Superleader Jenny Dearborn on Moving Women Forward | ANNE Magazine
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Superleader Jenny Dearborn on Moving Women Forward

Superleader Jenny Dearborn on Moving Women Forward

Anne Mandler talks with Jenny Dearborn on her role, maternity and paternity policy, and advice for millennials for the Spring/Summer 2016 No. 2 of ANNE


ANNE MANDLER: Hi Everyone, I’m here with Jenny Dearborn, and Jenny is a speaker here at the Watermark Conference for Women in Silicon Valley. She is a senior vice president and chief learning officer at SAP, accountable to drive measurable business impact by designing, aligning, and ensuring execution of SAP’s overall learning activities for the company’s 75,500 employees globally. This is her fourth company in the Chief Learning Officer role. Jenny, thank you so much for joining us today.

JENNY DEARBORN: Absolutely, my pleasure.

ANNE: Will you give a brief description of what your title entails, and what a Chief Learning Officer does?

JENNY: Yes, absolutely. So, I am responsible for all employees globally their training, education, readiness, everything that they need to know to be able to be the most effective in their jobs from onboarding, professional development, management and leadership, compliance, diversity, all of the sales learning, and technical learning. Everything that employees need to know to be awesome at work. It is my team’s job to teach them that.

ANNE: That’s incredible. So, above and beyond the traditional HR role, and is what you are doing evolving in the industry. Your role has traditionally had some HR overlap. How are you trail blazing this role and this department? Not every company has an officer with your title and role.

JENNY: Most companies have someone who leads training, education readiness. You’re right, most companies don’t have a Chief Learning Officer. They have somebody who runs and leads training. So really the difference between my role and someone who is pulling together training classes, I’m really a partner to the business to help them design and drive their strategic workforce plan. If we look at a corporation today, and they have employees with certain skills, abilities, competencies, etc., you have so many employees in these geographies, and you are trying to achieve XYZ business results today. Then you say what is our ten-year plan? What are the goals and objectives and strategies of our corporation ten years from now? What are the knowledge, skills, abilities, competencies, and behaviors, etc. that we need of that future state workforce? Then my team’s job is to build that strategic workforce plan to get that to get the corporation from current state so that we have the humans to achieve that future state strategy and vision, and then learning and enablement is really that execution piece of that strategic workforce plan. So, now that we know in the future that we are going to need so many humans with these skills, in these geographies, driving XYZ business results, we can put together a learning plan to put help transform the current workforce into the future state workforce.

ANNE: That is business critical information, and it sounds like that is the way more companies will move in terms of your title and role.

JENNY: More companies will move that way, and it also becomes more challenging. This is my fourth company as a Chief Learning Officer, and I would say that this was easier to do ten years ago or five years ago. The nature of business is changing so fast, and the nature of the education, and the learning, and the readiness that employees need six months from now, a year from now is so dynamic, it’s becoming very difficult to predict and see around the corners to get employees ready for that future state, but that is really the nature of my responsibilities.

ANNE: Wonderful. You care about some other critical issues. You were recently published two days ago in USA Today regarding maternity and paternity leave. Talk to me about that article, and give me some highlights.

JENNY: Absolutely, so what I love about my job is that I have the freedom to pursue these passion projects. I’m very connected with women here in Silicon Valley and just through my social networks, found out that the utilization of maternity leave and paternity leave is a significant problem in Silicon Valley, and so I did some research and published this article. What I found was that companies, a couple dozen SV tech companies have come out and said, we have these amazing newly revised maternity and paternity leave policies, which is great. Yet, if you take a closer look, there is a disparity between policy and practice. People might not necessarily be encouraged to take full advantage of these policies. The corporate culture does not support women to be able to fully utilize the benefits that are on paper. I see that as a pretty significant disconnect and a real disadvantage for women. The article was really about bringing some light to this issue and encouraging corporations to be transparent with their utilization metrics. I think that that is the most fair thing that we can do to working parents is to really let them know what is at stake in their corporations.

ANNE: This conference has a breadth of women. In fact, we have the youngest generation of women that we’ve ever had at this conference because we created the opportunity to bring in some really young women. You’ve led at a high level for a long time, and I’d love to know if there is one suggestion that you’d like to give women starting out, who are building their careers and who are trying to find their passion in their work and connect at a high level.

JENNY: Yes, absolutely, I’d go back to the data of the demographics of this generation; 50% of the global workforce will be millennial by 2020 and 75% of the global workforce will be millennial by 2025 so we see a significant retirement cliff of baby boomers coming up. I’m a GenXer so GenXers will start to fade as well, but don’t underestimate for millennials the power that you have in just the sheer numbers in critical mass that you have for your generation. Don’t take no for an answer. You have the ability to change the path of history. You can bend the future to create the world that you want. Just by the sheer numbers of people. So, if somebody says, that’s not the way we do it here, or you need to act differently, or you need to know your place, or that’s really not what women do. Bullshit, because you can now set the new future. You can now say that perspective is the past, and we have a critical mass of women now that says, this is the new normal. This is the way the current state is going to go moving forward. Status quo is what “I” decide. Get together, and decide what you want, and make it happen.

ANNE: And make that change. Thank you so much, Jenny. I appreciate you being here.

JENNY: Absolutely, my pleasure.


Jenny Dearborn

Jenny is a speaker at the Watermark Conference for Women in Silicon Valley. She is a senior vice president and chief learning officer at SAP, accountable to drive measurable business impact by designing, aligning, and ensuring execution of SAP’s overall learning activities for the company’s 75,500 employees globally. This is her fourth company in the Chief Learning Officer role.

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