Anja Schneider: You Can Make a Difference

Volue Board Member Anja Schneider who has had a long and successful career in technology is keen to see more women in leadership positions. We talk to her about the importance of building diverse teams and the three things women can do to pursue leadership roles.

Anja Schneider

“Women often don’t see themselves as role models,” says Anja Schneider. “They do their job, but they are not aware of the experience they have.”

This lack of self-awareness is something women need to overcome.

Anja Schneider’s own journey to the top of leadership (in addition to being a Volue Board Member she is Senior Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, Technology & Innovation at SAP) started with the inner trust and confidence her parents and family instilled in her.

“They taught me that I can do anything if I just try it. They always trusted me and gave me the security to test new things in a safe environment – and fail – but also challenged me to go out of my comfort zone.”

Closing the gender equality gap together

Over the years, Anja Schneider has seen the importance of gender equality drastically increase.

“Fortunately, in recent years we can see that the numbers are increasing and that there is progress. We see more and more examples that act as symbols for this era, including Norway itself. Because not only individuals but entire organisations and countries can act as role models.”

Anja is impressed that in Norway more than 55% of women are in science jobs.

“It’s good to see that Norway is already a role model in gender equality. This means that there is a big pool of women who want jobs in technology. These examples are important to level the way for others and show that it can be done.”

Anja believes that to get to this, you need to start early with embedding technology into education and making it part of daily life.

“The more we encourage our children to take part in the technological journey, the better it is. Technology should not be distant. In the future, every company, no matter where it is, will be in the software business.”

School is the best starting point to inspire women for jobs in technology as well as leadership roles.

“Kids need to be educated at school so that they know what is possible. When you know what’s possible, your ideas will shine. Norway is at the forefront of women in technology also from the point of view of education. It’s more technological already at school. You need to keep on pushing this.“

Creating workplaces that attract women

What can organisations do to be attractive employers to talented women and give these women space to grow?

“From my personal experience, it is important to offer the flexibility to combine work and family,” says Anja Schneider. “I am a mother of a 13-year-old daughter, and spending time with her is a top priority for me. Knowing that my employer supports this, gives me the confidence and security I need to give my best in my job every day. Trust and support are therefore key factors for me. If you get that confidence, you will be successful.”

In addition, Anja thinks that it is important for companies to offer different programmes, such as mentoring or scholarships, to share and learn new things. She says that this is an easy way to learn from each other and develop and that companies should invest in this area.

“Throughout my professional career, I have always made it a point to maintain an active exchange with people inside and outside the company. It is so inspiring for me to share perspectives and to take and receive advice, which means active learning for both sides. Being a mentor means getting new perspectives and ideas, but also sharing your own knowledge. It's a clear win-win situation for everyone.”

Women in leadership

The topic of women in leadership is another topic that is close to Anja’s heart, and she often grabs the opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences.

“In Germany, this continues to be a critical topic at political and company level. In 2016, the German government passed legislation stating that 30 per cent of vacant seats on supervisory boards must be filled by women. In addition, there are a number of initiatives that support the cause of female leadership.”

However, in addition to legal requirements, Anja believes in talking transparently and openly about the benefits of diverse teams.

“Studies make it clear that diverse and inclusive teams are more efficient. Decisions are made faster. A McKinsey study showed that companies with a diverse leadership team are better able to attract top talent, improve employee satisfaction and, in turn, streamline decision-making processes. Overall, this leads to a positive return on investment and provides a significant competitive advantage.”

She believes that we need to actively promote diverse teams – with regards to gender, culture, age – and create awareness among everyone.

“This means that diversity must be reflected in all corporate functions. Ultimately, you will establish a corporate culture where people are free to be themselves, feel supported, genuinely want to contribute and, if they wish, aspire to a leadership career.”

She also believes it is important to identify the people within an organisation who can attract talent without managerial power.

“This is real leadership. Leadership is when someone wants to follow you, no matter what hierarchy you are in. Who are those natural leaders that people want to follow? We need to seek them out and make sure we give them the right kind of focus so they can grow.”

Anja has three guiding principles for her daily work that she loves to pass on as advice to women who want to move up the ladder into leadership positions.

“First, focus on the things you are proud of and good at, not the things you are not good at. Second, be authentic and, third, take ownership of your decisions.”

And her final words of wisdom:

“You can make a difference in the world. If people want to follow you regardless of whether you are their manager, if they support you regardless of whether it is their job, you can make a difference.”