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Job & Career

Four women - four careers: Ingrid-Helen Arnold

Interview: Ingrid-Helen Arnold, member of the SAP Global Managing Board, Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Process Officer (CPO) for the SAP SE.

18 Feb. 2016
Ingrid-Helen Arnold, CeBIT, Interview
Ingrid-Helen Arnold, SAP

She was appointed to the Global Managing Board in May 2014.

As an innovation leader with comprehensive experience in reinventing the way SAP runs its business, SAP CIO Helen Arnold drives SAP's continuous innovation journey in streamlining and rethinking internal processes and systems at SAP. As CIO and CPO, she is responsible for the adoption of SAP's solution portfolio internally and, as such, renovates key business processes to match SAP’s cloud and platform strategy. Ingrid-Helen works in close alignment with the business and development to ensure that SAP software is user-centric and innovative. She also ensures that processes and systems are closely aligned in order to strengthen enablement and efficiency across SAP's lines of business.


Experts talk about the glass ceiling with regard to women’s careers. How have you experienced this?

I am certainly aware of the glass ceiling. It seems to slide into place once women have had their children and try to return to work, where they find that their male colleagues have edged ahead of them. On the whole, most women never catch up and we end up with huge numbers of over-qualified women in part-time jobs.

I would like to encourage young women to take courage and grab great jobs. Unfortunately, our prime time for taking great steps in our careers coincides with our prime time for having families. The way to fight this is for women to step up (lean in, as Sheryl Sandberg says) and demonstrate their willingness to compete and their ability to solve their company’s problems, despite whatever they are planning in their private lives. They should compete as hard as possible while the playing-field is still level. That means, when they return to work as parents, they are returning in a position of strength.

In addition, we need more workplace flexibility, we need to hire part-time managers, and, as a society, we need to stop punishing women from taking time out of their careers. Also, we need to make it much more acceptable for men to stay at home and raise children. That way the imbalances will start to redress themselves.

Do you have tips that young women should take to heart when planning a career in the digital economy - and if so, which?

I do. And I should make it clear: my tips are just as valid for young men as they are for young women. Firstly, young people should be aware that the job they train for might not be the job they get. In the digital economy, everything changes at such a rapid rate that people will need to be incredibly flexible about the kinds of jobs they perform. 60% of the jobs that they will be doing haven't even been invented yet. This requires a change mindset and an openness that is absolutely essential.

Apart from flexibility and openness, empathy is also key. Even B2B companies are becoming B2C. Everything is about the consumer, and in order to deliver the services the consumer requires – on time, at top-notch quality, on the right device – all digital workers need to have empathy for consumer needs.

I would also say that having a diverse skillset is useful. Companies are looking for people who can cross business lines and who bring a range of skills to the table.

However, I do think women are very well suited to working in the digital economy. Their networking skills are key to the kind of agility we need in order to deal with the enormous changes and challenges ahead. With increasing digitalization and tighter innovation cycles, women can carve out roles for themselves in their company's innovation journey – understand what and how their companies need to achieve on a strategic level and make sure they play a key part in that journey.

In a career path, there is often that happy/lucky moment when everything began – how did that moment look for you?

For me, that moment came in 1996 when I started work at SAP. It really was a case of being in the right place at the right time. SAP was a relatively new company, the sky was the limit and there was an amazing innovation spirit. No day was ever the same. I made the most of that spirit to learn as much as I could about as many parts of the business as possible. That experience still stands me in good stead today.

In your view, how can companies bring more diversity into their organizations?

There are clear ways to do so, and companies need to have very specific, targeted diversity goals. For example, SAP North America recently became the first tech company to receive EDGE certification. This is a very rigorous process, looking at our abilities to hire, retain and promote women – and we have come out of it successfully. We are now hoping to receive EDGE certification globally. If companies like SAP, with nearly 80,000 employees can demonstrate that we are equitable in how we treat women and men, then others can too.

Companies need to embrace the culture change that diversity and inclusivity bring. By that I mean we need to ensure that all open leadership positions should have a diverse slate of candidates and interviewers; top talent women, at every level, should have career-development plans and discuss them with their managers, and leaders should monitor the diversity of their promotion pipelines to ensure fairness. Each senior vice president and vice president should help to develop top talent women by mentoring or sponsoring them, and the company needs to measure progress on its demographics regularly. All in all, it needs to be a very concrete, concerted effort to bring about change.

Do schools and university provide enough preparation for those planning a career in the digital economy?

I said recently that schools are a digital desert. There is absolutely no need to teach children Word, Excel and Powerpoint - these are tools they can teach themselves. However, I think it's essential that they learn basic programming at school and that they learn to get their heads around algorithms. That, more than anything, will prepare them for the digital economy.

A good example of a school that is getting it right is the Steve Jobs School, which is described as the primary school of the future. Not only do children have their own iPads, with access to apps that provide them with exercises targeted to their learning level, but they select their own curriculum based on the individual learning plan they have developed with their own teacher /coach. The children own their own learning path – and so are much more responsible and engaged. I think this is an amazing model, and a very clever use of technology that prepares children for the highly differentiated world of work that awaits them.

On the whole, universities are better at preparing students for the digital age, since they offer programming degrees. However, I'd like to see programming for non-technical careers on offer as well so that arts, humanities and business graduates can equip themselves with the necessary skills.