In life and in the workplace, we develop a natural tendency to prefer people who are like us. For example, people who went to the same school as us, who look like us or who have the same communication style as us. Therefore, a lot of workforces consist of people with similar backgrounds and experiences which limits diversity of thought and creativity.
At SAP, we try to get beyond that tendency, by creating awareness for the need for a diverse workforce. We believe our workforce should reflect the heterogeneous society in which we live, and we know it makes us better at driving innovation and the success of our business. In this blog, Judith Williams, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at SAP, describes how the technology industry can work towards a more inclusive culture that offers opportunity for everyone.
SAP is a global organization. With more than 150 nationalities of employees working together to serve customers in more than 180 countries, we are made stronger by our unique combination of culture, race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability and work-life situations. This culture of inclusion not only makes us a great place to work, but also drives the success of our business. In this blog, I describe how we can make a diverse workforce the standard in our industry.
Gain more perspectives
The skills and experiences that got us where we are today are not the ones that will get us to the next stage. If we want to fill the gaps in experiences within our workforces, we need contributions from talent with different kinds of skill sets, viewpoints and backgrounds. Because when an idea is immediately agreed upon by everybody, it will not reach its full potential if everybody thinks in the same way and no one challenges that idea. We need people with different perspectives who can test and challenge the idea to make it better. But how do we find the people who can give us those different perspectives? How do we persuade them to work for our organizations? And what changes do we have to make in the way we recruit employees?
Pro-actively engage with talent early on
Rather than waiting for people to apply, we must proactively identify and interact with talent and meet them where they are. On the one hand we need to make sure that educational institutions are teaching people the right skills to make them successful in our organizations. This requires that we partner with the institutions to create a richer talent pool, and ensure they serve populations that are underrepresented in our organizations.
On the other hand, we must be more proactive in identifying talent from different backgrounds for our talent communities and get them excited about technology. At SAP, we do that by organizing events for certain demographics in many different locations. Rather than waiting for talent to apply, we help them learn about us in fun and dynamic ways. For instance, through our employee brand initiatives on social media and by investing in access to technology for young women all over the world.
Use technology to fight biases
Technology can help us to build inclusion into our systems and processes. We all think we are good at selecting talent, while in fact most humans are not. Algorithms can help us find talent that we would not have found otherwise.
At some of our SAP.iO startups we are trying to make our selection processes ‘blind’ so that we don’t bring our biases into our hiring choices. We therefore created skill-based exercises on which people are rated on skills, without us knowing anything about them as applicants. This allows us to consider their candidacy based on what they can do instead of who they are so we don’t miss out on talent.
Create an inclusive culture
Working with different kinds of people means that our people have different kinds of needs. We must adjust our company culture to that reality because there is no use in recruiting people from different backgrounds just to see them leave because they do not feel supported. Parents, for example, want to be able to take parental leave. Hence, it is important that we set up structures and processes that enable colleagues to be involved in the early stages of their children’s lives. This means organizations must develop inclusive practices and policies that communicate to potential employees that we take their situation into account. To achieve this though, awareness is key.
Awareness is the first step
These measures will only work if our staff is aware of the risks and factors that they must take into account. When we build algorithms for our hiring processes, we have to be very careful that these algorithms do not contain the same biases as the people who built them. Therefore, we have to create awareness among technologists to test for biases in outcomes. For example, when the developers are male, the algorithms have a preference for male candidates.
Furthermore, we have to train hiring officers about the characteristics of certain demographics. For example, managers should know that making eye contact is not something neurodiverse people often do. But that does not mean they do not have the skills to be a successful employee.
Inclusion benefits everyone
We do not only want a more diverse workforce within SAP, but we also want to shift the culture outside of SAP. We therefore actively promote a diversity and inclusion strategy with customers so that we can realize that cultural shift and help create a world in which people with all abilities can contribute. Research shows that if we achieve this, diverse workforces will improve our work environments and help us be better at driving innovation and delivering financial success.
Inclusion is for everyone and we all contribute to diversity. It is not about women or people of color, because no individual is diverse, a group is diverse – you are unique. And if we can bring all those people with unique skills and experiences together successfully, then we have diversity.
Want to know more about how a healthy and inclusive culture can empower people and drive innovation? Join Judith Williams’ session during Connect to Innovate on October 2nd.