Equity Regardless of Gender: One Man’s Experience in the Business Women’s Network

With more than 13,000 members and 63 chapters globally, the Business Women’s Network (BWN) at SAP is one of the company’s largest employee network groups.

More than 99 percent of network members are women, with one notable exception: Paulo Vallejo, vice president for Customer Engagement at SAP Canada. An active member of the Vancouver BWN, Vallejo is also the first male steering committee member.

Here, Vallejo shares how his experience as a child growing up in the Philippines played in to his commitment to diversity and inclusion SAP, 24 years after he immigrated to Canada.

Back in 1995, Vallejo’s family decided to immigrate to Canada to pursue better opportunities. Vallejo looks back at the experience like a field trip with an undetermined end date. Things were very different than what he was accustomed to in the Philippines, so the adventure began.

As his family got acclimated, he took most of the cultural changes he saw in stride. In the professional world, even at 19 he noticed one could be treated very differently based on gender, especially when it came to access to opportunities.

“In the Philippines, it’s all about using your network to get things done [regardless of your gender],” Vallejo said. “In North America, I observed people would lean in more toward a man than a woman when it came to taking action. But I’ve found that women are incredibly action-oriented. In Filipino culture, the woman is the head of household. In business, it wasn’t particularly uncommon for women to take on leadership roles or roles that allowed them to be front and center in an organization.”

Vallejo’s family dynamic was no exception. His mother Catherine headed up the family’s food service business. “In the Philippines, women are the hub that hold the spokes of the wheel together, the cornerstone of everything,” he said. “My mom was very present in the upbringing of my sisters and me. Her resilience, patience, and generosity helped in getting us through our early years in Canada. Those same traits I see in my sisters as they raise their own families.”

Last year, when the invitation to attend a BWN event came across his desk, Vallejo agreed to stop by, but initially thought it was little more than a simple networking activity. “I hadn’t heard much about the BWN, so I was curious,” he said. “I knew it existed, but I believed it was a women’s initiative, so I thought, well, maybe there’s a men’s group I can get involved with to support the cause.”

Paulo Vallejo and Camelia Cirjoi
Paulo Vallejo and Camelia Cirjoi, co-chair BWN Vancouver, receiving the Chapter of the Year award.

The local BWN leadership in Vancouver team took the time to explain the network’s goals to him, and the need for men to be a part of the conversation. That resonated.

“I’ve always been a proponent of the advancement of women in the workplace,” he said. “At SAP, we’re fortunate to have programs like BWN that help women realize their potential. But men need to step up and help push this forward.” From that point on, he started attending chapter meetings and eventually became a member of the steering committee.

Vallejo took over the local newsletter and is responsible for communicating what the team is doing. But for him, the role has become much more than an information platform for interested parties. “Stepping up my presence around the messaging means bringing men into the fold,” he said.  “We need men to be better allies to women. The newsletter is just one example of how we can spotlight the activities and achievements of women at SAP.”

It’s working: With all the recognition the Vancouver BWN has gotten in the past 12 months, the chapter is seeing more men attending events.

From a broader perspective, Vallejo looks at his involvement with the BWN with a non-polarizing view.

“There’s so much opportunity, not only to elevate women in the workplace but to capitalize on the great ideas that are important to everyone,” Vallejo said. “What this is about for me is equity regardless of gender. At SAP, we talk about making the world run better. A better world is one where every person regardless of gender, race, or social place has fair and impartial access to opportunities. We have a shared responsibility in building better awareness and activating ideas to support diversity and inclusion around us.”