Each month we have the honor of interviewing Women Who Inspire Us. This month we talked to Melanie Tschugmall who is a Global Business Strategy Expert and Strategic Program Lead at SAP. Melanie shares with us in this interview how she has found her way into tech and what helped her along the way, including a lifelong learning mindset, adaptability, staying focused on the goal, and choosing managers and superiors wisely.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current position.
I grew up in a rural town in Kanton Zürich. I’m a country kid who fell in love with city life. I love being in nature, but I also enjoy cities, especially the variety of cultures and overall diversity. I’ve always been a curious person and wanted to learn new things. As a kid, I really liked going to school and visiting museums. Today, I live this passion by traveling, discovering cultures and countries as well as learning about history and getting to know people from different backgrounds. One thing that has been accompanying me since childhood is the drive to leave my comfort zone. Only those who try something new, can learn and grow. We moved quite a lot when I was younger, so I had to learn how to adapt to changing environments. That’s probably the reason why I’m comfortable with taking calculated risks and am an adaptive person. For me, lifelong learning is not just a buzzword, but my attitude towards life. And this goes hand in hand with leaving my comfort zone; be it in the job I do, taking on new roles, doing stretch-projects or getting external impulses through further education. I try to learn something new every year. I am currently working on my EMBA and in my free time, I recently started taking ballet classes – it’s harder than it looks. In my career, I have worked in different roles and industries from proposal support and strategic internal projects at a consulting firm, to marketing at a tourist operator as well as business development manager, account manager and business unit lead at a tech company. Having worked in different roles on different topics in my younger years was important for me, because it enabled me to get a big-picture view of the business processes as well as a holistic, empathic understanding of the roles and challenges of other departments. The last couple of years, I’ve been working in the tech industry; since 1.5 years at SAP, where I onboarded as a Presales Manager for CP & Retail leading senior experts. In my current role as Global Business Strategy & Strategic Program Lead, I lead and support cross-team, strategic programs that enable the adoption of the corporate strategy by colleagues at the customer front; for example by implementing strategic engagement approaches or go-to-market strategies. It involves a certain team-work, complexity and high velocity, which I like very much and matches my personality. It’s super exciting and I have a great team as well as an amazing, inspiring and empowering manager; something that is very important in my opinion.
What brought you into the tech industry?
That was a coincidence. One constant in my CV is that I changed roles and industry with each new employer. I’ve worked mostly in strategic and at the same time generalist roles, where I could adapt and transfer my skills into a new environment. I strongly believe, in a world where a lot of skills can be digitized, you should focus on building transferrable (soft) skills. The common thread across my roles have been customer centricity, strategic business expansion and connecting the dots and different stakeholders. When I worked at a consulting firm, I had a really good boss, with whom I kept in touch even after I left the company. She then started working for a tech company and asked me to join her team. There again, I was in a completely new environment, in a new role and a new industry. But I knew I could add value with my diverse background and my connected thinking across disciplines.
Only those who try something new, can learn and grow.
What motivates you at work?
I like that my job allows me to think about and shape the future. I’m fascinated by technology and what it can do for businesses and society. Also, I’m passionate about working with people and finding ways of taking them onto the journey to the “next level”. I work in the tech industry with a business background. What excites me is when I manage to bring the tech and business world – and above all, people – together. Furthermore, I love conceptual and strategic work and to think about the big picture. This is something I’ve been enjoying in my current as well as my previous roles. I also enjoy acting as an entrepreneurial leader, which means challenging the status quo and at the same time bringing in actionable improvements. SAP as an employer offers wonderful opportunities for further training and career development, especially for female talents, and has well-deserved been rewarded with employer awards.
At Girls in Tech we are all about diversity and inclusion in tech. What does diversity and inclusion mean to you and what do you personally do to promote it?
Diversity and inclusion is not a task for one person or the minority, but a task for the whole society. We know from research that we’re more successful in business and society if we’re more diverse, but even more important inclusive. That’s why for me, diversity starts with each individual, on a daily basis and on an intellectual level. This means constantly learning new things, learning different facts and new ideas, and questioning one’s own points of view. To be able to do so, we need tolerance – because without tolerance there cannot be any diversity and inclusion. Female empowerment is a subject close to my heart. I actively volunteer for women and young girls and I’m in various networks. One of these engagements is “The Small Village Botswana“, a non-profit organization I founded together with my sister in 2019. The organization promotes health, start-up financing and education for women in Botswana. I also act as a mentor within SAP. In general, I always try to connect people with each other and mention their names in projects to make them more visible.
Diversity and inclusion is not a task for one person or the minority, but a task for the whole society.
What do you think women can do to be better seen and recognized for their potential?
It really depends on what kind of person you are and what suits you. There isn’t one right solution for everyone. My advice is to look for a mentor who encourages, but also challenges you. To get ahead you need someone who challenges you and your ideas. In your company it’s important to build a good peer network and find senior colleagues who are willing to take you under their wings. Also, join networks to look for like-minded people and people who inspire you. I find this important for young and ambitious people, especially women. Because there are still too few female role models in Switzerland whom you can identify with. I know it can be a balancing act for women, on one side trying to change the system and on the other hand playing by the existing rules. We’re still transitioning into a more inclusive world. But even if the rules aren’t perfect for us, I believe we should still try to do our best to position ourselves proactively in our company and actively plan our careers. This means not being afraid of sharing imperfect ideas and always being prepared for the next step.
What advice would you give to other women in tech?
Choose your superior wisely. Look for someone who empowers and enables you. In my opinion, this is more important than the job title you have. Many companies nowadays are working on reducing biases on management level, so look out for employers and managers who are sensitized to these issues and openly talk about your career plans.
Who is your role model and why? If you would have the chance; what question would you ask?
Ooh, there are many. I don’t have just one. One certainly is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, especially because of her incredible perseverance and the clear vision she had, even in difficult times. I would love to ask her how she did it. How did she keep on going and get up again despite all the backlashes and resistance she faced? What was her secret recipe for not giving up?
Choose your superior wisely. Look for someone who empowers and enables you.
Is there anything in your career you wish you would have done differently?
There’s not much I would have changed, because I believe that the past experiences and decisions have brought me to where I am. And I am in a good place right now .
Maybe I would have been more focused and thought more about the end goal of where I was going. But generally speaking, I wouldn’t change anything. I also believe one must master the art of self reflection and resilience to truly learn from the past mistakes and become a better employer and most of all a better human being.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
My next big challenge is to grow into my new role at SAP and get performing quickly, so I’m excited about that. I also enjoy leading people, having an impact within my team and being part of the decision making. So those are qualities that I’ll keep looking for in the future. And I’m looking forward to finishing my EMBA next year while trying not to neglect my social life at the same time.
We would like to thank Melanie for leading the way as a role model for women in tech and for young girls aspiring a career in tech. Thank you Melanie for being a woman who inspires us! 💛
Author: Fabienne Lorenz
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