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So we all know that women are under-represented in corporate board rooms and executive management, but do we really know why? Why is the percentage of women in management stagnating, despite growing focus on this subject in the media, and corporate practices and policies and by supporting grass-roots networks like the BWN whose goal is to reduce the barriers that prevent women from succeeding at the same rate as men?

On January 31st  in Paris, two partners from McKinsey & Company (Katya Defossez and Charlotte Werner), accepted to speak to a group of SAP managers, high potentials and business women’s network members to answer these questions and help drive awareness at SAP.

We were honored to have Franck Cohen, EMEA president conclude with his thoughts on diversity and tips on career development. He stressed the importance of using the tools available to us such as SuccessMap and to work with our managers to ensure we have a development plan in place. He also finds N+2 mentors and sponsors for his top talents.

Valérie Vezinhet, Director of Human Resources SAP France also outlined the actions undertaken at SAP France to help move the gender diversity mix, including recruitment criteria, employee hiring bonus for diverse candidates, gender based salary and promotion reviews, and KPI tracking.

In addition, Cathy Ward, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, EMEA, shared the fun tool Workforce of the Future and key learning taken from a luncheon with top leaders at FKOM the week before (see attachment).

All in all an inspirational morning! Please check out the full length video on SAP Media Share if you are interested.

McKinsey’s Women Matter Research

McKinsey has published “Women Matter” research every year since 2007, and is a recognized thought-leader in this domain (keynote speaker at the Women’s Forum in Deauville) although it is by no means their main business focus. They are frequently solicited to share their findings with companies like SAP, who are interested in measuring themselves against this benchmark study and learning which key drivers will contribute to reaching their gender diversity goals - in SAP’s case, 25% women in senior management by 2017.

As we learned on January 31st, McKinsey’s research since 2007, clearly shows that companies with gender diverse boards and upper management perform better in their markets. Through their database and global and regional analysis of hundreds of corporations, and by testing with their own management practices, McKinsey has shown that companies perform better when they have programs and an inclusive culture that bring qualified women into leadership positions.

Their latest results Women Matter 2013: Moving corporate culture, moving boundaries, focuses on mindsets and corporate culture to help companies understand how they can make change happen. Despite commitment from the top and gender diversity initiatives in place within many companies, women are still underrepresented at the top of corporations (in fact at all levels beyond entry-level). By studying more closely how and why those who have succeeded in getting to a closer balance are successful, key lessons emerge:

  • They identified nine leadership behaviors – two of which are applied between men and women equally (intellectual stimulation, efficient communication), five of which are slightly or more frequently applied by women (people development, expectations and rewards, role model, inspiration, participative decision making), and two of which are most frequently applied by men (individualistic decision making, control and corrective action) (Exhibit 1)

  • Although women and men share equal ambition to reach C-level management positions and are equally willing to sacrifice a part of their personal life to achieve this goal, women are significantly less confident than men that they will reach the top. (Exhibits 5, 6)

  • Corporate culture has a significant impact on providing women the confidence that achieving their career ambitions is possible. (Exhibit 7)

  • A large majority of men believe that gender diversity in executive leadership generates better company performance.
  • One third of men are unaware of the specific issues for women to reach the top (even with equal skills and qualifications).
  • Unless there are specific initiatives in place and the management and corporate culture are aligned, the numbers don’t move.
  • Adapting recruitment situations and processes as well as succession planning policies can minimize the barriers and can improve the odds for women’s success
  • Encouraging inclusive mentoring practices can improve corporate culture and development of female talent.
  • Creating an corporate culture that values work/life balance, not only benefits women, but benefits men and improves employee engagement overall.

So clearly, in order for a company to succeed in today’s demanding environment, the talents and natural skills of both men and women are required. This report shows that women share men’s ambition to reach the top but that much needs to be done still to build men’s awareness to the specific barriers women face. Positive results are possible if gender-neutral performance models are developed and an inclusive corporate culture exists and welcomes diverse leadership styles at all levels of the organization.

What’s Happening at SAP?

The good news is that SAP at a corporate level, is already following many of the best practices outlined by McKinsey in the graphic above.

  • Gender diversity is at the top of the strategic agenda – Under the Sustainability umbrella bringing forward innovations through diversity and inclusion. SAP recognizes that a diverse employee-base improves our chances to identify with our diverse customer-base as well as increase our chances of success when developing business in new markets, or when creating new innovations in our labs.
  • CEO commitment – Jim Hagemann Snabe was BWN Executive sponsor from 2010-2013, replaced by Anka Wittenberg. CEO and executive team’s visible monitoring of progress in gender diversity programs, as shown through Franck Cohen’s leadership (SAP Franck Cohen Diversity Master 24.6.13) among others.
  • Developing women as leaders…
    • The training offered to SAP managers “Women and Men Leading Together”, and the upcoming diversity and inclusion curriculum is a positive step to build awareness and challenge people’s assumptions.
    • SAP has many other programs in place as shown on the Corporate portal and Diversity@SAP Community, including Sponsoring support and Mentoring.
    • Networks and role models:
      • Business Women’s Network global coordination and messaging
      • Centralized tracking of employee networks and support programs
  • Supported by collective enablers – clearly a focus for SAP and a work in progress...
    • Inclusive programs
    • Gender diversity indicators
    • HR Policies and Processes
    • Infrastructure

In conclusion, we all should be seeing results from this movement at SAP and are indeed part of the reason it is taking shape! The morning we dedicated to this subject, and the key learnings we took away, build on the momentum and provide a solid foundation from which we may continue to build a common understanding and improve the gender balance at SAP.

Please take the time to listen to the video McKinsey presents Women Matter research to SAP with Franck Cohen (available on Media Share for SAP employees) or review McKinsey's Women Matter research on their website, and add your comments!

As a final note, BWN France also celebrated it’s 5th anniversary on this day! In addition to thanking to our sponsors, Eric Fenollosa SAP Labs Paris and Franck Cohen, I’d like to thank Valérie Vezinhet, Myriam Brame for their support and collaboration as well as all of the women and men who attended the event (there was room for more). BWN France leadership team is a group of women who each drive initiatives that we are passionate about and that benefit our 330 members (both men and women) to provide opportunities for career growth. Many thanks to the BWN France leadership team, Laure Le Bars, Nathalie Chateau, and Christele Lyn Rentsch for co-organizing this event as well as Ghislaine Martin, Valérie Le Lay, Lydialle Chateigner, and Amy Sellers for their help.