Perspectives from the Executive Women in Leadership Panel

Denise Miller, Vice President, Digital Transformation and Innovation, SAP

How do you find a mentor? How do you balance your personal life and your career? How do you have a voice when you are the only woman in a group?

These were some of the thought provoking questions I had the privilege of discussing with a room full of talented women (and some men!) at the Executive Women in Leadership Panel hosted by the University of Pittsburgh, held earlier this year. As my esteemed cohorts on the panel shared insights from their journeys to becoming leaders in their respective professions, I couldn’t help but think back to a pivotal moment in my career. Fittingly, it was a moment in which the University of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz School of Business played a significant role.

I first graduated  from a university with a primary focus in physical therapy. In my first job out of college, I was tasked with building out a health-and-wellness program for a major company. I worked with my boss to develop a multi-million-dollar plan; however it was swiftly rejected by our CFO after my boss presented it to him. It was a big blow. I believed in this plan, not just because my studies showed health and wellness leads to more productive, satisfied employees, but because I also believed in the data. The return on investment the company would see from this plan and the benefits to the employees were a no-brainer. I convinced my boss we needed to re-pitch our plan with a different, more data-driven approach.

I felt instantly out of my comfort zone when I found myself presenting to 12 members of the board and the CFO — all of whom were men, all much older than I was. Nevertheless, I was confident in my approach, and with that healthy sense of naivety that one possesses at the age of 21, I sold the plan and secured funding for the program. It was at this point that I realized I wanted to go back to school for my MBA and pursue a career in sales. I largely attribute my current success to the foundational skills I learned at the Joseph M. Katz School of Business.

This key moment in my early career ties into one of the topics discussed during the Executive Women in Leadership Panel: the importance of getting out of your comfort zone to maintain learning agility throughout your career. The need to retool your skillsets, to keep your set of capabilities fresh, and to empower yourself to take on new challenges in your career is not just nice to have, it’s an imperative in today’s business climate. Having the willingness and ability to take chances and find meaning from new experiences outside my comfort levels empowered me to pursue a career that is truly fulfilling, and also enabled my upward mobility and made me into a better leader today.

Another topic discussed at length at the Executive Women in Leadership Panel was how women in leadership can best support other women embarking in their career. As a woman in technology sales, I often find myself to be one of a few women, or sometimes the only woman in the room. It can be a daunting feeling. I am fortunate to work for SAP, a company committed to having women in leadership and achieving gender parity in the workforce. As a leader today, my aim is to create more inclusive environments where everyone has the confidence to express their opinion and bring their different perspectives to the table. After all, we are strongest when we can be our authentic selves. This drives creativity, innovation and productivity, all of which are attributes  that are crucial to a company’s bottom line.

At the Executive Women in Leadership Panel, seeing many brilliant minds come together in one room to discuss topics impactful to women at all stages in their careers was both encouraging and empowering. These types of conversations are necessary to ensure that women and men are enabled with the information and tools required to excel in their respective careers, and to help their peers to do the same.

Learn More

The Katz Executive MBA Worldwide program is designed to help experienced professionals reach the next level in their careers. Students develop their managerial skills, strategic vision, and global network over the course of the 19-month program.

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