You might say she does it all. Jenny Dearborn was named one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology, for three years in a row, by the National Diversity Council. She is the Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer at SAP, the world’s largest business to business software company, a mother of four, an author and a champion for LGBT and women’s rights within the workplace.
Undiagnosed until she was an adult, Dearborn struggled with learning disabilities including dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Determined to succeed, she found an outlet through comic books and learned how to follow a story by looking at pictures of crime fighting fictional characters. She now paints them in her spare time, and proudly hangs the large images of caped crusaders in her home to represent how far she has come.
“After many years of feeling marginalized and insignificant, having huge superhero paintings in my home makes me feel strong and powerful. There were many times when I wanted a caped crusader to fly out of the sky to come save me and bring justice to my world,” she tells HER Magazine.
For Dearborn, superheroes represent service and sacrifice for the greater good. For many years she felt that the traditional school structure was unforgiving to students with learning disabilities and wants everyone to know that you can achieve success regardless of what people say you can or can’t do.
“Believe in your heart that things will get better and know that you need to be your own advocate throughout your journey. Because your disability is not visible to others, you will need to fight for the support and accommodations you need to be successful,” she says.
Dearborn is one of the pioneers of the revolution in using data to harness employee strength and predict success in sales. She is responsible for all the internal learning, training and development for SAP’s nearly 90,000 employees worldwide. She has worked at Hewlett Packard and collaborated with dozens of other firms to revitalize employee performance.
Through the Fortune Most Powerful Women Network, Dearborn has been a mentor for the US State Department to female entrepreneurs in developing countries and believes that tech leaders need to actively engage in building a pipeline for women in STEM careers. “Tech leaders need to make diversity and inclusion a priority, because without their intervention, the poor metrics in the industry won’t improve,” she says.
In her latest book, The Data Driven Leader, Dearborn created a how-to guide to helping leaders solve challenges through human resources-focused and other data analytics. The book is a follow up to Data Driven, a guide to increasing sales success using the power of data analytics.
Dearborn explains why it’s urgent that corporate leaders embrace analytics, to remain professionally relevant and help organizations navigate game-changing forces including automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence.
“Analytics allows leaders to focus on the activities and interventions that will yield the greatest return on investment, effort and time. Instead of just guessing which programs or initiatives employees will respond to, leaders can use data to know exactly which programs are best and for whom, so they can be delivered at just the right time for maximum impact,” she says.
Data is useless without the analysis that leads to action she says. She argues it’s the most effective tool that every business leader can and should be utilizing.
HOW TO FIND A MENTOR AND WHY YOU NEED MORE THAN ONE
The most successful professionals have several mentors, not just one. “Think about the 8-14 different aspects of your job that you need to be really good at to excel at work – things like project management, presentation skills, conflict management, selling skills, negotiation skills,” she says.
1) Think about who you know who is good at each of those skills.
2) Reach out by asking, “you are an expert in executive presentation skills, and that is an area of opportunity and growth for me. Can we meet periodically so you can mentor me in that skill? I’d love to learn from you,” Dearborn suggests.
3) Create your own Personal Board of Directors. It will make it easier for the mentor if they know they are working with you on a specific area of expertise or skill.