Pride at SAP, the company’s LGBT+ employee network group.
As the topic of diversity and inclusion has gained ever greater importance in the business world, Forbes not only added this vertical to its reporting coverage but, in 2018, partnered with market research firm Statista to create a list of the Best Employers for Diversity. This year marks the third annual list.
The ranking was compiled by surveying 60,000 Americans working for businesses with at least 1,000 employees, and it features some notable shakeups: Google fell more than 150 spots amid the sexual misconduct woes besetting its leadership team and IBM, which has been battling age discrimination lawsuits, also took a dip, dropping from No. 217 to No. 237.
Enterprise software giant SAP tops this year’s list with a score of 85.89, up eight spots from last year’s list. Henry Ford Health System, based in Detroit, came in second place, making its first-ever appearance on the list, and the Cincinnati-based consumer goods company Procter & Gamble took third place, a climb from No. 22 last year.
While most companies use their data-collecting abilities to target consumers and glean business insights, others are using analytics to promote diversity and inclusion within their own workforces. SAP North America is one of them. Based in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, the software firm has been in a period of flux in the wake of former CEO Bill McDermott’s 2019 departure. But the organization’s commitment to diversity hasn’t wavered.
“In Bill, we had a leader who really spoke eloquently about our commitment to inclusion,” says Judith Williams, head of people sustainability and chief diversity and inclusion officer at SAP. “He and the executive board set a goal to be the most inclusive software company on the planet.” And the company has continued to make progress toward that goal.
Jennifer Morgan, who became the first woman to sit on SAP’s executive board in 2017, also became the first woman to lead a company on Germany’s DAX stock index when she was appointed co-CEO in 2019. (SAP is headquartered in Germany.) Morgan has been recognized as a leader in gender equality and is credited with closing SAP North America’s gender pay gap.
“She’s really been at the forefront of championing for women in leadership,” Williams says. Women represent 26.4% of global management positions at SAP, a far cry from gender parity but on par with other tech companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft. SAP’s executive board has committed to increasing the percentage of women in management positions at the company by 1% each year, with a goal of 30% by the end of 2022.
Williams is an SAP newcomer who took over as the head of diversity and inclusion in September 2018, following stints at Dropbox and Google. Over the course of her 15-month tenure, she has pushed for a data-driven approach that uses metrics to find inefficiencies and gaps, answer questions about SAP’s workforce demographics, track the progression of underrepresented groups through the company’s career pipeline and build inclusion into SAP products. “If I can’t count it and measure it, it makes me nervous,” she quips. “My goal is to make inclusion the default option, so that it’s actually harder to exclude than it is to include.”
But data can have deeply ingrained biases and sometimes doesn’t tell the full story, something Williams acknowledges. “I believe that intelligence is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. So if we see that our pool for ‘high potential’ candidates is skewed, then based on that fundamental premise, we have a problem,” she says. “Fortunately, we don’t see those anomalies in our pool, but if we did, we could then dig under the data and say, ‘Why is that happening?’”
Algorithms, done correctly, have their perks, to be sure, with the ability to remove human biases from the talent and recruitment process. “An algorithm is never rushed, an algorithm is never hungry, an algorithm never feels tired or had a fight with its spouse. People bring all of that into their decisions and might not be conscious of the way that it shifts them into biased thinking,” Williams says.
But it’s humans who are at the core of SAP’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. Boasting nearly 100,000 employees around the world, and approximately 25,000 in North America, SAP has more than 80 employee network groups with more than 20,000 active members. The four biggest are its networks for black, Latinx, LGBT+ and female-identifying employees, but there are also smaller groups for veterans and the disabled that are growing.
In an effort to diversify its school-to-work pipeline, the company trains students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) on the latest SAP technologies so that they can work for the company or one of its partners after graduation. The company also recruits at HBCU campuses and was one of the first signatories of the Hispanic Promise, a national pledge created in 2019 to advance and empower U.S. Hispanics in the workplace.
SAP has long recognized the potential of neurologically diverse talent—an area where many companies’ efforts lag—and recently expanded its flagship Autism at Work program, which was launched in 2013. (Nearly 90% of college graduates on the autism spectrum are unemployed, compared with the national unemployment rate of 3.5%.) SAP works with external partners to identify neurodiverse candidates for its six-week pre-employment training. About half of the program’s graduates, 43.75%, have received paid employment opportunities at SAP—and the company now has 42 employees and interns with autism.
As older employees continue to postpone retirement, many of today’s workplaces consist of five generations working together. SAP’s unique Cross-Generational Intelligence initiative works to ensure that its multi-generational workforce can cohesively move forward on the company’s common goals. The program also allows employees to trade expertise and experience across peer groups, and it aims to maximize the potential of mixed-age teams. “We are really focused on inclusive collaboration,” says Williams. “For our technical teams, specifically, it’s important to have an efficient transfer of knowledge.”
During her tenure, Williams says, SAP has had a “mindset shift,” referring to past structural inefficiencies. “We’ve moved from activity measures to outcome measures, from building programs just for the sake of it to first asking what problems that program is trying to solve and how do we validate that that’s happening?”
Although SAP achieved the best employer for diversity top spot this year, the company acknowledges that there is still much room for improvement, particularly when it comes to reaching gender parity at the leadership level, to the hiring and professional development of people of color and to employing people with disabilities.
“We can do better in every area,” Williams says. “When we compare ourselves to our industry, we’re doing pretty well. But if we compare ourselves to the populations in which we live, we have a huge opportunity for improvement.”
For the full list of America’s Best Employers For Diversity, click here.
To determine the list, Statista surveyed 60,000 Americans working for businesses with at least 1,000 employees. All the surveys were anonymous, allowing participants to openly share their opinions. Respondents were first asked to rate their organizations on criteria such as age, gender, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation equality, as well as that of general diversity. These responses were reviewed for potential diversity gaps. So if workers from minority groups, for example, rated an organization poorly on diversity, but nonminority groups rated it highly, Statista would take that into account and adjust the company’s score accordingly. Statista then asked respondents belonging to minority groups to nominate organizations other than their own. The final list ranks the 500 employers that not only received the most recommendations, but also boast the most diverse boards and executive ranks and the most proactive diversity and inclusion initiatives.