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Cristina Palmaka is an IT Business Leader and President of SAP Brazil based in Sao Paulo. Diversity and inclusion are at the heart of Cristina’s focus as she constantly seeks methods for improving all aspects of diversity and keeping even her most introverted team members engaged.

  • Values leadership transparency and mutual respect

  • Passionate about improving the diversity of her team

  • Mindful of introverts vs. extroverts and tailors her communication methods accordingly

“As a leader, sometimes we feel like its us who need to have the final word, but as you get deeper into your career you realize you don’t always have the right answer,” Cristina reflected. In fact, most of the learning and growth Cristina experienced in her career occurred when she listened to the diverse views of others and respected opinions she initially disagreed with.

Cristina uses transparency and respect to drive engagement on her team. She has what she refers to as a “transparent” communication style and personality and aims to give her team frequent opportunities to speak up and share their thoughts. Cristina also values mutual respect which includes having open conversations without a hidden agenda because as Cristina noted, “We don’t have the time to be making things up and playing games.”

She believes diverse teams are crucial for success at SAP. Cristina mentioned, “We are a diverse society in Brazil, and our teams need to reflect that diversity. When leaders are building teams they need to be constantly evaluating their hiring and promotion processes for biases.”

In particular, Cristina would like to see more gender diversity on her teams. “It’s rare to not be able to find a talented woman who can at least be a candidate for a job,” she remarked. Like many leaders, she does not want her diversity efforts to outweigh her efforts to create an equal, inclusive, and productive workforce. Cristina ensures the women on her teams feel respected and confident in their roles due to their capabilities and competencies, and that “they don’t feel like they are just there because they are women.”

Gender diversity aside, Cristina acknowledges there are many other forms of diversity which are equally important for inclusion and innovation. For instance, one of her teams has a new trainee who is blind, and the team is always gaining insights on how to improve inclusion and accessibility for their software solutions, in addition the physical organization of SAP Brazil’s offices. This trainee also transformed the way Cristina’s team thinks about the needs of employees who are differently-abled.

Cristina is also proud that she has LGBT employees and LGBT allies on her team in addition to employees on the autism spectrum. She is especially enthusiastic about the unique insights her team gains as a result. She encourages all her LGBT colleagues to be open and feel comfortable being their true selves. In fact, one of her LGBT employees recently told Cristina, “I feel so respected that I am able to be myself every day at work - it’s amazing.”

In addition to the positive impacts on innovation from diversity and inclusion, Cristina believes all of us at SAP should feel a social responsibility to make the world better, and she encourages her team to think about their impact on people and families in their community.

Cristina is considerate and thoughtful about her methods for driving inclusion and stimulating engagement on her team as she employs a variety of communication methods. She always keeps the introverts on her team in mind as they are the ones who she is least likely to hear from. Cristina said, “The person that talks more usually has less to say. Pay attention, be empathetic, and listen to the people that are not talking. This is the core of leadership and how we impact society.” One way she stays mindful of her introverts is by avoiding just putting a large group of people together in a room and expecting everyone to contribute equally. In Cristina’s eyes, “You need to give people the opportunity to contribute in their own way. This could mean one-on-ones, smaller groups, or communicating in written form.”

Overall, she uses a combination of efforts and mindfulness to make her team feel comfortable being themselves in a trusting environment. Cristina stated, “You need to listen if you want to build trust. If you disregard someone or don’t listen, you destroy your own genuine inclusion efforts and people can sense that.”


Want to learn more about inclusive leaders at SAP? Check out the story on SAP’s new inclusive leadership campaign written by Global Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Judith Williams: Inclusive Leadership at SAP: How Leaders Drive Inclusion with Collaboration and… Goat Yoga?