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“The strength of a team results from its diversity and self-evident inclusion”

by Natascha Zeljko

An interview with Hartmut Thomsen, President of the Central and Eastern Europe Region SAP, about driving change, his views on the big topics inclusion and diversity and what he admires about working mums

The term “inclusion” has become popular in economy. What is your personal view on this topic?

I think it’s good that the public and businesses are becoming more and more sensitive to this topic. What I mean by that is: That every person without exception is valuable and can make a contribution, and that we as a society recognize this. For me as a manager, this means that every person has a different set of skills and can therefore contribute different strengths. Especially in contact with different customer groups which are similarly diverse in composition. A company can only win if it takes advantage of this diversity. A diverse workforce generates diverse ideas and better understands the different needs of customers.

What are the concrete measures taken at SAP?

Our inclusion strategy focuses on equality, intergenerational understanding, culture, identity, and people with disabilities. As an international company, we employ people from more than 150 countries. These people come from all walks of life. We can only remain efficient if everyone feels well looked after and can get involved according to their personal situation. In concrete terms, this means, for example, that we design diverse job advertisements or offer part-time models – right up to management level. As part of our inclusion strategy, we have now also introduced a workplace of trust so that employees can carry out their work from any suitable location.

“For years, IT was a male domain, but fortunately this is slowly changing. We want to make a sustainable contribution to this.“

What is the percentage of women at SAP – in senior management, for example?

In management, we have a women’s quota of just under 26 percent; worldwide, the figure is 33 percent at all levels of the company. That’s a little better than the industry average, but we are not satisfied with our diversity goals. That’s why we specifically encourage female successors to fill existing positions. For some time now, we have also been requiring female candidates to be shortlisted for management positions. For years, IT was a male domain, but fortunately this is slowly changing. We want to make a sustainable contribution to this.

What opportunities do large companies have – perhaps in contrast to smaller companies – to push these issues?

In contrast to smaller companies, they certainly have more room for changes. As a large company, we can deposit such change processes with more personnel and resources and allow ourselves to experiment with new working models. A small company – even with the best will in the world – cannot generically make part-time or home office possible because day-to-day business may be too changeable for that. But as a large company, it also serves as a role model: we can develop and establish diversity with processes and structures. These processes and structures can then be copied by smaller companies.

“And if you remember Ada Lovelace, the world’s first female programmer, you could even say that the beginnings of digitization were female. This is a good tradition.“

Why do companies that come out of digitalization deal with it differently than classic old economies?

Our main focus is on knowledge work, which is very compatible with different lifestyles because it gives employees a high degree of flexibility. Looking at the development cycles for software, I would perhaps even go as far as to say that in IT you know the value of a good upgrade. Constant change and continuous expansion have always been part of the basic understanding here. And if you remember Ada Lovelace, the world’s first female programmer, you could even say that the beginnings of digitization were female. This is a good tradition.

What differences do you see between Western and Eastern Europe? The latter is considered to be more progressive.

I wouldn’t generalize. But it is already the case that the very changeable cultural history of Eastern Europe also promotes greater permeability on the part of companies. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, many things in the economy were turned upside down, and that also applied to patriarchal structures. However, I also believe that such differences are not carved in stone. I am convinced that a lot will happen in Europe.

Diversity is a multi-faceted and complex issue: How does cultural and gender diversity go together, are they mutual drivers? Are they mutually supportive?

You really have to be careful not to equate diversity with gender diversity. If we think diversity comprehensively, then that also refers to cultural or ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation, or mental and physical abilities. I think it is important that we always think this through – but of course we must not play these individual aspects off against each other. Questions of identity are becoming increasingly important in the public debate, and that naturally also changes people’s awareness. They question more, become – in literal sense – more self-confident and less and less lets themselves be fobbed off with role clichés. The bottom line is that it is always somehow about the freedom of personal life. Diversity therefore does not mean giving preference to certain groups of people when selecting individual tasks, nor does it mean having to consider every grouping, however defined, on a quota basis. Diversity means using employees adequately on the basis of their individual strengths alone – regardless of criteria such as gender, age, religion or sexual orientation. Every company should take this into account. Because one thing is clear: those who discriminate lose.

“What I have experienced is that women often accept things that cannot be changed for the better and start finding solutions without much fuss.“

And quite personally: What was the most formative experience in terms of diversity for you?

There are certainly lots of experiences. The question is: Is there a trigger experience or are there not many small experiences? What I have experienced in my career as a manager, for example, is that women often accept things that cannot be changed for the better and start finding solutions without much fuss. Of course, no rule can be derived from this, but this is my personal experience. What also always strikes me as very positive is the organizational talent of mothers, who still today often bear a large part of the family responsibility. How they manage their jobs and children and, sometimes even part-time, keep all the balls in the air is a gigantic achievement. I myself have learned a lot from the way women work and they are an indispensable enrichment for any team. Just like colleagues from different cultures and generations, or with different orientations and physical requirements. I have the great privilege of getting to know all facets of employees, colleagues and superiors in their daily work – great people who have had a positive influence on me, their environment and the results they have achieved. Based on all these experiences, I realize that the strength of a team results from its diversity and self-evident inclusion.

About

Hartmut Thomsen is responsible for all sales, operations and development of the business in this region, containing our Market Units Germany, Switzerland, CEE (including Austria) and CIS. He reports to Adaire Fox-Martin, member of the Executive Board of SAP SE, Global Customer Operations. Hartmut Thomsen joined SAP in 2011 heading up Financial Services and Public Services for SAP Germany. Prior to joining SAP, Hartmut Thomsen held numerous leadership positions at various companies including IBM and Oracle.

Hartmut Thomsen actively supports the program SAP Next-Gen Advisors (linked to #sheinnovates – dedicated to female founders). He states: “Our aim is to encourage women to turn their vision and entrepreneurship into business reality and to live up to their full potential.“

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