This week, at SAPPHIRE NOW 2011 in Orlando, I was a social media reporter and had the pleasure to attend a session with female executives who shared career experiences and tips with an audience of over 100 women. The third annual Women’s Executive Leadership Session offered a unique opportunity to leverage the combined power of women among an elite group of leading cross-industry business executives.
During this session, attendees had the opportunity to network and share best practices. A keynote from SAP Executive Board Member Angelika Dammann was followed by a panel discussion on leading in today’s economy and an exclusive cocktail reception for an extended networking experience.
SAP co-hostesses for this event were Janet Wood, EVP of Maintenance Go-to-Market, and Diane Fanelli, regional VP of Industry Solutions North America.
The event was attended by roughly 80 cross-industry female corporate and public sector executives, as well as industry bloggers, analysts and reporters, and about 20 SAP female representatives.
Before the session kicked off, I had the opportunity to interview Maggie Fox, CEO of Social Media Group and the panel moderator. Maggie shared with me her views on diversity, women in business and her own experience as a business owner and woman, in this roughly five-minute-long video:
Dammann spoke about the challenges of creating diversity in the work force. She started off by saying “we are all different, which is why we should be treated the same.”
Dammann gave a review of her own life and career, which is best summed up in her own quote: “It is better to be an edgy something than a round nothing,” She has always had drive and the desire to live a life of purpose, and encouraged the audience to stay curious and take any opportunity to learn.
From previous conversations with Dammann, as a member of the Business Women’s Network at SAP, I know that she does not feel that she has ever been disadvantaged as a woman, but that there is “no free lunch.” Overall, she said that she did not define herself as a woman first.
The Panel Discussion
Moderator: Maggie Fox, CEO, Social Media Group
- Kristen Blum, CIO, Business Transformation, PepsiCo
- Kathy Hanrahan, senior delivery executive, IBM
- Sandy Rasel, CIO, Perdue Farms
- Janet Wood, EVP, Maintenance Go-to-Market, SAP
Maggie Fox kicked off the panel by quoting research that women tend to lag behind men in their use of networking and leveraging mentors — important aspects for successful career development. Other topics discussed includedthe mandate for diversity, work-life balance and the need to be “sexless” in corporate America.
In the following, you can find a summary of each panelists views and tips on the topics discussed:
Ms. Blum has successfully leveraged mentors for her own career development. She considers “believing in yourself” and “realizing your potential” as the keys to success. In the past, Blum has been in roles where the organization had only seven percent females, which was a problem. Consequently, diversity is important to her and she has been able to improve diversity at PepsiCo significantly. She also noted that, in her view, women are often better multi-taskers than men, able to juggle many responsibilities simultaneously.
In regards to the question of family and work-life balance, she shared that she decided to be a working mom to be a more balanced mother (“trust me, it’s better for my child”), emphasizing this as a personal choice. She does not find that she “has to pay a price” for working and having a family.
She has noticed that men tend to brush off mistakes more easily than women, and advised the audience to try to leverage mistakes as learning opportunities. Her most valuable advice on networking? Don’t look within your current industry or circle of friends, but reach out and learn as much as you can from as many sources as possible.
Ms. Hanrahan reemphasized Dammann’s point that women do not always make themselves available and need to work through their fear: “eyes open fear, not eyes closed”. She has found that confidence increases through successes along the way and makes you feel more “sexless”, that means color or sex don’t matter anymore. The “sexless” approach means not to hide your sex, dress and talk like a man, but rather, it means to “be yourself, feminine if you like”. “It’s a state of mind, not how you present yourself physically”.
She admitted that work demands have had a negative impact on some of her friendships. And in regards to making mistakes, she said: “don’t hide mistakes but admit, make the situation right and move on”. Last, on networking, she advised: “any time you engage with a group of people it’s networking! Just have conversations with as many people as possible.”
Ms. Rasel pointed out that she is very interested in people development and highlighted the importance of having a mentor. She listed as the following criteria and advice regarding a good mentor: “They should be successful, available, inspiring, giving constructive feedback. Tell them what you admire about them and ask them to have lunch with you, and a closer relationship might flourish.”
She noted that cultural differences can be hard to watch, for example, when you are in a country where women are not treated as equals or you are not treated as such, it’s important to stay professional. Tips for networking “places”: CIO executive council (“They have a group for IT women”), 85broads.com and glasshouse.com.
Ms. Wood noted that she has benefited from sponsors in her career, people who believed in her and were willing to point out opportunities when they arose. The audience laughed when she said: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women”, alluding to how that can be an issue in the work place. In regards to work-life balance, she said she has a supportive partner and is personally happy with the balance in her life. When asked about how to find a mentor she said: “just ask somebody to mentor you, and make it less intimidating by offering to limit the mentorship to 12 months or shorter”. She pointed out that she does “not think of networking as networking” but as going to events and meeting new people. “Don’t be calculating, talk to anybody and help anybody, and it will come back to you.”
Fox pointed out that there are informal and formal mentor relationships. “With one of my best mentors, the word ‘mentor’ has never been spoken,” she said. Professional coaches are an option too; Fox has been working with one for years. She shared that she once worked in TV production in a senior role. When the executive producer asked her to get coffee, she turned to the male staff member and passed on the request.
There was one especially interesting audience comment, a woman stated that “men commented on this event, stating that they thought if we needed it, we had ‘failed’ in the movement.” She also said she did not want to be “sexless.”