Cultural Diversity is good for an organization

Cultural Diversity is good for an organization

Shraddhanjali Rao is Head HR India SAP. She has extensive experience in developing and executing HR strategy for building high performance organization across geographies. She has been associated with TCS in the past.

What does Diversity mean to you and why do you think it is so important?

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) to me means the ability to embrace the authenticity and uniqueness of each individual. It also lies at the core philosophy at SAP which is, ‘ Bring everything you are to become everything you want’.  We enable Diversity and Inclusion in our organization through the unique combination of culture, ethnicity, age, gender, physical or mental ability. With over 88500 employees worldwide, 150 nationalities in 130 countries, 5 generations of employees working together, I believe this diversity of thought and “embracing differences” is what makes SAP an innovative and dynamic organization.

Diversity and inclusion are no longer cultural “nice to haves”, instead, they have become business imperatives. As the world continues to move in the direction of digitization we need diverse thought processes to engage with an increasingly diverse customer base.  

It is a strategic component to an organization’s ability to innovate, to better understand the needs of our customers and partners, develop new technologies, and help us deliver sustainable value to the community at large. The link between diversity and business results is well established and tangible. Gender diverse management teams generate 48% higher operating margins (McKinsey) and Inclusive workplaces have 39% customer satisfaction (Gallup). In fact, Diversity can increase economic performance by as much as 2.2 times for profitability & 2 times stock valuation (McKinsey)

Bottom line – companies can be far more successful and outperform competition by investing in Diversity and Inclusion.

Organizations are now focusing on Diversity and working towards building a culture of inclusiveness, how can leaders truly build an inclusive culture at every level in the organization?

Today most of the organizations are successful in having a diverse workforce, but many still struggle in creating an Inclusive culture. Diversity and Inclusion, hence must go hand in hand for an organization to meet its overall objective and goal. True inclusion is only achieved when people have a sense of “belonging” to an organization. The onus of fostering such a culture lies with the leaders:


To build an inclusive culture, it is imperative that leaders of the organization openly discuss the vision and mission of D&I. It is important that the leaders own specific goals and build a unique strategy to meet these goals.   As an example, SAP’s Board commitment for having 25% women in leadership positions by 2017 was six months ahead of schedule and we have committed to further increase this number to 28% by 2020 and to 30% by 2022.


Leaders need to make a conscious effort of understanding their own unconscious biases that influence how they interpret and respond to situations. They need to understand and overcome these biases when it relates to hiring, promotion and leadership succession discussions. They also need to coach and hold their managers accountable.

Leaders also play a key role in driving this awareness within their organizations so employees across understand how unconscious biases plays out in day-to-day life and impacts their interactions with colleagues. SAP rolled out a formal Diversity & Inclusion learning program for all employees called Focus on Insight. This consists of 7 modules each focussed on a specific topic: Cultural intelligence, Gender Intelligence, LGBT inclusion, Generational Intelligence, Inclusion of differently abled people, and team diversity intelligence. These are self-paced modules, which provide real life insights and learnings.

The concept of having more Women Leaders has been discussed for decades now, why do you think organizations are still struggling with very few women leaders in top positions?

Organizations have significantly invested in D&I initiatives in the past few years, but there is still a way to go.  At SAP, I feel proud to share that we achieved our goal of 25% women in management in July 2017, ahead of our target. We are now committed to an increase of 1% each year to 30% women in leadership by the end of 2022, and have created numerous initiatives to reach that goal.

The few reasons why I feel that there are still fewer women at the top

  • Unconscious Bias: Unconscious biases are pre- conceived beliefs and notions based on past experiences or faulty stereotypes. While managers agree to the need for diversity, they often fall back to their unconscious beliefs while making critical decisions. This needs to be systematically addressed through dedicated training and awareness programs. Here technology too can be a great leveller that can help eliminate unconscious bias at every stage of an employee’s life cycle. AI tools enable transparency and accountability providing valuable insights from data to help make intelligent decision devoid of human emotions.
  • Overcoming limiting beliefs: One of the common factors that hold women back from achieving their goals is their lack of faith in their own worth and value. Women continually underestimate their own abilities inhibiting them from applying to new jobs and roles and/or negotiating higher salaries at work. Women need to overcome these mental blocks to live their full potential.
  • Lack of Sponsors: Women are 54% less likely to have a sponsor than their male counterparts.  Sponsorship are more valuable than mentorship as sponsors can use their credibility to advocate for opportunities for their protégés.

At SAP, we have invested in creating a sponsorship program ‘Confluence’ that provides sponsorship to potential aspirants for leadership roles. We believe that sponsorship can make an impact and help women advance in their careers.

What does a commitment to Diversity & Inclusion mean to you and how are you demonstrating it?

For me commitment to Diversity and inclusion means that our employees feel free to be their true and authentic selves. When people feel free to express who they are, the result is greater engagement and creativity which in turn sparks innovation. This culture of inclusion not only makes us a great place to work, but also drives the success of our business.

We have a clear and well defined strategy for D&I around 4 pillars – Gender Intelligence, Cross Generational Intelligence, Culture and identity and Differently abled people. We have initiatives in all 4 areas to help create an inclusive work environment. In my role, I constantly challenge and empower teams to create systems and processes which enables us to foster a culture of trust and openness

We recently launched Flex Ben, our flexible benefits program to cater to the needs of a multigenerational workforce. Depending upon the unique needs of an employee, they can choose their benefits ranging from insurance coverage to investing in hobbies like dancing, photography and even pet care and counselling to mention a few.

We have several initiatives to drive Diversity and Inclusion and are constantly challenging ourselves to do more – e.g. SAP’s back-to-work program provides an opportunity to professional women who are looking to re-enter the workforce after a career break. SAP’s ground breaking Autism at Work program integrates people with autism into the workforce.  Through this program our aim is to tap into a talent pool that has unique skills and capabilities that adds value to our products and innovation.

As a women leader, what were the challenges that you faced while building your career and what strategies did you use to address those challenges?

A few learnings from my journey:

  • Constantly raise your hand for new assignments / opportunities – stretch when you think you can’t and you will be surprised
  • Have Sponsors & mentors early on from different part of the organization
  • Make your network truly work for you, it essentially becomes your net worth !

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