Lessons from SAP’s Journey: Three Actionable Ways to Increase Women in Management

Oct 26, 2017
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Organizations continue to struggle to create gender equality in the workplace, especially those in the technology industry. According to research from LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co., for every 100 U.S. women promoted to manager, 130 men are promoted – leaving far fewer opportunities for women on the path to leadership without access and avenues for growth in their careers.

Understanding this challenge, SAP created a board-level commitment to raise the total of female leaders from 18% in 2011 to 25%. Recently, we achieved our goal – six months ahead of schedule. For SAP, the mission was never about the numbers to reflect “diversity” but rather the desire to create a culture of inclusion. By including a variety of perspectives, we open ourselves up to diversity of thought which delivers the business benefits associated with gender diversity. According to McKinsey, 48% higher operating margins are generated by gender diverse management teams. The ability to achieve gender diversity has a direct result on the way we innovate, outperform the competition, and maximize employee productivity and engagement.

For a global organization with more than 85,000 employees, developing the inclusive environment necessary to achieve this goal required procedural and company-wide changes. Over the past several weeks since the achievement, many people have asked, “How did you do it?” Global challenges do not have simple solutions, but moving forward starts with actionable steps. Here are three steps that helped to move the needle:

1. Understand the Problem

Before you create change within your organization, you must identify the “issues.” Our team needed to understand what SAP’s unique challenges were, and whether we were ready and prepared for change in these areas. To uncover the issues, we spent countless hours mining data from multiple sources and teams and we looked across the employee lifecycle to identify areas where we may need to dive deeper. Based on these findings, we were equipped to have deeper conversations with executives across regions and board areas. What became apparent was that we needed to change how we were approaching gender diversity and gain insight and control over the areas where unconscious bias was permeating our decision-making. Truly understanding the issues by using the data can be one of the most effective ways to drive change.

After the analysis, SAP conducted a two-day in person workshop to engage and align our HR processes and approaches across the entire employee lifecycle. No longer was diversity a “diversity office” goal. It was now a lens or filter applied to everything we did in HR across the business.

2. Address the Problem

Once our team understood the “issues,” we could address and prioritize them for impact. Critical to this stage of the process was the interest and commitment from the business. Our executives were openly advocating for a more diverse workforce and it was clear that our diversity goal was a company-wide effort and no longer just the Global Diversity & Inclusion office.

During this stage, it was typical to hear that there was only one woman in a meeting. We saw women staying in positions longer (on average) than male counterparts and we heard a level of complacency – they either applied for fewer positions and didn’t get the role, or they didn’t want to risk losing the flexibility they had achieved in their existing role. To address these issues, SAP formed the Leadership Excellence Acceleration Program (LEAP) program, aimed at providing women with a different experience with career development – one that would help them progress in their career at SAP. Originally piloted in the North America, this program is now run globally out of SAP’s Learning center of excellence.

In addition, we sought to balance the effort going into gender diversity with a higher level of transparency to ensure everyone is their best and can be their authentic selves. To increase visibility, SAP created the Women@SAP Jam site and the Women’s Professional Growth series, which in its third year has had over 13,000 participants.

3. Establish Goals

We’ve all heard the saying, “What gets measured gets done.” As organizations look to move the needle in gender diversity, it is important to implement measurable goals to create an environment of transparency which then helps establish momentum. Once a goal is achieved, it’s important to celebrate and then move forward to capitalize on past success and continue to drive change.

As we look ahead, SAP’s board has extended its commitment to increasing the percentage of women in leadership by 1% each year with a target of 30% by year-end 2022.

While we continue to make strides in diversity, our work is far from over. Implementing actionable goals will continue to be the foundation for sustainable gender equality and will also pave the way for a more inclusive culture where all employees can bring their authentic selves to work.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.