As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Anna Schlegel.
Anna is Vice President of the Global Portfolio to Market Lifecycle at NetApp where she manages three Centers of Excellence inside the company, including Globalization Strategy, Information Engineering, and Product Portfolio Solutions.
Known for helping large companies, like Cisco VMware, Xerox and VeriSign, move into international markets, Anna focuses her skill set on enabling these businesses to successfully deliver and scale their products to customers globally.
Anna grew up global-minded, being raised on the border between France and Catalunya, where she was encouraged to speak several languages from childhood. She arrived in the US in 1992 and founded her first company in California at age 23.
In her spare time, Anna has founded three global nonprofits, all focused on providing upward mobility for kids and women around the globe. She is also the author of “Truly Global,” a bestselling book on internal markets.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I left academia I was 23, I had held a professional job since the age of 17, so going into work was not a huge shock. I had done small jobs since I was 13, however, I quickly saw how easy it would be to feel intimidated when I got to the States and entered my first corporate assignment.
My first high-tech job was for Cisco in San Jose, California. I think I was 26 and thought I would not make it. I was in meetings with people talking about objectives, paradigms, and teamwork. Coming from Europe, and from smaller jobs, I was very intimidated. I was shy with a strong accent and didn’t know the communication dynamics of Americans, let alone corporate America. What worked for me in Catalonia or Germany and made me successful there was all of sudden obsolete, and I had to learn a new culture.
I had two options: quit because I felt I was not capable, or stay, listen deeply, and learn as much as possible even if my stomach was full of knots. I decided to stay, observing, and analyzing different business roles and models to pick and choose what I considered the best. I would think about what I’d do in a given situation if it was my own business and this helped me to take even more ownership, making me the leader I am today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
At NetApp, I introduced the business to a new industry concept: geo-alignment. Geo-alignment is aimed at achieving maximum understanding, cooperation, and alignment with each country a business wants to target most. It helps understand timing, requirements, and exact programs to work on, and doesn’t leave anything to chance.
A huge goal of that is the concept of building once and reusing many. I don’t like fake work, nor dual efforts and waste. This team focuses on what matters the most and helps avoid duplication. They are the ones having the hard discussions with executives and drive influence back and forth with main program owners who need to design programs that can go global, will be used by the field, and will meet the mark with the sales force and channels.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I came to the states, I started working at Cisco. In my first meeting at 24 years old, I kept hearing the words: “goals,” “our goals” and “the company goals.” Since I was fresh off the boat, starting my first corporate job, and being native to Europe, I was stuck on the word “Gol,” which in Catalan, is when a soccer player scores! It took me the courage to ask someone what were goals. That was the first of my many linguistic mistakes. I decided to write a dictionary of technical words for Spaniards, which Cisco press published and sold thousands of copies.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Here at NetApp, we’re proud to foster an environment that celebrates our differences, authenticity, and individuality as strengths and opportunities to grow together. NetApp has been involved with the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) since 2008 and was proud to send over 300 employees to the 2020 virtual event. NetApp was also pleased to sponsor select students to attend GHC10, enabling them to network with senior leaders, NetApp engineers, Women in Technology members, and even attend exclusive events throughout the week.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I filed my first patent! I am so incredibly excited. Two team members and I are going through the motions of seeing the patent through and it is still a trade secret, but it has to do with code internationalization with artificial intelligence and machine learning. More to come soon, as we can’t say more yet!
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
Overall representation of women in the technical workforce is growing. However, the current growth rate is only 1.1%. There are major strides needed to push this stat further, and the challenges women face with COVID cannot be understated. It will be important for businesses to remain steadfast in prioritizing and investing in women’s programs and prioritizing the support needed in the workplace so women are not left behind in our new reality. While budgets may be tightening, it will be important to continue to compel girls and women to be proponents of growth in our economies and invest in their growth and development.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
The biggest challenge of women in technology face by their male counterparts is unconscious bias. With the low number of women in tech, they are impacted by the hard work within a competitive environment with no additional support. We need more training in the workplace that demonstrates how to sponsor women to have a seat at the table, how to be inclusive and provide more opportunities for mentorship and sponsorship.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
A myth that I would like to dispel about being women in STEM or Tech is that because you made it to the director, senior director, or VP you have it all figured out. The truth is that in super high-tech, which I have always worked in, you mainly deal with male counterparts and you need to learn how to navigate that carefully. You need to remain strong even if you are a single mom, with four kids in school. It is important to show that you can carry the load and continue to succeed.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Maintain Core Values: I work to instill a set of core values in all my nonprofits and workgroups, which then sets the tone for everything we do. Simply writing down a list of values isn’t enough. Those values have the be lived, revisited, and practiced daily. Values are the foundation for work.
- Intentional inclusivity: You can’t leave diversity and inclusion out of the discussion. It’s more than being a woman. It’s about the full background. You are a woman, but also happen to be Hispanic. How do the two impact you? Keeping this in mind with a team is key.
- Research is power: do this for your company and bring new ideas in. Experts in diversity, equity and inclusion are commonly being hired to help enable breakthroughs in these subjects.
- Develop an inclusive, global mindset: Diversity, inclusion and belonging is a hot topic in STEM disciplines right now. The ability to work with other people and cultures is an important skill for our increasingly global economy.
- Accept challenges: When you develop resiliency, the ability to face challenges help women stick with STEM careers rather than drop out.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
No one should give you a job simply because you are a woman. You must be well prepared. Train yourself to be the best. Identify what your value is, your elevator pitch, your superpower. Go and offer that. A few of the golden rules that I endeavor to follow to help me as a female leader are:
Learn to ask good questions and then listen.
Consider other people’s perspectives and honor them.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
My three decades in Silicon Valley have provided me with a wealth of experience to draw from as I lead my own teams. Over the years, I have developed my leadership style to revolve around four central ideas:
Put People First: Offer an environment where your team can innovate and push boundaries while maintaining a work-life balance is vital.
Innovate: This is key! In this environment, teams are encouraged to constantly innovate in the fields of globalization, technical enterprise workflows, content strategies, and portfolio management.
Be Data Driven: By leveraging careful business tracking, you are able to understand major goals for the quarter, identify any red flags, and strategize for success.
Communicate: Communicating effectively is crucial to maintaining strong alignment.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Biren Fondekar. Biren has worked with me for years to see my career through. He is honest, open and always available for a phone call to talk about my career. He has always believed in me and pushed me to achieve my dreams. He has given me tough feedback, very elegantly, and made sure I was well-coached. He gave me a seat at the table and allowed me in meetings that were above my paygrade. He has guided me through the years. Thank you, Biren!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Over the last 10 years, I have had the privilege to work with five nonprofit organizations whose mission is to promote and educate kids and women and it’s taught me invaluable lessons. It’s also given me the chance to witness successful women leaders in action and observe the talents and skills that have made them who they are today. I stay open, I try to listen to everyone, I take it. I ask for feedback all the time, even if I don’t like it, and I try hard to work on it. I ask my teams to tell me how it is. If you put all of that in a blender, my experiences have brought me to personal observations, that I think can help parents set up our beautiful daughters for careers in STEM or STEAM.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would like to inspire a movement to empower the youth. I would like to prepare young girls for the workforce — not just pushing them to develop a certain set of technical skills, earn all A’s, take Advanced Placement and Honor classes or constantly ask what college they want to attend. I aim to build the kind of character and life skills that will allow them the flexibility to succeed no matter if they want to be an economist, biologist, translator, or a lawyer.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste.”—Henry Ford
This Henry Ford quote has always sat at my desk. Having been in corporate environments now for over 30 years, I have seen my fair share of change: new executives, change of plans, takeovers, joint ventures, stops and starts, lots of chaos, and transformation. While many are very concerned talking about the what-ifs, I have used those opportunities to stay focused and advanced our work. I try to see what’s important, what is noise and stay very focused. In times of chaos, one has to focus more than ever and anchor their goals.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I would like to have lunch with Melinda Gates to talk about empowering women and young girls in the health and prosperity of families, communities, and societies. I did some significant fundraising for five areas in Tanzania and Kenya and having been there a few times has empowered me to want to call people and ask for help from the CEO of caterpillar. They need water, roads, and better farming. Spending time there makes you become very small and humble. I want to give a hand, train, and build.