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"SAP is more than bits and bytes"

Off we go – to SAP! Today is the 2nd German Diversity Day, and I've been invited to spend it with the large software com

Bianca Strauß 27.06.2014
Off we go – to SAP! Today is the 2nd German Diversity Day, and I've been invited to spend it with the large software company in Walldorf. Diversity and inclusion are very important for SAP. In fact, the company won the Germany Diversity Award in 2013. But what does this mean in practice? 

My taxi driver tells me that about 70 percent of his trips are to SAP, and that a third of his passengers speak English. Such an international atmosphere right here in Walldorf – that sounds exciting!

And it persists throughout the day: At every corner in the huge SAP complex, I hear scraps of English conversations, and sometimes a little Spanish or French too. Panagiotis Bissiritsas, an employee of Greek descent, explains that this is normal: "SAP is a very good example of how people can work together on an international level. During the workday, you have to be well organized. For example, because of the time difference, you should call Indian colleagues in the morning, and Americans in the evening." 

From left to right: Mahsa Fischer, Fariba Jafar-Shaghaghi and Jutta Scholl
From left to right: Mahsa Fischer, Fariba Jafar-Shaghaghi and Jutta Scholl

80 different countries are represented by those working at the SAP locations in Walldorf and St. Leon Rot. SAP’s careerloft contact, Jutta Scholl, accompanies me throughout the day, and one of the places she shows me is the Intercultural Lounge. This room serves as an SAP social hub, where employees gather regularly, for example to celebrate international holidays like the Chinese New Year or the Persian spring festival of Nowruz. All of this is organized by the network Cultures@SAP. Dr. Masoumeh Moghaddam participates in the network and sees the Intercultural Lounge as a great asset for the atmosphere at work: "If you've celebrated St. Patrick's Day with someone and then see them in a meeting later on, you immediately have a different relationship with them," she says with a smile. Today, there is large buffet boasting a selection of foods and beverages from many different countries: Serrano ham from Spain, plantains from the Caribbean, guava juice from South America, etc.

Diversity is only a part of the diversity at SAP, albeit a very important one.
SAP is more than bits and bites

Lichun Tian has brought rice cakes filled with beans and dates. She comes from China and has been working at SAP for two years and three months. She felt accepted and comfortable at SAP right from the start: "At SAP, we're colleagues and not foreigners; we're at home here," she says. 

In the afternoon, a workshop takes place in collaboration with the city of Heidelberg. Among other things, it focuses on how the notion of a "culture of welcoming" can be given specific meaning in practical terms. Dr. Fariba Jafar-Shaghaghi, who founded the network Cultures@SAP, explains: "We have a keen interest in making the city more appealing to skilled workers from abroad. That's why a workshop like the one today is so important for us." 

Urte Thölke and Fariba Jafar-Shaghaghi, SAP employees
From left to right: Urte Thölke and Fariba Jafar-Shaghaghi

Many different cultures and countries that encounter one another without prejudices, form relationships, and learn from one another – that's only a part of the diversity at SAP, albeit a very important one. Urte Thölke, the SAP supervisor responsible for "Diversity and Inclusion" in Germany, explains what else is involved: "The four core areas are gender intelligence, generational intelligence, culture and identity, and differently abled people." It is just as important to have a balance between men and women and among a variety of age groups, as tolerance and understanding for the issues of homosexuality and transgender persons.HomoSAPiens is the oldest employee network at SAP, and Sticks & Stones, a job fair for homosexuals, is an established event in the calendar every year. There is even a Gender Transition Guideline that details how colleagues and supervisors can support those who are changing their gender. 

Sebastian Schneider and Fabian Schwarz-Fritz celebrating the 2nd German Diversity Day
Sebastian Schneider and Fabian Schwarz-Fritz

The term "differently abled people" refers to persons with disabilities. "It's not about saying, that person is disabled – what things can't he/she do? The question is: what special talent does he/she have?," says Urte Thölke. That applies to those with autism too, she says. "For example, many autistics with Asperger Syndrome find it easy to do the same thing over and over and find even miniscule errors where others would have switched off a long time ago. So they're incredibly good at testing new software," she continues. On the other hand, she says, it's important not to lump all autistics together. That's why SAP runs six-week workshops to test who has what talent, and find out who would fit best in which part of the company. A person with autism could even end up working in the communications department and feel completely at home there. 

On that day, one thing became clear to me: Diversity and inclusion are part of the culture at SAP, and the employees have completely internalized them. Masoumeh Moghaddam sums it up as follows: "I always say: SAP is more than bits and bytes. We're people, and a rather diverse group of people at that!" And on this day, I was able to get to know many of them.