Gabi Zedlmayer VP, HP Office of Global Social Innovation
By Ruchika Tulshyan
Gabi Zedlmayer could be delivering a keynote speech in Munich one moment, then traveling to a remote village in India the next, working to bring medical access to the poorest parts of the country.
Other impressive items on her resume? She once briefed Bill Gates at the World Economic Forum, on a technology solution. She also has the unique job of tapping into HP’s pool of 320,000 employees for her global projects.
Here she shares growth opportunities for women and her unique view of the world. Fun fact: Zedlmayer is ambidextrous and can write with both hands at the same time!
Little PINK Book: What’s your success secret?
Gabi Zedlmayer: I’m one of six children, the fourth girl, so I realized if I want something, I have to ask for it. I have to negotiate for it. Nobody pays a lot of attention to you when you’re one of six kids! When people say, “you can’t do it,” I always say, “it’s worth a try.”
LPB: What holds women back professionally?
GZ: The first woman on a board was in 1934 [Coca-Cola’s Lettie Pate Whitehead] – and not a whole lot has changed in 2012.
Companies are not doing enough to reintegrate women. Initially, women do better than their male counterparts when they enter the workforce. But a few years later, it’s about self-confidence. When it’s time to push forward, women often retreat. In this still male-dominated word, so the male methodology of pushing onward still resonates more than retreating.
LPB: So women hurt their own chances?
GZ: When Sheryl Sandberg says, “don’t leave before you leave,” she’s right. I see it all the time. I meet women who when offered a promotion say: “I’ve been thinking of having a baby, so I don’t know if I can do a good job.” But I don’t believe that! No man, ever on the planet, even if he took paternity leave, would say this.
LPB: Where are the career growth opportunities for women?
GZ: Young women in business have tremendous opportunity for growth. The population is growing rapidly, slated to reach 9 billion people by 2050. There’s a growing middle class. Jobs will change a lot, some 65 percent of today’s high school students will end up in jobs that don’t exist today. To succeed, it’s not about having a math degree, for example, it’s about being able to reinvent yourself and your job. And women are very good at adapting to change. Women are great communicators, connectors, but in a male-dominated world, you have to be firm.
LPB: So how can women progress at work?
GZ: Men are not afraid to showcase their achievements. Women don’t do that. Also, companies and women need to realize there’s so much of flexibility while they’re on maternity leave, and also when they re-enter. We should all embrace the mobile world, it’s not easy, I’m not saying that, but it makes it a bit easier to juggle.
LPB: How do you juggle?
GZ: My husband has my back. I have two boys – my husband basically raised them. My travel schedule was always hectic, then I got transferred to Zurich. We weren’t prepared to outsource raising our children, so we made the decision for him to stay with the kids. Luckily, I meet more women [whose husbands stay at home.] At the end of the day, you don’t want a polarized society between men and women. The new generation, Millennials and “Cloudies” have a whole new view of Life/Work balance. More men don’t want to be like their fathers in the generations before.
LPB: Do you have a motto that helps you?
GZ: Attitude is 85 percent of your success. Only 15 percent is how good you are, the rest is attitude.
LPB: How do you unwind?
GZ: I don’t know if it’s called unwinding, but I run 90 minutes everyday, no matter where in the world I am. When I started running, 11 years ago, I couldn’t run half a mile. I didn’t even own sports shoes! It was the hardest thing to do. I was embarrassed when other runners kept overtaking me. But I just dealt with it, and built up day-by-day. Now the only thing that stops me is if I’m somewhere in the world where it’s too dangerous to run alone.
LPB: What legacy do you intend to leave?
GZ: If I touch even one life, where I can influence even one child to stay in school and do something with their life, that’s all I need. Leaving a positive impact on one person will make me a very happy person.
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