SAP Labs India was recently named among the Best Workplaces for Women by the Great Place to Work Institute. SAP overall was also recertified on the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE) global standard, recognizing the company’s strategic commitment to creating a gender-equal workplace.
Gender diversity is a critical part of companies’ diversity and inclusion strategy. In an earlier post, I had argued that diversity is part of the code for creating a culture of innovation. A highly diverse team fuels a company’s ability to innovate and stay competitive. Promoting diversity, including gender diversity, makes business sense. With India becoming one of the most populous countries and more women graduating college, there is a growing talent pool to tap into. However, based on International Labor Organization (ILO) statistics, published by The Economist, India stands at 121st out of 131 countries for female participation in the workforce. Only 26 percent of women currently participate in the workforce in India, compared to a global average of 50 percent of women in the workforce. Increasing the percentage of women in the workforce and of women in leadership positions can kick-start corporate growth — and national GDP. According to McKinsey, an increase by 10 percent in the work force alone could add $700 billion to India’s GDP by 2025.”
To make SAP Labs India an employer of choice for more women, we introduced a series of programs and policies that support the needs of female employees at every stage of their career. We paid particular attention to times of transition, such as life events or critical career moments to help navigate these changes. These moments include returning to work after maternity leave or making the leap to a manager role.
Here are three approaches that have made the most impact on helping women to grow their career.
Inspire More Women to Become Leaders
One of our goals is to increase the number of women in leadership positions. This starts with showing career possibilities. Having role models, especially female senior management leaders, can be instrumental to encourage more female employees to go for that leadership role. But inspiration is not enough. It also requires leadership development training to give more female employees the required skill sets and the confidence to become a senior leader. Headway is one our career development programs. It helps women build foundational skills right at the early stages of their career. Later on, our flagship programs Confluence and Aspire, Connect, Excel (ACE) support women who aspire to become people managers and experts respectively. In ACE each participant is mapped 1:1 to a senior leader sponsor who then works with the employee to grow into an expert role within the organization by providing coaching, learning opportunities and access to network. Confluence focuses on women aspiring to become a people manager and lead large teams. Like the ACE program, participants are matched up with sponsors who help to develop people management skills and build a network across the organization. We realized that mentoring or a one-time leadership program is not enough to help accelerate career growth. We encourage women to participate in career development programs throughout their career, across positions, departments and geographies, to set and achieve their career goals.
Broaden the Access to Mentors
Based on employee feedback, mentoring is crucial for career aspirations and growth. We host Speed Mentoring sessions to increase the level of access to mentors. Unlike the traditional mentoring sessions where a single mentor meets with a mentee, speed mentoring allows a mentee to meet different mentors from the senior management team at one day. A speed mentoring session typically has a specific theme to be covered within two hours, with 15-minutes slots for each mentor. The mentors share career tips and offer insights on different areas of expertise. Equally important is peer mentoring. Our Business Women Networking group allows members to learn from each other and share career advice. Part of the mentorship and training program is helping women to handle and overcome bias and misperceptions at work that may otherwise prevent them from aspiring and moving into a leadership role.
Celebrate Life at Work
Flexible work models are important for employees to keep a work-life balance and stay inspired. We offer adoption leave, surrogacy leave and sabbaticals to employees. But giving the opportunity for an extended leave for personal or professional reasons is not enough. It is also important to help employees reintegrate into the workforce after their leave of absence. This is especially true for women returning from work after maternity leave. In addition to the 26-week maternity leave mandated by the Indian government, we provide an option for a 16-weeks extension which helps female employees transition back with ease and spend additional time with the new born. During that time managers are assigning a buddy, an employee who volunteer to stay in touch with the new mothers, so that she stays connected to her work and does not feel left out. The office has an onsite child care center as well as mothers’ rooms in every building and reserved parking spaces for expecting mothers.
Having an inclusive culture at work is not an option, it’s a requirement to attract top talent, including top female talent. Our career development initiatives are guided by a strong D&I council led by employees from different departments and functions.
As a result, over the years the applications to our leadership programs for female employees have increased and we see more applicants from women for open job positions. Most importantly, creating a best work place for women has a positive impact on engagement and productivity. It creates the best of all worlds for our employees, partners and customers.
 Jonathan Woetzel, Anu Madgavkar, Rajat Gupta, James Manyika, Kweilin Ellingrud, Shishir Gupta, and Mekala Krishnan, The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in India, McKinsey (2015). See also Live Mint article here.