IWD2021: Thérèse Schölvinck: #ChoosetoChallenge Starts by Challenging Yourself

The theme for IWD2021 is: “A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.”  IWD2021 is asking: How will you help forge a gender-equal world? The answer is by celebrating women’s achievements, raising awareness against bias and taking action for equality.

Through our annual IWD blog series, we want to introduce you to a group of women – our employees, customers and partners – who personify the achievements of women in tech and in EHSQ.

Find out why the word “why” – typically a challenge-type word – is so important to Thérèse.

What is your name, title and company?

Thérèse Schölvinck, Director – PD People – HR Business Partners, European Patent Office

I studied Industrial Design Engineering at the Technical University in Delft, The Netherlands. Istarted to work at the European Patent Office as a Patent Examiner in 1991. In addition to my core job, I was involved in a number of projects and has been teaching newcomers at the Patent Academy. In 2009, I became director of a department delivering patents in Medical Diagnosis Electronics. I subsequently had a role in bridging the business and HR, Automation Support, and Quality.

How did you become involved with EHSQ and/or technology?

Quality is at the forefront of everything we do at the European Patent Office. We are known to be the #1 in Quality in the patent world. In 2019, I was asked to be responsible for what we call “Quality Initiatives,” for issues that we see arising and that might happen again. This is the cornerstone of the cycle of improvement for the Quality Management System. As an engineer, I am always looking for practical solutions to (potential) problems that we spot.

In your career, what have you decided to #ChooseToChallenge?

I am Dutch and we tend to ask “why” a lot; it is a cultural thing I suppose.

Being by far the youngest in the family, I was relentless in asking “why” and always wanted to know how things worked. My father, also an engineer, seemingly never got tired of answering my questions. Better even, he started asking me: “Why do you think?” He was challenging me to find my own answers.

#ChoosetoChallenge starts by challenging yourself. For a girl, studying engineering is not an obvious choice. Then, working at the European Patent Office gave me a challenge every day: trying to figure out how new inventions work and then seeing if anyone else had the same idea before. Overcoming a challenge or better, changing it into an opportunity, gives me an enormous amount of satisfaction.

I sometimes ask my colleagues: “Why are we doing this?” Not to be obnoxious, but by asking this fundamental question, we can improve our processes and be more effective. The follow-up question – “How would you redesign it if you could start from scratch” – challenges the status quo. It comes to no surprise that I am somewhat allergic to the remark, “Because we always have done it like this.”

What were your greatest challenges – personally or professionally – in 2020?

Change management and transition management: for our quality initiatives, the Intelex CAR application is the tool we use. Those unfamiliar with it had not been encouraged to explore more. We seized the opportunity to better manage the transition when we needed to improve our Root Cause Analysis. There is a built-in 5 Whys function, which has really proven its value in the second half of 2020. The change happened when we took each user, one by one, through the process.  

COVID-19 was of course a challenge in many ways. Due to the hard work of our colleagues in IT, we were able to all work from home as of March 2020. This teleworking actually turned into an opportunity and a better way to include people from all of our sites, wherever they were.

My biggest personal challenge: Due to social distancing, I often had to refrain from hugging my daughters when they visited us.

What was the main learning(s) from 2020 that you brought with you into 2021?

Get people on board, explain why we do things, challenge the way “we have always worked” so that we can change the way that we will work for the better. Using Intelex was a game changer for Root Cause Analysis and focused action plans. From repository to structured quality management, we are using our Intelex tools in a clever way. Making people feel part of the solution is key.

In parallel, we moved hand-in-hand with Risk Management. Issue and Risk Management are two sides of the same coin and it is important to make that connection come alive in the organisation.

What are you focusing on in 2021?

Bringing strategic value to the operational business with a people perspective. How can I help you to become better?

How are you rising to the challenges found in the new year and what do you hope to accomplish?

Where 2020 was a year of challenges, I believe that 2021 is a year of opportunities, building on the lessons of last year.

As to what I hope to accomplish, I actually have quite simple goals: I would like to have a positive influence on others, help them to deliver and be the best they can be.

And for myself: I want to continue learning each day.

Other IWD2021 Blogs:

This entry was posted in EHSQ, Health & Safety Management, Quality & Supplier Management and tagged , , , by Sandy Smith. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the Director of Global Content and Brand for Intelex Technologies. Formerly the Content Director for EHS Today, she has been writing about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990. Her work as a journalist and editor has been recognized with national and international awards. She has been interviewed about occupational safety and health for national business publications, documentaries and television programs; has served as a panelist on roundtables; and has been the keynote speaker for occupational safety and health conferences.

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