SAP’s Sandi de Souza shares truth bombs on workplace success


The SAP Africa CFO reveals why women shouldn’t leave their jobs anytime soon.

The Great Resignation at workplaces all over the world is led by women. In addition, a report released by Deloitte in May 2022 shows that a large number of professional women plan to leave their jobs over the next two years. If this is you – you may want to think again.

Professional women polled in many surveys across the globe say they are tired, unhappy, overworked and not motivated to stay in their jobs. In South Africa, a country with high unemployment figures, the situation looks a little different, but there are significant similarities.

Here, it is the higher-skilled and better-paid professionals that are leaving – some to seek better opportunities abroad, to go freelance, or to work as consultants. But the grass may only look greener on the other side: reality can be something completely different.

As professional women at the top, we face a lot of pressure, there’s no doubt about that. But sometimes, in our search for personal fulfilment and a release from insane deadlines, we overlook the opportunities these situations present to us in terms of personal development. To any woman thinking of quitting her job, I want to say, consider three things first.

Could your mindset do with a change?
This may not be easy to hear, but sometimes you have to stick it out. I started working at SAP 17 years ago, and looking back, I can say that while I enjoyed many of the roles I had over the years, I definitely did not love my first year at the company. I had to be patient and prove myself and eventually, my job expanded and I learned to function within my role and make the most of it. Then I went on to other positions within the company. This year, I was appointed Chief Financial Officer for the Africa Cluster – a career highlight.

But it would not have been possible without a change of mindset. This means changing your thoughts, which may focus on the negative, like “I can’t take this anymore,” to a more positive: “How can I change this situation in my favour?”

Stanford University psychiatrist Dr Jacob Towery in one article explains how people often cling to mindsets that helped them at one point in their life – not realising it is holding them back later. If you, for instance, were betrayed by parents or caregivers in your youth, you may have developed coping mechanisms that later stop you from trusting others. A rigid mindset is more likely to focus on seeing failures and mistakes, instead of growth opportunities and lessons for success.

Improve your job options
One study that gives a lot of insight into the situation South African women face, is from a survey by infoQuest, a South African online research company. It found women’s top priorities were having enough money for groceries, savings and providing for children’s education. Most interesting is that half of those surveyed wanted to upskill themselves to have better job options in the future.

Doing my MBA in 2021 at Henley Business School Africa was definitely a career-changing move for me. While it took a great deal of commitment and sacrifice, the qualification was instrumental in getting me up the career ladder and into my current executive position.

For those women looking for the perfect time to undertake such an endeavour, let me assure you – there isn’t one! Many of my fellow students were working full-time or were women with babies, even single mothers. The best time is right now.

My advice is look for an institution that is family-friendly and flexible and part-time. And be prepared for the truth that success often does not look pretty in the home. The kitchen may not be tidy and your laundry washed, but your assignment is done. Score!

Challenge yourself
A big part of my life is travel and new adventures. Before taking on a major professional move from finance to sales, I went on an Everest Base Camp trek. Moving from the relative safety of a back office finance role to the cut-throat world of sales, where your salary depends on commissions, was scary. But being able to finish the Everest Base Camp trek – a two-week hike at over 5,000m elevation, surrounded by the highest mountains in the world – showed me that if I could do this, I could do anything.

You need to find your mountain, whatever that looks like for you. People need to be challenged, inspired and motivated. Dr Mark Orpen-Lyall, an organisational psychologist who runs a course on resilience at Henley Africa, believes stress in itself is not a bad thing. “Often, the magic happens in the boundaries, when we are pushing ourselves – running a half marathon, raising children, studying for a degree,” he says.

US psychiatrist and author Dr Georgia Witkin puts it this way, "The truth is that stress goes up because women add all their new roles to their old roles without crossing anything off their list.” My advice to overwhelmed professional women? Cross laundry from the list before you think about quitting your job. You can always wear another pair of socks, but the opportunity to make something of your life may only come around once.

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