The interview with Jenny Dearborn was conducted and prepared by Kate Gueldemeister
Early in her career, Jenny Dearborn was given a chance. Her manager at Sun Microsystems saw something in her that had not yet been realized, and tapped her to take over a significant role running the employee, partner and customer education business for all of the America’s – Arctic to Antarctic. “It was amazing, life changing, and absolutely the hardest job I have ever done,” Ms. Dearborn said, recalling the times she spent trying to hold it together in the ladies room before a difficult meeting telling herself, “I can do this. I can do this.” Having successfully accomplished the huge expectations of that role, Ms. Dearborn became inspired to develop new talent in the same way that her manager developed her. She realized her calling; to find and develop new talent, especially diverse talent.
Having recently joined SAP through the SuccessFactors acquisition, Ms. Dearborn would like to inspire this spirit of talent development at SAP. She feels that woman need to do more to promote and champion each other, but doesn’t see enough of this. “Established women can be especially tough on the new women coming in. I’ve heard this consistently from women’s groups I’ve spoken to around the world across many companies and industries.” SAP is has diversity front and center in their agenda and she’s like to see other companies making this a priority too.
“I would like to put a challenge out there. Companies need to go all-in and hire, promote and develop talent with diversity in mind.” Ms. Dearborn said. Diversity is not community service or a charity, it’s a business imperative. Organizations that are highly diverse are more innovative, they work faster, better and more effectively. They also have higher employee engagement.
Ms. Dearborn knows that finding talent is her strength and sponsoring people is her passion. “When I start in a new role, I talk with everyone in my organization. I ask them what is working and what isn’t? I ask them if they could have any job in the company what would it be? I ask them about their passions. I ask what do they love about this company?’” This is how she finds people who might be buried in an organization. Then she sponsors them. She views sponsorship as very different from being a mentor or a coach. Mentors are content neutral and are there if you need them. Coaches are subject matter experts who can help you with content related questions and development. A sponsor is someone in a position who has the authority to make something happen, AND who goes out of their way to make something happen for you. Having a sponsor means they are creating opportunities, positions, special assignments, putting you on teams to gain new knowledge or skills, makes important introductions – all to give you the visibility and experience needed to be successful at the next level.
Ms. Dearborn goes out of her way to sponsor new talent. A few years ago, when she was working at HP, after conducting her “start-up” meetings with her new employees, Ms. Dearborn found a woman who was brilliant but buried deep in her organization. She was part of a small company acquired by HP and after several re-orgs, this person was now completely lost in HP’s org chart. “This woman was amazing – insightful, strategic and connected.” Ms. Dearborn saw her potential and sponsored this woman, creating a job for her as her Chief of Staff. Within two years, she had earned her way into a management level position at HP. When Ms. Dearborn left HP to join SuccessFactors, she brought her along and she’s now a Director level.
In addition to challenging executive leadership at SAP to sponsor diverse candidates, Ms. Dearborn also challenges everyone to work to their full potential. ”Think about the best day you have ever had at work. Think about how fulfilled you were and how you brought that joy and positive energy back to your “regular” life and shared with your family and friends. We all want to do our best, to be the best we can be, to live fulfilled happier lives.” By doing this, we all can inspire change every day.
Jenny Dearborn is a Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer for SAP, and she has held senior positions at SuccessFactors, HP and Sun Microsystems, Inc. Ms. Dearborn has received many leadership and excellence awards and was recently given the Silicon Valley Women of Influence Award for 2014. Realizing that mentoring does not end with your company or your country, Ms. Dearborn mentors business women in developing countries through a joint collaboration with the US State Department and Forbes Most Powerful Women Network. Ms. Dearborn is a regular contributor to Forbes Magazine. She lives in Palo Alto, California with her husband and 4 active children. You can follow her on twitter (@dearbornjenny).