In the third installment of a three-part series on women sustainability leaders, Talkback’s David Connor talks today with Kathrin Winkler, Sr. Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at EMC Corp., a global information technology leader.
EMC Corporation is a global leader in enabling businesses and service providers to transform their operations and deliver IT as a service. Fundamental to this transformation is cloud computing. Through innovative products and services, EMC accelerates the journey to cloud computing, helping IT departments to store, manage, protect and analyze their most valuable asset — information — in a more agile, trusted and cost-efficient way. Additional information about EMC can be found at www.EMC.com.
Can you tell me about how you got your start in this profession? When you started in your career did you even imagine that you would have a job such as one that you have today?
When I started at EMC twelve years ago, I was working in computer networking, a field that was brand new at the time I started my career. In many ways I grew up alongside the industry. While I had immense personal passion for the environmental and social aspects of technology, with such a strong career focus on IT, I could not have imagined that my future would be in sustainability.
What was your first job?
My first job was at Digital Equipment Corporation, fixing computers. Throughout my career, I was always curious about the context in which I was operating. Dealing with hardware was cool but it doesn’t do anything without software, so I took classes in system software, and from there I developed an interest in what happens when you put multiple computers together into networks. From there, my interest in systems led me to become a systems engineer in computer networking.
Can you tell us more about what EMC does?
EMC is a hardware and software company, providing technologies, products and solution to business customers that store, protect and maximize the value of their data. Many of our systems are large scale storage systems and the software that allows for that value in the data to be leveraged while being protected. We sell largely to data center customers in every industry. 75 percent of digital content is created by users through phones, photos, etc., but the responsibility for its governance and protection is in data centers. Data is not just living in your phone but also in a data center—and that is where we come in.
You followed your curiosity through your career and were able to make a number of transitions. Can you tell me how you made your case to persuade someone to hire you?
First, it is important for young people to know that the vast majority of my positions, and I have had many, were offered to me by people who already knew me. I think the skills that most people hire for are very difficult to put on a resume. It is hard to put on a resume “works well with others” because everyone says that.
Networking has guided many steps in my career. I have kept my eyes open to things happening around me and engaged with different communities of people. For instance, when I started at EMC, I ran product management for one group. I volunteered to participate on a corporate security project because I was interested in it. The project gave me more exposure and allowed me to widen my network. I also developed a deeper understanding of the company beyond my immediate position, and was able to brand myself independently of my group.
So it sounds like it’s a combination of identifying your unique talents, understanding how you fit into your company and about making your own opportunities.
You have to be attuned to opportunities to notice them and jump. Some people may give you opportunities. It may not be blatant but it may be something that they said that makes you think, “I see a connection here, I see an opportunity. Let me widen that crack and see if there is something I can go through.” I’ve been asked whether I see my career as a result of luck or planning. I have a lot of wonderful luck, but I also like to give myself credit for looking for luck and to be prepared to take advantage of it when I see it.
Have you had women mentors? How important were they to your success?
I have always had women mentors, but particularly in an industry with a low number of females it is important to have mentors from the dominant group as well; it helps to understand their perception. I would say one of my favorite mentors who really impacted my career in a really good way was the vice president of the network of engineering at my former company. He would conduct a review to see if they should move talent around and then he would have a one-on-one with an individual to discuss the development plan. My development plan largely consisted of focusing on all the things that that I was bad at. What he told me is to get good enough at the things you are bad at but focus your training and development where you are unique because that is what will differentiate you.
Do you have any tricks up your sleeve for being an effective sustainability leader?
When it comes to sustainability, the story is important. It can be off-putting to approach people with a huge, global issue because people do not think they can individually help; but if you can help them learn the bigger picture for themselves then they can feel connected to the goal. Another one is getting advocates from within. Managers or team leaders want to know that you respect the knowledge of the team. Telling them they need to do their jobs differently is rarely a good strategy. Instead, develop an advocate within the group. Explore how to empower them to do things differently, and try to avoid getting in their way. Staying out of the way can be very hard for me to do, though!
Do you have any advice for someone who would like to get into this field?
You do not need to get into this field to have an impact. You can create change coming from a nearly any background. Finance people can help step up to help price carbon, Investor Relations people can figure out how sustainability fits into conversations with investors. There is nothing to stop someone in any role from stepping up and driving change.
Kathrin Winkler is a member of NAEM's Board of Directors and is on the organizing committee for NAEM’s Women’s EHS & Sustainability Leadership Roundtable, taking place April 14-16 in San Antonio. To network and learn from leaders like her, please visit http://womensleadership.naem.org/index.php