Soccer team in a huddle

LEAP Into Your Career

February 18, 2016 by Nadia Boyes 166

Teamwork, portable skills, and a leadership mindset guide female employees at SAP toward leadership positions through the company’s award-winning LEAP program.

“When my participation in LEAP was confirmed, I felt honored and extremely thrilled to be one of the women taking part in this prestigious program,” said Candace Green from Ariba North America. She added: “It makes me really proud to be part of SAP, a company that is taking decisive action to remedy the lack of women in leadership roles in technology. I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity.”

Candace participated in SAP’s 2014-2015 Leadership Excellence Acceleration Program (LEAP), a year-long journey for women who have the potential and the desire to take on a people management role or reach new levels of people leadership. The program aims to develop women by providing them with a set of portable skills, showcasing their contribution to SAP, helping them to achieve their career goals, and enabling others to succeed.

The LEAP program is based on a  five pillar development model covering self-awareness, career development and planning, network and branding, capability building, and mentoring and sponsorship. Its mission is to grow and accelerate SAP’s pipeline of capable leaders to help SAP achieve the goal of 25% female leadership by 2017.

Is This Target Realistic?

According to data released by the Global Diversity and Inclusion Office, SAP is outpacing many of its technology peers when it comes to women in the workforce and the percentage of women in leadership. As of 2015, SAP had 32.1% females in the workforce and 23.6% women in management roles. The latter represents a five percentage point increase since 2011. With the impact of programs such as LEAP, SAP is fully committed to achieve the target of 25% by 2017.

SAP is fully committed to achieving the target of 25% women in management by 2017.

Gender Bias and Challenges

The study “Women in the Workplace” implemented in 2015 by and McKinsey & Company, in which 118 companies and 30,000 employees participated, suggests that women are less likely to advance than men, even though they share exactly the same aspirations.

“Cracking the Code,” a publication prepared by KPMG, YSC and the 30% Club, suggests that masculine traits are typically preferred for leaders. Women are stereotypically viewed as caretakers and softer in style, they have less social support because there is under-representation of senior female leaders and role models, and — very importantly — women are twice as likely as men to think their gender will make it harder to advance.

Female colleagues interviewed during the SAP Women’s Stories project, organized by the Palo Alto Focus Group and piloted with a LEAP group in North America, also identified a number of challenges perceived by women at SAP. Among them, flexibility is appreciated, but women need support to achieve a healthy work/life balance; women see networks as exclusively male-dominated and find it difficult to access “boys’ clubs,” and women would like to see more female leaders at the top.

There are many differing opinions to consider and obstacles to overcome, but with LEAP, SAP is attempting to change mindsets, break stereotypes, improve opportunities, and facilitate the promotion of a new generation of female leaders.

Recently, LEAP won the 2015 Brandon Hall Group Excellence Award for Leadership Development. The entries were evaluated by an international panel of independent industry experts, Brandon Hall Group senior analysts, and an executive leadership team. The judging was based on the following criteria: fit the need, program design, functionality, innovation, and overall measurable benefits.

The Strength is in the Group

At the beginning of the program, participants are divided into small groups: the learning circles. They meet monthly through a virtual classroom where they discuss topics and assignments, ask questions, and share feedback.

Laura Whitaker, SAP Senior Learning Strategist, considers teamwork to be one of the fundamental aspects of the program: “Women are able to bond with colleagues they would not have otherwise met. They don’t feel so alone anymore and can use each other as sounding boards. This gives them a confidence booster, enabling them to focus on being a leader, to understand who they are and what they are trying to achieve, and to define their next steps.”

“You Get to Know Yourself and Understand Where to Improve”

The monthly topics for discussion vary: from power of self-awareness to negotiation, from network and branding to driving innovation. It is a comprehensive spectrum which Vinita Mohan, senior developer from SAP India, appreciates: “I found the program very efficient, the content was very well articulated. Through the discussions with my colleagues, I got to know more about myself and understand where to improve.”

Set Time Aside and Become an Inspirational Leader

Women often comment that it is quite hard to find time for themselves and fit training and career development into their busy lives. For this reason, participants are encouraged to put themselves first, make the time to focus on development, and share the content of the program to inspire others.

Veronica Losanovscky, GCO University Lead from LAC South and North, thinks that the program helped her set aside time in her busy schedule to reflect on where she is, what she wants to do, and how to get it. Angelique de Vries, Executive Champion for LEAP in EMEA, reinforces this statement: “It’s a real honor to be the sponsor for the EMEA LEAP program and work closely with the many talented colleagues. LEAP is an inspiring program, giving the opportunity to connect and build your network across SAP while engaging in an active learning curriculum.”

Three hundred female leaders graduate from LEAP each year. LEAP was launched globally in November 2014 with three cohorts (NA, LAC and APJ) of 50 participants each. In July 2015, EMEA was added and the capacity in NA was doubled to 100. LEAP is focused on supporting women accelerate their career in people leadership. Participation is through an application process. LEAP has kicked off its 2016 program with cohorts around the globe for the first time.

Evaluation and Business Impact – Moving Vertically and Laterally

Surveys are carried out at the beginning, mid-point, and end of the program. Three key measures are used –talent development, talent exposure, and talent movement. Career progression is tracked for two years following LEAP graduation.

Significantly, a survey at the end of 2014 showed that 88% of participants would recommend LEAP. In addition, a survey conducted by HR in September showed that two years and three months after starting LEAP, 18% of participants had become new managers, four percent had moved into middle management, 22% had moved into an expert role, and one person into an executive role.

The success of the program resonates in Candace Green’s hope for the future: “I feel like I have developed a full tool belt of attributes I can use to succeed, not just at SAP but anyplace, anytime, for the rest of my career… as well as in my personal life. I have built up skills like networking, political savvy, negotiation, creativity, and now recognize more of the assets that I have that will propel me upwards in my career. I am excited to see how SAP will benefit from what I’ve gained in this amazing program.

Video produced by John Hunt with support by Carmen Peter.

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