One clear highlight of this year’s SAP for Utilities, Presented by ASUG conference (SAP4U) was an engaging discussion facilitated by ASUG’s Women Connect program, which exists to help women in SAP technology visualize and inspire success.
ASUG has long been heavily invested in providing opportunities for women professionals to connect and network, through promoting ideas of respect, empowerment, encouragement, progress, and optimism. These are not just words but core values that resonate with me personally as a professional navigating the ever-changing business world and my career. This year, the Women Connect networking luncheon at SAP4U provided a platform for female leaders, allies, and conference attendees to discuss and reflect on the importance of gender diversity in corporate leadership.
Sponsored by PwC, the program featured an executive leadership panel with representatives from PwC, ASUG, and SAP. In addition to the panel discussion, interactive live polling engaged the audience, presenting relevant questions for each table to contemplate and discuss, followed by a fireside chat with the female panelists.
Once lunch was served, the first poll question popped up on the audience’s mobile phones: In the workplace, there is a trade-off between likeability and competency for women; where success and likeability are found to have a positive correlation for men, it has a negative correlation for women. Have you encountered this dynamic in your personal or professional life?
Eighty percent of the room answered yes.
In conversation, attendees examined the question of a double standard surrounding assertiveness in the modern workplace. Assertiveness can often be perceived as a positive trait for men, while it is often viewed negatively for women. Others commented on the issue of women's ideas being co-opted by male coworkers, particularly during work meetings.
After a thorough discussion, a second question was proposed: Research shows that women may hesitate to apply for roles unless they meet all criteria, while men often apply when they meet only a portion. Have you or someone you know passed on an opportunity due to feeling underqualified?
Eighty-six percent of those in the room responded yes. As the conversations flowed, participants explored the concept of empowering strong female leaders. One general consensus reached by the audience concerned the importance of self-care and achieving a healthy work-life flexibility, as attendees recognized that success shouldn't come at the expense of personal well-being.
As panelists reflected on these results, those on stage encouraged women in the room to pursue dream roles, emphasizing that, sometimes, even if they don't meet every qualification on the checklist, they are often more than qualified and may just require that extra nudge from a colleague or friend to take the leap.
Panelist Amy Spruill, SVP & Managing Director for U.S. Regulated Industries at SAP, noted that many industries are currently in the midst of several global tech revolutions, from AI to blockchain. These revolutions call for qualities that many female leaders naturally bring to the table. Beyond the value of representation, there are opportunities for women to contribute their strengths and perspectives to help stay ahead in technology trends, make thoughtful decisions, and to help enable equity in emerging fields.
Sadi Fieldsend, Managing Director at PwC US, highlighted that women have historically faced obstacles when it comes to decision-making in the corporate world. Even when offered a seat at the table, this may be an uncomfortable seat. Within even influential positions, the struggle for recognition and a voice can take a toll. However, it is crucial that women do not walk away from these discussions, as the world needs their perspectives more than ever.
Carolyn Dolezal, Chief Operating Officer at ASUG, addressed the importance of “being a go-getter,” reflecting that actively pursuing higher roles and responsibilities is crucial to avoiding being overlooked for promotions.
The group closed out the conversation by speaking on the significance of having allies in traditionally male-dominated career paths, such as utilities; both men and women can provide invaluable support and encouragement, helping to advance women in the workplace.
This led to the third live polled question: Do you feel supported by other women in the workplace? A resounding 89% of attendees answered yes. While this is certainly a positive development, there's still progress to be made. Fieldsend drew attention to gender disparity at Fortune 500 companies, where approximately 91% of CEOs are male. This statistic underlines the continued need to elevate more women into leadership roles, pursue gender equity, and prioritize mentorship.
The polling concluded with a multiple-choice question featuring a variety of answer options, specifically focused on leadership: Leadership is a multifaceted concept, and different competencies contribute to effective leadership. What do you believe are the top competencies that successful leaders exemplify? Attendees were asked to vote on the top traits in a leader, and their results were revealing:
- Develops, Inspires, and Motivates Others: 22%
- Collaboration and Teamwork, Builds Relationships: 19%
- Displays High Integrity and Honesty: 18%
Aligning with other areas of discussion throughout the luncheon, these results underscored the importance of leaders who foster a positive work environment and inspire others to excel.
Fieldsend, meanwhile, encouraged women in the room to take personal and professional accountability by creating sets of aspirations to achieve in the year ahead. Attendees then paired up with one another to share their respective objectives. They exchanged contact information; some made plans to check in on each other's progress in the coming months.
Shedding light on the challenges women face in business and emphasizing the critical need for more females in leadership positions, the ASUG Women Connect luncheon highlighted a panel of female leaders serving as transformational role models. By sharing their experiences and successes, these women offered inspiration and guidance for others in the room.
The luncheon's goal was to provoke thought, promote self-reflection, and foster a support network to help empower women in leadership. By sharing experiences, discussing challenges, and collectively committing to elevating one another, the event can itself be considered one step toward shaping a more inclusive, innovative future for business leadership. Ultimately, the session served as a call to action, instilling attendees with a reinvigorated sense of purpose and empowerment.
Alyssa Perna is a Producer of Enterprise Content Programming at ASUG.
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