Episode 17: WERKIN with Melissa Di Donato on top tips for mentorship


On our latest podcast, Hayley is WERKIN with Melissa Di Donato, Chief Revenue Officer for ERP Cloud at SAP. Hayley and Melissa discuss robots, the shapes of career ladders, and Melissa’s top tips for mentors and mentees.


Melissa Di Donato went from studying Russian linguistics to leadership positions at some of the world’s most influential tech companies. How? Through mentorship. Identified by a teacher in grade school as having a knack for languages, Di Donato later transitioned to a career in tech after a business school professor suggested it be a fitting path for her skills. Having worked at PwC, Oracle, IBM and Salesforce before joining SAP, Di Donato has seen her share of industry shifts enabled by technology.

“In probably three to four years, many of the functions that happen in the finance department will go away and be replaced by technology led with innovation. We're about to shift the way technology is purchased, the way it's consumed, and what's expected in the delivery of an application. What is being demanded by society, and by buyers, and by businesses and by consumers, is now merging into being one of innovation.

Mundane tasks are going away. We're going to expect more from people. I think that's good for our society, it's good for our children because our children will come into a world that's going to be much different, where technology, robotics are going to be replacing, a lot of the things that our grandparents used to do, or our parents in favor of doing something different.”


As industries embrace technology in new ways, how are companies themselves innovating to become more inclusive and supportive of the unique paths of employees? Di Donato talks about the “trap doors,” that women encounter as they move through their careers. “How do we get women to avoid the trap doors, they truck along in their career and then the trapdoor happens and they fall before they can get into a management role. How do we avoid that?”

It’s important for companies to reflect on their own policies and processes that cause employees, particularly women, to leave. “Are they leaving to take care of sick parents? Leaving to have a baby? Are they leaving because their husbands got a more powerful career? We’re trying to find ways to support women as they face those roadblocks and get them the support network to stay in.”

Beyond supporting women and those with caregiving responsibilities to stay on track with their careers, Di Donato is looking at ways to bring more young talent into the mix.

“We're educating them for one year, spending a significant amount of money to train them, give them some work experience, and then give them a full time job at SAP [where Di Donato leads as Chief Revenue Officer]. So really taking care and nurturing that community, and then keeping them and mentoring them, giving back, asking them for feedback.”

In supporting employees throughout their career journeys, Di Donato emphasizes the need for role models. “What we've all learned is that you can't be what you can't see inside of technology. I feel like it's my obligation for my daughter to create a better role. It's going to be her obligation to pay it back to me. We have to be visible. Be visible and be present and look for ways to pay it forward.”


Di Donato stresses the importance of mentoring in her own career and has some practical advice for anyone starting out as a mentor or mentee. “I go to every meeting as a mentee, with a list of objectives ‘what do I want to get? how much time do I have? how much time do I have between each meeting? What am I going to do between each meeting to show success and movement and the advice I've been given?’”

“What I want to get out of that meeting has been really important for me because going and having a chat is not going to get you anywhere. Going in with objectives. Being able to report back on the advice and decisions we've made last time is important, so I'm prepared tonight to sit down with you to say we talked about these five things.”

Di Donato recommends preparing for a mentoring session as you would for any important business meeting. “I prepare for my mentoring meetings, as a mentee. As a mentor, I like to prepare in advance so I keep track of what we've talked about last time what I've asked my mentee to go ahead and do, while we're away I do a little bit of research on the topics.

Di Donato’s top tips include:

  1. Prepare a list of objectives for each session

  2. Bring five topics you want to discuss

  3. Schedule four quarterly meetings ahead of time, allowing time for follow up between each session

  4. Find multiple mentors from diverse backgrounds and industries

Beyond the mentoring session, what advice does Di Donato have for women?

“Be open to change. For women, when we think of corporate life, whether you're an entrepreneur or in a large corporation, or a small start up, you think of things in a very linear fashion, you think ‘I'm going to climb the career ladder.’ There's no career ladder. There's a New York fire escape. If you think about New York fire escapes, you go up, you go to the side, kind of hanging out, you pull the ladder down, and you climb up again, and you go back and forth and back and forth. And I think, you know, I think the one thing that young women need to embrace is change. It's not going to be linear, there's no way, single way up the corporate ladder. We know there will be obstacles in life, not just your career, and be open to embrace those changes as they come.”

Forget climbing the career ladder, careers are a New York fire escape ladder.   Photo credit: Dan Gold

Forget climbing the career ladder, careers are a New York fire escape ladder. Photo credit: Dan Gold

“Be present for whatever you do, when you're home with your family, be present, be focused on them. Put your phone down for a second, not forever.”

Find a mentor, embrace change, be present. For more advice from Di Donato, listen to the full episode on SoundCloud or iTunes.