LAS VEGAS – As German enterprise software firm SAP SE’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, Anka Wittenberg is in charge of delivering the company’s diversity strategy to some 80,000 employees worldwide.
Key to the program’s success, she believes, is its focus on four areas which, unlike similar initiatives at other companies, encompass everyone at SAP.
While the company began implementing its current diversity and inclusion strategy soon after Wittenberg’s arrival in 2013, she notes that it represents the continuation of a plan that started in 2006.
Simply put, if you’re an SAP employee, no matter your age, gender, orientation, or background, you fall under at least one of the company’s four targets.
As a tech company, SAP has access to less female talent than similar-sized companies in other industries, Wittenberg says, and so its HR leaders have been selective in choosing their gender-related Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
Chief among its current gender-related metrics is having a global leadership team that is 25 per cent female by the end of 2017, and with an executive base that s currently 24.1 per cent female, Wittenberg feels SAP is on track to meet its goal.
Culture and identity
One of SAP’s largest founts of innovation is its culture and identity-based networking groups, of which there are currently around 80, Wittenberg says.
The largest, unsurprisingly, is its women’s network, which currently has more than 8000 members.
Some groups have proven to be self-sufficient, Wittenberg says, while others, such as the LGBT group, have received special attention from HR.
Another group currently receiving increased attention from SAP’s HR leaders is the influx of refugees currently making their way through Europe, and often North America.
“We have over 65 million people on the move right now worldwide, so in the corporate world we need to think about how we can better integrate them,” Wittenberg says.
People with disabilities
Obviously no single initiative can apply to all people with disabilities, and so SAP runs multiple programs depending on the challenges faced by disabled employees or applicants.
“With every group we ask ourselves, how can we ensure that we drive up the percentage of people with disabilities in our workforce, and truly integrate them?” Wittenberg says, citing “clear access” programs for blind and deaf employees as examples.
One particular focus for SAP in recent years has been an initiative to increase the percentage of workers with autism, with a goal of having autistic employees represent one per cent of its workforce by 2020.
“We strongly believe that this is an area where we can create win-win situations,” Wittenberg explains..”In Europe, for example, the European Union has said that this year there are 900,000 open positions in IT that cannot be filled, because the talent is not there.”
That sort of argument is rejected by many top SAP executives, including Wittenberg and SAP SuccessFactors president Mike Ettling, who during his Aug. 30 keynote said he believed that companies making such excuses aren’t fishing in large enough ponds.
Wittenberg echoes those thoughts, saying that she strongly believes the corporate world – and the tech industry in particular – needs to rethink how it finds talent.
“There are a lot of well-educated people with autism… but their unemployment rate is well over 50 per cent because they simply don’t make it through the mainstream recruitment process, which focuses on team players and good communication skills,” she says. “So that’s an example of where we need to think differently about how we conduct the recruitment process.”
Whether they fall into one of the previous categories or not, all SAP employees are included under the generational intelligence umbrella, which encourages team leaders to account for the fact that five different generations are working together at the company.
“Managing five different generations together needs a different kind of leadership style,” Wittenberg says. “There are different kinds of needs that we need to address.”
When negotiating flexible work arrangements, for example, she says, some employees working from home, while others request reduced hours. Wittnberg herself uses the example of her 30-year-old son, who instead of negotiating for a company car at his job, asked for an electric skateboard instead.
“I always tell that story, because it really reflects the different needs of the different generations,” she says. “Because a skateboard is something that I for sure would not have asked for.”
Another challenge presented by employing multiple generations is the differences between their preferred leadership style. Millennials and the generation below them, for example, are used to receiving immediate feedback.
“It’s what they know from Facebook – you get the like/dislike,” Wittenberg says. “Now it is something we have to integrate into our leadership culture.”
Research has shown a clear business case for diversity and inclusion, Wittenberg says, citing recent studies by McKinsey & Company, Forbes, and Gallup which show that diversity and inclusion has a clear impact on employee engagement, customer orientation, and innovation – all extremely important factors for SAP.
And since implementing its new strategy, the company has seen positive gains for each one.
“For example, our employee engagement is continuously going up, and we did a study with PwC that showed if our employee engagement is going up by one per cent it has an impact on our bottom line worth between 45 and 48 million Euros per year,” she says.
Meanwhile, the increased diversity of SAP’s workforce has seemingly automatically led to improved customer orientation – that is, by reflecting the diversity of their customers, SAP employees are better able to understand them.
Innovation is more difficult to measure, Wittenberg admits, but the company’s HR staff have been working closely with its international product teams to apply SAP’s HR analytics solutions to its diversity and inclusion efforts, highlighting where it’s succeeding and where it could improve.
For example, the company is currently analyzing the attrition rate of its female employees, region by region, to determine where women are best represented and why.
The U.S., for example, has the highest percentage of female leaders among SAP’s offices worldwide, at nearly 30 per cent, while Germany, India, and France are significantly worse.
The company is now focusing on all four countries to see what encourages or discourages women from working with SAP, and so far the reason for their success in the U.S. seems to be diversity-centric management practices, while the lack of women elsewhere often seems to reflect each country’s broader culture, a factor SAP takes into account as it refines its efforts around the world.
“We have global programs, but we have also implemented regional councils,” she says, with separate diversity and inclusion councils in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Europe, and North and Latin America.
In Canada, she notes, SAP’s efforts have been particular successful when it comes to integrating employees with autism and supporting university students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.