Women at SAP Silicon Valley: Let’s Do More to Help Women in the Work Place

What a great experience! I was recently part of a panel with the Churchill Club @ SAP, Women Tech Executive Roundtable.

I was joined by some fabulous, accomplished women: Judith Bitterli, CMO AVG Technologies, who has started three businesses; Julie Hanna, who has been named by Obama as Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship; Amity Millhiser, who is a Managing Partner for PWC in Silicon Valley and was voted one of 50 most powerful women in Technology; and our great host and facilitator Deborah Perry Piscione, who runs her own business and is the bestselling author of Secrets of Silicon Valley and the Risk Factor.

I have to say it was great to see that we had a very large diverse audience, which makes me feel positive that we are moving the needle on some of these diverse topics and that people are interested and motivated to attend a meeting at 7:30 on a Friday morning.

The purpose of the event? To share stories and advice, continue to raise awareness, and help other women find their voice. The first questions Deborah asked: “What is the ugly truth out there for women in the tech industry? What are still the big issues that need to be addressed?”

We all had a lot to share on this topic! Judith kicked us off with the story of her first interview for a VP position, which I am sure many of us can relate to, where she was asked if she got the job would she still be able to fulfill her wifely role and isn’t she just going to go off and have babies anyway?  Hopefully we have moved on from these prejudicial types of questions, or maybe we are just more careful about what we ask, but the prejudice is still there and we have a ways to go.

I guess there is also still the question some of us have to answer: boardroom or baby? Now I know not all of us decide to have children, but I believe there are ways to have both. What saddened me was that women still say that one of the scary questions they are facing, is “How am I going to tell my boss I am pregnant?”  I myself had a similar situation where I had to make a tough decision — do I take a great opportunity or stay doing what I was doing so I can spend some time at home with my new baby.  As challenging as these questions can be, you make a decision, you stick with it and nine times out of 10 the next opportunity you get offered it better.

I think we also often hire people who are like us — we need to change this, we need to challenge and remind ourselves and our colleagues to look more broardly, hire people who are different and therefore have different skills. When I was offered another role that was quite a lot more senior then where I was at that point in my career, I wondered if to be successful I should play a role –  be more like a man. I decided to be myself and I know this was the better choice. Amity had a great idea to encourage us to hire the right candidates. When your are choosing candidates have HR take off the names of the individuals before you read resumes, and only when you decide to interview a candidate do you find out the gender.

I believe we have to work closely with universities and schools, and to encourage young women to enter technical fields. This is our next generation of talented women, and we also need to support women in startups.

Deborah asked us what drives you mad about what women do in the work place. We agreed that we hated it when women were catty about other women and not encouraging of other women’s success.  This is unacceptable, we will not get where we need to go if we keep belittling each other. We need to stop fighting with other women and we need to be more supportive.

When asked what we can do to help women succeed, one of the great ideas, was to have a business plan and that women should put more energy into building the plan, than in planning their wedding.  We can be supportive of women in the workforce, by not doing meetings at 4:00 pm when you know some women and even men might be picking up their children.  Don’t apologize for leaving early.

So what were the key take aways for me?

  • We need to ensure that our young women do not focus on the statistics of the past, but push to create new positive statistics for the future
  • Diversity is key — we need both women and men to take on equality in the work place, together we will be more successful
  • It is ok to be competitive but compete strategically — don’t let jealousy get in the way
  • We need to equip women with the right skills, and we need to encourage them to take sensible risk
  • Don’t take things personally at work
  • Stop belittling our female colleagues; this is not the way to move forward. We need to be a cheerleaders for women

This story originally appeared on SAP Community Network.

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