The following interview with Sabine Schaar has been published as a core part of the eco Association white paper “Girls in Tech: A Call to Action” . The paper is founded not just on top-notch research studies, but also on insights from 15 role models from IT & tech companies and associations in Europe, the US and Africa. The far-reaching paper not only sets out lessons and recommendations for companies, but also key guidelines for policymakers & educators.
Ms. Schaar, as Regional Vice President Sales at Equinix in Germany, what are the key aspects of your role?
Sabine Schaar: In my role at Equinix, I am responsible for working with my teams in further developing and implementing the sales strategy in Germany, building and strengthening customer relationships, and driving digital transformation forward, both in companies and internally at Equinix. My remit includes direct end customer business in the corporate customer segment – involving branches such as financial services, automotive, manufacturing, as well as consumer products and retail.
So it’s a very diverse environment, and as a member of the Executive Board in Germany, I spend a substantial amount of time in strategic meetings, not only in helping customers to develop their digital growth strategies, but also in supporting my colleagues and teams in their development. To this end, I am also heavily engaged in coaching programs. My focus is on training future leaders (“Leaders for leaders”) and championing diversity initiatives at Equinix. Not only for women, but also for our diverse communities such as LGBTQ+ or People of Color.
What aspects of your own job do you think might be particularly inspiring for girls in considering a tech career down the line?
Schaar: From my perspective, the tech industry offers the most exciting of all jobs. Working in such businesses makes it possible to set important trends in levering technology and the economy, and to connect the right technology with the right people, cultures, and businesses. The more diversity that we have underpinning developments and businesses, the more we can adapt technologies to better suit everyone’s needs. That’s why we need diverse expertise – from different gender perspectives and from various societal or cultural backgrounds. If our digitalized future is to be one of equal opportunity, then women really must also be actively involved in the development of technology.
At the same time, young women in tech still find it harder to gain acceptance than in many other industries. When I started my first leadership role in IT in my mid-20s, I had very few female role models. That just has to change! We need more women who can confidently take their place in the company. For this reason, mentoring programs are also incredibly important. Something that’s very close to my heart is newly defining and helping to shape the next generation of leadership culture – which is why I’m also dedicated to being a mentor and sparring partner at Equinix, and to developing and nurturing talent in my team for the long term.
Could you name some elements of the company’s culture of Equinix that you think work the best for attracting and retaining young women in tech – and for helping women to rise up the ranks?
Schaar: Our culture at Equinix is fundamentally very open. We allow everyone to express themselves and to make a sustainable contribution to the company – and, indeed, to the world in general. What is key here is transparency, meaning that we place a lot of value on the diverse perspectives and thoughts of all of our employees. Ten years ago, the company launched the Equinix Women Leadership Network – a platform for women to share experiences, build leadership skills, and apply new techniques for addressing bias. In the network, we regularly talk about what framework conditions companies need to create in order to attract women as employees and bring them into leadership positions. Equinix has also launched a pilot initiative to support women in re-entering the workforce, particularly those who have been severely affected by the pandemic. Successful female applicants are hired into full-time paid positions and, through two years of on-the-job training, acquire the technical skills necessary for a career in the data center industry.
What’s of particular importance is an interest in technology and the motivation to use technology to make the world a little bit better. For us, diversity doesn’t just come about on the strength of the “share of women” or quotas; while this is one of our measures – and we have already made progress in this regard – we still have a long way to go.
Increasing the numbers of women in tech isn’t just something that companies can manage by themselves; it’s also a matter of having enough girls and women who are interested in applying for these jobs, either now or down the line. Do you see particular societal challenges that are thwarting girls’ interests in entering tech professions?
Schaar: First of all: the status quo in the tech industry is not at all satisfactory. According to the German federal government’s latest equality report, the digital industry in Germany is still predominantly male – only 16% of all employees in the field are female. We need to pave the way early on in order to have girls and women enter technical professions later on down the line. To do this, traditional patterns must be broken and the socialization and education of our children must be completely detached from conventional notions regarding certain professions. This also means that we need to introduce girls and women to more traditional scientific and technical courses of study, and encourage and support them in their attempts to study programming or computer science. At the same time, I think language also plays a big role: In study or job profiles, using gender-neutral terms and phrases with less of a technical focus can address women a lot more successfully.
In order to address these challenges, what tips might you offer to different societal stakeholders: whether it be policymakers, tech employers themselves, educators, or parents?
Schaar: In order to achieve equality, changes need to be made in society, in companies, in politics and, last but not least, among women themselves. We basically need less skepticism about digital work models, because this makes it easier for women to take part and to effectuate change everywhere, including in the workplace. However, on the EU’s digitalization index, Germany ranks only 11th out of 28.
Work-life balance is just one of the many advantages that hybrid work models bring. However, this also requires corresponding initiatives from companies – for example, effective part-time models and working from home solutions. I would also like to see a clear commitment from policymakers, for example in the form of childcare options. The right political and structural framework conditions and incentives must also be created to encourage more women to realize their entrepreneurial ambitions. There is a need for concrete training opportunities, especially in the digital field, as well as targeted offers for female executives and entrepreneurs. Last but not least, we need more women who are committed to equality and who are not afraid to take the initiative and responsibility for themselves to follow this path. This also requires role models who are women in leadership positions. A gender quota is the first step – the fact that the EU recently agreed that listed companies must have at least 40 percent women on their executive boards by 2027 shows that something is happening here.
If you were currently a teenage girl, are there one or two initiatives out there that you imagine would really spark your interest for a career in the tech industry?
Schaar: We are currently experiencing a shift of values in our society. Young people today have very different priorities than older people. They are growing up with technology and feel at home in social networks. At the same time, the “Fridays for Future” generation has a strong environmental awareness and is committed to social justice. Private life is more important than careers, and the notion of pure consumption is switching over to the desire to be active in business oneself. According to a survey by Ernst & Young, 53% of 15-25 year olds would like to run their own business within the next ten years. What all of this shows: Young people want to actively and consciously help shape the future. In this regard, the tech industry in particular offers incredibly important and versatile opportunities!
Digitalization makes it possible to make a contribution to the socio-geopolitical environment – whether it’s through the development of Smart City concepts to make cities future-oriented, efficient, and socially inclusive; or the commitment to green IT and the question of how digital transformation can be shaped in a climate-friendly and sustainable manner. The pandemic in particular has also brought the topic of New Work and the future of work into focus – and at the same time shown that this is only made possible by technology. I see the co-design of new, hybrid work models in connection with work-life balance and homeschooling concepts as extremely exciting for a career in the tech industry.
Sabine Schaar joined Equinix in 2020 as Regional Vice President Sales. As a member of the German Executive Board, Ms. Schaar is responsible for direct end customer business for large enterprises in the German market. Previously, between 2015 and 2020, she worked at the consulting and IT/technology company Capgemini as Chief Sales Officer Business Unit Germany and subsequently as Market Segment Head of Consumer Products & Retail Germany. In her former role as a member of Lufthansa Systems’ board of directors, she was responsible for sales in Germany. Ms. Schaar has a major in economics.