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Redefining ‘readiness.’

A recurring theme of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland is gender diversity. After all, just 24% of the summit’s participants are women, a stark reflection of who leads the world’s governments and companies. It’s a trend among the gathering of business elite that’s hard to ignore (try as some might).  by Claire Zillman for The Broadsheet, by FORTUNE Magazine.

So it’s no surprise that the topic popped up in a Bloomberg interview of SAP co-CEO Jennifer Morgan, who took on her role late last year. When asked what it takes to “walk the walk” on public commitment to diversity, she said business leaders need to “disrupt the traditional definition of  ‘ready.’” 

She cited her own experience as an example. When she was named president of SAP North America, she was promoted up two levels, “and that, in traditional terms, meant‚ well, I wasn’t ready,” she said. “[A]t the time, a lot of people thought, ‘Oh my gosh, the business is in turmoil! Is this the right decision?'”

In the end, she says: “It worked out ok.”

Morgan went on to become the first American woman named to SAP’s executive board as president of the Americas and Asia in 2017; in October, she and Christian Klein were appointed co-CEOs when long-time chief executive Bill McDermott stepped down. 

That ‘readiness’ question rang a bell for me since it came up again and again last year when I spoke with women in banking about why no major U.S. bank has ever had a female CEO; it seems that the phrase ‘not ready’ is code word for ‘different than who we’ve picked in the past.’

At the same time, Morgan credited male sponsors—sponsors not just mentors—who championed her and gave her opportunities to learn and make mistakes earlier in her career. She named SAP chair Hasso Plattner in particular. She says he didn’t dwell on her gender in naming her to the co-CEO job. In fact, she didn’t know the appointment made her the first female CEO of a DAX-listed company until she was asked about it in an interview. That he never mentioned the distinction, she said, “spoke volumes to me.” 

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