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Vivek Bapat Senior Vice President of Purpose and Brand Experience, SAP

UNDERSTANDING EQUALITY, IN ALL ITS BEAUTIFUL, MYRIAD FORMS

Founded almost 50 years ago in Walldorf, Germany, SAP made its name in technological software. Now at the forefront of the industry, the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion remains integral to its success.

 

SAP’s empowerment of black-owned businesses, the fact that over a quarter of its women are in management positions, and its pioneering work with those on the autistic spectrum – amongst others – has helped bring the company to international attention.

 

Here, Vivek Bapat, Senior Vice President of Purpose and Brand Experience, shares his thoughts.

While there are several different aspects of equality, we know that it is a very large umbrella, and SAP’s diverse workforce is what has always set us apart. We are an enterprise software company serving a variety of customers in 180 countries, made up of more than 100,000 employees from 150 different countries, with five generations working side by side.

 

There is clear and conclusive evidence that diverse teams excel, whether the diversity is represented by race, gender, age, nationality, mental and physical ability, sexuality or economic background.

 

To take just one example, ethnic diversity dividends have been proven to outperform homogenous counterparts by 35%, according to McKinsey.

 

While much progress has been made on diversity and inclusion across society and our workforce, much more needs to be done. At the present rate of change, it will take nearly a century to achieve gender parity, a timeline we simply cannot accept in today’s globalised world, especially among younger generations who hold increasingly progressive views on gender equality. In an estimated scenario in which women play an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as $28 trillion, or 26%, could be added to global annual GDP by 2025.

 

 

Diversity is now the issue at front and centre of the world’s agenda.

 

At SAP, it all started with a specific focus on gender equality. After years of investment in our female employees, we are now one of the only global tech giants whose workforce is 34% female, with 26% of women in management positions. We’re glad to be an industry exemplar on gender equality, but the work is just beginning. Given the broad nature of diversity, we know that for every inequality that we tackle in our own practice, the bigger the opportunity is to enable our customers to do the same within their own businesses and societies that they serve. We do so by creating and sharing our best practices, but also by delivering technology and innovation so customers can build these values of equality into their own practices. That way we're not just leading by example, but enabling our ecosystem to create an exponentially larger impact by innovating with us.

 

We have worked hard to dismantle gender norms and embrace values that have traditionally been thought of as ‘feminine’, like empathy, compassion and collaboration.

 

Mainstreaming these values has done wonders for improving the state of our leadership and employee engagement. We have taken on previously sensitive topics like mental health, thanks in part to Millennial and Gen Z employees. Much more attuned to their mental health needs, young employees’ openness to the topic is finally shattering the taboo. Previously, nobody brought up mental health at work because it carried a huge stigma. Now, one of the most highly subscribed to training programs at SAP is a two-day course dedicated to Mindfulness. After popular demand from our customers, we are delivering this training externally as well.

 

Especially now, in the wake of Covid-19, when wellbeing has been put under extreme duress, it’s imperative employers offer mental health support with genuine empathy and kindness, otherwise they run the risk of losing their talent.

 

We don’t ask our employees to change what makes them unique, we embrace it fully. Neurodiversity has often been an afterthought for many companies. At SAP, we led on this topic by pioneering an Autism at Work program, established in 2013. We realised that people on the spectrum had specific, desirable skills that hirers were failing to recognise. Our flagship programme not only recruited employees on the spectrum but retained and taught others in our community how to effectively engage and work with special consideration that respected and honoured them.

 

Ultimately, encouraging neurodiversity makes companies more inclusive, profitable and innovative.

 

Our purpose initiatives are examined through two lenses; one looks at our internal practices and the other looks at how effectively we are enabling our external networks to change. What the Sustainable Development Goals offer SAP is a consistent framework that shows us where our influence is best placed to improve the state of the world. We identified five goals: gender equality, improving access to digital education, responsible consumption and production, climate action and industry, innovation and infrastructure.

 

In addition to these five, we see ourselves as leaders on mental health and wellness, as well as AI, data privacy and trust. It might be reassuring to know that whichever SDGs you choose, the reverberations of your work in those areas will always be felt further afield.

 

The pandemic has shaken every one of us, but the impact on Black business-owners has been disproportionate, due to the fact they tend to be in the industries hit hardest by the shutdown: restaurant and retail.

 

They are also less likely to have easy access to loans, traditional banking partners, and federal funding. As we embrace our long-term commitment to standing against racism, SAP's Spotlight Black Businesses initiative has dedicated a portion of our advertising spend to promoting 100 Black-owned companies through our social channels and technology.

 

As businesses reset and look to get their houses in order, my advice is to ensure equality is embedded in what you do, not simply what you say.

 

If leaders fail to listen to a distinct range of voices, and treat what could be a movement as a moment, they will lose out in the long term. We will look back on this time and realise that hardship united us. But we will also – I know – emerge with a renewed understanding of equality, in all its beautiful, myriad forms.