Maya Price, head of Campaign Management for UKI Marketing at SAP, discusses her personal journey through three cultures and the importance of inclusion — not only from a cultural perspective, but also within a team.
Q. Maya, you were born in Israel, moved to South Africa at the age of eight, and moved to the UK two years ago. What’s the biggest cultural difference between these countries from a work perspective?
A: I think it becomes most obvious with a simple example: We had a team building session in the UK, where everybody was asked to stand up and hold hands while we “connected.” For me, this was absolutely fine, totally normal. But I remember after this exercise, the team were commenting how awkward and unnatural it was to be asked to hold hands with colleagues. In Africa, the same situation wouldn’t even have been worth noticing, in fact they probably would have been asked to hug each other, or massage each other’s shoulders! People are a lot more “touchy” in Africa, personal space is more of a suggestion than a given. I find both cultures very genuine, which made the move to the UK a lot easier, but I think the biggest difference in the workplace is that in South Africa, you become friends as soon as you join, and thereafter you work to earn respect from a professional perspective, whereas in the UK, there is an immediate, indisputable respect for your work, and then you start building friendships.
Tell us about your professional journey at SAP.
I began at SAP Africa as the event manager, moving on to SME marketing manager after a few years. In my third role in the African team I overlooked cloud, retail and DSI. In the UK, I started as marketing manager for the HR audience and now I am head of Campaign Management in the UKI marketing team. We manage the planning and execution of all the campaigns, events, and digital in the UK. I can honestly say that it’s the perfect place for me to be at this point in time.
What was the reason for you to decide to move to the UK?
A few years ago in South Africa, our marketing director had left, and I was considering applying for the role, but unfortunately, my daughter’s father became critically ill over the same time and my daughter really needed me. I knew that if I went for it, I would end up either being a terrible marketing director, because I was being a good mom, or be a great marketing director but fail as a mother. There was no way at that point in my life to be good at both. I decided to withdraw my application, my focus had to be my daughter, everything else, including my career, could wait. It turned out to be the best decision I ever made. My daughter started thriving again, and soon she was back to the happy, secure, confident child I knew. In fact, she was the one who came to me and said we need a new adventure and to make a change, and pushed me to look beyond the African borders at new opportunities. From a professional perspective, the new marketing director that was appointed was an amazing coach and I learned so much from her. In fact, she was the one who encouraged me to have confidence in myself, take the plunge, and apply for the UKI role, and I’ve never looked back!
What’s the major difference to your work in Africa?
There’s a huge difference in the way you work, even though the general thinking is quite similar. The African team is small, so everybody does a little bit of everything. I had a number of audiences to look after, but only a couple of sales and presales people in each of these areas. In the UK, I had only one audience, but over 45 sales, presales, COEs, and other people I needed to build relationships with. It is a lot more intense in terms of how deep you dive into your audience.
How do you manage to be a single mother and a people manager at the same time?
While I try to be the best at both, I have realized that there will always be times when it’s a trade off: being a good mom versus being a good employee. Sometimes I prioritize home, sometimes I prioritize work. What I really needed to learn was that this is nothing to feel guilty about, it is part of my reality and life.
What was your first experience at SAP?
To be honest, this wasn’t an easy time and looking back on it today, it reminds me of how important inclusion actually is at the workplace. Prior to joining SAP Africa I knew very little about corporate culture. I was a mom, and I owned a small business completely outside the IT environment. When I first came onboard, there had been somebody in the team who had also applied for my role. People in the team were very inclusive — to her. In my first few weeks, there would be times when I’d walk into the office and everybody would simply stop talking, stand up, and walk out silently. I was a real outsider.
How did the situation change?
In the beginning, I just put my head down and tried to do my work as best I could. After a while, I realized that I couldn’t succeed in a vacuum; I decided to put a sweet bowl on my desk. Little by little, people started to come over to my desk and to talk to me, but really it was an excuse for taking sweets. I started having real conversations and after a while colleagues would come over even when there weren’t any sweets in the bowl.
What did you learn from this situation and do you think this would happen again in these days to new employees?
I learned that the first weeks and months in such a big company can be very scary for anyone. These days, when we have new colleagues join our team, I try to always reach out, meet for a coffee or chat, and get them included in the team as much as possible. And I really can’t imagine this kind of thing happening again. When I first joined SAP 14 years ago, it was not the SAP it is today. It was a very different culture, very corporate and political. Today, marketing is human and SAP is as well! And there is generally much more awareness for inclusion, the culture really has changed.
Israel, South Africa, the UK — which of the places would you call home?
Home is the UK! Even though South Africa was easier because I had my parents and lifelong friends there, and a kind of a comfort zone where I knew everything inside out, the UK is better. At first, it was really quite daunting, trying to figure out even the simplest things that we tend to take for granted, but today my daughter and I are really flourishing. I enjoy every aspect of my life here: my social life, my weekends, my work. Everything simply feels right.
Katja Mehl is head of Marketing for EMEA and MEE at SAP