Recently my colleague and friend Ernesto Marinelli, senior vice president and head of the HR Board Area for EMEA and Greater China at SAP, was awarded as Germany’s First Top 10 Out LGBTI Executives.
What a magnificent honor and appreciation for a great leader. I congratulate him wholeheartedly. But upon reflection, I asked myself: Why do we still have to have such awards in 2017, rather than simply recognizing Ernesto for his great leadership, without mentioning his sexual orientation, gender or cultural background? Ernesto is a great leader irrespective of these factors, just as much as any great leader would remain one regardless of whether their hair was red, black, or blond. (Please also read Ernesto’s great piece on diversity here.)
Learning from the world of animals can be unique and has potential to change the world — remember Otto Lilienthal, who studied the flight behavior of birds before becoming an aviation pioneer. Look at the picture of the kitten playing with a colorful toy; the first impression from looking at the picture is that the kitten is attracted by the yellow, pink, and purple feathers. But, does it really care about colors?
No, the kitten isn’t attracted by color diversity. It can’t really see the different colors, as cats are kind of color blind. Rather, it is attracted by the toy itself and the colors that it has are not important. There are other criteria that determine its attractiveness or unattractiveness. These criteria are also not gender, cultural background, or sexual orientation. Rather, the factors that are important to the kitten are the attributes that make it a great toy.
So, how to become like a kitten?
Unfortunately, we still need role models, because equal opportunities are not yet given. We do not have equal opportunities for everyone and people still experience discrimination based on their gender, sexual orientation, culture, disability, etc. That’s why we also need to create awareness for diversity and inclusion and show that it matters. Therefore, we need to create an inclusive culture for diversity, to track quotas of female leaders, to have LGBTI awards, to have representatives for differently abled employees, and so on.
As it is still not normal reality that a gay man or a woman gets the chance to become a leader at all, it was important for me to show at the German diversity day last May SAP’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. I wanted to create awareness and express how grateful we are for our diverse environment. The theme of the day initiated by www.charta-der-vielfalt.de was “Flagge zeigen” (Raise Your Flag).
No sooner said than done. We wanted to do something special and wanted to reach as many people as possible. It should not be just a booth with information, where only those interested in the topic spent their time. We wanted to go directly to our approximately 20,0000 employees in Germany and talk to them about diversity and inclusion.
But how do you reach busy people in the afternoon? At thirty degrees celsius on a sunny day, who would say no to a sweet ice cream? So we went with ice trolleys and bags packed with ice cream to our employee’s desks to show our commitment for diversity, to talk about it, and to provide more information.
What can I say? It worked out! People wanted to hear our message and moreover many of them posted pictures of themselves with the ice cream, showing pride and commitment for our action. Besides our employees, our board members and senior executives also showed their commitment by taking part.
But diversity is not always easy. It is not always a funny colorful ice cream or comparable with a sweet kitten. Diverse backgrounds and different opinions need more openness, more time for discussion, and often more conflicts. I experienced this myself when I came as a 14-year-old refugee on my own from Afghanistan to Germany. It was not always easy and it never is when different people come together.
My vision is that in 10 years we will not have a Top 10 LGBTI award (sorry, Ernesto!), no quota for female leaders, and no need for a special day on diversity, as every day will be a diversity day. It will be just as normal for us that leaders have different abilities, genders, and sexual orientations as it is that they have red, black, or blond hair.
Join me in dreaming of this future!
Cawa Younosi is head of Human Resources for SAP Deutschland SE & Co. KG