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Pursuing the Diverse Path

I have had doors slammed in my face but I learned early in life, that you need only to climb through the window to find the next opportunity.

From a young age, I learned what it means to be different. For me it meant being a “non-white”, born into apartheid South Africa – a prejudice I fought against all my life. I was destined for a life believing I was not good enough or inferior because of the color of my skin.

They say one finds strength in adversity and I think for many young people growing up in South Africa in the 70’s and 80’s this was true. We struggled against the unfairness of the apartheid regime but it also made us persevere to prove the system wrong. I decided to move beyond any inadequacy I might have felt and with the unyielding support of my family, to have a life fulfilled with amazing experiences and challenges. I decided to climb through the window when the door was closed on me.

/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/diverse_977325.jpgDiversity has been a constant facet of my life as a South African woman, of Indian origin, born into a society of segregation and isolation, and hence it is more than just a business topic for me. For me, diversity is not about differences but rather about inclusiveness. It’s about embracing everyone with their myriad of backgrounds, influences, perspectives and thoughts.

It’s about honing in on people’s uniqueness. It’s also what drove me to my current career choice. A career choice that helps others realize that diversity can be a powerful tool to leverage creativity, innovation and leadership.

I started my career at SAP straight out of university – a young graduate trying to find my place in a very competitive job market. I started at the front desk in a role that allowed me to study part-time to supplement my degree in Psychology. But it was my move into SAP Support – and working with the technology solutions – when I realized there was no turning back. My career moved into consulting, project and people management, executive management, business development and strategy, and sales operations. Across all of these roles, I recognized the role that diversity could play and how an inclusive team could excel. I also recognized where I wanted to take the next step in my career.

Re-defining success

Ariana Huffington said “Don’t just go out there and climb the ladder of success. Instead, redefine success because the world desperately needs it.” As the global diversity lead for SAP’s sales business, I am redefining how to achieve success. I focus not only on maintaining a diverse workforce but also leveraging the various perspectives of employees – encouraging their creativity and innovation – so that we stay competitive. But also that we may understand our customers better and innovate more creatively. Being predominantly customer-facing, our sales team needs to reflect the demographics of the customers we serve and the markets we operate in. It builds relevance and credibility. How can we support and serve our customers if we cannot relate to who they are? We have to be our customers, in all of their different colors, shapes and sizes. We have to embrace the diversity of thought and design that leads to the development of cutting-edge solutions.

Shaped by my own life experiences, I believe strongly in leveraging the unique potential each individual brings and harnessing the value of differences rather than molding everyone to be the same. My role promotes an inclusive environment that encourages authenticity and improves employee engagement. People are what make an organization – you can have the best product in the world but if you don’t have the right people with the right passion and dedication behind that product it becomes harder to succeed – our success as an organization is a testament to our people. Technology solutions exist to help businesses ensure they have that right team, filled with the right people. But if the end goal is to increase business performance and use diversity to improve our competitive advantage comes naturally when all of the pieces are in place.

Stay true to yourself to deliver the best

I have been afforded amazing opportunities to succeed and experience life and work in different contexts. Much of the opportunity was because I was open to these opportunities – and open to taking a risk. It’s important to stay true to yourself and what you believe in, so that you can deliver your best. I am lucky to have a role where I feel I can deliver my best, and create an enduring culture of inclusiveness that supports our business at the same time. My work ensures everyone feels included in the workplace and can be their authentic selves – only then will everyone perform at their peak. This is irrespective of gender, age, cultural or social background. For an individual it allows for opportunities, personal growth and empowerment. And there is nothing worse than missing an opportunity because your mind is closed to it. Open the window.

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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Beautiful and impressive.

      Author's profile photo Katja Schmitt
      Katja Schmitt

      Michelle, thanks for this personal and engouraging story. 

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Great stuff, Michele!