Judith Williams, Head of People Sustainability and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at SAP, gave a stellar presentation at Cultivate’s Employee Empowerment Summit in October, talking about how her office helps SAP employees feel engaged, empowered and included at work. As you can imagine, doing this for a global company in a post-Covid world is a challenge! Judith covered how SAP is supporting its remote workforce, how executive orders related to diversity training could affect them, and how they tried to create an inclusive atmosphere in the wake of the George Floyd protests. Watch the video below to see Judith’s presentation, or continue reading for the highlights (NOTE: all insights are from Judith unless noted otherwise).
“We’re all sleeping out of our offices or working out of our kitchens”.
As a global company, SAP responded to the Covid-19 pandemic early and has learned a lot from managing a fully remote workforce for close to a year. They found (through pulse surveys) that employees at home were replacing their commutes with more work, often pushing themselves close to burnout. As one might expect, employees with young children were struggling to balance homeschooling, work and childcare. But employees that live alone were also struggling with loneliness now that they no longer had the same daily social interactions in the office. In response, Judith and her team have focused on being understanding toward employees that are struggling, while reminding them that they are still part of a community.
Focus on empathy, listening and over-communication when addressing issues of racial and social justice.
SAP wants to create an inclusive environment for all its employees, and they believe part of that is taking part in conversations about racial and social justice sparked by the George Floyd protests. Judith shared that SAP employees were feeling incredible stress and anxiety over the summer of 2020 from the protests and social unrest on top of Covid-19. In response, SAP focused on empathy, listening and “over-communicating and over-connecting” with employees through town halls and by coaching leaders to address issues of social and racial justice with their teams or in their all-hands meetings.
Employees need to feel psychologically safe to do their best work.
Judith believes that psychological safety is a crucial element of a healthy, productive workplace (Cultivate research supports this as well). In her words, “We strive to create a healthy and inclusive environment where people run at their best.” She explained that SAP makes a point to hire people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, but if SAP doesn’t create an environment where everyone feels comfortable and empowered to share their ideas, then those experiences are wasted! One way to create this open, accepting environment is to engage with issues like social and racial justice. Many of SAP’s employees care very deeply about these issues.Judith argues that if SAP doesn’t also show a commitment to them, then those employees won’t feel psychologically safe at work, and in turn, won’t do their best work.
“Belonging” is now a part of Diversity and Inclusion.
Judith has seen an evolution during her time working in Diversity and Inclusion. First, the major issue was diversity – who is in the room. Then it became diversity and inclusion – how do you make people from different backgrounds feel welcome. Now, the focus is on “belonging,” or how to make employees feel like they are part of a psychologically safe community. With a remote workforce, that feeling of belonging takes on a new dimension. How can an organization make its employees feel like part of a psychologically safe community without face to face interaction? The challenge for SAP has been replicating that sense of belonging to a community without the many small interactions with coworkers that happen in the office.
Stay tuned over the coming weeks for more video recaps from the Employee Empowerment Summit presentations from executives at Partners for Wellbeing, the University of Texas, and more. You can find all of the Summit videos here.
Cultivate is a digital leadership platform that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to provide in-the-moment feedback and tools to enterprise employees. Our mission is to help build stronger workplace relationships, and empower people leaders and employees to be more effective, engaged, and balanced.