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Interview with Mrs. Angela Mazza, Regional Chief Operating Officer SAP, MEE

Have a Compass and Set for a Discovery Journey at Sea

 Having the opportunity to interview Mrs. Angela Mazza on the topics that have been both my expertise and passion seemed like dream coming true. Despite the fact that the interview took place on the very day as the suicidal attacks in Brussels, the atmosphere in the room was full of optimism and mutual understanding. It was a unique experience as four women gathered in the room in a technology company to discuss the issues of leadership and technologies, but soon the scope of the conversation went much beyond, to the issues of corporations and their role in the society as well as the current issue of refugees.

The journey of Angela Mazza is a remarkable on both on a personal and a career level. Born in Naples, Italy, at the age of eight she moved to Switzerland with her parents and she studied tourism. At the age of 25, she switched to technology and IT. She has been working for SAP for 13 years; prior to joining SAP she held senior positions in Oracle and Deloitte.

Her corporate career took her all the way to the Middle East to Doha, Qatar, but two years ago she moved to Heidelberg, Germany to become responsible for the Middle East and Europe region.

The fact that SAP walks the talk and chooses well the people who live and breathe diversity is reflected in the quote of Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP.

"I've always believed that none of us is as smart as all of us. For SAP to help the world run better and improve people's lives, we need to be the most diverse company in the world. We need strong leaders who role model
this - from gender diversity to cultural diversity and differing points of view. When I think about leaders like Helen Arnold, Angela Mazza and so many others across SAP, I know we're going to rise higher than ever."

Mrs. Mazza, how would you describe your fascinating career and life journey?

I would compare it to a discovery journey at sea. There are times when the sea is calm, as well as times when it gets rough. I have always had a map and a compass, knowing where I wanted to go. I am ambitious, dreaming big and I always follow a direction. I still feel like being on the sea, the ultimate goal ahead of me. At this particular moment, it is not expressed as a particular position I want to reach but rather the sense of meaningful work, contribution and impact that I want to make and create within the corporate world. As long as I love what I am doing, every day will be different and everybody be motivated. And it is my responsibility as a manager to make sure that other people stay motivated as on the first day when they started the job with the aspiration of living their dream.     

I have just returned from Women of the World festival in London and according to the latest Gender Equality Forum research, given the current rate of progress on gender equality, it will be only in 2133 when the gender parity is reached.  How do you see the trend of advancing women to top positions - is it a glass half full or half empty?

It varies country by country but I tend to be very optimistic in general. Looking at the Gender Report by the World Economic Forum, the Czech Republic currently ranks 81 out of 145 countries, Slovakia 97. I do not see this standing that bad as of now. And looking at us, there are four women in this room right now. That, combined with the fact that I just have come out of the meeting with a 50:50 diverse management team in the Czech Republic, gives me a lot of optimism. There is still a long way to go but I believe that the answer needs to be tailored to each country and its situation. We all should take steps forward to see that more women advance in their careers so ultimately the glass fills up with more water.

Many companies have recently introduced mentoring schemes to help women to advance in their careers. What is your experience and suggestion for a successful development of talents?  

I have already mentioned the importance of having own goals and an inner compass, but it is true that I have always worked with a male mentor. It enabled me to understand how men think, what matters to them and how to approach them. I believe in the saying that “opposites attract”.  My first mentor was my father and he has always supported me throughout my career. Another time it is the person you spend your life with, it can be a husband, a partner, a spouse. My partner has always inspired me and I have always looked up to him and at the same time he has provided stability and support. If a woman is reluctant to ask for a mentor, she is missing the big picture, which means defining ‘what I am missing for the position and who the right person who can help me with the next steps is’. Do not be afraid to share your dreams and then be ready to go the extra mile to reach it. We, as women, should not think in terms of gender. We should make sure we have the right talents and thus are the best person for every position. From my own experience, the more women focus on presenting themselves as women, the less successful they might be because they will always be perceived exactly the way they framed themselves: “as women”, not as the best person capable to do the task needed. Of course, we as women are different and our approach is different, but is there a need to point out the obvious?        

We both support the broader notion of diversity, not only in terms of gender, but also age, nationalities, physical abilities etc. 

What a notion of soul sisters! When I received a diversity award for the region two months ago, I said that diversity is all about respect. If we really respect different people, cultures, religion, sexual orientation?, we maintain our open attitude, accept them as they are and listen to them. There is a huge difference between respect and a mere tolerance. 

That brings me to my next question related to the refugee crisis in Europe and the condescending tone of discussion. You have been a migrant yourself, so how do you feel about this discussion?

Being a migrant myself, I have experienced the tendency of doing more than others. I came from Italy to Switzerland at the age of eight. Just imagine the cultural difference besides the fact that I did not speak the language. But this life lesson was very valuable and forming for me. That is why I am so open to different cultures, interested in world issues. As a migrant or a refugee, you know where you have come from and you have opted for a better life. You do not worry about an extra hour of work and you have no problem going the extra mile. I am therefore very passionate about the topic, so last week I hired myself a refugee from Syria. I appreciate the different mindset and the desire for success these people tend to have. 

With regards to the current discussion about women and quotas being introduced in the largest enterprises, are you a supporter of direct quotas or rather voluntary measures of enterprises?

My position is to support always the right person for a job, if it is a woman, it is even better.  As I have already mentioned, we as women do not do ourselves a favour by getting a job for being a woman. At SAP we have a couple of programmes that might be also inspiring for other companies. And I, during my last 13 years of career at SAP, have never ever had a feeling that I am not getting something because I am a woman. Diversity really starts at the top, with our CEO, Bill McDermott. He truly lives and breathes diversity and then his approach is reflected throughout the company. He has been a great source of inspiration due to his passion for diversity and encouragement to dream big.

Currently, there is a lack of women in IT sector in Europe, even though IT sector might be a good career choice for them, allowing flexible working hours and the trend of work-life integration. European girls simply do not prefer to study science or technology. How do you challenge the trend and how do you encourage young people to explore this industry? 

I find the world of IT and technology fascinating but personally speaking, my journey confirms the trend mentioned since I studied tourism. That is why I feel the need about sharing my journey with others, explaining what perspectives the IT world offers and even if you have studied something different, you can join the industry later and still build a successful career. Naturally, attracting people to come and join outside of businesses has become another passion of mine. Two years ago, we launched our Sales Academy programme and in my region of the Middle East and Europe we have around 100 graduates, some of them also from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Young graduates from various countries have the opportunity to see the headquarters, to mix and interact with each other, to go back and work on their project. It is fascinating to see their vigor, energy, enthusiasm and the ideas they bring alongside with their personal growth. This Academy also focuses on pre-sales positions. I believe there is no need to stress that the mix of graduates is gender balanced. I enjoy having some graduates on my team, I like being challenged, and I enjoy the different way of thinking and acting. I am certainly not one of those who are constantly criticising the new millennial generation. I see them as the true future of SAP.  

Despite the positive atmosphere in the room, women who reach the top positions have the reputation of not helping other women. Do you believe that women’s solidarity is still less applied when compared to men’s solidarity?

I cannot say from my own experience that women do not support each other and I always stick to my rule of supporting the right talent - I have seen that once truly diverse teams are formed, these are the best ones functioning. One interesting aspect that I would like to mention based on my observation is the notion that we as women tend to be much more critical about our behaviour towards each other and not supportive enough.  But I believe men are much less supportive.

How do you personally cope with the stress and what are your tips for work-life balance?

I am passionate about what I do and therefore I do not perceive my job as being stressful.  However, everyone needs to address the issue of work-life balance to make it fit his or her needs. I have learned to adjust my free time so I can really recharge my energy. My free time is limited so I consciously make choices. I love playing golf with my husband, flying with my husband, I have a five year old goddaughter and during all these activities I get my energy back. I stopped being around people who were draining me. As a boss, I am conscious about the time off needed for my staff. If I happen to write an email during the weekend as this is the time it suits me, it always starts with the line “do not read until Monday” and I do not call my people in the evenings. However, I often mention both men and women should be clearer both about tasks and roles that they are performing. It is sad when women give up their career because they do not have a supportive husband but also sometimes men are very stressed about not having supportive wives. I regard the supportive environment and the agreement in a couple very essential for not only a successful career but also for a fulfilled life in general. 

A few years ago, the issue of a burnout has been discussed. I believe that most of the time the job is not the one thing to blame but rather the ultimate thing, it is only an interface that is mirroring an existence of a problem.   

What are your personal top three career tips? And after the long debate we have had, I guess they will be same for both women and men.
  1. Take action. We define ourselves through actions. All the knowledge is not valuable, unless we act.
  2. Act with passion. Such approach will inspire and connect with other people.
  3. Never act without a goal, always know what you aim for. 


For Inspiration - Some specific measures from SAP that address the issue of gender equality and leadership.

How does SAP encourage men in the workplace to engage with gender equality programmes?

SAP is implementing several programmes focused on getting men more involved in gender equality efforts. Men sometimes feel left out of conversation, but play a critical role in helping to create a more inclusive culture. The Men Advocating Real Change (MARC) program from Catalyst, the leading nonprofit organisation expanding opportunities for women and business, MARC was piloted at SAP America’s Newtown Square office in late 2015, and will be rolled out in additional countries/locations around the world in 2016.

SAP’s “Women’s Professional Growth Series”

SAP has had an extremely successful Women’s Professional Growth Webcast Series, which reached over 6,300 employees in 43 countries in 2015. In 2016, we will launch a quarterly, externally-facing version of the successful knowledge-sharing and inspirational series to reach not only SAP employees, but customers, partners and potential employees, as well.

EDGE certification and its use at SAP

EDGE is the leading global assessment methodology and business certification standard for gender equality. The EDGE assessment methodology was developed by the EDGE Certified Foundation and launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2011. EDGE Certification has been designed to help companies not only create an optimal workplace for women and men, but also benefit from it. Pursuit of the certification highlights the priority SAP has placed on creating a more gender-balanced workplace, an especially difficult challenge in the notoriously gender-imbalanced tech industry. SAP has achieved certification in the US and is pursuing global certification in 2016.

Business Women’s Network (BWN) community

The Business Women’s Network is SAP’s largest Employee Network Groups – with more than 8,000 members and 30+ chapters around the world. The BWN is a community of mentors and supporters for the women of SAP that provide valuable insights and input to the Global Diversity & Inclusion Office. They organise/implement in-person and virtual knowledge-sharing events both for employees around the world as well as with marquee partners and their local communities and offer numerous opportunities for women to meet new colleagues, engage with leaders, and connect on key topics of interest.

By Linda Štucbartová in cooperation with Czech & Slovak Leaders Magazine - Prague, 28.06.2016  

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