For most organizations, the measure of successful diversity and inclusion initiatives has become a matter of numbers. However, creating equal opportunities for female leaders is more than a numbers game. Diversity and inclusion need to be embraced as important pillars in the people strategy, not simply enforced. This multi-part series shines light on how women that work in leadership positions at SAP P&I Enterprise Cloud Services have risen to the top in their field. Each portrait shares insights, lessons learned and tips for the next generation of female leaders in cloud computing.
I’ll start this series with a profile on Caroline Hanke, vice president at SAP’s Global Cloud Success Center, who advises others to find their authentic voice and strength at work.
Caroline Hanke: Be authentic and build on your individual strength
This is the advice Caroline Hanke gives her younger colleagues time and again. It sounds simple, but in her 17 years with SAP and in her current management function, Caroline has seen many young women try in vain to adopt male behavior. “They often failed, because they were not authentic, thinking that certain behavioral traits are a prerequisite for success,” says Caroline. “But this is not the key idea of diversity. A team’s success is the result of bringing together different types of management styles and personal strengths, each contributing to the solution of a problem. We need more typical female traits, such as empathy and communication, especially in a business world that is becoming increasingly fast-paced and end-user centric.”
Caroline knows what she is talking about. She is married, has a seven-year-old son, and runs the Global Cloud Success Center, which manages incident escalation and critical customers in the Hana Enterprise Cloud environment. While an information systems student at the University of Mannheim, she started working at SAP in the supply chain management development department. “This was an ideal basis for my future career,” says Caroline. She gained insight into the SAP backbone, but unfortunately experienced very limited access to the end-customer view.
After her final exams, she took a position in what was called SAP Active Global Support in a customer-facing role for one of the biggest German automotive customers. “I spent four to five days a week onsite with the client. It was one of the most challenging experiences in my professional life so far. I knew only very little about the complete SAP portfolio and how important the SAP landscape was for this customer’s core business processes.”
She saw standstills of conveyor belts due to performance issues with the materials-planning run leading to delays in the delivery of cars to the end customers – a nightmare for both sides. “I learned quickly that I did not necessarily need to be the expert for everything, but I needed to take accountability to fix it. I could see the tension on the customer side vanish instantly if I promised them to take care of the issue. And I did. Angry customers started smiling at me. Those were the moments when I knew I’m in the right place. My career became my passion, because I realized that I was making a difference.” It benefitted Caroline that she grew up in two countries: Germany and the United States. She was already used to dealing with different cultures and behaviors and loves this part of her job the most.
Despite the odds, today’s business world is still very male-dominated, and this can be intimidating for women pursuing management careers. “Being a minority always makes you feel uncomfortable, it is in our genes. You can learn to deal with it, but it continues to be a daily challenge. It is like going to a party and being the only one in a costume. You need to be a pinch more self-confident and prove yourself before the majority group accepts you. But there are also advantages of sticking out, and you learn to use the initial disadvantage to your benefit.”
It is often said that women play an essential role in management. They bring a different set of leadership qualities to the table compared to their male counterparts. This can include empathy, teamwork building, social competence, integration skills, and communication. Men, on the other hand, typically set themselves apart with their assertiveness, self-marketing, networking skills, and decisiveness. A convergence of female and male characteristics on a team results in a favorable mix and better atmosphere.
“To get more women interested in technology-related careers is the key, and that requires more than just fulfilling a quota today. The responsibility starts early on in schools, colleges, and universities,” Caroline says. Similar to the need to remove gender stereotypes, we need to break stereotypes for IT jobs. In popular culture, IT jobs are often portrayed as programming in a dark and lonely room. This does not reflect the working life of my talented colleagues. Creating software is a team effort, and social interaction is the key, especially when we look at new programming paradigms such as scrum and agile programming. In addition, companies such as SAP offer a large variety of professions, such as design thinking, communication, and customer engagement. “We need to convey these possibilities at an early age and change the way we teach programming and IT,” says Caroline.
Quotas for women in leadership positions often do not resonate well, but they are necessary to change hiring patterns and facilitate a more successful skills mix. Quotas will likely become obsolete if society accepts and supports working women by rethinking old family structures. Working mothers should not be depicted as icons of stress, engulfing them in stigma and clichés, according to the Müller-Möhl Foundation.
Balancing work and family responsibilities is one of the most challenging obstacles for women seeking leadership positions. While this can be a challenge, it does not have to be an impediment to striving for a leadership position.
For more on the value of diversity, see Why Inclusivity Equals Innovation.