Women In Enterprise Cloud Computing. Part 3: To See Opportunities, Put Yourself In Someone Else's Shoes

Jutta Lachenauer

For most organizations, the measure of success of diversity and inclusion initiatives has become merely a matter of numbers. However, creating equal opportunities for female leaders and challenged persons is more than a numbers game. Diversity and inclusion must not be enforced – but embraced as an important pillar within the human resource strategy. This multi-part series shines a light on how women in leadership positions at SAP P&I Enterprise Cloud Services have risen to the top within their field. Each portrait shares insights, lessons learned, and tips for the next generation of female leaders in cloud computing.

In part three of this series, Baerbel Haenelt, a manager in development at SAP Application Innovation Services (AIS), raises awareness of the importance of disability inclusion as a rather unexpected source of business success and mutual benefit. (Read part 1 and part 2.)

Part 3: Baerbel Haenelt: Put yourself in someone else’s shoes to see new opportunities

“There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more,” is Baerbel Haenelt’s favorite quote. The quote is from Robert M. Hensel, an international poet and the Guinness World Record holder for the longest non-stop wheelie in a wheelchair.

The saying also mirrors Baerbel’s approach to leadership and creating a culture of inclusion in teams. “We have to focus on everyone’s unique ability, as opposed to perceived limitations. Every person’s skill set and viewpoint is unique. Together we can bring a broad spectrum of perspectives and skills to the company. It’s what makes us see new possibilities and stay innovative, “said Baerbel.

Part of Baerbel’s role as a manager in development at Application Innovation Services (AIS) at SAP in Germany is providing mentorship to teams who integrate differently abled employees and provide mentorship for them.

Embracing cultural change has become an imperative for companies on their way to becoming an intelligent enterprise. The digitization of the workplace has also changed the parameters for leadership. The new generation of leaders promotes an open mindset, adaptability, and empathy to navigate the digital transformation. They also have a broader definition of talent. In a PwC report, 73% of CEOs cite skill shortages as a business threat, and 81% state they are looking for a wider mix of skills when hiring. It is crucial for managers to understand how to focus on people’s skills, abilities, and experience to be attractive employers.

Digital transformation is also prompting the creation of a range of new roles within organizations, which require new sets of skills. Encouraging managers to build a highly diverse team is not a nice-to-have strategy, it is a critical component to stay competitive and define the future of work.

However, finding and recruiting new talent can be challenging. About two years ago, Baerbel had to quickly refill 12 positions within a short timeframe due to organizational redeployments. Despite her vast personal network and experience as a people manager, filling these job vacancies was initially difficult. “Recruiting for 12 positions at once on a tight deadline was one of the biggest challenges in my 24-year-long career at the company to date. What saved me was my knowledge of and belief in an untapped market: a pool of differently abled people who are highly skilled but don’t always apply to positions. I knew that they have a lot to bring to the table, if given a chance.”

Baerbel seized the opportunity to hire multiple persons with disabilities for the job vacancies. The move not only filled the positions with the right candidates, it also increased overall workforce diversity.

“It is important to foster a diverse, inclusive, and bias-free culture. Embracing diversity means bringing employees of different capabilities into the team. Drawing from as many different sources as possible in the recruitment process helps nurture a highly diverse company culture. Every person should be recognized for what he or she has to contribute,” stated Baerbel.

Knowing everyone’s strengths is not always easy. To identify how team members approach tasks and problem-solving, Baerbel recommends putting yourself in their shoes for one day. Experiencing a person’s world for even one hour can be eye-opening, based on Baerbel’s experience.

Last year, Baerbel’s team went on a field trip to SRH Neckargemünd, a vocational training center in Germany that specializes in training disabled youth for the workplace. The team spent an entire day at the center to explore how its program facilitates social integration and prepares graduates to compete in the business world. After walking a mile in the trainees’ shoes, Baerbel and her team came to greatly respect and appreciate the unique way they successfully master their everyday life. The team observed that challenges opened up new perspectives and ways of doing things. The students were always thinking of creative ways to overcome mundane tasks.

“Rethinking routines and questioning traditional paths is the foundation of innovation. The inclusion of differently abled colleagues is a huge asset for all. We are challenged and inspired to think in new directions,” stated Baerbel.

Baerbel’s team is encouraging departments across the company to follow their example and integrate team members with different abilities. They rely on the guidance of the corporate representative body for disabled employees, which helps with the integration of team members and putting a barrier-free work environment in place.

For Baerbel’s team, adapting the physical work environment was easy because it was already barrier-free and catered to different types of disabilities. “There were no major adjustments necessary for the workspace for our team. All we needed were cozy office chairs and desks with adjustable height,” said Baerbel.

By understanding employees with disabilities and listening to their ideas, companies can unlock enormous potential. The first step on that path is to encourage people with disabilities to apply for jobs. “People with disabilities often don’t dare to apply for a vacant position, although they have the qualifications for the job. We have to strongly encourage people with disabilities to apply for positions that they feel are out of their reach – they may be in for a positive surprise! And we may learn new ways to look at the world as a team and become more competitive,” concluded Baerbel.

For more about business beyond bias, learn about SAP’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

About Jutta Lachenauer

Jutta Lachenauer is the editor-in-chief and head writer for #devWire, the SAP Board Area newsletter for the developer community. With an extensive background in corporate communications, executive communications, internal communications, and change management, Jutta is a trusted advisor to senior management executives.