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Unconscious Bias Is a Boardroom Issue; Data Has the Power to Challenge It

Feature Article | June 15, 2017 by Miguel Castro

According to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Management Trends report, “Diversity and inclusion has become a CEO-level issue around the world.”

In fact, the Deloitte survey found that the proportion of executives who cited inclusion as a top priority has risen by 32% compared to their 2014 survey. Plus, 38% of executives now report that the primary sponsor of the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts is the CEO.

At SAP, we truly believe that diversity not only impacts our financial success, but drives our innovation, improves customer satisfaction, and increases employee engagement. And we recognize the imperative role that data and analytics play in driving bias out of our business.

Getting Management on Board

Management is constantly looking at data to run the business: revenue actuals pulled from financial systems show current performance compared to business targets and to previous years; data pulled from CRM systems provide sales forecasts and help identify the most important focus areas to turn around. Data is a normal part of day-to-day business.

But how do we use data to measure the impact of diversity and inclusion on the bottom line? How can we analyze the role unconscious bias may play in decision making? And how do we use data to drive that bias out of the board room?

Acknowledging that there is unconscious bias is a good first step – and is never easy. Anka Wittenberg, SAP’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, addressed this topic in a recent blog: Why Diversity is Good for Your Bottom Line. According to Anka, “Everyone has unconscious bias. In today’s workplace, it is time for everyone to stop tiptoeing around the issue…Understanding the reality of unconscious bias is an important component of working to reduce it in the workplace.”

Once we have acknowledged unconscious bias, then can we start to make a case for how diversity and inclusion are good for business.

At SAP, we have not only embraced the need for a more diverse and inclusive workforce, but have numerous initiatives in place to move the company forward – using data as the driver. Following are a few examples, and, while we know we still have a long journey ahead, we are proud of each step we are taking in the right direction.

Women in Technology: A Global Challenge

The need for gender diversity in technology is undisputed, but according to most reports, there are still few women leaders in technology. In a recent World Economic Forum article, “Why do so many women leave engineering?,” a study found that in group situations, especially during internships and summer jobs, female engineering students were often given less challenging problems and were relegated to doing routine “managerial and secretarial” tasks instead of the “real” engineering work. Without opportunities and adequate support, it’s no surprise that women often choose a different career path.

While there are numerous organizations and events such as the Grace Hopper Conference that have an impact, more needs to be done to attract, hire, retain, and promote women in the tech industry. SAP has made a true commitment to provide greater opportunities for women –and recently became the first multinational technology company to receive the global EDGE certification for gender equality.

A key component to this achievement has been the board-level commitment to reach 25 percent of the leadership positions filled by women in leadership by the end of 2017. To track this goal, a dashboard was created to provide a continuous status of the women in management KPI, as well as the gender split by different career levels, career movement (such as promotions), progressions and hires, and also terminations. SAP HR professionals can now easily track progress, see which geographies or business areas need support, and proactively address actions that should be taken in the different HR processes like recruitment, mentoring, and succession planning with the relevant business management representatives.

By using the available data, women in management positions have increased from 19.5% at the end of 2012 to 24.5% at the end of 2016…and SAP is on target to meet its 25% women in leadership goal by the end of 2017.

Racial Diversity in the U.S.

According to McKinsey’s “Why Diversity Matters” it is estimated that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

However, looking at the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, we see that African Americans represent just 11.7% of the American workforce, while Latinos represent 16.4%. In the tech industry (defined as computer systems design and related services), these numbers are far lower, at 7.3% and 6.3%, respectively.

This discrepancy has fueled the need for such initiatives as the 2016 White House Tech Inclusion Pledge, with SAP as inaugural signatory.

In order to drive progress in the areas of racial and ethnic diversity, SAP America developed the Ethnicity Dashboard, similar to the one created for gender, to help provide greater insight into the needs of underrepresented groups in the main business units of the organization. Gaining visibility into the needs of underrepresented employees helps to drive SAP’s   investment with groups such as the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) via SAP’s Project Propel initiative. Programs such as this help improve minority hiring, build strategic partnerships, further develop the skills and competencies of ethnically diverse employees, and shed light on unconscious bias with hiring managers and recruiters.

LGBT Diversity: A Global Topic?

Since being LGBT is not a visible diversity characteristic, the question that business management might have in this area is: “how many people are we talking about and what impact do they have?” Regardless of the number itself, Credit Suisse ESG Research from 2016 shows that LGBT-inclusive companies outperform companies without LGBT inclusive policies by 3% per year on the stock market. In addition, the 2016 report “Out in the World” by the Center for Talent Innovation states that “LGBT-inclusive companies are up to 72% better at attracting allies as employees.” Statistics like these drive home the need to focus on this important aspect of diversity and inclusion.

A 2013 Pew Research study, “The Global Divide on Homosexuality” explored the level of acceptance of LGBT communities in a large number of countries in the world. By looking at the number of employees in those countries with the most accepting societies one can gain at least an indication of the locations where the topic of LGBT inclusion might need to be addressed – beyond the necessary global non-discrimination policies ensuring protection of the workforce against harassment based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.

From a legal perspective, asking employees to self-identify their sexual orientation is not possible in a number of countries. But the number of people participating in Employee Network Groups focusing on members of the LGBT community and their allies provides a clear sign of the awareness of this topic per country. This information is easy to attain from a collaboration platform.

Lack of presence of LGBT ENG members in a country with high acceptance of homosexuality and a large employee base could be an indication of a potentially negative situation for LGBT employees.  This provides an opportunity to raise awareness, provide D&I training, and give more visibility to Out Executives from other locations of the company and engage with LGBT business organizations in that region.

Eliminating bias in business – both conscious and unconscious – is never easy; however using data and analytics to make the case for diversity can move the discussion from one based on emotions and “doing the right thing” to a business argument that can be readily supported. Inclusivity is a “win-win” scenario for all companies.

To learn more about how SAP can help your company build a business beyond bias, please see here. To learn more about Deloitte’s 2017 HCM Trends, please see here.

Miguel Castro is global lead for Culture and Identity in the SAP Global Diversity and Inclusion Office

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