You have been working in Switzerland for five years, as Director Solutions-Based Customer Workflow for ServiceNow. How do you see Switzerland professionally, especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion?
When I started at ServiceNow, I was responsible for Switzerland but also southern Europe. I remember my first meeting in Spain and the first one in Switzerland. In Spain, I met with a lady who was half an hour late, and we ended up having lunch and drinking wine. In Switzerland, I came to the meeting 15 minutes early. The customer was already waiting for me. It was very structured, very polite, and very professional: In 30 minutes, we were done with our agenda points and we said our goodbyes.
This kind of efficiency is typical here. So, when we work with people, the expectations are clear and they pretty much always deliver. Digging deeper, to achieve that level of productivity you need to have very low transaction costs. If you work in highly efficient environments, they need to be based on trust. How have people built that kind of bond in Switzerland throughout centuries? They worked and lived and traded and made deals in very tight-knight communities. The ultimate currency was trust. Now, if you scale up to a 21st-century business environment, you use the same principle. You recruit people you can rely on from existing networks, from existing communities. So, it's not always very diverse, especially in IT. If you don't already enforce a diversified culture, it becomes this monochrome environment of white males in their 30s or 40s, doing business with people of similar backgrounds.
You were born and raised in Poland, but you have worked in several countries. How do other cultures compare to Germany?
I was in Bremen for four and a half years, in Austria for a year, and in London for two and a half. So I did live in quite a few countries and I value that a lot. After some time, you learn how to deal with different cultures and to be mindful of different behaviors— together. Compared to Europeans, American companies often struggle with cultural exchange. The United States is a very big country, but there's one official language and it’s pretty unified on the high level. Whereas in Europe, diversity and inclusion are sometimes much more challenging, because you need to put everything in the legal, institutional, and cultural context of each country.
I feel very privileged. I want to use my privileged situation to help.
What is diversity?
You can’t have islands of diversity. For example, you can’t just hire more women. You need to embrace diversity in mindset, all the different dimensions of being. What's interesting about ServiceNow is that because we were born in the Cloud, innovation has been in our DNA from the beginning. That kind of mindset came easier, this natural adaptability in our people.
What about gender diversity? You’re involved in the Women Back to Business Program, which helps women redirect their career, or reintegrate into the workplace after a pregnancy.
A lot of the inspiration for this project came from discussions with my wife. She’s my window on Swiss culture, and she helps me realize things that are not always obvious to me. Through our conversations, I became more aware of different institutional challenges for women wanting to work in Switzerland, or coming back to work. But gender diversity is something that's always been important to me. Working in the software industry, living in Switzerland, I feel very privileged. I want to use my privileged situation to do something that can only help customers and companies. That's been a huge positive for me: the fact that a company like ServiceNow sees the value in gender diversity and helps to scale it up. It's been very rewarding.
What are the main obstacles for mothers who choose to go back to work in Switzerland?
There are many steps on an institutional and a social level that need to be taken to get close to equality. And I do think that challenges for women in Switzerland are different, because often they lack a lot of institutional support. In some communities, for example, it's expected that women prepare lunches and serve them during weekdays. Certain regions of the country have solutions in place, but they’re not always embraced. Because of these challenges, it is important to empower women to smoothly transition between different roles. Otherwise, we are losing even more human capital because women decide to stay home. To some extent, this problem often remains hidden because in Switzerland we have an unemployment rate below 5%.Companies play a big role in enabling this. I often hear companies discuss the monetary gains of getting women back to work, but I think every company should be doing this just because it's the right thing to do.
How important is the role of companies?
Good question. An important part of the discussion is the Swiss cultural system, which relies a lot on individual initiative, taking ownership over your life. There’s lots of freedom to direct democracy, and the people here think about how we can make space for private initiatives to flourish. Companies have a big role in setting standards and enabling professional flexibility for families. This starts with maternity leave, which is 12 weeks in Switzerland. And since January, we are now allowed two weeks of parental leave. Many firms, including ServiceNow, are giving their staff additional parental leave. Company values are also very important, but they are just words if you don’t live by them. If you don’t empower your employees to achieve their private and work-life goals, they are just a piece of paper.
How does the Women Back to Business Program empower employees?
Women Back to Business is a very interesting MBA program driven by the University of St. Gallen. It focuses on women with a career gap but excellent skills and backgrounds. On top of the typical MBA curriculum, they receive coaching that helps them build confidence, improve their CV, start to build a network, etc. Basically, the key features that you lose after a long time of not being employed, but which are extremely important to get you back to the working stage. I have initiated a collaboration with Dr. Patricia Widmer, who is the leader of this initiative. We’ve started brainstorming on how a dynamic software company could potentially support the MBA.
Participants of the program have a very interesting skill set that is very relevant to ServiceNow, as well as other companies within our ecosystem. ServiceNow grows very fast, and that creates a ripple effect for our work: Our partners and clients need people with specific skills, and there is a shortage of them. So together with Patricia, we have built up a new program to augment the MBA with a ServiceNow expert module. Additionally, we offer mentoring and coaching from our specialists, to help them better understand technology or find job opportunities. The initiative is still young, but last year we managed to help three participants get a job directly in our ecosystems. This year we have some promising discussions as well.
Change starts with a mindset, but to implement it you need to get the people in place.
In terms of diversifying your workforce, what are the biggest obstacles to building a diverse team?
I would start with company purpose. Having it defined and embraced by employees makes a big difference. If people do not embrace diversity as a value, they will not make an effort. In parallel, you need to change the way you recruit. We need to start looking at transferable skills, not always at years of experience, and to go outside of our typical networks to find talent.
To what extent does the recruitment process impact a company’s diversity?
Change starts with a mindset, but to implement it you need to get the people in place. It’s very easy not to hire diversely. The alternative is a harder and slower process. To do that one needs to find active networks that are sometimes outside your typical talent pool. Sometimes you might have to select a candidate who is the most obvious from the job description— other times, you have to look at job descriptions differently. Some of the most interesting people I met at ServiceNow haven't had direct sales or consulting experience but have the skillsets that make them very capable for the role.
A good example of D&I in action?
On a corporate level, at the beginning of the year we committed to investing $100 million in a new ServiceNow Racial Equity Fund. My personal highlight was an interview between Bill McDermott and President Barack Obama in February. It was amazing to hear him talk about ServiceNow, and what kind of companies he would like his daughters to work for.
On a local level, lots of activities are driven by what we call “cultural champions”. They gather people running all kinds of initiatives, which help causes that are important for us, like Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIBs), fundraising, and socializing. It is great to see that those global values trickle down on the local initiatives and empower people locally to feel included.
Finally, let’s talk about your home country of Poland. Do you feel like it’s been normalized to be a working woman there?
For a long time, Poland was a Communist country based on the principle that everybody worked. It didn’t matter if you were a woman, you should have been working because that was part of the system. I’m not saying that the Communist model was good, but it sometimes created more opportunities and institutions that were able to support women, like for example daycare systems. I think this still impacts Poland today. There is also quite a flexible paid family leave procedure: The leave time can be shared between partners and gives more legal protection in comparison to what I have seen in Switzerland. It can help people re-enter the labor force. From this point of view, there have been good examples of institutional support. You just have to implement them.
This article is part of a content collaboration between FemaleOneZero and ServiceNow. The ServiceNow platform delivers digital workflows to unlock productivity. It helps your business work smarter and faster, digitalize workflows and run them at scale.