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“CIO Young Talent” candidate Elika Shahmohammadi: “We still need more women in IT”

The “CIO Young Talent Award” has been honoring young IT talents for ten years. Among them this year is Elika Shahmohammadi (head of CRM & Consumer Platforms & Precision Marketing), a talent from the Beiersdorf ranks. How did Elika do in the final round? How does she contribute to the new Digital Transformation Program of Beiersdorf? And how does she hold her own as a woman in the IT industry? We talked about all these topics with Elika in an interview. 

Elika, congratulations – you are one of the seven participants who have qualified for the finals of the “CIO Young Talent Award”. How does it feel?

I was very happy and excited to be nominated for the final round – because there were very qualified participants. And I was honored to represent Beiersdorf there. I hoped to see other ladies in the final round and my wish was granted. But still, we need more women in IT.

All finalists had to take part in six individual interviews. How did you score particularly well with the jury? What made you stand out?

I can’t say exactly. But they told us that it was a very close competition this year. The questions I was asked were mostly about leadership. Specifically, how we candidates deal with conflicts and challenges during our career related to cultural differences, diversity, and different characters. And how we experienced leading a team during the COVID pandemic. But also, some questions about the future and where we see ourselves in a few years. And apparently my answers convinced the jury.

With Darya Novik from Siemens Healthineers, the “CIO Young Award” went to a woman this year. In addition, there was a good gender mix among this year’s finalists. Are women on the rise in IT?

No, I don’t think the number of women in IT is increasing. I also feel in my organization that we have a lack of women in IT. There are of course female talents in almost all companies, but overall, from my point of view, it is not enough at all.

Specially in my team I am looking for developers, subject experts, and product owners. However, it is not so easy to fill these positions with women, because unfortunately very few women apply at all. But we at BSS are doing everything we can to tackle this challenge by also standing fully behind Beiersdorf’s target of a 50/50 gender parity by 2025.

What is your personal experience, how do women hold their own in the IT industry?

Women need to be courageous and they need to give themselves a chance to try. When you see events like the “Young Talent Award”, it is of course not a representative of the supposedly increasing number of women in IT – but it can lead to that. It shows the role models. For example, seeing that Annette Hamann is CIO of such a big company that’s inspiring too. This is how women can look up to these role models and see that it’s actually possible to make it.

Why did you choose IT and how did you get into this field?

I started getting familiar with the world of computer as a child. I remember that my mom took me to a private programming class, because she saw that I Ioved playing “Prince of Persia”, a game on floppy disc on my uncle’s big IBM desktop. My mom heard about this programming class and she told me I can someday write my own game if I go to that class. So, I started learning different coding languages, which I hated with every cell in my body. But I didn’t give up and for that I am thankful to my competitive nature. 

Fast forward to future when I had to choose a major at the University, I decided to go to IT since I like to challenge myself and the status quo, it was so rare that a woman choses to study computer science or IT – and I wanted to be one of them. My father was my big supporter he said that the future belongs to IT.

What is it like for you personally to work in IT as a woman?

For me it is challenging and rewarding at the same time. It’s challenging because the IT industry is still dominated by men and sometimes, I feel I have to be extra tough and persevering. It’s also challenging because of the rapid changes. If you want to stay on top of the things, you have to get in the habit of constantly learning and asking questions. Every day there is a new technology that you have to first understand and then decide if and where it can benefit the consumer. You have to be brave enough to ask questions and that’s exactly what I do – I believe there are no wrong questions. On the other hand, it’s so rewarding. When you see how the hard work pays off because you can successfully complete the projects and have an amazing team that performs fantastically.

You’ve been at Beiersdorf for six years now – and as head of CRM & Consumer Platforms & Precision Marketing, you’re close to Beiersdorf’s “Digital Fast Forward” program – consisting of a number of high impact projects which the company has kick-started to accelerate its digital transformation journey within the next five years. What contribution does your team make to this program?

I think that I am at the right place at the right time – because we are in the middle of a transformation journey – also we as IT department – and that is super exciting. As Beiersdorf’s IT affiliate (BSS), we want to become a proactive “business enabler” that creates added value and competitive advantages for the whole company. Through our actions, we help deliver tomorrow’s skin care today for everyone – an ambition for which first-class technical solutions play an essential role in today’s digital age. In this sense, our IT has a significant stake in accelerating Beiersdorf’s digital transformation as part of its C.A.R.E.+ strategy. Concretely, my team and I currently work on Consumer Engagement Management as a central part within “Digital Fast Forward”.

Where do you see the future of IT? And what is your personal vision for Beiersdorf Shared Services?

I think that we are on a great path. Because, when you are talking about buzzwords like “transformation” or “digitization”, sometimes you really have the feeling that those are only empty words. But if you are looking at our organization – we are putting it into action. We are heavily investing in new technologies, data-driven capacity and into our people and their digital capabilities. To really get our journey to full speed, everyone must want it of course – and in my opinion this is the case. There is a strong sense and will to drive the change within our global teams. Therefore, I think we have a very great future in IT. We have very exciting jobs and responsibilities. I really can see and feel the change.

Elika, thank you so much for the interview and for sharing your thoughts with us.

For the first time, Beiersdorf has sent a talent to compete for the “CIO Young Talent Award” who immediately succeeded to the final round. Elika can be really proud of that achievement and I am very happy for her. Finding and promoting talents is a very important strategic asset at Beiersdorf Shared Services. And I agree with Elika: We also need more women and diversity in IT.
Annette Hamann, CIO Beiersdorf & Managing Director Beiersdorf Shared Services IT

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