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At SAPPHIRE NOW 2016, SAP SuccessFactors announced a major cross-functional initiative to leverage HCM technology to improve workforce diversity and inclusiveness.  The initiative addresses all aspects of diversity, but the initial emphasis is on addressing gender equity in staffing, management, development, retention, compensation and promotion.  People have asked why we are doing this now and why we are starting with gender equity.  The second question is about science and economics so I’ll answer that first.  Then I’ll get into the first question of why.

The reasons we are starting with gender equity are fairly straightforward.  Gender equity impacts the largest portion of the global workforce with women representing around 50% of the workforce in most major economies.  In addition, many of the solutions that address issues causing gender inequity can be utilized to address other forms of inequity.  For example, using technology to reduce implicit biases in hiring and pay decisions.  Last, compared to other areas of diversity, gender equity has received the greatest amount of empirically rigorous psychological and economic research.  This research provides us with a tremendous amount of knowledge to draw on as we work to address the complex and challenging obstacles that impact diversity.

But why is SAP SuccessFactors making diversity and inclusiveness a product priority?  And why are we deciding to focus on them now?  Issues of workforce inequity have probably been around as long there have been workforces.  Why do we think we can make a difference now?  There are three primary reasons.  The first is the most important but the last is the most impactful.

First, increasing workforce diversity and inclusiveness has become a major priority for our customers.  Customers have told us their future business success hinges on the ability to utilize the full potential of all employees from all backgrounds.  The world economy has become far more diverse and companies that reflect the diversity of their customer base outperform those that don’t.  We are also in the midst of a worldwide shortage of skilled talent.  Companies that fail to take full advantage of the talents of people from all walks of life will struggle to get the skilled employees needed to run their businesses.  SAP SuccessFactors is a customer driven company – so what is important to our customers is important to us.

Second, diversity and inclusiveness is one of the core values of SAP.  As stated on our corporate website, “We embrace and encourage different perspectives and believe we are made stronger by our unique combination of culture, race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, physical or mental ability, and work-life situations.”  This commitment to inclusiveness runs throughout our company and we have even received awards for our commitment to building a diverse and inclusive workforce.  SAP’s mission it to help the world run better and to improve people’s lives.  Part of this is creating a more inclusive world economy.

Third, SAP SuccessFactors technology is uniquely positioned to address the underlying issues impacting workforce inclusiveness in a way that has never been possible before.  For over 40 years companies have been struggling to increase workforce diversity.  Every year reports are released that basically tell us that the pay, staffing, and promotion gaps that existed last year still exist this year.  While this data is useful for telling us we have a problem, it has not enabled us to solve the problem.  It’s a bit like trying to lose weight by getting on a scale every day.  A scale reminds you of the need to lose weight, but it doesn’t actually enable you to take off the pounds.  And over time it may just make you feel bad and frustrated to the point where you no longer even try to lose weight anymore.  The same is true for diversity.  If we are going to improve workforce inclusiveness, we need more than analytics.  We need to address the actual causes of inequity.

The reason it is hard to address workforce inequity is that much of it arises from subtle and often unconscious biases occurring throughout the employee lifecycle.  It starts with hidden biases in job postings that influence who applies.  It continues in the decisions that determine who gets hired, how employees are managed and developed, how employees are rewarded and supported, and who gets promoted and retained.  Furthermore, biases at one step impact other steps.  For example, biases affecting how employees are managed creates biases in who applies to begin with, and vice-versa.  Because of the complex nature of inequity, it is not sufficient to just focus on a single HR process such as training managers or changing staffing methods.  Issues of inequity can only be fully addressed using a comprehensive approach across the employee lifecycle.  Until recently, organizations have lacked the tools needed to address such a complex issue.  But SAP SuccessFactors has now developed a full suite of HCM tools that allow our customers to tackle equity problems in a comprehensive manner across the entire employee lifecycle.

So why is SAP SuccessFactors choosing 2016 to be the year to make major advances in using HCM technology to improve workforce diversity and inclusiveness?  The answer is simple: creating inclusive workforces is important to our customers, it is important to us, and it is something we can impact with our technology in ways that were not possible before.