In 2021, Kristen Siemen stepped into her role as the Vice President of Sustainable Workplaces and Chief Sustainability Officer at General Motors (GM) with ambitious goals for the company. Through strategic collaborations and with confidence in her vision, she is helping GM reach bold climate goals and work towards a more sustainable, zero emissions future.
Kristen is a role model for many in her field. She’s passionate about supporting other women and building lasting relationships in everything she does.
Why did you decide to go into engineering?
“I love working with people and I think engineering opened the door to working on some really cool technologies."
Growing up, math and science were Kristen’s best subjects. During freshman year of high school she took a career aptitude test that gave her possible ideas for the future – one of them was engineering. That test result, along with watching her older brother pursue a degree in engineering, nudged Kristen to pursue this career path.
Kristen attended Oakland University to pursue a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering. Her journey wasn't easy, but it taught her vital skills that played a big part in her success.
“Looking back at it, school was hard. Everything you learn, all these equations that you don't really use. But it teaches you how to analyze data, make hypotheses, and recommendations. None of us really went to school for the exact job that we're doing. It's about taking our collective knowledge and working together to solve really complex problems.”
What do you do as Chief Sustainability Officer at GM?
“I look to integrate sustainability into everything we do at GM… we work across functions with everything from product design, to creative design, to purchasing, to supply chain."
Sustainability is an integral part to manufacturing, Kristen explains, especially when you consider water and energy efficiency. By making each part of the manufacturing process more efficient, you can save tremendous amounts of energy that helps the environment while bringing major economic benefits to the company.
What are your most impactful projects?
“General Motors is leading the way in sustainability. Last year we announced that we sourced everything needed to meet our goal of using 100 percent renewable energy in all of our U.S. facilities by 2025. We are also working to eliminate tailpipe emissions from our new U.S. light duty vehicles by 2035 and become carbon neutral in our global products and operations by 2040.”
Kristen’s job extends beyond the walls of internal operations. Part of achieving these goals means helping suppliers and vendors move to clean energy solutions. “It can't be just my team and it can't be just GM. It's really something that’s going to take public and private sectors working together, other industries, and our supply base.”
What do you enjoy most about your job?
“Sustainability touches so many parts of the company. It’s a problem that we're all trying to solve together. I've had the opportunity to work with people across many industries, interface with governments, and parts of the organization that I never worked with in my career."
"It really is all about bringing people together to find solutions in everything from material selection to how a part is designed, so that they are not just designed for manufacturing or for serviceability, but also for recyclability. Collaborating with people is necessary to every step in this process."
What made you consider Xena safety boots?
“I have a team that is doing sustainability transformation of our facilities in new construction projects. So a lot of my job is going on site and into our plants, and I wanted safety boots that looked stylish.”
"Having stylish clothing isn’t simply a fashion choice. Especially for women working in male-dominated industries, it can be much more than that. It gives you the confidence and you feel good when you look good."
“There are a few women I'm pretty close with here at work and we talked about how earlier in our career, we dressed like men because we wanted to fit in. Then we got to a point when we were tired of dressing like men, so we started wearing dresses and skirts into the office and being more ourselves."
“Xenas allow you to do that in a plant facility. I think it's so important to help women be themselves.”
How do you manage your work-life balance?
“I’m not perfect and I certainly don't have it mastered,” Kristen says. Throughout her career, she has made a point to prioritize family, but says that has only been possible because of her supportive husband and the mentality of General Motors.
When her three boys were younger, she would set evenings aside for them. Once the kids were asleep, she would work late and do some of the emailing she had to catch up on. It’s all about finding the right balance for your lifestyle.
“You have to figure out what works for you. Whether it's family and young kids or some passion you have, I think being who you are and finding a company where the culture supports you is so important.”
What advice would you give to young women who are just starting their careers?
“You can do more than you think you can. Be confident, be yourself, trust your gut, and push yourself."
“I think as women, we often tend to second-guess our capabilities. You read all about imposter syndrome and many of us think we're not qualified – but you are.”
What do you like to do outside of work?
“Anything with family. I want to enjoy every single moment – that's really important to me.”
Kristen loves to travel, run, and spend time outdoors with her family. She used to spend hours on various sports fields watching her young kids play as they grew up. Now that her kids are older, there are not as many opportunities to get together, but she cherishes them all.
What is your favorite quote that brings you inspiration?
“My mom used to tell us growing up to shoot for the moon and if you don't make it at least you'll be one of the stars.”