A Challenge for Leaders: Embracing Educational Diversity

I thought about how I’d write this article for a very long time, but I recently realized that it was time to stop over-analyzing and share my story, in the hopes that it would inspire others. The feedback I got when I shared my non-traditional educational background on LinkedIn was incredible. The support has motivated me to continue the dialogue and challenge my fellow leaders to reconsider how they view candidates with unique backgrounds.

I don’t have a college degree. There, I said it. And you know what? That statement does not define me or limit me. It’s a fact, a part of my background, and is likely one of the reasons I’ve had the career I’ve had.

Do I regret not finishing my degree? I do wish I had the life experience of college, the knowledge I would have gained, and the relationships I would have built. But I also know without a doubt that I would not be who I am today if I had gone down the path of a traditional education. Who knows, I may have accomplished “more.” But I have a husband and three daughters that I love, I have a job that I find tremendously fulfilling, and I’ve had the fortune to meet amazing people and travel to fantastic places.

My career provided me the opportunity to stay home for seven years when my children were small. I now have the honor to lead and mentor others, and I hope to inspire and challenge them to achieve their own success. For me, that exceeds every expectation I had for my future when I entered — and re-entered — the workforce.

The reality is, I’m in good company — many successful people did not finish college — but I’ve also been incredibly fortunate. Fortunate to have had people who took the time to look past my lack of a formal education, to get to know me and understand the skills, passion, and drive I bring to what I do. Those early leaders, mentors, and sponsors took a chance on me and supported my career growth. They saw my potential and opened doors that lead to a journey I would never have imagined. I’m beyond thankful for each of them and I am incredibly passionate about supporting and leading others as they grow and develop along their unique career paths.

People learn through different ways and experiences. College is one way, but life and career experiences are tremendously valuable as well. For me, the lack of a formal education has made me more driven, more determined to create my own success, and very intentional when it comes to my personal development. In today’s world of rapid innovation and a tremendously competitive talent market, we all need to be lifelong learners, regardless of our educational background.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we need to be prepared to pivot, learn new skills, and adapt to ever changing circumstances. These and many other critical job skills, such as grit, empathy, and emotional intelligence, are not easily taught in a classroom, they are innate skills that are further developed through experience. These skills aren’t measured by a piece of paper or apparent on a resume or job application; they are evaluated through human-to-human interaction.

Diversity comes in many forms, and educational diversity is one of those, one that isn’t often talked about or considered.

With that, I challenge my fellow leaders to invest their time with someone from a non-traditional background. Get to know the person behind that resume or LinkedIn profile. You may find that they are a perfect for your team, you may not. Regardless, give them the gift of your time by providing feedback and, if appropriate, through mentorship. Help them network or find a role that is right for them. Take a chance, because you may find your next top performer hiding in places you never would have considered.


Katie Mevis is head of North America High Growth at SAP.