SAP Reaches Out to Diverse Talent to Build its Workforce

The global technology company has already exceeded its goals for 2018.
By: | October 29, 2018 • 3 min read

While a number of large technology companies have committed to diversifying their organizations, SAP stands out for the progress that it’s already made. In addition to having a North American workforce that’s 34 percent female, women also hold 30 percent of the leadership positions for the Germany-based enterprise software company in the region (it employs a total of 22,000 people in North America). These numbers are well ahead of SAP’s goals for this year.

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Last month, SAP was named one of the Top Companies for Women Technologists by AnitaB.org, a nonprofit organization that advocates for more women working in the tech sector. In 2016, it became the first multinational tech firm to be awarded the worldwide Economic Dividends for Gender Equality certificate, which recognizes companies for their practices in promoting equal pay for equivalent work. In addition to its work in diversity and inclusion, SAP has built a positive work culture that appears to resonate well with employees—its Glassdoor rating of 4.5 is significantly higher than the ratings for other big tech companies such as IBM, Oracle and Microsoft.

SAP’s Jewell Parkinson

I recently spoke with Jewell Parkinson, SAP’s senior vice president of HR for Americas, Asia-Pacific and Japan, to learn more about what the company is doing to reach out to diverse (neuro-diverse, in addition to race and gender) talent and build a more inclusive workforce.

What are the most important things you’re doing to distinguish SAP from its competitors in the war for talent?

It’s a very competitive landscape, especially in tech. We’re really focused on broadening our reach to different talent segments that have choice in the market. We’re doing that in a couple of different ways. First, we’re focusing on our mission and purpose to connect with people who want to be associated with companies whose values match their own. Second, we’ve been able to leverage our leaders, particularly our executive-board members Jennifer Morgan and Adaire Fox-Martin, and we find that as we engage talent at all levels, Jennifer and Adaire really demonstrate how we walk the talk on diversity. We’ve also been focused on building partnerships with events and organizations that target different audiences, such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conferences and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In fact, we just signed an HBCU partnership challenge with industry and government on advancing the STEM pipeline.

SAP also is noted for its work in hiring people with autism. Can you tell me more about that?

With our Autism at Work program, we were a pioneer in employing what I believe is a very important, under-tapped talent resource. The stats indicate that about 80 percent of working-age adults on the autism spectrum are either unemployed or under-employed. But here at SAP we now have at least 140 colleagues working in a variety of jobs at locations around the world. Again, this is an under-tapped pipeline of talent, but it requires organizations to actually look beyond traditional standards and think creatively about how to take advantage of the skills, loyalty and capability of the neuro-diverse workforce.

Can you tell me about SAP’s “talent win” events?

These are fun events we hold that are about creating positive impressions of the SAP brand with certain communities—women technologists, et cetera. Talent Wins are designed to be “wow experiences” for participants. We focus on a big topic, such as machine learning, analytics or any topic related to innovation, we have a speaker from SAP talk about an interesting topic followed by a mixer where attendees get to mingle with the presenters. We create a positive impression with a particular community and, later on, when we have opportunities available we’ll be able to tap into that community. We’ve held these events around the world, in 15 or so countries. Not long ago we held one at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia—it was just 40 or so attendees, mostly millennials and members of Gen Z, talking about topics that are of interest to them.

How do you measure the effectiveness of these events?

We measure the net promoter score for each event, and we also measure—over time—conversion rates, if we’re actually able to convert individuals into hires or engage them in a talent process. We see these events as opportunities for us to enhance our brand among various groups of people.

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What advice do you have for other companies interested in diversifying their sources of talent?

First, make a concerted effort to go where the talent is rather than expecting them to come to you. It’s important to extend your brand into different communities. But in order for that to happen, you have to make an investment, a commitment to showing up in different places where communities of talent reside. Also, having strong executive sponsorship is crucial—here at SAP, our CEO Bill McDermott resoundingly supports this as a priority for our business. We must have innovation and creativity, and that can only be fueled by a workforce that’s diverse and inclusive. Another thing we’re focusing on is building the next generation of talent through our IXP—our Internship Experience Project that we do through our university alliances program. Our focus is converting interns in that program to full-time hires and building talent in the market.

Andrew R. McIlvaine is senior editor for talent acquisition at Human Resource Executive. He oversees coverage of talent acquisition and recruiting and also edits the weekly Recruiting Trends Bulletin e-newsletter and its associated website, RecruitingTrends.com. A Penn State graduate, Andy also spent two years in the U.S. Army prior to attending college and attained the rank of sergeant while serving in the Army Reserves. He can be reached at [email protected]