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Created on 02.11.2020

Women in technology and innovation: “Diversity is above all a business issue”

Kathrin Saner, understanding that competence in IT is a must to survive in professional life, once worked as an economist in the IT department of a large Swiss company and was subsequently COO of an SME in the digital space. Today she works in Corporate Venturing at PostFinance and scouts startups in Fintech. We talk to her about her experiences as a woman in tech.


You studied economics, but then entered the IT sector. How did this come about?

When I worked in the corporate development department of a large corporation after my studies, I realized that every project has an IT component. And that without IT competence, you can neither enter discussions on equal terms nor challenge key stakeholders. That’s why I decided back then to apply for a job as an IT project manager at another large company, despite hardly having any IT skills. The only criterion for the job description that I fulfilled was having lots of motivation. And so it wasn’t surprising that I initially received a rejection and only got the job after chasing it. The decisive factor was that I was given the chance to demonstrate my strengths in the areas of project and stakeholder management at the job interview and was able to win over the line managers with my inquisitiveness and willingness to learn.

If you want to actively shape the future, an interest in technology is of central importance. This applies to all sectors.
Kathrin Saner, PostFinance

So you jumped in at the deep end of the tech pond! What have you learned from this?

You shouldn’t be afraid to try something new. Of course, you can’t become an IT architect without appropriate training. But there are many different job profiles in the tech sector, including those suitable for career changers. And these job profiles offer an opportunity for motivated people who are willing to acquire new skills through self-study or on the job. In IT, for instance, a lot of project work is required. This calls for skills such as being able to facilitate and promote exchange of information between the participants. And it’s always in need of “translation services” so the programmers develop what the business wants.

After four years as COO in another company, you finally switched to Corporate Venturing at PostFinance. What are your duties here?

Our team scouts startups in Fintech. We make an assessment as to whether the technology used by the start-up and its business model are sustainable. If the start-up fulfils these and other criteria, we make the investment and accompany the start-up on its growth path.

How do you explain the fact that, just like in many tech professions, there are still only a few women in this field?

Corporate venturing is still a relatively new area for which there’s no vocational training. To get started here, you need a certain amount of self-confidence, because you’re not arriving ready with the skills for the job, you only learn them in practice. Therefore, it’s not possible to fulfil all requirements of the job description. Men tend to be braver about having gaps in their knowledge when it comes to applying, while women often refrain from putting in an application if they do not meet all criteria. My tip to women is: just give it a go as well.

Do you have any other tips for women who want to get ahead in tech?

Yes, the same as I would give to men. In addition to good performance on the job, the importance of your network should not be underestimated. Ultimately this will help ensure you are actually on the radar when it comes to hiring. Many jobs are not even publicly advertised. While online channels are helpful in establishing an initial connection, nothing beats personal contact when it comes to maintaining relationships. For example, instead of working on perfecting a PowerPoint slide over lunchtime, a business lunch is the better alternative. Particularly when you have family obligations, it is not always easy to devote time to developing your network – not least because many events take place in the evening. But it’s worth it. On the one hand, you benefit from the exchange of knowledge, and on the other, you get to know other experts who you can approach with specific questions. In terms of networking, I personally also find it important to give others access to your own network and thus support them.

Why do we need more diversity in innovation and technology?

For me, economic motives are a clear focus here: women make up over 50 percent of the target group for most products. And it’s a shame if a company is not able to reach them with its offering. A logical consequence of this is that women – or other target groups – must be closely involved in product development and innovations so that the product is effective in appealing to them. The whole thing is therefore not a diversity issue for me, but a business issue with great potential.

What’s the answer to getting women more interested in tech jobs?

By educating them about what it really means to work in tech. There are so many exciting jobs you may never have heard of in school and that are not necessarily directly related to learning programming languages. When it comes to IT, for example, many think of the IT nerd who never gets away from his computer. That is a cliché. Because tech fields in particular are looking for people who are exactly the opposite of the lonely nerd: it’s all about being able to think logically, to question things, to understand connections, to creatively develop new solutions from components and to communicate well.

What is your advice to women who want to work in tech?

You don’t have to know everything at the outset. If you bring with you curiosity and willingness to learn, you can quickly develop into an expert. And women are very much in demand in IT and tech. An opportunity to be seized.

About Kathrin Saner

Kathrin Saner

The economist Kathrin Saner has been working at PostFinance in the Corporate Venturing team since the beginning of 2020.

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