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“Creating an Inclusive Culture” — that’s the overall motto within SAP P&I Enterprise Cloud Services (ECS) for diversity and inclusion. For most organizations, the measure of success of diversity and inclusion initiatives has become a matter of numbers. However, creating equal opportunities for female leaders is more than a numbers game.

Diversity and inclusion needs to be embraced as an important pillar within the people strategy, not enforced. This multi-part series shines light on how women who work in leadership positions at SAP P&I Enterprise Cloud Services have risen to the top in their field. Each portrait shares insights, lessons learned, and tips for the next generation of female leaders in cloud computing.

The series starts with a profile on Caroline Hanke, Vice President at Global Cloud Success Center, who advises others to find their authentic voice and strength at work.

Caroline Hanke: Be authentic and build on your individual strength

Caroline Hanke of SAP recommends remaining authentic to be successful

Authenticity is a key part of the advice that Caroline Hanke gives her younger colleagues time and again along the way.

It sounds simple, but in her 17 years with SAP and in her current management function, Caroline has seen many young women try to adapt male behavior. In vain. “They often failed because they were not authentic, thinking that certain behavioral traits are a prerequisite for success,” said Caroline. “But this is not the key idea of diversity. A team’s success is the result of bringing together different types of management styles and personal strengths, each contributing to the solution of a problem. We need more typical female traits, such as empathy and communication, especially in a business world that is becoming increasingly fast-paced and end-user centric

Caroline knows what she is talking about. She is married, has a 7-year-old son, and at the same time runs the Global Cloud Success Center that manages incident escalations and critical customers in the Hana Enterprise Cloud (HEC) environment.

During her information systems studies at the University of Mannheim, she started as a working student at SAP in the SCM development department. “This was an ideal basis for my future career,” says Caroline. She had gained insight into the SAP backbone, but unfortunately experienced only very limited access to the end-customer view.

After her final exams, Caroline took up her first position, which at the time was called ‘SAP Active Global Support’ in a customer facing role, for one of the biggest German Automotive customers. “I spent four to five days a week onsite with the client. It was one of the most challenging experiences in my professional life so far. I knew only very little about the complete SAP portfolio and how important the SAP landscape was for this customer’s core business processes.

Once on the job, Caroline saw standstills of conveyor belts due to performance issues with the materials planning run, leading to an actual delay in the delivery of cars to the end customers — a nightmare for both sides. “I learned quickly that I did not necessarily need to be the expert for everything, but I needed to take accountability to fix it. I could see the tension on the customer side vanish instantly if I promised them to take care of the issue. And I did. Angry customers started smiling at me. Those were the moments when I knew I’m in the right place. My career became passion, because I realized that I was making a difference.”

It certainly benefitted Caroline that she grew up in two countries: Germany and the USA. She is used to dealing with different cultures and behaviors and loves this part of her job the most.

Today’s business world is still very male-dominated, which can be intimidating for women pursuing a management career. Caroline noted, “Being a minority always makes you feel uncomfortable; it is in our genes. You can learn to deal with it, but it continues to be a daily challenge. It is like going to a party and being the only one in a costume. You need to be a pinch more self-confident and prove yourself, before the majority group accepts you. But there are also advantages of sticking out, and you learn to use the initial disadvantage to your benefit.”

It is often said that women play an essential role in management. They bring a different set of leadership qualities to the table, compared to their male counterparts. This can include empathy, teamwork building, social competence, integration skills, and communication. Men, on the other hand, typically set themselves apart with their assertiveness, self-marketing, networking skills and decisiveness.

A convergence of these female and male characteristics in a team results in a favorable mix and the atmosphere in teams will change. For sure.

“To get more women interested in technology-related careers is key, and that requires more than just fulfilling a quota today. The responsibility starts early on in schools, colleges and universities,” Caroline says.

Similar to the need of removing gender stereotypes, we need to break stereotypes for IT jobs. In popular culture, IT jobs are often portrayed as programming in a dark and lonely room. This does not reflect the working life of my talented colleagues. Creating software is a team effort and social interaction is the key, especially when we look at new programming paradigms such as SCRUM and Agile Programming.

In addition, working at companies such as SAP, offers a large variety of professions, such as design thinking, communication and customer engagement. “We need to convey these possibilities at an early age and change the way we teach around programming and IT.”

The quota for women in leadership positions itself often does not resonate well, but it is a necessary step to change the pattern and instantly enable a more successful mix of skills. For sure, it will become obsolete, if society accepts and supports working women by rethinking old family structures. Working mothers should not be depicted as icons of stress, engulfing them in stigma and clichés, such a comment of the Müller-Möhl-Stiftung[1].

Balancing work and family responsibilities is one of the most challenging obstacles for women seeking leadership positions[2]. This can be a challenge, but does not have to be an impediment to strive for a leadership position.

Find your passion and define your purpose, as you can see from the example of Caroline.

[1] http://www.mm-foundation.org/de/content/more-women-leadership-positions

[2] https://www.aauw.org/research/barriers-and-bias/

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