Women in Leadership at SAP: The Journey to 25%

SAP has hit its goal of 25% women in leadership, and the SAP Executive Board has extended its commitment to increasing the percentage.

Anka Wittenberg

In March 2013, SAP launched a strategy aimed at bringing greater diversity into the company around four focus areas: gender intelligence, culture and identity, cross-generational intelligence, and differently-abled people.

According to Anka Wittenberg, chief diversity & inclusion officer, “Creating a diverse, inclusive, and bias-free culture makes us a better company. Inclusion fuels our innovation, enhances our engagement with both customers and employees, and helps drive business success in this rapidly changing, digital world.”

Two years earlier, SAP had appointed Nicole McCabe as the new lead for Gender Intelligence in the Global Diversity & Inclusion Office. Her mission was to figure out how SAP could achieve its target of 25% women in leadership goal by year-end 2017. At that time, in 2011, the company was at 19% and had grown less than one percent year over year. Late last month, SAP hit its goal of 25% — six months ahead of schedule.

At SAP, inclusion fuels innovation

McCabe said, “I am extremely excited about this milestone and thankful for all of the support through the years in making this important goal a priority. This was an effort that stretched across regions, board areas, functions and employees – it is the definition of a collaborative team effort. This achievement belongs to all of us.”

Nicole McCabe

It’s also important to note that it was never about the number but rather about creating a more diverse pool of talent so that SAP can tap into unique perspectives. No longer is it one team’s responsibility to come up with the next greatest thing – it is a company-wide effort and ideas come from everywhere. Gender is one of many denominators that craft SAP’s point of view and guide its path forward. The ability to achieve gender diversity has a direct result on the company’s ability to see business opportunities that it might not have seen before. It forces SAP to go beyond the everyday to find new ways of doing things. In short, men and women benefit when gender equality is achieved.

What’s the Outcome? Why Does It Matter?

Wittenberg said that “By delivering on our promise SAP is now an employer of choice for women in technology. This achievement lays the foundation for women but also paves the way for many other dimensions of diversity.”

SAP enjoys a culture inclusive of the thoughts and perspectives and so many women who lead people at SAP. Here are some thoughts from just a few of them:

Pam Chance

According to Pam Chance, head of North America Digital Business Services Delivery Operations, “Everybody has unique ability but in general being in tune to change management and people needs is important. Especially in Services, where it’s critical to proactively manage change, open lines of communications and frequent communications are important and make me an effective manager. I try and pause and listen very carefully so that I get to know people on a personal level and can help them reach their career goals.”

Her advice: “Don’t expect things to happen or people to recognize that you are the right candidate for the job. Make it happen.”

Robin Manherz

Robin Manherz, COO of SAP SuccessFactors, said, “My unique ability has a lot to do with the unusual nature of my personal life. My husband and I have six kids – four we adopted from Haiti at older ages with extreme challenges. This richness of life gives me a reasoned perspective and ability to look holistically at any situation. I’m able to look at the world with a level of empathy and compassion that tells me that nothing I’m facing is comparable to the people who are struggling to survive. I consider it a privilege to deal with the problems we have in comparison.“

Her advice: “Be willing to take risks and allow for flexibility – consider opportunities that might not seem obvious to you at first.”

Vivian Luechau-de la Roche

“As women, we care about developing people to ensure they grow in their roles,” said Vivian Luechau-de la Roche, senior vice president of Digital Business Services, SAP Latin America & Caribbean. “It might be a learning journey for more mature employees or a different strategy for someone that’s new to their role but in general women have a good feeling for people’s needs and expectations. Oftentimes adding a woman to the team can change the tone and dynamic of the team and instill a focus on what needs to get done.”

Her advice: “Listen more and understand what’s going on before you make a decision. Listen to your gut feelings, get everyone on board, and then follow your decision with confidence. Remember that it’s a journey that all of us are on together.“

What’s Next?

The SAP Executive Board has extended the commitment to increasing the percentage of women in leadership by one percent each year, with a target of 30% by year-end 2022. In addition, SAP’s commitment to gender diversity extends beyond its employee base. Through the Business Beyond Bias initiative, SAP employs business process expertise combined with machine-learning based biased language detection to prevent unconscious bias across the workplace. This milestone is the latest benchmark in SAP’s commitment to eliminate unconscious bias and enable an inclusive culture for all companies.

SAP’s Achievements in Gender Equality

Thanks to the support of many colleagues and leaders around the world, SAP has met its goal. Over the past year, SAP:

  • Received an industry-first global gender equality certification: In September 2016, SAP was the first multinational technology company to achieve the EDGE Certification, the premier standard and methodology for evaluating a corporate commitment to gender equality. Launched at the World Economic Forum, SAP was also the first tech company in the United States to achieve EDGE Certification in January 2016.
  • Participated in the inaugural White House Tech Inclusion Pledge: SAP participated in a pledge to fuel American innovation and economic growth by increasing the diversity of the United States technology workforce. SAP also signed the Paradigm for Parity Pledge targeted at increasing women in executive roles.
  • Diversified its Executive Board: In the second quarter of 2017, SAP added two female executives to the SAP Executive Board, Jennifer Morgan, president of Americas and Asia Pacific Japan (APJ) and Adaire Fox-Martin, president of EMEA & Greater China, Global Customer Operations. SAP is not hiring and promoting women because they are women, they are doing so because they are the best candidates for the job.