We have a great opportunity today to meet Gabi Zedlmayer, who has a very interesting career. In addition to being the VP and Chief Progress Officer at HP, she serves as a member of the board of directors of Hewlett-Packard GmbH Germany. She is president of the Women’s Council of HypoVereinsbank UNICREDIT and a member of the EU Commission e-skills leadership board, the Computer Science Advisory Board of the University of People, and Junior Achievement Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), the World Economic Forum’s Council on Social Innovation and the Corporate Advisory Group of the We Mean Business Coalition.
In 2011 Gabi was honored by Newsweek and the Daily Beast as one of 150 “women who shake the world”. In 2012 she was named by FastCompany as a member of the League of Extraordinary Women and was awarded the DLDWomen Impact Award. In February 2015, InspiringFifty named her as one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology.
- You have an amazing and very impressive career, starting more than 20 years ago. You have held many different positions. Can you sum up the high points?
- There have been lots of those! Following two exciting years at Eastern Airlines in the software automation department, I joined a startup called Compaq in Europe, Middle East, Africa. I was part of a team that created something big and meaningful – the first set of hi-powered portable PCs – and it was an outstanding experience. Growing a career in the IT industry kept on being an energising, motivating and rewarding experience. In IT, nothing ever stays the same – change has to be your middle name. There is always new stuff to learn and apply; it’s just fascinating.
- What inspired your choices for your career?
- I was inspired by the IT industry and by the people who helped shape it at the time – and of course by my colleagues. We all shared the same spirit – “let’s get on with it”. “No” was not really an option so we always looked for innovative and creative ways to get our goals accomplished. It was really the special environment and the spirit of our company that gave me the confidence and the belief in myself that was necessary to pursue my aspirations. Later on, when HP and Compaq merged, I was inspired by a terrific business executive: Debra Dunn.
She ran Corporate Affairs for HP at the time and did breakthrough work in global citizenship. I wanted to fill her shoes, and I had the opportunity to transform HP’s philanthropic activities into true social innovation initiatives that are creating shared value.
- What obstacles did you have to overcome at the beginning of your career, and how did you achieve this?
- There have been times when I felt that I should have advanced to the next level when actually somebody else did. Usually – or let me correct that – that was always a man. But I did not let that break my spirit – I kept pursuing my strategy and plans,always keeping true to my values and what is important to me. I also looked for projects that were above and beyond the scope of my responsibility, in order to get some visibility. That includes volunteering opportunities and, for example, providing creative support for major meetings that made specific executives look good. It helped me build relationships and strengthen my network. A great network within the company (and externally of course as well) is worth a lot.
Your opinions and advice:
- Why do you think there is an image of women in tech having problems being accepted/recognised for their true worth? Did you experience it?
- The pipeline issue probably starts in kindergarten. I think it is fair to say that we often don’t appreciate children’s talents and don’t further their interests. Most big mathematicians are also great musicians, but music is not a subject that is considered important when we teach our children; maths and sciences are considered important! But the way we teach them is not interesting and meaningful to children – and especially girls. If we started to create hands-on science experiences for girls that show them how maths, physics and chemistry are all important in creating fashion or music, or help save our environment in the future, we would have a lot more interested kids and we could start building a pipeline of STEM talent.
We need to start early on and then ensure that women advance through the organisations as men do. In the future, this will be easier in my opinion, since organisation structures will become more fluid; the workplaces as we have known them will not continue to exist longer term, and those that invest in themselves and their careers will excel.
- It is not easy to have a good balance between personal and professional life. How do you manage it with all your responsibilities?
- I get up before 5am and run for 90 minutes every day. It clears my head, keeps me fit and puts me in a great mood. Otherwise, I have a great husband who helps manage everything!
- How do you handle the pressure? What do you do to de-stress?
- Again, running every day helps tremendously. And also, I tend to put things more into perspective these days than I did 20 years ago. Works well!
- It is often said that being organised is the key to success. What does your typical day look like?
- I travel a lot, and lots of unexpected stuff happens when you are travelling in Africa, India or Central America – or in Europe or the US for that matter. But technology helps tremendously in keeping to the schedule – with ubiquitous access anywhere, anytime, you can make any airport your office and that usually works for me.
The future and attitudes:
- What differences exist for the younger generation and its opportunities for the future?
- It is a whole new world out there. Our parents’ job market no longer exists. It is about investing in yourself throughout your life, and reinventing yourself and your job on an ongoing basis.
- You are strongly involved in several boards and forums, so you necessarily have a long-term vision. What changes in companies/mentalities do you expect?
- Much more crowdsourcing of ideas – degrees won’t matter as much when you are looking for a job – few fixed contracts, lots of freelance project work, new business models every day. All exciting but people need to stay on top of what is happening.
- Have you noticed a big difference in the attitude towards gender balance/parity between the different countries and cultures that you work with?
- For sure. There are huge differences between the different countries I have visited. The great opportunity I see here is that we can learn from those societies that have more women engineers, more female leaders, more board members and more gender balance in general. With today’s communication opportunities, we have no excuses not to get a better understanding of why some countries are ahead – and how some of these successes can be potentially adapted and transferred. Live and learn.