We need to encourage more women into leadership roles in SAP

Despite years of campaigning and developing programs to drive a stronger gender balance in technology, research from a recent analysis of Australia’s technology workforce reveals the industry still faces a big problem when it comes to diversity. Sonya Oberstar has some suggestions on what we can do about it.

Recently, the company I work for, Davidson Technology, partnered with LinkedIn to determine exactly how many women work in technology and more importantly, in what kind of roles?

The report analysed 435,000 people on LinkedIn who have an active profile in Australia and say they work in technology. The report showed that only 31 per cent were women AND only 14 per cent of IT executives are female.

The report listed SAP Consultants as ranking the 20th key IT role type in Australia (by population).

And if we were to delve even further what percentage of women do you think we would see in leadership roles within SAP environments? The numbers were so low we couldn’t get an accurate reading.

As someone who has been recruiting SAP professionals across Australia for more than 10 years, sadly I have met a small handful. And it wasn’t from a lack of trying.

Even the SAP industry has acknowledged they must lift their game when it comes to encouraging more women into leadership roles.

At the recent SAP Mobile World Congress (MWC16), SAP CIO, chief process officer and Global Managing Board member Ingrid Helen-Arnold said: “It is our intention that by 2017, our Executive Board should have at least one woman member.”

While discussing the need for more action and less talk on the topic of gender diversity in business, she went on to say: “Of all leadership positions in SAP, 23 per cent are now held by women.”

“That represents a five percentage-point increase since 2011. We want to get to 25 per cent by 2017,” she said.

“A broad range of general support plus targeted initiatives for women and by women are absolutely essential to raise the number of top management jobs that women hold.”

This is all great news and definitely a step in the right direction.

In fact, I recently caught up with a Senior PM I have known for many years and he said: “Of all the people I have worked for/reported to, it’s the female executives who I have the utmost respect for and worked most effectively with.

“They don’t feel they have to pound their chest and are happy to pass on the accolades accordingly rather than basking in their own glory.

“They let you speak, take on your views, challenge you and swiftly make a decisive decision. Women are more attuned to their surroundings and skills within their team and support you in your delivery.”

Pretty strong words, granted, and yes, this was a general conversation, but thought-provoking none the less.

So what do we do about this? From discussions with key clients who have strong success rates in attracting and retaining female IT workers, the following activities make a difference:

  • Look to other parts of the business for women that can be given technical training and transition them into IT functions;
  • Develop realistic gender targets based on data, not arbitrary figures;
  • Develop robust recruitment strategies to attract, train and retain women; and
  • Lastly, work with existing female staff members to provide support, leadership and assist in progressing them up the ranks to executive positions.

This leads me to another interesting statistic from the report, which showed that the highest percentage of woman in any one role in IT is program management or director, with a staggering 54 per cent being female.

Next in line are release and/or change managers, with 50 per cent being female.

So, are company executives looking at these positions as the natural transition to develop into the next CIO or CDO opportunities, particularly given the obvious links to SAP and easy transition of skills?

And, if not, why not?

Radical steps are needed to make any kind of inroads and grow the numbers of females in executive positions. But as is often stated, there needs to be a multi-pronged approach.

Finally, what do I do to support diversity?

Well for me, it’s about ensuring that in my role I partner with my clients to develop relevant gender targets based on the data. I need to continue to work with them to ensure they are doing everything they can to attract and retain exceptional females sharing information on what works, and what doesn’t.

Furthermore, I need to work with my female candidates to coach and assist them to strive  and secure IT roles with the best employers and to progress into well supported, influential executive roles.

It has to become a core responsibility for all to address the gender imbalance in the sector.

Or as Helen-Arnold says … less talk, more action. Without a radical shift in the way we are approaching the gender disparity in the IT sector in Australia, the problem will get significantly worse before it starts to get better.

If you would like a copy of the report, contact me on sonya.oberstar@davidsonwp.com.

Sonya Oberstar is practice lead, ERP/SAP, for Davidson Technology. Oberstar has been recruiting in the Melbourne market since 2006, initially developing the RDBMS sector she soon branched out to also specialising in PMs, BAs and SAP among other specialty IT requirements. Bringing this diverse exposure in several technical skill-sets, Oberstar is a leading specialist for Davidson Technology in the SAP space. Oberstar has strong long-standing networks across the SAP and the non-SAP project space within both contract and permanent realms.

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