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Women in Risk Advisory: Manuela Sailer Encourages Women to be Bold

As part of Deloitte’s Women in Risk Advisory campaign honouring female employees in risk leadership roles around the world, we recently spoke with Manuela Sailer, who is based in Munich, Germany.

In her position as senior manager at Deloitte Risk Advisory, Manuela takes every opportunity to empower the women on her team and she urges them to speak up, be bold and believe in themselves.

Below are some of the highlights from our conversation about key issues and opportunities for women in the risk field today:

Could you tell us a bit about your journey in the risk industry?

Manuela Sailer:  I started my career in the risk field at Deloitte in 2019, as a manager in Extended Enterprise, which encompasses a wide range of areas organisations need to monitor and control, such as IT asset management, contract management and third-party risk management. At the beginning, I was deeply involved in three or four client projects, two of which I still have today. These are with two very large clients—one is a “top five” pharmaceutical company and the other one is a $25 billion logistics provider.

Deloitte really allowed me to build my career step by step, taking on more strategic tasks over time. For example, at the end of last year, we began the very critical but intensive, challenging process of building shared service centres (SSCs) from the ground up throughout Deloitte Continental Europe (DCE), including Turkey and Casablanca, Morocco. These SSCs allow us to grow and scale our consulting services and provide our clients with the right resources at the right time.

Early in 2021, I was also nominated for a female leadership programme, which gave me another opportunity to learn so much more about the company overall and how it works, and to hone my leadership skills.

What excites you the most about your job?

Manuela Sailer: What really excites me is that it’s multi-dimensional. There’s never just one thing to do. I have operational tasks on the client side—that’s the project management work. Then, there’s supporting my team with the infrastructure and the knowledge and power they need to be successful at their work. I also have strategic tasks like setting up those SSCs.

I also love that I’m situated between IT and business administration. For example, IT asset management is all about managing IT assets like software. You need to understand IT concepts like virtualisation and containerisation, and you also need to be able to design and implement business processes to ensure efficiency. And of course, you need to understand the business impact. We need to ensure clients are optimising ROI for their software spend, which is usually massive—typically 20 per cent of the entire IT budget.

Overall, Deloitte is a very project-oriented company and that’s what I’m drawn to—the ability to get into different clients and organisations. The growth opportunities are really high.

How would you describe your day-to-day role as a Risk Advisory senior manager?

Manuela Sailer: I spend the majority of my time—probably about 40 per cent—collaborating with my team to help develop solutions to the problems they’re tackling with our clients. Even though it’s no longer realistic for me to get involved “in the weeds” of client projects on a daily basis, it’s actually one of the things that I still love to do, so you’ll find me digging into the details from time to time!

About 30 per cent of my time is related to project manager tasks. For example, longer-term planning, goal-setting and creating cost savings for clients. And another 30 per cent is focussed on strategic business tasks like hiring. It can certainly be challenging because I need to focus on all of these areas simultaneously–client projects, growing the business, hiring people, team training and development, onboarding and ongoing skill sharing, and more.

What are some of the most important risk considerations for companies today?

Manuela Sailer: I think digital transformation is one of the key considerations, as well as figuring out the right infrastructure model. For example, how can they achieve the highest ROI with their software assets while determining which applications to migrate to the cloud and which ones to keep on premise? What is the right cloud strategy for their organisation? We help clients determine the optimal strategy and implement it.

What career growth challenges have you experienced as a woman? How did you overcome them?

Manuela Sailer: Balancing my career and motherhood definitely remains one of my main challenges and I don’t think it’s realistic to think I’ll ever have a perfect solution. I’m constantly aware of this “push and pull,” and I make a concerted effort to achieve a good equilibrium. I would say three things that have been instrumental are:

  • The support of my husband – We both have demanding, full-time jobs, but we always find a way to share the responsibility of parenting. During the pandemic, we were often faced with kindergarten closures just a few hours before our workday started. We’d have to quickly review our calendars and determine how we could best divide and conquer work obligations and caring for our kids. We always made it work—and the rest gets done once the kids are in bed. It truly does “take a village,” and having a supportive partner, family and friends is essential.
  • A supportive employer and flexible working times – I’m able to work remotely and I also have the flexibility to manage my days in such a way that I can focus on priority client meetings and make room for personal priorities like school closings, if needed, during business hours and then resume less time-sensitive but more strategic business workloads later on, once the kids are in bed.   
  • Government support – This is different in every country, but in Germany where I am, the government provides financial support for parental leave and this has helped tremendously in balancing work and family life.

Overall, time management is critical. So, for example, I carve out time for lunch with my husband every Friday and a date night every other Saturday. The hours of 6 p.m.—8 p.m. each night are always reserved for family time with the kids. I also try to take two hours each weekend for myself—whether that’s a massage or to meet with friends. We all have different and often multiple, roles in life. I don’t want to fulfill just one of them, but it’s up to me to try to balance it all. Is it perfect? No. It’s challenging. It can be exhausting. But it’s definitely worth it.

Are there other work challenges you face as a woman?

Manuela Sailer: Apart from motherhood, a big one is the myth of working hard and automatically being recognised for it. When I was younger, it seemed simple: If I just worked hard enough and performed well, of course someone would notice, right? And I would be recognised in some way, like receiving a promotion. But reality hit fast and I understood that’s not necessarily how it works. If you or your team is doing good work, you have to communicate and promote it.

Over the last two years, I’ve started making sure I devote time to this. I owe it to my team to make sure their client successes are conveyed to the larger team within Deloitte. The lesson is it’s not enough to just be hardworking—that’s not how business works. If you’re doing something good, it’s important to talk about it and it’s often up to you to do so.

What do you think makes a leader successful?

Manuela Sailer: In order to grow and lead, I think it’s really important to build self-confidence and step out of your comfort zone. As an example, I started my career in IT communications, but I realised it didn’t fulfill me. I wanted to get more involved in client-facing IT advisory work. Although I was a bit worried since I didn’t have a lot of experience in the area, I took on my first software sales role. Then, I made the difficult decision to move from Germany to California in 2016, without having landed a job there yet. I remember those very difficult first six weeks in the U.S., applying for jobs after having left my family and everything I knew in Germany. It was also very challenging to get a U.S. work permit. In 2019, my husband and I decided to move back to Germany to be closer to our families and I decided to take on a new role as a manager in Risk Advisory. But I’m so thankful for the opportunity to have met so many strong and successful business woman in the U.S. The experience forced me to take big leaps outside of my comfort zone, but it has paid off in spades in terms of career growth and satisfaction.

Second, a leader needs to be a decision maker and I believe balancing gut instincts with data analytics is very important part of that. It’s essential to examine the data you have at your disposal, but in the end, we’ll never have truly complete information available about anything, We need to do a better job of trusting and combining that feeling in our stomachs with the data at hand.

Third, a good leader should be able to solve problems. That may sound obvious, but it often doesn’t happen. No problem is so complex that you can’t break it down into the essential parts. And you will never solve hard problems alone. I often grab a colleague and say, “Hey, look, I have this problem and I’ve thought about it this way or that way.” We almost always come to a conclusion and I think that process of collaboration is so important.

How can organisations encourage and inspire young women (or young people in general) to join this industry?

Manuela Sailer: One of the most important things to me is to show my team, including incoming hires, that I believe in them. We have to give those just starting out the trust to make them feel comfortable, safe and protected. It’s similar to the dynamics of a family; if you feel safe and protected, you’re willing to take a risk because you know there’s someone who will help you get back on your feet.

Second, give them high-quality projects so they have the opportunity to grow, but also to make mistakes. Making mistakes is essential and I’ve made many of them. What’s important is that we learn and grow from our mistakes. I always say, “There’s nothing you can break that I can’t fix.” Think about Deloitte’s slogan, “Make an impact that matters.” You can only do that if there’s someone who trusts you enough to give you significant projects.

Third, empower them. Allow them to make their own decisions. I have a young team member who is in her early 20s. She’s already a senior consultant as she’s very competent and talented, so she was promoted quite quickly. Since she also can be shy, I’ve been gently nudging her to take over on a project I’m managing, which involves being more vocal and leading calls with the client. I tell her, “I’m here if you need me,” but I’m pressing her to take that freedom to make decisions and have her voice be heard.  

Do you have any advice for women entering the field?

Manuela Sailer: As we’ve talked about a bit, a major challenge for women is self-confidence. There are often a lot more males than females in any given work situation and the males are usually more confident and vocal. As a female, I know I’ve left meetings and wondered why I didn’t speak up when I had something to say.  There is one book that offers advice on this subject: “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office,” and I recommend it to female colleagues all the time.

Women face challenges that men don’t have to grapple with—the myth of “just work hard and you’ll get ahead,” as I talked about, or dancing around the challenges of pregnancy and a career, or the feeling that we have to minimise our work, our position, our achievements. Many of us can relate to that situation where a male colleague proudly states he’s the “senior manager” on a project, while as women, we might feel the need to downplay our role and just say, “I’m doing a project.” We need to stop denying the importance of office politics—something men often inherently understand and do well at.

Essentially, sometimes we need to just step up and take on new challenges. We need to be bold. Speak up. We hold back too often. I would love it if we could do these things more because we can add so much value to society, to our working environments, to our clients–and ourselves!

View Deloitte’s Women in Risk series

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