Five years ago, Jenny Dearborn created the position of chief learning officer at SAP, a corporate software firm based in Germany. She had already held this office at three other tech companies. As chief learning officer, Dearborn works with a team of 380 employees, as well as a budget of about $240 million, to provide the company’s 90,000 employees with training workshops that will help them to better perform their jobs.
This past November, Dearborn, who is based in Palo Alto, was named Female Executive of the Year at the Stevie Awards. She was chosen from a pool of 1,500 nominees from 25 different countries. Dearborn attributes her award to the work she does outside of her job title, such as being an advocate for diversity.
Dearborn serves as the global sponsor for SAP’s LGBT and women’s communities. She also helps local schools and foreign governments to create education initiatives. Recently, she helped Assemblyman Marc Berman analyze future education and workforce trends as he considered the state’s plans for higher education.
“Really, the ticket is education, that’s the path to equality,” she said.
Dearborn’s dedication to diversity and equality stem from her own experiences with feeling forgotten and overlooked.
“I’m diagnosed as dyslexic, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), things unique to how my brain works,” Dearborn said. “I wasn’t treated fairly. I wasn’t treated with respect and empathy. I didn’t have people saying, ‘You have merits and talents and skills that need to be developed.’”
Though she wasn’t diagnosed with these learning differences until she was in college, Dearborn had already started to “identify on a personal level with the downtrodden, disenfranchised … people who are treated badly” before that.
Over time, Dearborn has learned strategies to help her be productive, such as listening to audiobooks. She has also begun to see her “disability” as an advantage.
“I feel like I can see around corners,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I can see in the past and the future. Yeah, you have a hard time reading, but your brain is wired differently. And that’s a gift. And I am thankful for it.”
Other than being the Female Executive of the Year, Dearborn has also been recognized as one of the top 50 Most Powerful Women in Tech. Her success in the technology and business fields has proven that it is possible to overcome hurdles through hard work and resourcefulness.
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