The Business Case For Diversity

Anka Wittenberg

I recently sat down with Iris Bohnet, professor of Public Policy and behavioral economist at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. We met about a year ago following the publication of her groundbreaking book, “What Works? Gender Equality by Design,” in which she unpacks how behavioral design can help organizations reduce unconscious bias. Iris Bohnet’s research helps companies like SAP create an inclusive environment. As part of our SAP Future Factor series, we shared insights on how organizations can create and promote a diverse and inclusive culture, what role technology plays, and why it matters.

The issue of diversity and inclusion goes beyond gender. It is about harmonizing the strengths and thinking from a diverse set of employees comprising different cultures, age groups, socio-economic, professional, and educational backgrounds as well as different physical and mental capabilities. For example, employees across five generations are currently working together at SAP. Building an inclusive corporate culture is hard work. It requires dedication from every level of the organization. But the payback can be huge.

Based on the latest research and our experience at SAP, diversity and inclusion are more than a “nice to have.” There is a clear business case for a work environment that is inclusive and that offers a level playing field. It drives innovation, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement—and these factors have a direct impact on the bottom line! At SAP, we can track that diversity and inclusion improves employee engagement: By increasing employee engagement by just one percent, we’ve observed an increase of 48 million euros in operational profits per year. That is a strong business case for diversity.

Creating a business beyond bias requires a constant look in the mirror. Humans are drawn to people who think and look like themselves, and unconscious bias can be a limiting factor in hiring, retaining, and promoting the right talent. Iris Bohnet and I talk about approaches that can help organizations recognize and remove unconscious bias. We touch on the role that technology plays in removing bias during hiring and performance management.

There is no “magic button” that we can push to make organizations diverse and inclusive overnight. It is a gradual change, like pieces of a puzzle slowly coming together. Yet we have many tools at our disposal today to move in the right direction, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. I am excited to see how they can be a catalyst for positive change and help us showcase a truly diverse environment.

In our dialogue, Iris Bohnet and I dive into the following questions:

  1. Why should organizations care about diversity?
  2. What are the challenges of building a diverse workplace?
  3. How can organizations evaluate talent without bias?
  4. How can organizations use technology to promote diversity?
  5. How is diversity changing the workplace norms?
  6. How can organizations move from a mindset of inclusion to behaviors of inclusion?

We hope our exchange provides some inspiration to take an active role in building and promoting a more diverse, inclusive workplace. Tell us what you think, and share your own experiences. You can watch our discussion here. To watch a non-interactive version of the video, please click here.

For more on digitization, work, and HR, visit Episode 1 and Episode 2 of the SAP Future Factor Web Salon, in which HR executives and thought leaders from science/academia discuss the digitization of work.

The series are best watched on non-Internet Explorer browsers such as Chrome.


Anka Wittenberg

About Anka Wittenberg

Anka Wittenberg is the Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at SAP. She is responsible for the development and implementation of SAP’s Diversity and Inclusion strategy globally, ensuring sustainable business success.