Inspirational Woman: Sandrine Pons | Regional Vice President, Head of Solutions Sales & Innovation, SAP

Sandrine PonsWith a career spanning 30 years and a variety of sectors, Sandrine Pons is an award-winning and inspirational female leader at the world’s largest business software company. 

Since joining SAP 15 years ago as their first female Senior Manager, Sandrine is now Regional Vice-President Head of Solutions Sales & Innovation where she is responsible for driving customer success, innovation and profitability in the EMEA North region.

A passionate advocate of Diversity & Inclusion, Sandrine won the D&I Regional Champion award in 2021 and aspires to be a positive role model for women in technology.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role

I began my career in management and distribution roles in the fast-food industry, before jumping into the world of tech with BAAN – the world’s third biggest tech company at that time. My career spans over 30 years in many industries including pharma, retail and – after managing several start-ups – I joined SAP, the world’s largest business software company, 15 years’ ago, as their first female Senior Manager.

In my current role as Regional Vice President, Head of Solutions Sales & Innovation, I lead an award-winning team who drive customer success, innovation and profitability in the EMEA North region and help midsized companies run efficiently, through the delivery of innovative, end-to-end, integrated solutions.

Recent career highlights include my team winning the SAP Global Innovation Award for delivering the first ever virtual SAP Midmarket Summit for EMEA North in 2020. I’m also a passionate advocate for Diversity & Inclusion and recently celebrated winning SAP’s own D&I Regional Champion award for 2021.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

From an early age, I always wanted to learn, and keep learning so that I could give myself as many opportunities as possible. I never wanted to stick to one particular area. I was always eager to push myself beyond my comfort zone so I could be ready for anything. I think that approach defined my career, initially.

In hindsight, I started planning my career much more later on, especially in my 40’s, when I had acquired more knowledge and skill. I’ve always known what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do. I have my criteria. I love to innovate, so I always work for companies that allow me to grow. As a woman, I also need to take certain aspects such as family and children into account when it comes to planning my career

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Yes. I left my hometown in the South of France, without much support, and embarked on a career spanning many industries. And yet, despite these achievements, I experienced some difficulties being the only woman on a team or feeling that I was being judged simply because of my gender.

How did I overcome these? Well, I worked harder than those around me. I have been working since the age of 19 and have learned to adapt to different cultures and situations. And I believe I know what I need to focus on, no matter how challenging the situation may be.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Delivering value to management, the stakeholders and, most importantly, to the customer. If I can contribute to their success, that is very satisfying.

I also lead a diverse and multinational team that includes both tech & non tech people. 60% of my team are women and we have 15+ nationalities of different ages, cultures and career backgrounds. Each team member is happy and fully supported which means a lot to me.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I am driven by the belief that diversity and inclusion lie at the heart of not only my team’s success, but also my personal growth as a leader and the business we work for.  I strive to promote D&I through every aspect of my work because I view it as the engine behind our innovation and success. No single person can know everything, but together – our collective differences and intelligence builds a strong proposition which makes us powerful.

I also believe that if you want to truly understand your customers properly, you need to have respect for their diversity.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

  • Don’t let others decide things for you, but do listen to their feedback.
  • When an opportunity comes to you, think about it, think about what you want to achieve, and then seize the opportunity.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes. And the best solution to that problem is to have more women in leadership roles within the industry. When we do that will open doors for other women. When you have experienced something yourself, you have a better understanding of what women have to go through and you can look for solutions.

Education is also important. More women in STEM means more possibilities for people to thrive.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

Give women equal treatment and equal opportunities and if you are presented with candidates with equivalent qualifications, promote the woman if you want to improve the gender balance.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

It’s always about equal treatment. I want women to get the same treatment as men; to be judged on their qualification, not their gender.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are also many conferences and awards ceremonies where women in tech are recognized and female success is celebrated. These events are great for connecting with peers and hearing different voices and I’m delighted to be speaking at two events this summer (Women in Tech Global Summit in Paris and the virtual / hybrid Women in Tech Global Conference 2022).

There are also many associations that support women who work in tech as well as mentorship & coaching opportunities, and I am more than happy to be a mentor and coach women so that they can succeed in this industry. I actively support the programme “DesCodeuses”, which aims to promote female presence in tech, and have personally hired two of my software developers via this programme.

Within SAP I’d recommend the  SAP Business Women network and the SAP Next Gen Mag – A Magazine that is specifically aimed at students.

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandrinepons/