"If you don't have quotas, you don't change the game."
It's a statement many people may disagree with, but it's one that Lise Tcheng, senior vice president and global head of strategic sales at SAP AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: SAP), thinks is fundamental to leveling the playing field for women in comms.
Others might tell you that the only thing that matters is finding the best person for the job, to which Tcheng would respond: There may be one or two "best" people, but a woman is likely to be one of them, so "frankly speaking, we just need to get over it."
Tcheng has been with SAP for 10 years, running the software company's partnerships with communication service providers across the globe, and she spent the past year establishing SAP's Greater China Telco Industry and Mobility Solutions business. (See SAP Cites Telcos as Fastest-Growing Customer Group.)
Born in Denmark and currently based in Geneva, Tcheng has a truly global perspective on women in comms, which led her to sponsor SAP's newly launched SAP Women in Telco initiative.
Light Reading caught up with the dynamic SVP to get her opinion on why quotas work, learn how to be an authentic leader -- as she said, "I'm like this all the time!" -- and make a real impact. Read on for more.
Light Reading: Would you say that it's a good time to be a woman in comms, or are there still formidable challenges for women in our industry?
Lise Tcheng: Ever since I started working three decades ago, I've been doing something with women in business. I think the topic is not so much changed in all those years. That is why it's important we continue... Very few women still make their way to the top. It's important we continue to work together. When you bring them all together, we can get scale and start to see the change.
I've worked at SAP for 10 years, always in global roles. I also helped SAP set up our mobility and telco business in China, which gave me insight into a very different country in Asia in terms of how it works there in business and culture. I think I've always worked in the firm belief that I love mixed teams, and I don't think we need to recount all the statistics that mixed teams deliver more value and create more innovation. It still seems to be hard for everyone to do something about it.
LR: What is the one thing senior women can do to help other women?
LT: The best thing you can do as a senior woman is help other women, both younger women and senior women who want to get to the next position of leadership. I try to promote women for open jobs and insist on women candidates. You have to [branch out] on the job description. You have to get women who have a different profile than people you normally look at.
When we look at where growth will come from, it always goes back to the business. [The recent] McKinsey study looks at the gender inequality around the world and the markets where we see business economic and population growth -- Middle East, Africa, India and South Asia -- is where gender inequality is the highest. In Africa, the population will double to 2.4 billion by 2050. When we think that SMBs today create 70% of the world's jobs, and we think about how mobile technologies enable a lot of these micro-companies and mom and pops, we need to get women online. It's important we spend time thinking about development in those regions. It starts with mobile and cloud. Some started with IT 30 years ago. How do we promote and help young innovators in these growing parts of the world? (See McKinsey: Women Less Likely to Advance at Work.)
At SAP, we have made an overall commitment that by 2017, we will have 25% of women occupying executive positions. I think we are at 22% now. We still have a ways to go pushing the last numbers.
LR: Do you believe quotas are an effective way to increase female representation in companies?
LT: I do believe in quotas. If you don't have quotas, you don't change the game. You need to make men see that women can do the job and look for female candidates for those positions. These are goals to re-up the potential for women in the industry.
[At SAP], this was really being monitored with expressed KPIs (key performance indicators). It does make a difference. It has to come from the top. When I started my career, one day I talked to the CEO and said, "Do you realize there are lots of women whose potential here is not being utilized? Look at all these senior women. Most of these amazing women were at level eight. When you came to level 10, 11, there were no women. They were not prepared and promoted upwards. If this happened to your daughter, how would you feel?"
Things didn't change too much, but when you have quotas and KPIs driven from the top, you realize it's women for performance, business, innovation. That is why I'm optimistic about the future.
I think there are many inconsistencies based on the best person for the job. There may be one or two, but frankly speaking we just need to get over it. Of course you need the best person for the job, but who says there isn't a best woman? In Norway, they said you had to have 50% women on the board. And it happens. Companies are performing well. You need to make it a point.
I also think it's important that it is a business and about results. It's about being a good company to work for and other KPIs that enter in, creating a diverse environment. Look at it as a whole package -- women for performance; women who deliver results; women who get a chance to compete. It helps in an environment where they are not usually naturally chosen. Most promotions are done in those positions by men who are comfortable promoting men, what they are used to. Help each other understand who we are and what we want to achieve. We need all kinds of diversity. Men and women working together is more fun and productive.
I think that we need to also really as a program instill mentorship and helping others on the job. It's fundamental. Lack of mentorship and sponsorship are some of the reasons people aren't getting promoted even though they perform beautifully. There is a lot of that for men and women. Mentorship to be measured on other people's success is a power tool to be combined with KPIs and quotas.
LR: How can companies recognize and leverage the differences between between men and women without stereotyping or exacerbating the divide?
LT: First of all, it's important to recognize we are different. We lead in different ways. But when you combine the powerful assets we can be, no one can get near us. Talk about how we are different and how can help each other with our different leadership styles. Talking about it in an open dialogue is most important. At SAP, we have courses on how women and men are different. It has been very highly rated because people learn a lot of training about each other. It's been widely adopted.
Stereotyping is not good. Things have to be natural. You have to remember all the time that you're a woman and be a woman. Everything still makes sense and is the right thing to do. If you start to do something over the top, it becomes stereotyping, so use good common sense. Think about things before you do them and stay by it.
LR: How can men who want to help level the playing field work with women to improve company cultures?
LT: Sometimes we do some women networking lunches and it always creates a lot of interest. Men are curious to know what women talk about, so it's important to be open to it and not defensive. Invite men who are interested in it to talk about our business and home. We have many things to balance all the time. Even men understand our lingo and what we talk about could be a way to better understand it. They want to understand us better. We have things to talk about that are very specific to women.
It has to be driven by business all the time. If advancing women's equality can add $12 trillion to global growth by 2025, from the McKinsey study, that is such a big number that I don't think anyone can close their eyes and ears to that. We have had experiences in the past few years. We have learned how to really deal with diversity in a positive way. We now need to take each other's hands and do something about it.
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading