Sharing Stories to Inspire: A Taste of Black History at SAP

To celebrate Black History Month this year, the SAP Black Employee Network, an employee-driven network committed to supporting initiatives for people of African descent at SAP, did something completely different from years past.

On Thursday February 28, the Black Employee Network hosted “A Taste of Black History: The Black Experience @ SAP,” an event comprised of a panel discussion featuring black SAP employees and a soul food tasting. Kuran Williams, launch advisor for SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud and one of the global leaders of the SAP Black Employee Network, said this has not been done before. “We’ve had several Black History Month events, but this is something different.”

Replacing what has traditionally been either a showing of a movie about the unfair treatment of underrepresented minorities or hosting an external speaker to commemorate Black History Month, this event grew out of Williams’ vision.

“I wanted to specifically highlight black employees, or those who identify with the African diaspora, that add value every day to SAP’s strategic goals and vision,” said Williams. Even more so, Williams strove to highlight those employees within the African diaspora who, in his opinion, have not received the same visibility as others but have been working at SAP longer.

The event centered around the theme of sharing and leveraging experiences, which both Vanessa Smith, senior vice president and head of Human Capital Management Line of Business in North America, and Robin Whitaker, Presales principal solution engineer and president of the NSQ Chapter of the SAP Black Employee Network, echoed in their opening remarks. “As we share stories, stories inspire,” Smith said. “The more we share, the better.”

“Experiences catapult you,” Whitaker said. “The adversity that we all encounter ultimately transforms us and puts us in a place where magic can happen.”

Each panelist had a little bit of “magic” to share about their journeys to and within SAP, their value as SAP employees, and the outside experiences that helped them become valuable players at SAP.

“Every one of us has an opportunity to excel.”

Darren DeVoue, executive advisor for the Chief Customer Office, stressed the need to adapt to different workplaces, explaining that often “your knowledge space is not consistent with the real world.” With that, however, comes the risk of undermining your sense of self and identity. “You have to be able to flex or stretch without compromising your integrity and dignity,” he said. To DeVoue, resilience, faith, personal trust, vision, and learning what is new are important for favorable outcomes in almost any situation.

“We are all stakeholders and stockholders in this company.”

Margot Goodson, Diversity and Inclusion lead for SAP North America, transitioned from accounting and finance into human resources, disproving the myth that “the path you start on is where you should stay.” For Diversity and Inclusion to become part of our DNA at SAP, Goodson said there needs to be a collective mind shift and behavioral change as well as an increase in consciousness. “Asking yourself ‘How can this be done in a different way?’ That is diversity,” Goodson put simply.

“Learn how to flex your style.”

Like DeVoue, Thomas Lynch, managing principal, also discussed the need to “flex,” or push yourself outside your comfort zone. As a self-proclaimed introvert, Lynch spoke about his own challenges in the workplace, namely how exhausting it was to force himself to be extroverted like many of his successful colleagues. To combat this, Lynch leaned into his personality—becoming “comfortable being uncomfortable”—and identified his purpose: helping customers solve problems. “Make sure you have a purpose,” Lynch said. “When you have a purpose, you find it easier to talk and contribute.”

“You can stretch yourself at any point in your career.”

Mary Park, Human Resources Leadership and Development expert, talked about an experience in 2016 where she had the opportunity to submit a proposal for Grace Hopper Conference 2017 about the Leadership Excellence Acceleration Program (LEAP) at SAP, 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. Though Park had never written a proposal before, she partnered with and sought help from a peer, Barbara Jamelli-Sefchik, and eventually was selected to present her work to two audiences of more than 350 people. “You must be resourceful because, believe it or not, not only can you not do it by yourself, but you are not expected to do it by yourself,” Park said.

“Why tech? Why not?”

Joining the panel virtually, Jessica Wescott, SAP S/4HANA technical quality manager for DBS Value Assurance Delivery at SAP North America, remarked on her unique path to reach her career goals, which began in higher education and evolved into an internship in the technology industry with SAP. Reflecting on the opportunities she had to own projects as an intern, Wescott said, “Mentoring early talent is a big opportunity.” She enjoys working in tech: “It’s ever-changing. It keeps me fueled.”

Following the panel discussion, Dan Healey, head of Human Resources for SAP North America, and Williams gave some closing remarks, noting the importance of this discussion continuing beyond the auditorium and beyond Black History Month. Attendees were then invited to join in more discussion and networking over soul food favorites such as fried chicken, cornbread, and sweet potato pie.

As one of the visionaries of this event, Williams strove “to build more trust with other cultures within SAP and expose black employees as viable, key stakeholders of SAP, which allows for more hiring managers to want to diversify their teams.”

As much as the event was a celebration of Black History Month, the panel discussion also offered insight into the value of experiential learning by sharing how to leverage experiences to learn and grow.