Why Diversity In The Workplace Isn’t Enough, According To This Chief D&I Officer

© Jacob Lund / Adobe Stock

group of people at work

© Jacob Lund / Adobe Stock

Samantha Samel
Samantha Samel
May 25, 2024 at 8:43AM UTC
When Anka Wittenberg joined SAP six years ago as Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, she wasn’t merely making the next move in her career. She had a larger goal in mind: “I said, ‘I would like to make a difference here in German-based companies to ensure the way we look at diversity is clearly from a business point of view,’” she recalled during a recent conversation with Fairygodboss. “That’s why I applied.”
Wittenberg has done just that. In May 2011, SAP made a public commitment to increase the number of women it has in management positions; the goal was to get from 18% to 25% by the end of 2017. The company, which employs 89,000 people worldwide, recently achieved this goal six months ahead of schedule — and has now committed to growing that percentage each year so that management is 30% women by 2022.
“Why are we doing it? Because now we all know that business is a lot more sustainable and successful if you have diverse teams,” Wittenberg told Fairygodboss. “We understand our customers better and it drives employee engagement,” she said, adding that the company is focused not only on gender diversity but also on generational diversity, as well as better integrating the LGBT community, refugees, and people with disabilities, among other marginalized groups.
Of course, bringing diversity and inclusion goals to fruition is easier said than done. It can be hard to stay focused on long term objectives, and it’s not always easy to know what strategies will be effective. But here’s how Wittenberg is making it work at SAP:
By getting the business buy-in
Getting top executives on board is key to advancing any initiative in the workplace. That’s why Wittenberg and her colleagues spent “many hours mining data” before devising and presenting their plan for getting more women into management. “We identified key areas where we need to dive deeper and shared all of our findings. We have clearly worked on the business case,” she said, specifically citing Deloitte and McKinsey as being useful resources in making their case.
By focusing on inclusiveness
In a recent TLNT article, Wittenberg explained that “for SAP, the mission was never about the numbers to reflect ‘diversity’ but rather the desire to create a culture of inclusion.” As she puts it, SAP wants individuals to feel like they can be their authentic self while at work, because this is what drives innovation.
She recalled that one of the first Diversity and Inclusion training sessions she attended was very much focused on women — and how they can negotiate like a man or dress like a man, or what body language they should use to be successful. “That’s what we don’t want,” she said. “We want the individual to be there and to show their strengths. That’s what drives innovation and employees.”
Wittenberg cited Deloitte’s maturity model for diversity and inclusion, which helps companies focus on various grades of diversity: compliance-focused diversity, programmatic-focused diversity, and then, at the top, an inclusive culture in which “ownership is clearly with everyone in the company, and inclusiveness is becoming part of the need and DNA of the company.”
By focusing on KPIs
To remain on track when working toward long-term goals, it’s crucial to not only clearly identify those goals at the outset — but also to make them measureable by consistently focusing on KPIs. “What gets measured gets done,” Wittenberg said, adding that “it’s been really important to implement measurable goals to create an environment of transparency, which helps establish momentum. Once a goal is reached, celebrate it.”
What does this kind of transparency look like? At SAP, there’s a Diversity & Inclusion dashboard based on HR analytics tools, and numbers are shared internally every quarter. “We’re very transparent with numbers about women in management — you can see it by region,” Wittenberg explained. “This clearly helps to ensure that the momentum is there on sustainable long-term goals.”
By proactively addressing unconscious bias
You may be hesitant to admit it, but chances are you’ve made a decision at some point in your life that’s been affected by unconscious bias. In the workplace, these biases can be particularly dangerous. In fact, a recent Fairygodboss study shows just how rampant bias is in the interviewing process.
That’s why SAP is tackling this issue head on. “What can we do to make bias more visible?” Wittenberg asked. “We want to ensure we have a business beyond bias. Business leaders make the best business decision when they eliminate bias.” She explained that SAP focuses on hiring the best talent for the job. “We don’t want to say, ‘you need to hire a woman.’ We want to say, ‘you hire the best talent.’” Of course, Wittenberg explained, that entails making sure that the best talent is visible — and that the best talent applies to the position.
This means not only addressing employees’ behavior, but also identifying and correcting more subtle forms of unconscious bias, like gender-biased language. “Sometimes we’re formulating a job profile or posting that is not attractive to a woman,” Wittenberg explained. “If we have a job posting and write words in there like, ‘we’re looking for someone who is assertive or politically savvy,’ these kinds of words aren’t very attractive sometimes to female leaders. They want to have a purpose, but they probably don’t want to play political games.” SAP uses a recruiting product that scans through its job postings and identifies any gender-biased language.
By getting EDGE-certified  
SAP went through the EDGE Certification process, which assesses companies using a particular methodology to help ensure a more equal and supportive workplace for all. Wittenberg said this process helped SAP evaluate how it recruits and promotes employees, and how employees view the company and their experiences. “What comes out is a clear action plan,” Wittenberg explained, adding that SAP piloted the program in North America and then rolled it out globally, in China, Germany, and Brazil, among other countries. “We got certified by the end of 2016, and we now have clear action items to ensure that we get better,” she said. “This is something that has clearly shown us, using HR analytics, where our blind spots are and what we need to do.”
SAP will be recertified in 2018 to ensure that it’s continually making moves in the right direction.

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always