My takeaways from SAP Speaker Series: Women in Leadership and Design

Takeaways from SAP Speaker Series and a retrospective of my first year working as a product designer

Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Unsplash

Last week I attended the first ever virtual talk offered by SAP Speaker Series which usually take place (physically) at HanaHaus. With a focus on women leadership and design, this talk featured a panel of great female leaders in design: Cheriana Griggs from Google, Kasia Kesicka from SAP, and Pamela Bailey from Facebook.

Getting inspired by how other fellow designers came to be, I took the chance to reflect on my first year working as a junior product designer after joining SAP as part of the Silicon Valley Next Talent rotation program. Below are my three biggest takeaways from the talk that resonated with my own year while in this role.

#1 Know and own your strength

“What is a piece of advice you would like to give to your younger self?”

While being asked this question, the panelists all echoed with the awareness of one’s strength, which entails two aspects:

“Know what energizes and shapes you.”

For the first aspect, Kasia shared that embracing different styles and building your unique strengths can potentially add more value to your work. Pamela built on the point, saying that owning your strengths and knowing your weaknesses will help the team experience and identify where YOU can fit in the larger team dynamic.

This point really struck me because it allowed me to reflect on my journey of finding a team that I could fit in. I used to think that “team fit” meant a place where people with similar styles could work comfortably together. I remember trying to turn myself into a replica of the “star” designers in the company/team I wished to join. In reality, this attempt made me miss my chance to establish my uniqueness within the team. Something I’m still and will continue to work on.

“Have trust in your decisions and advocate for them.”

The other aspect of their point around “owning your strength” is to understand how it can support your decisions and build trust in yourself. This will allow enough courage to initiate the conversation and advocate for your point of view, even if you are the most junior person in the room.

In the panel, Cheriana quoted a letter to herself saying,

“Dear younger self, you worked really hard and you know what you are talking about. You shouldn’t be afraid to speak up and challenge people no matter what their position or rank may be.”

I saw a lot of myself in her monologue. For my first rotation at SAP, I landed on a design team where all designers worked on the same project and designed simultaneously in Figma, an online design tool that allows multi-user collaboration . Design decisions were made through team discussions in granular details. At the beginning, I was hesitant to voice the rationale behind my design because I was the least experienced on the table. After seeking advice from my rotation buddy (thanks Sunny!), and doing some research, I learned to communicate my rationale not as a statement of solutions (“What I did here…”), but instead to frame the problem with data (“Why I did this…”). I’ve witnessed that this new mindset and delivery allows for more solutions with holistic perspectives with the team.

#2 Build empathy for your users, coworkers and yourself

Another question to the panel was, “What are some of the key characteristics that you find valuable?” This led to the second theme that left me an impression — empathy.

Empathy is a trait mentioned by the panelists that lends itself to create a solution that brings value and energizes your work and life. The panelists expanded the sense of empathy to not only the people they create solutions for, but also to coworkers and themselves.

There was a time I was responsible for driving a project within a design team. During the process, I always jumped to iterate the design right after receiving feedback from PMs. You can say I was eager to set up another meeting to review the iteration, but what I missed out was being mindful that the content strategist I worked with had conflicting priorities. Something I learned with my mentors, Lori and Fiona, was to practice using RACI matrix to map out dependencies. I learned to be more empathetic of the stakeholders’ time and manage dependencies by understanding who are the one I should go to at each stage.

Another important element to empathy is the empathy you give yourself, which many (including myself) find difficult to do. I think this is an interesting notion, especially while we’re all navigating our “new normal” with COVID-19. People are practicing social distancing and staying at home for probably more time than ever. I am inspired by companies who have launched services to support people, such as Apple’s self-check tool, which I find valuable in educating people on the basics around COVID and seeking healthcare support.

#3 Design is beyond the screen and product

As the panel discussion shifted towards design trends, interestingly, I found all the panelists discussed the future of design beyond the boundaries of screens and interactions, such as brand voice, motion and more. Pamela talked about designers as curators of experience. I relate to this concept of curating because as designers, we are all making purposeful choices for our solutions. Why do we need this? What do we want to achieve with this flow? How does this action interact with the dependent systems?

The panelists also discussed how the recent transformation of technological and social landscapes could bring new perspectives into design. An example they shared was the raising concerns towards data privacy. Charting out different scenarios of policies and user flows become a crucial part of my design work now and helps me to understand how to guide or when to educate users to reach their goals. One thing I’ll always keep in mind — streamlining complex policies with human aspects.

This virtual SAP Speaker Series and design panel was a great source of inspiration as I reflect on my past year as a product designer in SAP and the Silicon Valley Next Talent Program. I appreciate the opportunity to learn from these great leaders. It’s through their trailblazing efforts that I think about what I have achieved and how I could iterate myself to further advance my journey. Stay tuned!

Another highlight of the year- training @ SAP HQ in Germany with fellow SVNTers . Love the cool industrial-look space (+ the German beer)!

📹 If you are interested in the conversation, a full replay can be found below:

Shoutout to my SVNT manager and great mentor Joe Ham for editing this article! 👏

Product designer 🎨 @ | Coffee/bubble tea enthusiastic☕ | Curious innovator🙌 | Aspiring new writer✍️