Path to leadership
Q: Diana, can you tell us about your career path more? How did you get to where you are now and what roadblocks you had to overcome?
After completing an apprenticeship as a travel agent after High School, I mastered in Business Administration. During this time, I gathered practical experience in different companies in Germany and Italy before completing a management trainee program with Radisson SAS in Brussels.
Next, I pursued a career in Recruiting with Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Company in Munich and Boston, when a call 2016 pulled me to DRÄXLMAIER Group, where after my responsibility for Global Recruiting, I am today heading the Corporate HR Strategy and the HR Corporate Excellence Centers, like Training, Recruiting, Compensation & Benefits, Digitization, HR Communication and our PMO.
In short, I have the great opportunity to drive HR innovation and set excellence standards and processes as well as hire, train and retain the right talent at one of the premium automotive suppliers worldwide.
But who wants to read what is already told on a LinkedIn profile? I would therefore like to lead you behind scenes and answer your question from a different perspective.
One of my key driver’s in life is empathy. Whatever I do, I do it with my heart and a growth mindset for the people surrounding me. There is nothing more fulfilling than the sparkling eyes of a human being who has managed – together with me and with my support – to grow personally and succeed in what they aimed to do. I strive for those sparkling eyes every day.
At the core of my personality sits a pioneer and a strategic visionary entrepreneur with sales acumen. I like to push the status quo by setting demanding visionary goals, by providing the right structure that paves the way to empower true results delivery. I also love to inspire people by pointing out to them the ‘greatness’ they sometimes can’t see. I could have easily ended up in classic Sales. That’s probably why I sold travel dreams first, then studied business with a major in marketing and sales, worked in Sales in Brussels and finally landed in Recruiting. This is where finding the right talent and matching their career dreams with opportunities at great companies has been my professional playground for many years. Demanding and driven by a high sense of ownership, I was able to deliver the expected results that, together with the school of strategy in consulting and my ability to innovate, allowed me to take over my current role.
And, eventually, the field where I obviously learned and grew most was in Human Resources. That makes me last but definitely not least, a senior leader and expert in people management and organization.
As we all know, it’s not the “roadblock” or a challenge itself that matters, but how you deal with it and who you are. I am a radical optimist and view life as a long journey of learning experiences. I also consider myself very fortunate that I have always had the support or stamina to overcome my challenges successfully or wait for the right moment. Setbacks are part of the game, and the decisive factor is to react flexibly to changes.
For example, in my early days, when my application for a sponsored semester abroad at Sorbonne University was rejected, I was very frustrated at first, as my dream to spend some time abroad seemed to fade away at that time. I looked for alternative options and combined two internships. The first in consulting, which not only financed my second internship in Milan, but has become essential for my further professional path.
Q: What or who helped and inspired you along the way?
In terms of the ‘WHO’: First and foremost, my family, who taught me ‘where there is a will, there is always a way’ and that I can count on them. But also some of my teachers and supervisors who challenged and encouraged me. Or my gentle, sensitive, hard-working grandfather and great visionary people from all kinds of disciplines. Among them, I am still impressed by some female pioneers like the Russian artist Marianne Werefkin or the feminist Jane Fonda, and also Bain Chair(wo)man Orit Gadiesh. Last but not least, I think of all the people who have met and accompanied me throughout my life so far. They are all, to some extent, an important part of me.
In terms of ‘WHAT’: all the challenges in my life and personal commitment to my ideals and goals have contributed to growing and becoming who I am today.
Developing diversity at your company
Q: In the interview for Recruiting Journal, you said, that among the many important experiences, you believe that: “Diversity bears sweet fruits: Interdisciplinary/mixed teams come up with the best solutions”. We can’t agree more and would like to ask about how it works at DRÄXLMAIER Group. What strategies are you taking at your company towards developing and promoting more diverse leadership, and how do you measure these strategies’ success?
Based on our values, diversity is a matter of course at the DRÄXLMAIER Group. We live it. This is only possible, if we stay all aware of and reflect on the necessity and benefits of mixed teams and, on the other hand, the biases that surround us. Our approach is to create this awareness by role models that walk the talk and thus can be experienced.
Q: What advice would you offer to HR professionals trying to make a difference in their own companies?
As it is about mindset and experience, pick the top leaders who stand out in this context and give them a platform to shine their light. Have them share their experiences about the benefits of mixed teams and their approach.
Challenges caused by the pandemic
Q: The pandemic caused by COVID-19 had a great impact on many professionals, and in particular, women who combine their leadership role with the parent role. It is challenging to stay productive, fully involved in the decision-making process, and sort things out with the children. How has constant home office affected this? Could you share a few thoughts on how companies can support working mothers in this case?
As a manager, the most important thing is to keep your doors, ears and eyes open for your employees, regardless of whether they are women or men. Regularly ask your employees how they are feeling. Good leaders sense and observe how their team members’ behavior changes. I have noticed that particularly high-performing employees run the risk during Corona to manage the newly added challenges with the same high-performance attitude as usual. This can quickly lead to exhaustion. Caution is required here.
As a supervisor, you can help by leading to self-reflection through good questions, listening sincerely when things get too much, and eliminating the extra professional mile for a while by strictly deprioritizing the workload.
Paving the way to other women
Q: Finally, we’d like to ask you to share a couple of tips: Can you recommend actionable steps women in HR should take in their own leadership journeys?
First: Not only women in HR, but any woman needs to get a grip, what she wants in life and her career. Write it down and put it where you see it every day. Become aware of your distinguished strengths and passions and understand the different career opportunities in HR. Think of what you want as a person. Do you want to innovate or execute, do you want a stable environment or a highly dynamic growth set-up? From big enterprises to start-ups, there is a broad range of opportunities depending on your preferences.
There are many paths to pursue a career in HR. One path is to gain experience in multiple competency areas, such as Compensation, Training, People Development or Recruiting, and then become a Business Partner. Or to make a career in one of the Excellence Centers and later move into strategy. New opportunities also arise in the areas of organizational development, HR digitization or analytics, project and change management, or HR transformation & strategy.
For young talents, it is key to assess the employers of choice thoroughly, e.g. How is HR positioned in the board? What is the ambition of the CHRO or your Line Manager? Is it in line with your expectation? Ask big questions about the vision, the mission of HR. What has changed over the course of the last 3 years, and so forth.
Sometimes it is hard to name the explicit next or future step. Then try to feel what you want and go with this emotional notion, like the north star of how it should feel like, what you want. The opportunity will show up, and you will know when it does. Then it is on you to say #yes
Don’t confuse Manager and Leader. Not every manager is a good leader and vice versa. For those who have the ambition to lead: Reflect early on who you want to be as a leader. Let yourself inspire you by people you admire. Once you have found your version of Leadership Brand, you can find the matching environment for it.
Q: What skills do women need to build to become better leaders?
Get in contact with your intuition. It will help you make the right decisions in times of uncertainty. Take full responsibility for your actions. And consider the following tips:
- Think strategically: know what not to do
- Learn from your experiences: today is tomorrow’s yesterday
- Have a strong customer focus: always ask yourself, ‘Who is my customer and would he or she pay for what I do?’