Your new electronic device comes with a quick start manual. One of Continental’s senior leaders thought she should, too.
Jennifer Wahnschaff is Senior Vice President and Head of Business Unit ITS at Continental. When she assumed her role in March 2018, she developed a 12-page Leader’s User Guide that’s a first-person summary of her leadership style, natural tendencies, communication preferences and self-acknowledged blind spots – a first of its kind guide at Continental.
When there’s a transition, it’s difficult to get to know a new boss. So, we thought this was a way to jumpstart and get to know key things about me and help to jumpstart the relationship.
Together with my leadership coach using an interview style of questioning we put together the quick start user guide. I had my first get-together with my senior leadership team, we gave them electronic and hard copies and walked them through the highlights. Now, they know me and will come back and say, “Lunch time! Don’t let her get hangry!”
It was the first time people had seen something like that. It’s been very successful. We joke that engineers don’t read manuals, but this is one that we think people want to read. We shared it in the context that I’m self-aware. We walked everyone through it and showed them how they can do it. We think of the User Guide like a fast start. When you buy new electronics, you have a quick start guide. It helps you learn the most important things quickly.
In many cases, there’s quite a network of female talent in the organization that you can network with and get advice, as well as a lot of opportunities for visibility and identifying and getting support with mentors at all levels of the organization, male or female.
One of the things women struggle with in general is asking people to be their mentors. But we have formal and informal opportunities to network with women at all different levels in the company.
In some of the countries I’ve worked, like Mexico or China, the ratio of female and male engineers is about 50-50. There are definitely more women in some of the more traditional functions like Human Resources and Communications at Continental. Being a female leader and an engineer can be an advantage, as well, because in some cases people know who I am. I stand out a little more.
I’d say there have been quite a few pivotal moments, but coming back to the U.S. seven years ago after working in Germany and taking over a senior leadership role was quite pivotal. There were maybe some initial hurdles, because I think more people were unsettled that I was the first female executive with P&L responsibility and all of my predecessors had been German delegates and male. So once the novelty wore off, they realized, okay, it’s not because she’s female or an American – she’s just there to get the job done.