Inspirational Woman: Andrea Derler | Principal for Research and Customer Value, Visier

Andrea DerlerAndrea Derler is Principal for Research and Customer Value at Visier.

Andrea is an experienced, published, researcher of human capital practices specialising in organisational change & transformation, talent and leadership development, performance management, DEIB, and organisational growth mindset.

Prior to Visier, Andrea led research teams at the NeuroLeadership Institute and Bersin by Deloitte LLP.

Andrea loves sports, coffee and Nordic mysteries. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My background is predominately from the business and sales world, working and living in Brighton as an account executive for Kimberley Clerk and then a business manager for Barclays business bank. This is where I learnt a lot about sales and relationship management.

After a few years in these roles, I then realised a couple of things don’t exactly go the way we hoped they would and many elements are out of our control, with regards to teamwork, collaboration, and leadership. That’s when I thought this might be an interesting topic area to study and went ahead to start my degree and PhD in economics, leadership and organisations remotely, while I relocated to the United States.

After completing and achieving my PhD, I took on a role as a research analyst and later as lead researcher at what was then Bersin by Deloitte and then took on a similar role at the Neuro Institute before taking on the role I am in now which specialises in research and customer values at Visier. Overall, I would describe myself as a management scientist and talent researcher.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, I did plan my career when I was young, but it never panned out the way I viewed it to be. To be honest, when you are young you sometimes don’t even know what is possible, what the roles available to you are, what the jobs truly entail and what companies value and believe in.

Personally, I just don’t think it is possible to plan out a career anymore, we have wishes, dreams and aspirations that constantly change due to life experiences and opportunities. For me, through the roles I have had, I found leadership and organisational change as really interesting topics and quickly adapted my career path to focus on this.  

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

In comparison to populations that really have challenges, because of sexism and racism, I don’t see my challenges as truly challenging. I really struggle to compare my challenges to those who are struggling and don’t have the suitable support to help them.

However, when I look back to my early years of working and studying, I decided to take on a Masters in Philosophy because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do at 18 years old but believed I would find the subject area interesting. While doing this, I also worked as an apprentice in my family business in Austria, where I continued for a few years after finishing my studies and became very stuck in the role. I had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. That was when I decided to move to the UK, and just gain experience in any role that would accept my degree and overall CV.

Another challenge I faced was when I applied for my PHD. One professor once told me at the time of my application for the PhD program: “you can’t do this work with a Masters in Philosophy”. I believe I am not the only person who has faced negativity like this, I am certain other women and young people have been told multiple times in many different ways that they can’t do or achieve something. This is a tough thing to face, but you have to believe in yourself and push down the barriers of disbelief.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

On the personal side, my biggest achievement is my family. I have two children, lots of pets and a supportive husband, so I am incredibly proud of that. It isn’t necessarily an achievement, but I believe that the loved ones around me are a strong cornerstone of my life that has helped me get to where I am today in my career.

Professionally, I have been very lucky to lead some incredible research projects, but a particular highlight was when my PhD dissertation was noticed by the media, where I was interviewed on the details of my findings which were then published by 80-90 outlets. It was so cool to see individuals engage in my work and really take notice of my research. Seeing my research findings picked up by others, in the media, which is what’s happening with every project I have led in recent years, is very exciting because it means what I do is interesting for others.

I believe and hope there is lots more to come, I haven’t hit the peak or end of my career yet and am always on the lookout to create new and insightful work. The most important factor for my success thus far, are the many amazing people – peers, bosses, co-workers and team members – I have met along the way, and working with them and learning from them is what makes all my work worthwhile. 

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

In my spare time I study martial arts and I have first degree black belts in Japanese Jiu Jitsu and Korean Tae Kwon Do. You learn a lot about yourself when you do fighting arts because you are never great and you are never the best. Most of the time, I am the weaker sparring partner, being 5ft 2” tall and not very competitive. A guiding principle I was taught many years ago is to always practice “mushin” which in Japanese means ‘empty mind’, a mind without preconceptions. This always reminds me to walk into every conversation or situation with an open mind, and not come in with demands and what I think is right. It helps me to stay open-minded with everyone I meet and seeing that the other part is part of the strength in collaboration.   

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I have always been incredibly lucky to have mentors in my life. When I was in the UK I met with a professional coach, when I felt most lost. He helped me realise what I was interested in and helped me find the topics I love most which are leadership and organisational change.

When I moved to Michigan, I had another mentor who helped me through my studies. After my PhD, I then met with another mentor, a young lady, who is an outstanding career mentor and who I still speak to now. She always gives me that honest feedback to a question when I most need it, and I know I can always turn to her for honest advice.

I would say I have had many more mentors than mentees in my life so far, but I have lead teams in my last two roles and so I hope I naturally became some form of a mentor to people within my teams.

I have experienced first-hand the benefits of having a mentor to turn to and ask questions relating to your career path who is outside of your company/business area. I also believe it is important that you have someone who you can turn to in a less formal capacity, who you can trust who will give you honest feedback. Having one or both in your life, will help push you in the right direction and give you confidence in your skills sets to progress in your job.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

My dissertation was on implicit bias, this is the bias that we have and are consciously aware. For example, we think of others in different ways, and we don’t want to, but we do. So, if I could change one thing, it would be to erase all our collective memories and historic knowledge of how things used to be generations and centuries back.

As you know, history tells us that women should not lead, they shouldn’t earn as much as men, they should look after children, and they should be in charge of all caring duties. Even though we may not admit it, it is how many of us have been brought up or believed to have known how things used to be as the norm. I believe this still does stand in the way of women’s progress, whether that is promotions, pay, being taken seriously, because of this implicit bias that we learned from our collective memory.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

I would definitely tell myself to face my weaknesses head on right now and get rid of them as soon as you can. I say this because there was one reason why I didn’t study Business out of school which I really should have done. I didn’t do it because I wasn’t good at Maths, and at the time in Austria it was an accepted thing for women and girls not to be good at Maths. It was a big mistake of mine, and I wish I pushed myself to be good at the subject, regardless of the lowered expectation at the time. I could then have studied Business a lot earlier in my life and saved myself years of extra studying.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?  

At Visier, I work with a team of data scientists, and I am learning so much from them. From the way they do their work, how they investigate data and how they analyse it. My next challenge is to learn new methods of learning, understanding, and translating data sets.

In terms of achievement, who knows. I am hoping to publish interesting reports for Visier and add to the discussion on how we can best use data to help people’s lives at work and organisational processes overall. But that is a lofty goal. More tactically, I am always looking for the next thing to learn, I believe that is what keeps me young and curious about new things and people.

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