Global Diversity Awareness Month is a time to reflect and honor diversity in all its facets – nationality, race, sex, gender, country of origin, and language, just to name a few.

This is celebrated each year in October; however, at SAP, diversity is something we honor throughout the year. Within our 110,000+ strong company, we have employees from all over the world, with many of our teams working from multiple locations together to reinvent how the world runs as a network of intelligent, sustainable enterprises. Through global teamwork, employees are exposed to different cultures, diverse ways of thinking, and building skills that grow empathy and resiliency. Not only is diversity and inclusion good for employees, but it is also good for business.

Diversity in Action through Pro Bono Consulting

As a global organization with employees representing more than 150 nationalities, we are constantly seeking various ways to incorporate diversity and inclusion proactively, both within our workplace and in the markets we serve.

One of the ways SAP has prioritized a diversity mindset for employees over the past decade is through SAP Social Sabbatical. In this program, SAP employees from around the world can share their skills, knowledge, and professional expertise with innovative non-profit organizations and social enterprises in emerging markets to help them solve their business challenges. The program has been run in over 52 countries with participants representing 64 different nationalities. This highlights our commitment to bring together different perspectives, amplifying the power of diversity of thought and experience, which creates positive impact for both the organizations and participating SAP employees.

Meera Shenoy, founder of SAP Social Sabbatical host client Youth4Jobs, shared how her organization benefited from the team’s diversity of professional experience: “The volunteers came from three different countries, and each had a different specialty. They quickly adopted our passion for inclusion and became part of the larger Youth4Jobs family, understanding our challenges and transformational work. They also gave us a peek into the amazing SAP processes in several areas. For example, the team shared the SAP neurodiversity training with us, and we got to learn the techniques that a corporation like SAP uses for neurodiversity inclusion in the workplace.”

When diversity is incorporated through pro bono consulting programs like SAP Social Sabbatical, organizations are able to tap into the varied perspectives and approaches that each individual employee brings to the workplace. Research shows that diversified teams can lead to an increase in innovation, improve problem-solving, and boost decision-making. This can heighten performance by at least 35%, which not only accelerates innovation within SAP but also helps the host client organization anticipate and fulfill the needs of diverse customers.

The Employee Advantage

For employee participants, we know that the pro bono consulting benefits include skill development, networking opportunities, gaining new perspectives, and cultural immersion, among others. For example, a participant from India stated, “It gives you a whole new perspective that we don’t get in our day-to-day work.”

From a recent long-term impact study that we conducted in partnership with impact measurement social enterprise 60 Decibels, 88% of SAP employees who have participated in SAP Social Sabbatical reported that the program benefited them personally. Additionally, 86% of employees said their ability collaborate with global and diverse colleagues improved by their participation.

“It allowed me to dive into a new world for weeks. You gain experience you have never had before. It brings you to a new level culture-wise, and you meet many talented people from SAP across the world,” said one participant from Germany.

Another employee commented, “In my personal life, I am more aware of differences in people and better at understanding peoples’ challenges. These differences go beyond age, gender, geography and race but also diversity of thought, upbringing, values and perspectives. Understanding these differences is key to solving problems and empowering others.”

Focusing on Sustainable Long-Term Impact

In addition to the diversity benefits for participants and social sector partners, the long-term impacts have gone beyond the SAP Social Sabbatical program. These principles of diversity as a building block of the program have supported the evolution of new initiatives that address social challenges and build equity, while leveraging pro bono consulting as a tool. In learning from our success over the past 10 years, we developed the Pro Bono for Economic Equity program in North America, which was launched in 2021 in partnership with PYXERA Global, as part of SAP’s overall response to the social justice movement with an aim to foster economic equity for Black-owned business and social enterprises.

The program allows SAP employees to leverage their professional skills and expertise as pro bono volunteer consultants for under-resourced businesses and social enterprises and help them address systemic and business challenges. Within the first year, the program expanded internationally to the UK, Brazil, and South Africa. Based on the success of the program, we have extended the cohorts to have a focus on Indigenous-owned businesses in Canada. Learn more about the program here.

Cultivating an Inclusive Mindset

At SAP, diversity and inclusion are not simply goals to strive for; they are strategic components of our corporate culture that fuel innovation and help us turn our purpose to action.

We recognize that continuously bolstering the diversity, equity, and inclusion mindset is crucial when it comes to shaping the next generation of leaders in our company. Not only will this support employee engagement today, but it means that they will build a more inclusive environment when it comes to how they work in teams, how they hire, and how they engage colleagues who are different from them, now and into the future.

For more information about SAP Social Sabbatical, visit sap.com/socialsabbatical and to learn about how SAP is empowering Black- and Indigenous-owned businesses and social enterprises, read more stories about the Pro Bono Economic Equity program here.

Hemang Desai is global program director for SAP Corporate Social Responsibility.