Promoting Gender Diversity at SAP: A Q&A with Shuchi Sharma

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek October 23, 2018
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This is the third in a series of Q&As with professionals about their diversity and inclusion strategies. Previous interview subjects were Patricia G. Barnes, J.D., an attorney and nationally known expert on employment discrimination and workplace abuse, and Sonia Cargan, American Express' chief diversity officer.

Promoting diversity and inclusion (D&I) of women in the workplace takes a variety of forms—pay equity, leadership development, mentorship and sponsorship, and board representation, to name a few. How do you make those things happen when your company has offices all over the world?

SHRM Online recently talked with Shuchi (pronounced shoo-CHEE) Sharma, global head of gender equality and intelligence at SAP, about the company's gender-related diversity initiatives. SAP is a multinational software corporation based in Germany with more than 96,000 employees in over 130 countries. Its acronym stands for "systems, applications and products" in data processing.  

In September, SAP was named one of the Top Companies for Women Technologists by AnitaB.org, a global nonprofit based in the U.S. that recognizes companies committed to building workplaces where women in technology roles can thrive.

SAP participated in the inaugural White House Tech Inclusion Pledge in 2016 to increase the diversity of the nation's tech workforce and signed the Paradigm for Parity Pledge as part of a coalition committed to closing the corporate leadership gender gap and achieving gender parity.

SAP is the first multinational tech company to receive Global Gender Equality Certification through Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE). Launched at the World Economic Forum in 2011, EDGE bases its certification decisions on reviews of organizations' policies and practices in recruitment and promotion, equal pay for equivalent work, leadership development training, mentoring, flexible schedules, and company culture.

Some of SAP's gender-related diversity initiatives include:

  • Business Women's Network. Its 60 global chapters provide female leaders at all levels the opportunity to meet new colleagues and connect with leaders.
  • Women's Professional Growth Seminar Series. The monthly program features a speaker and discussion. Topics have included imposter syndrome and the different ways men and women communicate. 
  • Leadership Excellence Acceleration Program (LEAP). This yearlong program assists women in moving into management positions at SAP. Three hundred female leaders graduate from LEAP each year, and their career progression is tracked for two years after completing the program.
  • Back-to-Work, a project-based program in Japan and Korea for mothers returning to the workforce. Successful candidates are assigned to projects that complement their skills and experience. A pilot program was recently launched in North America.

  • Activating Men for Parity (AMP). This initiative invites senior male leaders within a SAP subsidiary to take a more active role in diversity and inclusion efforts, particularly as they relate to gender and equality. The program will be rolled out across SAP in various functions and regions.

The following remarks have been edited for length and clarity.

SHRM Online: SAP has internal programs designed to groom women for leadership. What department has ownership of these programs?

Sharma: It varies depending on the program, but internal business groups can run a lot of these initiatives themselves and ultimately those leaders take ownership. It can start with a pilot program partnered with HR or another part of the business and is eventually scaled throughout the company. For our program around women in leadership, all the leaders regularly review target goals. They use our D&I programs or work with their own HR teams to help them meet those goals.

SHRM Online: How do these programs come about?

Sharma: It's a combination top-down/bottom-up approach. We review a lot of data on how we want to structure our strategy five years ahead. We utilize our employee resource groups and our diversity and inclusion professionals and talk with business leaders we consistently work with to understand what is happening in their region or broader geographic area. We listen to what our community of women is talking about and gain feedback from all those sources to validate priorities. In that way, we have buy-in and a will to drive those programs going forward.

SHRM Online: You have said you are working toward "the ambitious goal of growing women in management at SAP by 1 percent each year." Among SAP employees, 32.9 percent are women and 25.9 percent of female employees were in management at the end of the third quarter of 2018. The goal, you said, is to increase that to 30 percent in 2022. What are some strategies you are using to meet that goal?

Sharma: We'll be following specific action plans from the EDGE recertification. For example, securing the uptake of paternity and parental leave for men, which will empower men to make use of parental/paternal leave and also demonstrate that it is not correlated with negative career consequences. Additionally, we will focus on recruitment, promotion and retention to continue to drive change in gender balance at SAP.

SHRM Online: Please tell us more about EDGE recertification and what it means for SAP.

Sharma: Every time we recertify, we get comparative data regarding our progress. EDGE looks at recruitment and promotion of women, leadership opportunities for women, mentoring, workplace policies and processes, and gender-balance data. Going through the process helps us understand where we are and how to get to where we want to go. We see it as a journey and EDGE as a partner on that journey—one that will help us maintain our momentum as we work toward our goals. In one-third of the countries where SAP is located, our businesses moved to the second of three levels of certification because of advances in our policies and practices around promoting women.

SHRM Online: Pay equity continues to be a hot topic around gender equality in the workplace. Please share how SAP approaches this and any ideas/lessons learned you can share with other organizations.

Sharma: When we became EDGE-certified in 2016, SAP took on an internal analysis of pay equity that included using a third party to avoid any conflict of interest. Among lessons learned: It's important to understand the difference between pay equity and pay gap. You've got to find the right method for your company to ensure that you have the right wage comparison for the right job families and categories. And you have to be transparent and communicate why pay equity is important and how it's being addressed. Transparency includes making pay-level information accessible to employees; in some countries where SAP is located, that information is public.

[Editor's Note: Pay gap is the difference between men's and women's average earnings across an organization or labor market and is expressed as a percentage of men's earnings. Pay equity means men and women in the same job and performing equal work receive equal pay.]

SHRM Online: In the post-Harvey Weinstein era, sexual harassment in the workplace has been brought to the forefront, with discussions prompted by movements such as #MeToo. Some men now are uncertain how they should behave around female colleagues. There have been unintended consequences: Women have been left out of important social functions such as business dinners and one-on-one meetings, and mentor and sponsor relationships have been impacted. How has SAP dealt with this?

Sharma
: We haven't really seen a change in culture or a sense of fear within the organization or women feeling left out. That comes from an open and transparent culture—online forums with men and women discussing how men can become allies and men indicating they want to engage in that process. Men advocating for women is a very important part of the EDGE story.

SHRM Online
: How does SAP encourage men to serve as allies for women?

Sharma: Many of the men in AMP have real epiphanies in discussions around inclusive leadership, privilege, implicit bias, sponsorship and mentorship. What we see is that those men and women feel gender equity is very important for us to be competitive.

SHRM Online
: Does SAP have any strategies for promoting female board representation?

Sharma: We have two women on the SAP executive board. We continually evaluate opportunities to add individuals based on the needs of the business and the best candidates for the role.


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