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Diversity & Inclusion at SAP: From Palo Alto to the White House

Feature Article | September 8, 2016 by Eric Annino

In June, SAP signed the White House Tech Inclusion Pledge as part of President Obama’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2016, hosted by Stanford University.

In doing so, SAP joins companies like Airbnb, Lyft, and Pinterest in committing to foster American innovation and economic growth by increasing workplace diversity. It’s a great step forward for SAP—and one with a really unique backstory.

Meet Alex Scully and Laura Pickel, the two SAP employees who, by following their passions, helped bring SAP into the national conversation on diversity and inclusion.

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Alex and Laura in Palo Alto

Where It All Began

The story begins at Stanford too. That’s where Alex studied psychology and sociology and Laura studied education, both earning master’s degrees. While at Stanford, Alex and Laura took classes at the d.school, the University’s school of design, where they learned about the radical collaboration mindset and the importance of integrating diverse perspectives into creative teams. Upon joining SAP in 2015, Alex and Laura were interested to explore how these values played out in the workplace. While the style of the conversation had certainly changed—the open forum of the university replaced by the more staid corporate atmosphere—the value of including multiple viewpoints remained. Corporations, like large student bodies, benefit from and are eager to bring in a diversity of voices.

Alex and Laura, who are themselves bringing diversity to SAP as early talent and women in business, saw an opportunity and decided to consult SAP Chief Design Officer, Managing Director of SAP Silicon Valley Labs, and Stanford d.school fellow Sam Yen, whom they had met while at Stanford. Because of their prior relationship with Sam, Alex and Laura felt comfortable enough to speak openly with him about the state of diversity and inclusion at SAP. “Our conversation with Sam was very encouraging,” said Alex. “He listened to what we had to say and gave us great advice.  And then we were excited to get started.”

After speaking with Sam, Alex and Laura gathered change makers from SAP and Stanford for three sessions to discuss how the two institutions could collaborate on diversity and inclusion topics. Meanwhile, Sam put Alex and Laura in touch with a contact at the White House whose job is to amplify the corporate diversity message at the national level.

SAP and Stanford Team Up

Through these gatherings, a partnership began to take shape between SAP and Stanford, with Alex and Laura at the helm. The White House was also kept in the loop with regular briefings.

The group formed three goals:

  • Diversity Training for Managers: Create an industry-specific training aimed at tackling unconscious bias by connecting Stanford’s diversity training specialists with corporate learning experts.
  • Designed Mentorship: Craft a college program aimed at connecting industry leaders and underrepresented undergraduate students at Stanford University.
  • Values Statement: Develop a positive, growth-minded statement that embraces the values of the team’s desire to change the diversity representation across Silicon Valley.

Alex and Laura had never heard of the Tech Inclusion Pledge. But because they had taken the time to keep their White House contact informed of the team’s progress, their contact reached out just days before the Tech Inclusion Pledge was to be signed, to see if SAP would like to get involved. Sam saw an opportunity for the team to work toward its third goal, and in less than 48 hours Sam and team were able to get all the approvals necessary to join the pledge and publicly state that SAP cares about diversity and inclusion.

The Story Continues

SAP has signed the Tech Inclusion Pledge, but the story isn’t over. Now the real work starts. Alex and Laura, in line with the team’s first and second goals, proposed and developed a college course focused on supporting students in learning more about diversity and inclusion in organizations across Silicon Valley. They will be teaching it at Stanford’s d.school this fall with 10–12 undergraduates, with hopes of sharing the curriculum with other interested universities. (Check out the course description here) SAP and Stanford are also in the process of prototyping a manager workshop that will complement the course curriculum.

As Laura put it, “When you see something, do something about it. And don’t assume that everything needs to happen at the leadership level.”

Workplace diversity shouldn’t just sit in a space, in a department to be curated by appointed individuals. It needs to operate globally, and employees at every level need to feel empowered as contributors to the effort.

Learn more about diversity at SAP. Read SAP’s Anka Wittenberg’s recent inc.com interview.

Top image via Shutterstock

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