Strong Voices Interview #11: Susanne Arnoldy
"Be courageous and try out new things – especially out of your comfort zone" - Susanne Arnoldy
OUR QUESTIONS FOR SUSANNE:
How did you decide to pursue a career in the computer science / digital / IT area?
During my studies I worked for the dean and one of my tasks was organizing and putting together study plans. By then, this was always done manually – which of course was not very efficient. So, to optimize work, I wrote a program automizing the creation of study plans. This was basically my first touch point with IT and technology. Afterwards, I worked for a small software developer company and decided to deepen my tech-skills with a study in business programming. So, it was somehow a coincidence that I took the direction of computer science. After my studies I started working for SAP in the consulting department as a developer and wrote a program for Volvo Aerospace as my first project, which I definitely enjoyed, and which convinced me to stay in this area.
The IT / tech jobs are still heavily dominated by men – did you face any difficulties as a woman? How did you feel working in a male-dominated field?
Being young and new in the job, I didn’t really realize any difference. But the more successful you get and the higher the job position you’re in, the harder it gets as a woman – at least this was my impression. I had the feeling that I always had to work twice as hard and long compared to my male colleagues in order to reach the same goals. Especially becoming part of the leadership team and partner at PwC Germany wasn’t an easy way. I enjoyed it and I don’t regret any step, but it was really hard at times. Certainly, no matter if woman or man, it always requires hard work, but as a woman you somehow always have to go the extra mile.
How do you experience the development of female empowerment and the related initiatives? Where do you see progress, where is still some work to do?
I think this whole female empowerment discussion is something we can only solve together – and with together I mean the combined effort of women and men. All the female initiatives are important and nice to have, but they are only effective if they are joined initiatives. And if I look around in our leadership board, then I see a strong will of all my colleagues to develop a more diverse culture – not only with regards to the gender topic. I think that’s the important point: we need to increase diversity as a whole in all areas. And top-down, this is definitely the goal – everyone wants it, diversity can make a difference because people feel more comfortable in a diverse culture (at least I do). I grew up in a very diverse environment, for me it is normal, and it should become normal to everyone – I think this needs to be our goal.
When looking back at your career, which factors did motivate you the most? With what kind of hurdles were you confronted and how did you overcome these?
I didn’t have a structure for my entire career when I started my studies or my first job, it wasn’t all planned from the beginning. But there were some factors, which were always given: I always enjoyed my job, I was ambitious to reach the next level and I often worked on topics others completely denied. So, for example when I worked for SAP, we once had a discussion on cooperating with India and everyone in the room either said it wasn’t possible or wasn’t willing to fly over and try. And I just tried. I had many similar situations, in which I took over initiatives, others weren’t interested in and which often resulted in great success. Of course, this way was never the easiest, but it came with many challenges and I had to proof myself a lot. But it also helped me in my personal development and with my next steps. So, I can only say: be courageous, try out new things – especially out of your comfort zone. When I started at PwC Germany, I didn’t do so for the position as Head of Digital for Advisory, but initially I joined PwC Germany for something completely different. But things evolve if you are looking to your left and right, keep your eyes and mind open and do things out of your comfort zone. For sure, no way is without hurdles and obstacles, there will always be private and job-related difficulties. It’s rather a question of how to handle these difficulties: do you shy away from them or do you use it as a motivation factor to succeed even more. I always had the mentality: Close your eyes and go for it. And I tried to reflect the setbacks I was confronted with in order to make the best out of them, learn from them and do it different the next time. It’s always what you make out of a situation.
What helps you to find good work-life balance for you, especially as your job can be very stressful and busy?
Definitely my horses. I tried other hobbies, such as golf, as well but I always came back to having horses. Today, I have a small hobby horse breeding and spending time with my horses always brings me back to myself, helps me to free my mind and gives me some inner strength and energy – in the mornings, in the evenings, whenever I feel stressed.
As a last question: what tip would you give young women at the beginning of their careers?
Basically, there are two things. The first one is, don’t overthink everything too much. Especially women tend to plan their entire life, when to take which step (in private and business life). Personally, from my own experience I can just say, this will all evolve automatically step by step. There will always be new chances that you can or cannot take, so sometimes it just helps to be a bit more relaxed and see what comes next. As a second advice I would like to emphasize the importance of talking about what you did. “Do good and talk about it” often falls short, young women don’t really promote themselves and their achievements but rather tend to remain silent about their efforts, although they perform exactly as good as their male colleagues. Women tend to work 150% without promoting any of it, instead of working 100% and promoting all of it – just as it should be.