Sheila Sarver is a dynamic, results-driven executive with global experience in product development, program management and quality. After a rewarding career in automotive with General Motors, Johnson Controls and Yanfeng, she now works for Otis Elevator Company. As VP, Engineering, Americas, Sheila Sarver is responsible for leading and guiding the engineering strategy and streamlining execution within the Otis Americas organization. This includes direct oversight of the Systems Elevator Engineering (SEE) Center in Florence, SC, as well as indirect leadership of the SEE in São Bernardo, Brazil. She is responsible for ensuring increased collaboration between the technology, product development and program teams. By expanding partnerships with the new equipment, field, modernization, and service engineering teams, she is focused on enhancing execution of the Americas portfolio. Sheila is the engineering executive sponsor for the Women in Technology (WIT) Employee Resource Group in Otis.
Sheila has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) and an MBA from the University of Michigan. She is a member of the Society of Women Engineers, and a Project Manager Professional (PMP)® certified by the Project Management Institute, an international Certification recognized in over 125 countries. Sheila has a unique leadership style which creates a positive climate of engagement and accountability. She has extensive experience in building high performance teams, and fostering communication with internal and external partners, stakeholders, and customers.
Sheila resides with her husband Bill in Oakland Township, Michigan. They have three adult children who continue to inspire them as they pursue their own careers. Sheila enjoys yoga, traveling and various volunteer activities in her community.
How do you balance your work life and home life?
Thoughtfully! I recall the days when I started my career - my children were young, my husband and I both had highly demanding jobs and we were required to be in the office. At home, every day was a new day of getting the kids ready for school, prepping lunches, making sure homework was done, you get the idea. I quickly found out that I needed to use the right tools to create balance for my family and me. This started with honing my time management skills, making a schedule, and using a checklist. I also had to prioritize quality over quantity. This meant identifying what was truly important to me and my family throughout their childhood.
Finally, I am still learning to be kind to myself. I now know one of the most important ways to achieve a sense of work-life balance is to let go of perfectionism. Life isn’t always easy. Everyone struggles, and we aren’t always going to get it “right”. Be kind to yourself. Recognizing this will help us shift our mindset toward growth.
How do you practice self-care and create time for yourself?
As women, we aspire to be caregivers to others, but we often forget to take care of ourselves. Which means, at time, you must learn to say no, if you try to do everything, you may find that you’re not able to do the most important things well. Sometimes saying no isn’t a hard “no”, though, it’s a “can I find another way to get this done” or “can I direct you to someone who can help you in this moment.”
I still look at how I spend my personal time and decide which activities are energizing vs. draining me. This makes it easier to prioritize high-value relationships and activities which are both engaging and satisfying. It took me some time to recognize the importance of maintaining my physical and mental health, and emotional well-being. To me, this is foundational to maintaining balance. Fortunately, our company recognizes this too, and provides many ways to support us in our individual journey.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
Growing up, I always wanted to be a teacher. I was always sitting in the front row of the classroom, inspired by my teachers as they shared their knowledge, challenged me to solve problems and piqued my curiosity. Teaching is such an impactful profession. You hear people at every age talk about the teachers who have influenced them.
How do you view your role as a leader?
As a leader I think we have a similar responsibility as teachers. A leader supports, enables, and recognizes the individuals on their teams. I love the aspects of my role today that allow me to teach and have a positive impact on others. And, of course, to be a good teacher you must be a good student, too! For me, this means being an active listener, staying curious and being willing to learn. Continuous learning and growth are both important to me today. You can still find me sitting in the front row.
What was the best advice you ever got?
“Be a change agent.” A former mentor said this to me when I was considering an overseas role. It was a big change for me personally, and a daunting major move for my family. Often, both at work and in our personal lives, viewing change in a positive light can be hard, but ultimately critical to success. Change isn’t always easy or welcome, but it can be a catalyst for growth and self-development. Having the confidence and ability to lead a transformation, to initiate and drive that change, is even harder. Becoming comfortable leading change has been such an important of my career.
What was your biggest obstacle and how did you overcome it?
Bias! I have had to confront biases facing me about being a woman, being a minority, being a minority woman. If you’ve met me, you’ll know I don’t wear the “beige and blue uniform”. I’ve been told, “you don’t look like an engineer”. This stereotype is just another bias. The more we experience diversity and build a climate of inclusion, the more open we will be.
Saying I’ve overcome bias wouldn’t be accurate. Though I’m inspired by the tremendous progress I’ve both seen and felt, there’s progress still to be made. We must be opened to overcoming our own biases, helping others do the same, and showing each other that assumptions we make about each other aren’t always true. I come back to teaching and continuous learning, I’m still on a growth journey myself!
What can we support the growth of others?
Our teams and organizations can play a positive role in supporting and facilitating this growth. I’ll use Otis as an example: I, along with my colleague Pooja Dewan
, serve as the executive sponsor for our global Women in Technology Employee Resource Group. Through this network of hundreds of women across 15+ countries and six continents, I am always learning from others’ perspectives and backgrounds! By participating in other ERGs, I learn from and connect with people whose lived experiences are different than my own.
We can all know better and do better. It must start with each of us being willing to acknowledge our own challenges first. Once we do, we can attempt to do just a little bit better, for ourselves, for those around us and for those who will come after us.
Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.
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