Women in Leadership 2: Alexandra Schless

Alexandra Schless has a long and distinguished track record in the datacenter industry. In the past two decades, she transformed a start-up business into a market leader and as a Vice President she led international sales teams. She is now CEO of NorthC Datacenters where she focuses on growing the business, while doing so in a sustainable and socially responsible way. “Sustainability is the key to future growth and constant technological innovation is the key to sustainability,” according to Schless.

NorthC Datacenters was founded in the first quarter of 2020 as a result of the integration of two existing datacenter companies: NLDC (owned by KPN) and The Datacenter Group. DWS Group, a German investment fund that acquired both companies in 2019, asked me to lead the combined group. I started on October 1, 2019 as the CEO of the company.

Being one of the few woman CEOs of a datacenter company, how has your journey been so far and what was the most challenging part?

I started my career in the telecoms industry after I graduated from university. From the start, I was used to the fact that there weren’t many women working in technical companies. But for me, it has never been a reason to believe that as a woman I could not have the same career aspirations as my male colleagues. My parents always motivated me and my sister to make our own choices and to give a 100% to achieve something. I set a clear goal of what I wanted to achieve professionally. If I felt that I was not taken seriously (which happened a couple of times during my career), I waited for the right moment and opportunity to show the opposite—I think that is my inner drive and conviction.

At the same time, I always appreciated being a woman. I never felt like I had to act like one of the guys. There are differences between genders, and that is okay. Men and women have different ways to contribute, say for instance, towards a discussion or solving a problem. The outcome of combining these varied approaches can benefit the result. The important thing is to respect the differences and not judge people because of it. I have experienced that if you stay close to yourself, as a professional and a person, people value you for being genuine.

In your opinion, how many years will it take to achieve gender parity in the boardroom?

It will differ per country due to differences in social and political circumstances. For example, it will depend on the possibilities given by a government to support women in combining the care for children and work. In the Western world, I think it will still take many years before we have a true parity (50-50%) in boardrooms. We see hopeful changes, like in the Netherlands, as the topics around diversity and inclusion are now on the strategic agenda of many companies. But we must also realize that we need more women who have the ambition and belief that they can be part of a senior management and can make a difference in an organization. Parents, schools, universities and companies play an important role in supporting and motivating girls and women so that they don’t focus on limitations and obstacles but on the opportunities and solutions.

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