As a business executive working in the technology space, I can attest to the importance of diversity in the workplace. Countless studies have proven that diversity is an economic and business imperative. According to recent McKinsey research, companies with gender and ethnic diversity perform up to 35% better financially.
As an Asian-American woman, with English as my second language, diversity has always been a deeply personal matter.
When I was 14 years old, I took an opportunity to move to the United States, a move I knew would enable me to become the first person in my family to get a higher education. Driven by this ambition, I took the huge leap of faith and left Hong Kong for a new life in New York. As a teenager, I had this sense of fearlessness that pushed me to embrace the risks and just go for it.
I will never forget the moment I arrived. Not only was I traveling by myself, I was to live with relatives I had met only a few times. I left behind my school, my friends, and my mum and grandmother who had raised me until that point. Growing up in a government-subsidized apartment, we didn’t have much, but family meant everything to me. My most vivid memory upon arrival was sitting at JFK airport overcome with a surge of anxiety because not only was I unable to communicate in English, the airline had also lost my luggage. The helplessness I experienced, combined with the fact that there was no turning back, cemented my determination to keep moving forward.
For a long time this moment defined my outlook on life as I realized that I would have to fight through all these challenges and continue to push ahead if I wanted to succeed. When I look back to my defining moment and reflect on all my experience and accomplishments, I can’t help but be overcome with emotion again. Who would have guessed that 25 years after my arrival to the United States I would once again find myself returning to New York? This time, I was moving back as the CMO of SAP, and I was no longer alone. My husband and our dog were joining the new adventures that waited in New York.
I was incredibly honored and humbled to recently join a group of phenomenal leaders and speak alongside the likes of Sheryl Sandberg on best practices for promoting and supporting women in business. The recently released women in the workplace study by McKinsey, in conjunction with Lean In, reaffirms the reasons why diversity is so important, as diversity has been linked to better business results and creates a more beneficial working environment for employees.
The study finds that although companies’ commitment to diversity is at an all-time high, they are struggling to put their commitment into practice, and many employees are not on board. This is particularly true at senior leadership levels. In fact, the report finds that women are promoted and hired at lower rates than men and are underrepresented at every level, with the highest gaps at the top including:
- Only 29% of VPs are women
- 24% of senior VPs are women
- 19% of C-suite executives are women
- For every 100 women promoted, 130 men are promoted
The results are even more staggering for women of color; the report found that women of color hold only three percent of C-suite positions, despite being more likely to desire a C-suite role than white women. I am part of that three percent.
While it’s clear the industry has come a long way in making a push around hiring diverse employees and implementing initiatives that enhance this line of thinking, there is still much more that needs to be done.
If we want to drive greater performance both for individuals as well as for the companies we represent, we must embrace our different perspectives. For me, this topic starts at the top. The diversity on our marketing leadership team – 50% of us are women, 50% are ethnic minorities – consistently brings new perspectives to our discussions that influence our decision making. To help move this forward, we have also set in place two initiatives within SAP marketing that are designed to enhance the company’s broad set of global offerings.
Our women in leadership program provides exceptional candidates with personalized offerings including executive sponsorship and mentoring. In addition, the early talent program is designed to support the retention of our next generation of leaders. Just this month, SAP became the first global technology company to receive EDGE certification. We adopted practices to help minimize unconscious bias in the recruiting and promotion process, and we’ve established guidelines regarding diverse candidates on the short list for managerial positions.
I am incredibly proud to be a part of this company for recognizing just how important it is to take business beyond bias and for having the passion to drive this significant change.
This blog is part of our Defining Moment series. At SAP, our higher purpose is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. We are committed to diversity and inclusion in the workplace and moving #BusinessBeyondBias. To learn more about the future of diversity and inclusion, visit www.successfactors.com and watch this video to hear from other leaders on the topic.