The Gender Gap: Diversity Adds Value

Camilla Dahlen

In my initial blog post, I discussed the general topic of diversity and what it can do for your business. Diversity incorporates a myriad of viewpoints, backgrounds, skills, and life experiences, thereby driving more creative and innovative ideas to solve problems and stimulate growth.

In this blog, I will more specifically discuss the gender gap issue and the impact that it has on building a successful business. As we all know, women and minorities add significant value to businesses around the globe, and the more diverse the employee pool, the more agile and innovative companies will be.

Diversity needs to be addressed at all levels, especially the executive level. Bringing more women and minorities into leadership positions creates a company with a wider array of talent. In fact, a study by Catalyst found that companies with more women on their boards performed better in multiple categories – sales, equity, and invested capital.

Having a high level of diversity in management positions enables companies to provide executive guidance and direction that caters to an increasingly diverse customer base. And it will help form a creative and adaptive management team that represents the various facets of the market a company serves.

The bias is real, especially for women

As women reach near parity with men in terms of the number of people in the workforce, the question of gender bias may get lost in the shuffle. After all, women have come a long way, right?

Maybe not. Consider the simple fact that women make up more than half of the total population, yet they have lost ground in 48 out of 50 of the highest-paying jobs in the United States. Women hold only about 14% of leadership roles in the workplace.

In a recent Chicago Tribune article, Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett state that for the first time, women comprise half of the educated labor force and earn the majority of advanced degrees, yet are stalling out. The authors say that the higher women go, the harder it gets – and they are not making the progress they have a right to expect, given their education and early promise.

A study from Lean In and McKinsey & Co. shows that women are 30% less likely to receive regular feedback and input on their performance, which can become a hindrance to elevating their performance over time. The same study found that for every 100 women promoted from an entry-level to a manager, 130 men are also promoted. Women are falling behind from the very start.

With studies showing that women in leadership roles lead to more productive companies, it is hard to understand why the glass ceiling still exists in many market-leading corporations around the world today. The reality is that fewer women make it to the top, even as more of us earn higher education degrees and continue to enter the workplace. This should be a wake-up call for businesses interested in building the best, most innovative and agile workforce.

Even employers that believe in and support women in the workplace may have management practices that limit opportunities for women. This is unfortunate because women are often more likely to be intuitive, show empathy, and collaborate across all executive board areas. These are all critical characteristics for many strategic roles, from development to sales to general management.

I was fortunate to begin my career in Scandinavia, whose countries rank on top in gender equality by the World Economic Forum. The progress in these countries has developed over time and is supported by policies such as gender-neutral parental leave. Besides promoting equality in the workplace, this has the important benefit of raising a new generation that assumes equality.

This kind of progress helped me to be considered early on for important job opportunities that shaped my career in international technology sales. Today, it is encouraging to see industry-leading companies such as Netflix, Twitter, and Etsy promote extended gender-neutral parental leave policies. Further, when executives like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg publicly take this leave, it validates the need and helps change the work culture.

SAP gets diversity

In a recent article, How Men & Women See the Workplace Differently, published in the Wall Street Journal, author Nikki Walker presents an example of how SAP is setting firm targets to increase the presence of women in leadership. She interviewed Jenny Dearborn, the chief learning officer at SAP, who said she considers equipping female employees with the skills they need to reach the management ranks a significant part of her mission. Hanging above her desk in Palo Alto, California is an email from her boss, CEO Bill McDermott, which says he wants the global software company to be the world’s best workplace for professional women.

Today, SAP has a mandate that says women will hold 25% of all managerial roles by the end of 2017. So far, its world-wide management ranks are 24.1% female, while roughly 30% of management roles in the United States and Canada are held by women. I’ve been a part of this shift and have seen an increase in focus on developing diversity-friendly management practices and priorities. This has not only helped me in my own career growth, but it also has better equipped me as a leader to hire and develop a more diverse team. As I look around, I see more women leading internal- and external-facing organizations, and a genuine appreciation has emerged for the different skills and styles that are brought in to lead the people in these companies.

While there is still a long way to go for women to have the same equal opportunities that men have in today’s business world, we are slowly reducing the gender gap here at SAP.

It’s time to remove gender bias

Only when we remove gender bias will women break through the glass ceiling and be on parity with men. As with everything else, it starts by owning our role in shaping our own experiences and viewpoints. In a recent video, Leveling the Playing Field, Shelley Correll, a professor of sociology at Stanford University, outlines steps employers can take to eliminate stereotypes and “create a workplace where all people, men and women, can thrive.” Here is a consolidated version of the steps she recommends to reduce bias:

  1. Educate. When people learn how stereotypes work, they tend to scrutinize their own decision-making more carefully, which reduces the tendency to use stereotypes as a shortcut.
  1. Establish fair hiring practices. Be clear in the evaluation criteria. Scrutinize the criteria to ensure it is not flawed or outdated, thereby unintentionally filtering out women.
  1. Be transparent. Hold decision-makers – and yourself – accountable. Having to explain decisions forces greater attention to them.

The last point Correll makes is to intentionally and proactively vouch for the competence of women leaders. When possible, describe a woman’s accomplishments and success. That helps overcome one of the most difficult problems to detect that stereotypes often create: doubts about competence.

If you missed my first blog on diversity and inclusion, you can read it here. Look for the third in the blog series on the topic of hiring best practices. Coming soon!

For more insight on workplace diversity, see For True Diversity We Must Guard Against Otherness.


Camilla Dahlen

About Camilla Dahlen

Camilla currently leads the North American OEM business at SAP. She has successfully led the OEM and PMC East and South teams for the past three years in North America and has been a recognized leader by her peers, partners and SAP colleagues. Camilla grew the existing partner business, helped define the strategy to build the new partner ecosystem, and created a Cloud-first approach with her employees and partners. Camilla previously spent time leading CEC sales teams both in the NA East region as well as nationally.