expectation in the US that women at work will “look and act in a certain way.” To counter this perception, in her previous role in business development for a large aerospace manufacturer, she helped to set up and lead a professional women’s council.
The volunteer group set up mentoring relationships, training, and networking opportunities, and involved all employees, not only women. Saft’s worldwide geographic spread and divisional structure means she has not set up a similar council in her current role.