As HR professionals, many of us have been struggling with the pace of movement on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). The movement on KPIs is slow and painful and the measurement of Inclusion remains a rocket science for most companies. So, what is the solution for this slow growth? In my personal experience, I have found that giving empowerment to the average employee fast tracks the progress on D&I. Making D&I an integral part of a company’s DNA requires the locus of power to shift to the employee – HR alone cannot own it. Leadership alone cannot be the role model. It takes passionate/energetic people to prioritize – and do something about it. But once they are in, they can move mountains.
At SAP, we're incredibly proud of our thirteen Employee Network Groups (ENGs) that are voluntarily led by our employees. These ENGs have over 40,000 members and foster connections among individuals with similar interests. They are critical to our success as a business and organization, galvanizing progress on diversity and inclusion (D&I) every day. In terms of governance, the ENGs are formally supported by SAP’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Office and backed by senior leaders or members of the Board. They have a global co-lead model with regional chapter leads who manage execution at the ground level. ENGs prioritize attracting and engaging talent, driving D&I activities and programs, providing networking events and professional development, and influencing policies, guidelines, and our SAP solutions portfolio. They are business resource groups that influence progress at a systemic level.
One of the very first ENGs was Pride@SAP that started with just a handful of employees representing the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies, is now celebrating its 22nd birthday on June 1st! Tina Kulow, Pride@SAP Germany Executive Sponsor, recently shared with me the positive impact of this ENG on our brand, stating that “at local level, we see a huge benefit in the community outreach – we learn directly from our local community – and with that knowledge make better recommendations e.g. suggesting SAP to sign pledges on local initiatives, supporting and engaging right on our doorsteps. Combined with Employer Rewards and Recognitions this creates impact on being truly inclusive.”
At a global level, ENGs help to create connections and a sense of community in such large and matrixed organizations. This is critical to the general mental well wellbeing, psychological safety and therefore to productivity. Their value lies in providing visibility and a voice to those who are possibly unseen and hidden. “Our impact and influence have a track record ranging from influencing fertility and family friendly benefits for LGBTQIA+ employees in North America to promoting the new gender pronoun functionality in SAP SuccessFactors,” adds Andy Rubinson, Global Co-Lead, Pride@SAP.
I firmly believe it is crucial to promote and support the formation of ENGs in an organization, as this empowers the employees to take an active part in the creation of their own workplace experience and the cultural enrichment of the organization. The joint goal is to create a sense of belonging and an environment of psychological safety and I get emotional when I hear how passionate employees are about this around the world. Just recently, a colleague in Latin America shared his “coming out” story with SAP colleagues first before he did with family and friends. That speaks to the level of comfort and belongingness our ENGs have created for everyone at SAP.
Getting started with the launch of Employee Network Groups requires HR professionals to apply a coaching mindset and unlearn hierarchy. Here are some ideas to play with:
Communicate the value and business case of having ENGs for the company and the value it brings to each individual who is a part of it.
Use every opportunity to bring employees together and promote the idea of an ENG and allyship, by offering the correct resources.
Get buy-in and active participation from your Leadership who can help the ENG reach its mission by being their voice at critical decision-making tables. Engagements with ENGs could also count as reverse mentoring for the leaders and create a listening opportunity for them to stay close to the employees.
Provide in-person or digital opportunities to drive meaningful exchanges among different ENGs.
Create learning or personal growth offerings for members of the ENGs to help alleviate any inequities they might experience as underrepresented communities.
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