„Highlighting IT role models“

SAP occupies over 54.000 peoples in more than 120 countries. 18 percent managers are female. Not enough for the largest software company. They established in 2011 a global target of 25 percent of leadership positions filled with women by 2017. Interview with Phyllis Stewart Pires, SAP’s Global Head of Diversity.

In September 2011, Phyllis Stewart Pires, 49, was appointed Global Head of Diversity.  Most recently Pires has served as Director of Community Experience for SAP’s Labs North America. In this role Phyllis led a variety of employee engagement activities, worked with the local leadership team to drive cross- LoB culture initiatives, and championed the diversity efforts across the North America Labs.

The mother of three children launched a highly regarded mentoring program for women in leadership, has sponsored and grown grass roots employee groups, and created many learning and awareness building opportunities. Prior to SAP Phyllis spent over eight years at Cisco focused on building their award-winning global family services initiatives, helped launch Cisco’s gender diversity initiatives, and served as a communications and change management leader in the business.

Career-Women.org: Phyllis, you started your job as Global Head of Diversity five months ago, inheriting an established diversity-policy within SAP. What will be your priorities for the future?

I have the great benefit of building on the work done by many diversity advocates at SAP.  I am fortunate that there already exists a passionate grassroots community amongst our employees, as well as strong support from our Executive Board.  My top priority is to build on this strong foundation while extending the reach of our diversity programs to even better support SAP’s business goals.  

As with any global corporation, SAP faces a myriad of challenges:  to increase global competitiveness, attract and retain the best talent, produce the most innovative and relevant products and services, and bring even greater value to our shareholders.  We strongly believe that diversity – of cultures, of backgrounds, of ideas – stimulates new solutions and is a strong driver of growth and innovation. In short, a culture of inclusion can improve business results!

One specific aspect of diversity that will continue to be a priority is increasing the representation of women in leadership positions at SAP. In 2011, we established a global target to have one quarter of leadership positions filled with women by 2017.  We are already seeing progress and I expect the work we do on filling the pipeline of women to be considered for leadership roles will enhance our programs and practices for all diversity dimensions.

Career-Women.org: German companies complain of a lack of well qualified candidates with “MINT”-education. What is your experience? Is it a global or a local problem?

The issue of continuing to find highly-qualified employees with the appropriate IT, math and science education is not just a German issue or an SAP issue, but a broader global issue.  

Employers like SAP are getting more demanding with respect to the skills we need to meet the demands of our complex, global business.  While SAP’s employee population already represents vast cultural, educational and experience diversity, maintaining our edge requires a sustainable pipeline of highly skilled employees. It is not clear that the supply of graduates with the required skills will meet the industry’s growing demand and expectations.

Companies need to cultivate strong relationships with educational institutions to ensure we are influencing talent pool readiness.  But they must also consider casting a wider net beyond traditional recruiting pools.  And we must continue to encourage young people – especially women and other under-represented groups – to pursue MINT careers by highlighting role models, demonstrating the ways in which technology roles have changed, and showing how exciting a career in IT can be.

Career-Women.org: In Germany SAP is a member of the MINT Pakt which aims to support young women studying Math, IT or natural sciences. Are there other programs in your company to increase the number of well qualified MINT-women?

In addition to being a partner in the MINT Pakt , a country-wide program in Germany supporting girls in choosing careers in IT, math and science, SAP is a member of the German X-Company Network, an association of professional women’s organizations including KPMG, HP, Bosch, Daimler, and Commerzbank. We are also Germany’s corporate representative for the European Center for Women in Technology (ECWT).

SAP is a Signee of the 2010 German Corporate Governance Code (Codex) that calls for the appropriate representation of women in filling leadership positions beyond the level of supervisory and executive boards in German companies.  Globally, we are members in the United Nations-UNESCO’s International Taskforce on Women and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).

SAP employees also do their part at the local level to encourage women to choose MINT careers.  This takes the form of sponsoring events such as the “Dare to be Digital” conference in California which focuses on ensuring junior high girls are exposed to the “cool” side of technology careers by meeting female role models from many Silicon Valley companies; as well as annual support for Girl’s Day activities in multiple global locations.

Career-Women.org: In your experience, why do women hesitate to study a technical field? Are there national differences?

There are two key reasons why women hesitate to study math, IT and the sciences. First, there are lingering negative perceptions of these fields.  Images of researchers in white lab coats or geeky computer programmers locked away in back rooms remain as enduring stereotypes. To reach young students – male and female – research has shown that demonstrating a greater connection to the social value and collaborative nature of the work, can transform the way students think about these careers.

Additionally, for decades, these fields have been dominated by men, making it more difficult for women to imagine careers for fear of feeling alone or isolated.  This has made it difficult for young women to identify the role models around which they can create their own career roadmap.  At SAP we strive to make the career progression stories of our senior women visible so that younger women can learn from their journey.  

Career-Women.org: You launched a highly regarded mentoring program for women in leadership. What`s the advantage?

Women are particularly interested in mentoring programs because mentors can help provide important tips for success in a male-dominated work culture.  SAP has a variety of approaches to mentoring that range from an informal on-line tool open to all employees, to a more formal “hand-matching” program for high potential women.  The most important aspect of mentoring is creating a culture in which leaders – women and men – take an active role in growing a strong, sustainable internal talent pool.  One of our mentoring participants commented about the experience:  “Access to a senior executive outside my own organization provided valuable insight into the skills and capabilities of key SAP thought leaders.”