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Spotlight on Women Leaders at SAP: Daniela Lange

July 9, 2015 by Susan Galer 26

Daniela Lange, Senior Director at SAP, leads Product Management for SAP payroll software. She joined the company fifteen years ago, after spending about five years in academic research ranging from astrophysics to life sciences.

Her current position in the thick of the high tech industry is a far cry from where she grew up in the Black Forest of Germany. She spent much of her youth literally in the woods – reading, studying, watching nature and pondering the world. After high school, Lange earned a Diploma in Physics from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and a PhD in Physics from Clarkson University in New York. In this exclusive interview with SAP News, Lange shares her philosophy on what it means to have a high tech career.

Daniela Lange, Senior Director at SAP, leads Product Management for SAP payroll software

Daniela Lange, Senior Director at SAP, leads Product Management for SAP payroll software. Image via SAP.

I was attracted to a career in high technology because…

It gives me more personal freedom than the feudal world of academic science did. IT is not exactly physics, but they share the same approach to problem-solving.

The three most important qualities that have brought me to this point in my career are…

My commitment to stay curious, set daring goals and be resilient. The path to success is like running a marathon. At first, you’re not sure if you’ll succeed. During the run it hurts and you wonder why you’re doing this to yourself. The reward comes as you near the finish line, giving you fresh energy to do it all over again. And when things go wrong along the way, I avoid wasting energy grieving over past mistakes, I just analyze what I need to do differently next time and then go for it again.

My advice for young women considering a career in high tech is…

To go for it. You don’t need to be afraid of anything other than your own lack of confidence. There is nothing inherently masculine about making software. IT is not just for nerdy techies, it takes a full spectrum of diverse talents. You are not alone. There are other women pursuing the same goals as you, along with progressive men.

I encourage women who pursue a leadership position to…

Be comfortable with their choices. People, including friends and family, may question why you work so hard. Sadly, I still hear people say you have to choose between being a good mother and having an ambitious career. Trust the positive voice inside yourself; you know best the right priorities for you and your family. Keep dreaming who you want to be, evolve and become that person.

My motivation for taking up a leadership position…

Is best described using a metaphor to hiking in the mountains, one of my favorite pastimes. The trail to the mountain top can be rough and intimidating and it may seem more reasonable to stay at lower altitudes and enjoy the flowery meadows. But the rewards of the amazing vista from high up are well worth the climb.

Helping other women realize their career dreams…

Is dear to my heart. We must not accept another woman being labeled as bossy, just because she is determined and decisive. I have an informal women’s mentoring network at SAP, in which we encourage each other, and celebrate each other’s successes. When I was last promoted, I was touched by the flood of well-wishes from female colleagues. This kind of mutual support and trust, which does not need to be confined to women’s communities, creates motivational energy we wouldn’t be able to build and sustain on our own. Such things make my career much more than just working on software.

The high tech industry requires more women leaders…

In order to achieve best business results. Women are the primary decision-makers for the purchase of many of our products, hence they must be pivotal in designing these products. Further, many women are more collaborative and can have an edge in diagnosing the unspoken emotional conflicts that derail projects.

What puts women at a disadvantage in the office…

Can be subtle, such as communication styles. Women may appear to have less confidence in their ideas simply because they present them differently. Both men and women need to understand these differences in communication.

The business trend I’m most worried about right now is…

Big Data. On one hand, this technology can be used to violate our values like personal freedom and data privacy. On the other hand, it has great potential to improve people’s lives.

The one app I can’t live without every day is…

WhatsApp. It’s a practical organizer for the many daily logistical challenges I have with my kids.

Being a product manager at SAP gives me the freedom to…

Work with a diverse group of great people from all over the world, learning that there are many ways of looking at situations and problem-solving. It’s a very inspiring environment.

My dream assignment is…

To live and work in China or Africa when our kids go off to college.  

In a sea of fast-paced innovation, I stay centered and productive by…

Carefully picking the right problems to solve and controlling my mind to focus on those.

One of the most influential role models in my life was…

A character in a children’s book called Pippi Langstrumpf, known in English-speaking countries as Pippi Longstocking. Her heart is in the right place, and she is joyous and totally fearless.

When I’m not working, I relax by…

Getting outdoors in the wilderness. I go running and ride my bicycle to reset my mind, and I spend time with my children. Their liveliness reminds me that work issues are just a tiny fraction of life.

The woman I really admire and respect…

Is Grace Hopper, a brilliant and daring computer industry pioneer. One of her sayings was “The most dangerous phrase in the language is: We’ve always done it this way.” It’s the perfect maxim also for my work in SAP payroll. Despite a legacy of success, we must be bold and reinvent ourselves, so that we can lead the transformation in the payroll market and create revolutionary products for our customers.

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