Scratching Your Head About the DivideApril 7, 2014
A couple of months ago, a colleague of mine was asked by her seven-year old daughter whether a woman could become President of the United States. The question startled her at first. Why would a seven-year old girl think that women do not have the same opportunities as men to become President? Turns out, her daughter had just learned in school that women were not always allowed to vote and study. They also had talked about Elizabeth Blackwell who became the first female doctor in the United States in 1849. While the girl was not ready to run for the Oval Office at any time soon, she was wondering why – in earlier times – there had been this strange divide. And she was trying to grasp whether she would have different choices in life as a girl compared to a boy.
I have to admit, this conversation occupied my thoughts for a while, foremost because I have a daughter myself and my wife and I do not stop telling her that there are no boundaries in life and that she can become anything and anyone she wants to be. Personally, I think everyone should feel responsible to help close remaining equality gaps in our society. When I as Head of Global Finance at SAP look at our current statistics within my organization, I see that finance has one of the highest percentages of women in leadership positions (30%). Nevertheless, we have set ourselves the ambitious goal to increase that percentage to 40% by 2017.
But here comes the reality check: We had just posted a number of open leadership positions, which could help us to reach our gender diversity goal. And indeed, on those positions where we had female applicants, half were filled by a successful female contender. However, according to the report we had no female applicants at all for roughly 50% of the posted positions. The female talent pool was there, but many had decided not to apply. There was the perception lingering in the organization, that our leadership positions are 24/7 jobs that could not be combined with family life. We are now doubling our efforts to broadly engage with our female talents in global finance to clarify expectations, offer 80-100% positions, and encourage female talent to apply.
It is needless to say, that in a work environment that values openness, diversity and inclusion, there should not be any gender divide for pursuing career opportunities. History taught us many times that we can overcome barriers. Trailblazers like Elizabeth Blackwell helped to break the glass ceiling and established new norms. While Ms. Blackwell’s acceptance to medical school was highly debated and ended up being decided by a unanimous vote of the entire school’s student body, today no one would raise an eyebrow about being treated by a female physician. It’s perfectly normal.
The rising number of female role models is an eye-opener, not only for a seven-year old girl. The more women we have in leadership positions, the more other women will be inspired to follow suit. We at SAP want the next generation to scratch their heads and wonder why at some time there were fewer women than men in leadership positions. What an odd and archaic business world their parents had lived in!
Luka Mucic is a member of the Executive Board and chief financial officer (CFO) of SAP SE.