Human beings are hardwired for connection and fairness; we rely on our skills of observation and communication to perceive what is or is not fair. Our senses, primed for survival since the beginnings of humankind, are so well attuned that we notice the smallest sleights affecting resources or status of ourselves and the people around us.

We are, in effect, hardwired for equity, a word that originated in Latin to mean fairness or equalness, with the element of justice. Deeply embedded in our conscious, equity is a must-have for survival.

How we respond to inequity, or injustice and unfairness, is a matter of power: our personal power, the power of authority, and the power of our organizations to affect change.

Equity Is Complex

The words “equity” and “equality” are sometimes used interchangeably. There is a distinctive difference, however. In the workplace, equality can mean giving everyone the same tools and resources for their work; for example, inviting all employees to join the annual strategy call. Equity digs deeper to address systemic barriers, so that everyone has access to the tools and resources matched to what they need to succeed; for example, inviting employees to the strategy call, plus choosing a meeting time that is reasonable for working parents and making the content accessible.

To build a foundation for a better future, some experts say we need to ensure equity before we can reach equality.

Equality is giving everyone a shoe.
Equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits.

– Dr. Naheed Dosani, founder of
Palliative Education and Care for the Homeless

Equity is complex. For leaders who want to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in their organizations, moving the needle on equity can be challenging. It requires hard work, careful listening, and authentic empathy that goes beyond the hiring algorithms and talent metrics that help to create more diverse organizations.

Diversity is inviting everyone to a party.
Equity is how you treat them when they get there.

Paloma Medina, speaker and
leadership coach

Embrace Equity

Observed on March 8, International Women’s Day 2023 is an opportunity to look more closely at how to positively impact equity in the workplace. Empathy is our human superpower to embrace equity. To understand the viewpoints of others requires that we “put on the glasses” of another person to see the world as they do. Read on to hear SAP employees share the stories of their lived experiences and how they foster empathy to increase equity during key phases of a woman’s career.

On International Women’s Day 2023, join SAP for
DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality
and hear inspirational stories from  incredible people on digital equality in tech and innovation.

Entering the Workforce

The economic benefits of gender parity for paid work are irrefutable. A study by McKinsey and The Economist found that countries would increase their GDP by 5-20% if women participated in the workforce at a similar rate as men. What’s more, increases in GDP reduce societal inequality and deliver improvements at an individual level in virtually any measure of well-being: better health, reduced infant mortality, education, upward mobility, and quality of life.

Many women, however, encounter barriers when they try to find a job. Studies show that gender-related biases and stereotypes can impact the hiring process and limit diversity. By ensuring diversity in the talent pool, however, hiring managers can mitigate even their own biases. Researchers at the University of Colorado found that women are 79 times more likely to be hired when there are at least two female candidates in the finalist pool, compared to a zero percent likelihood when there is just one female candidate.

“Don’t forget we all have unconscious bias: it is the enemy behind our own lines,” says Eduard Vilar, cloud technology manager for Cloud Technology EMEA South at SAP, who supports greater awareness of the hidden influence of bias in employment decisions. “Every person tends to inadvertently favor others, from hiring to simply accepting their opinion, when they share interests, abilities, age, gender, color of skin, or any other factor.”

Hiring and Development for More Equality 

Bias can continue to impact a woman’s career, limiting her chances for advancement. Daniela Paula Dumitru, a senior specialists for sales ops business enablement for RISE with SAP and lead of the Business Women’s Network at SAP in Barcelona, recalls the frustration of encountering bias as she worked to build her career.

“In a previous company, I was blocked at every step of the way when pursuing a promotion by a former manager, coincidentally a man, who ‘did not want to lose a valuable employee.’” She finally left the company. In 2019 she joined SAP where she found a supportive manager who encouraged her to develop her talents through learning and growth opportunities. “Having this manager helped me rebuild my confidence as a professional and grow into a better person. Now I give back to people and enable others to do the same.”

In her 25 years in the tech industry, Leticia Cavagna, regional vice president of SAP Experience Management for SAP EMEA South, says she has seen progress in gender parity because of DE&I initiatives. She believes that increasing the number of women role models in leadership positions improves retention of female talent.

“In the end, it all sums up to answering two questions: Who do I hire? And who do I develop?” Cavagna says. “This is why gender parity programs are vital to achieving long-term parity in leadership positions. The investments companies are doing in this direction are the seed to a more equal future.”

Gender equity is also a powerful catalyst for high-performing teams, says Peter Roberts, vice president of Global Strategic Partners for SAP EMEA South. “Gender equity in SAP has produced high-caliber females who we have been able to bring into the team,” he says. On a recent employee survey, his team scored full marks for equal opportunities. “The female/male ratio is consistently 55% or more and this team overperforms, year after year.”

Inclusive Leadership Makes the Difference

People managers have a powerful influence on an employee’s sense of belonging, and that can make the difference in an employee’s decision to remain with an organization. A study by Qualtrics found a strong correlation between belonging and employee engagement. Most employees (73%) feel that they belong at their organization, according to the survey. Of those, 91% say they feel engaged in their work, compared to just 20% of employees who do not feel a sense of belonging at work.

María Fernández-Blanco, customer success partner at SAP EMEA South for SAP Customer Experience, understands the importance of belonging. Based on her experience as a mother balancing career and family, she tries to pay attention to colleagues who are going through special moments in their lives, like pregnancy or maternity leave. “I know that these are still taboo subjects for women in the workplace,” she says. “I really believe that small details can make big differences and there is so much opportunity to be more inclusive.”

Creating a safe environment is the key to an inclusive workplace, according to Rich Phillips, vice president of EMEA South Partner Ecosystem Success at SAP. This means bad behavior, whether masquerading as playful banter or outright sexist, must be addressed immediately.

“We all have the right to a safe workspace and leaders must stand up for that,” Phillips says. “As a leader you should proactively educate your team but never accept such behavior, irrespective of the excuse, and exit individuals guilty of it immediately. You must set the tone for your team and your leadership culture. Make sure everybody truly believes your team is a safe space.”

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Shared Success

SAP is committed to becoming the most inclusive workplace in the world, a business where everyone belongs, where human differences are celebrated, and where all people thrive in a culture that empowers each one to help run the world better and improve people’s lives.

In the last five years, SAP has made great strides in workforce diversity. We hit our goal of 35% women in the workplace and moved from 25.5% women in management in 2017 to 29.4% at the close of the fourth quarter of 2022, despite the changed socio-political conditions, most drastically seen during the pandemic. We are proud of these achievements and we will continue to thrive in our commitment to achieving gender parity.

“I dream a world without borders and any special characteristic definition for individuals, where everyone is only human and respectfully communicates with each other,” says Ozlem Karapanli, Business Transformation Services at SAP. “The result is freedom and shared success.”