Jennifer Hedding, SVP of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, shares how she leverages her role to encourage women to be bold, connect with others and to use their voice in the workplace.
And to good effect. As SVP of HR, Hedding leads the human resources team that is responsible for HP Enterprises 40,000 technical and services talent, or better said as, “the engine that drives a 28 billion dollar business”.
She’s also taken on a new role this past year: executive sponsor for HP Enterprises women-focused employee resource groups (ERG’s) around the world, which also includes sponsoring International Women’s Day. This new venture is something Hedding is particularly excited about; of the company’s 146 diverse ERGs deployed around the world, 1/3 are founded by women. “These women are doing grassroots community building within HP Enterprise to build lasting professional networks that extend out into communities we operate in,” she said of the groups. “So for me, it’s an honor to engage and represent the amazing women of HP Enterprise who are supporting each other in the workplace and setting an example for others at home and around the world.”
Needless to say, we wanted to learn more. So we connected with Hedding on how she’s helped women find their voices in the workplace, who helped her find hers, and how she’s celebrating women professionals around the world on International Women’s Day this March 8.
Can you tell us about your career and why you think it’s important to empower women in leadership?
There are three reasons I’m passionate about women in leadership roles:
First, I’m a leader and I happen to be female. Second, I’ve been in the technology industry a long time and more often than not, I have found I am the only woman sitting around the table. Third, I have an 18-year-old daughter with high life aspirations, as well as a 21 year old son who also has equally high goals. Opportunities and rewards for one should not be greater than the other simply based on gender. To that end, I feel personal responsibility to use my voice and position to bring awareness and make impact in my profession, while also raising two next gen leaders who see the potential and value of diversity and inclusion in all facets of life; including age, gender, ethnicity and orientation just to name a few.
During your career, what have you seen as some of the challenges in supporting women and helping women move into leadership roles?
Challenges vary, but most often they fall into two categories; Unique and personal to the individual and social professional norms that are hard to change.
In my experience, working with lots of people from every part of the world, men and women self-evaluate their knowledge (aka competence) and confidence differently. This is not true across the board, but it is true more often than not and is something for all of us to be aware of. In short, women are harsh critics of themselves and fall prey to the imposter syndrome, where they ask ‘Should I be here?” Everyone experiences this at some point in their life, but I caution women to be aware and not let it hold you back. Better question to ask is “why not me?”
Another challenge women face in creating and building their career, is integrating all the different roles society and professional environments have come to expect. The guilt of not being able to do it all can be exceptionally difficult if you don’t have a great support system at home and in the workplace. This is where having a great partner at home, a mentor, supportive boss, team and/or a professional resource group to lean on for help can make all the difference. The term “teamwork makes the dream work” is real and a key element of success.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve experienced as a woman in a leadership role?
One of the challenges I’ve seen happen to others and experienced many times is when a co-worker interrupts, or just simply starts talking over you. When you are the only women in the room or on the call, this can be demoralizing. Let’s just say, I’ve gotten very comfortable stating ‘Excuse me, I’m not done. Let me finish my point.’
I’m known as tough and to the point. I don’t apologize for it because it’s who I am and I own it. But often, being direct or ‘tough’ is a hard role for women to accept in the workplace because of the labels that come along with it. It sometimes becomes a choice point between being liked or called a bad name.
I haven’t always been this wise (lol). In fact, earlier in my career I tried to adopt the habits or persona of others who I admired, only to find that it didn’t work. The point is, you have to be competent in your profession, know that as a leader you have to earn and show respect to others, and be authentic if you are going to convince people to follow you. So, the greatest challenge is actually gaining the experiences necessary, and as a result, the confidence to lead.
As an HR leader in tech, what are some of the projects and challenges you’re currently tackling? What are the trends that you’re seeing in the industry?
Those who do not work in technology have a hard time grasping the speed at which technology is changing and evolving. The need for continuous learning is something I am hyper sensitive to. And, an area of focus. If we can’t develop skills to build the next great thing, then we need to buy the skills and technology through mergers and acquisitions. The latter is necessary, but risky and expensive.
From a trend perspective, I am fascinated by how quickly the use of social media changed the perception or rather the ownership of global brands. As it stands today, public boards and leadership teams need to pay attention to customer and employee experiences more than ever, as their opinions are equally important as shareholders. The visibility across all forms of media forces companies to be much more focused on the relationship (values, treatment, etc.) of all 3 key-stakeholders. The expectations are high and the consequences severe.
What advice would you give to new HR professionals just starting out?
I’d say that HR is a profession that is being redefined. Recently, I read an article where the author made a statement that went something like this “Don’t choose HR as a profession if you think you would be good at it simply because you like working with people. It is much more technical”. The author is 100% right. When someone asks me to describe a typical day, they are shocked to hear the variety and complexity of issues we HR professionals deal with, especially when it comes to global responsibilities.
For those who are interested in the profession of Human Resources or looking to advance your career in HR, I suggest you gain skills and experience in the following areas; management and interpretation of data to drive decision making and action, macro and micro economics & emerging trends, talent acquisition and community building, branding and social responsibility, project and community management, labour relations, performance drivers, and total rewards as a start. These skills will grow in importance and those who demonstrate competence in these areas will be in high demand. If you are passionate about this work, go get involved in these areas, because we need you.
What role has mentorship played in your career?
I’ve had several mentors throughout my career, some who I had planned mentor mentee relationships with and others who mentored me without knowing they did so at the time.
Quite frankly, those in the latter category were hardest on me. They were often very strong women who were not going to give me an inch. When you’re early in your career, you think you can quickly check boxes of experience. These women never allowed me to do so. It was painful at times, but I sure do appreciate having gone through it.
My most valued mentor, was a man. I didn’t report to this executive, but I worked closely with him and his team at a pivotal point in my career. He took the time to teach and then challenge me in areas of business far outside my comfort zone. When I fell short of expectations he was direct about what didn’t work, held me accountable to resolve and never brought it up again. He taught me that failing didn’t equate to failure, it just meant you had another shot at getting it right. He also encouraged me to speak up, by asking my opinion in large team forums. This small, but important act taught me to draw out others in similar settings.
In terms of the people I mentor, I’m what you would call an “Adopter”. Whether you’re on my team or not, you’re always welcome to attend my meetings, join a special project, or get on my calendar as time permits. I’m constantly trying to impart the failures and successes of my story as genuinely and directly as I possibly can. For those I am actively working with, they know with absolute certainty that I have their back, which gives them the confidence and freedom to take risks. However, the pressure to deliver never goes away. The team knows that I also expect that each will pay it forward for someone else one day. In the end, we both win. To sum it up, this is the best part of what I do. And, I know I am very lucky to be in a position to help others build their careers.