Angie chats to Laura Atkinson, Head of Partners & Alliances at SAP UK & Ireland, where she takes us on a journey through her career and her path to leadership. Laura shares her advice on the importance of knowing your value in the workplace, on ensuring you have self belief, and strongly encourages all to seek out mentors who will challenge and support you to become the best version of yourself.

How did you get started in the tech industry?

Laura studied International History and Politics at university for which the normal career path would have been MI6. She told us that she applied to various graduate schemes and landed one with ICL, now Fujitsu. She tells us: “I’d love to say it was a purposeful decision but I could have just as easily ended up working for British Airways” she laughs. 

Career progression at Microsoft

Despite the accidental pathway into tech, Laura has stayed in IT for 23 years and started out at Microsoft. She was at Microsoft for 15 years and told us she is very fond of the tech giant. She got to work in Sales, Sales Management and many other roles meeting various customers from the business. She reminisces that “leaving Microsoft after 15 years was a massively emotional decision which took me two years to get emotionally ready for.”

Being purposeful about your value

Something which still gets treated as a taboo subject is negotiating your pay and promotion. Early on in her career, Laura received some great career advice from a colleague which since then jump started her confidence to negotiate. She was told: “Laura, you’ve got to play on the offence with your career; be on the offence all the time!”

She then contextualised this advice by saying that women have a tendency to wait around until someone notices their hard work. Eventually, she became more bold and was very direct when asked for the package she wanted at an interview. 

“I would never have done that in the first 15 years of my career – I wouldn’t have had the self belief to negotiate my circumstances upfront with an employer.”

She advises that “as long as you are not being ridiculous or entitled it’s very unlikely to backfire on you.” She advises her younger more timid female mentees to show intent and understand their own value so that they can reap the rewards of self-belief.

Having a mentor

The mentors Laura has had, have been massively beneficial to her. She told us she purposely chose different types of mentors at different points in her career. 

“Sometimes I’ve had male mentors who are more dispassionate and direct when I needed that push. I’ve actively sought out mentors who are very different to me.”

Mentoring is a great asset for your career. Sometimes you need someone to validate your thinking or challenge you a bit. It’s not a sign of weakness but it is about actively seeking diverse input and self progression. It is a reciprocal process. 

Conclusion

Self belief underpins most of the things a career demands from us. It is the small tweaks that go far; the body language, the words we use that can have a better impact on our career and others around us in the long term. Have the conviction that your contribution is just as valid and relevant as anybody else’s.