Melissa Di Donato, an accomplished leader in the technology sector, is chief revenue officer for the ERP Cloud business at SAP.  Melissa puts her knowledge and experience to good use by leading the creation of innovative enterprise cloud solutions that align sales, the SAP partner ecosystem, products, and channels to deliver deeper, stronger customer relationships.

Impressive? Definitely. But not as impressive as the passion that truly defines her.

Melissa is also the Executive Sponsor of Diversity and Inclusion within Global Customer Operations at SAP. An indefatigable advocate of workplace diversity, Melissa champions the role of women in business. She is the technology group chair of the 30% Club in the UK, which promotes greater female representation in the boardroom by 2020. Current numbers stand at approximately 28% in the UK and 24% in the U.S., according to their respective sites. Melissa is a catalyst for the change needed to ensure that women are fairly represented in Sales at leading technology companies around the world.

While diversity and gender equality have sometimes been criticized as being vapid buzzwords, in a recent interview Melissa candidly shared her thoughts that prove otherwise.

How has your life shaped your passion for diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Two years ago, at the height of my career, my husband passed away. I’m now not only a single widow, but also a single mother to a very bright three-year-old girl. When I lost my husband, I had an obvious choice; I could pack my bags and go home to cry for myself, or I could roll up my sleeves and prove to everyone around me that no matter what catastrophic tragedy life throws at me, I can still do it. I can still have a strong career and provide my daughter the love, time, and attention she deserves.  The bottom line? You can be whatever you want to be in technology. Just show them.

Also, I’m a big believer that you can’t be what you can’t see. Therefore, in my case, it was my obligation to show other women that it can be done.  You can bounce back from a life altering tragedy.  I believe, to help other women shine, it’s our obligation as women to pay it forward and be visible. Women much more need to see a role model than men. We must inspire each other and prove to each other that the sky is the limit. Our call to action as women is to be visible, and serve as a role model to empower other women to continue to achieve their dreams even when it seems impossible.

And believe me, I’m not alone on this. A recent study on women in tech by Accenture found a strong correlation between having a role model and having leadership goals.

What qualities have helped you stay so positive and driven? 

One tendency I see in women is that we think our success is attributed to luck or being in the right place at the right time. That’s not the reason! If you’re a successful person, you got there by the choices you made and the work that you did.  Women sometimes seem to forget that, and I think that it’s time to reclaim our self-esteem and affect change. Understand that the reason you are where you are is because of you.

I’m leading a successful career because of the decisions I’ve made and the things I’ve been willing to give up. And I know that my daughter will enter a profoundly different and positive workplace someday because of the work that we are doing today.

Sales is predominantly viewed as a man’s world with industry data showing only 25 percent of salespeople in tech are women. How do you persist and excel in a male dominated environment?

I think that we lack women in sales because, culturally, it’s a place that brings and breeds the good ol’ boys club. It’s no surprise then, that women gravitate to marketing where the industry has more prominent female leaders – be they chief marketing officers, keynote speakers, or digital marketing managers. I want to see this kind of progress, this kind of community in sales.

I would like to gather our saleswomen at SAP for a monthly coffee corner discussion or networking lunch.  By connecting women in sales and encouraging relationships, we can create friendships and support systems to encourage and conduce more women to join the department. I think the reason why we aren’t attracting more women into sales is because women don’t feel supported in a (sales) culture dominated by men.

Also, the more visible successful women in sales are, the more women will see that it can be done.  You can have a successful sales career and a happy and fulfilling home life. That’s again why it’s so important for successful women to champion the example.

Studies show that diverse workplaces perform 35% better than like-minded environments. How do you think that diversity in technology helps accelerate innovation?

We have a skill shortage in technology. Over 85% of recruiters and hiring managers are saying they can’t hire technical talent. My opinion is that we are genuinely approaching a catastrophic phase of our growth.

If we don’t start absorbing, welcoming, and trying to recruit more women, I can see the industry being in serious trouble 10 years from now.

We need to start focusing on diversity of thought – ensuring that we are inclusive. Not just internally to companies, but also externally in the case of customer inclusion.

And finally, from a big picture perspective, thinking forward, in order for women to get to the boardroom, in order to break into and succeed in tech, we must start in the classroom. I truly believe that. It’s shameful that in the US, only 15% of all high schools offered any kind of advanced placement computer science course, and that only 22% of those who took the exam were girls! I make that point about starting in school in everything I do and every effort I undertake with diversity and inclusion in mind.

Thank you for your time, Melissa! SAP recently placed third in the latest CIO Best Places to Work for Women in Technology survey, beating out Salesforce and Workday. That’s something to be proud of, but I’m sure you’re not going to rest until we place first. In the meantime, we look forward to talking to you again about what measures SAP is taking to embrace minorities such as LGBT, African American and Latino, and other under-represented workers here at SAP.