Article: “Asia lags behind in women leadership”

Leadership

“Asia lags behind in women leadership”

Renata Janini Dohmen, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, SAP Asia Pacific Japan, shares insights on women leadership and how diversity of thought and true inclusion are imperatives to innovate for tomorrow, to better understand customers’ needs and to maintain business success.
“Asia lags behind in women leadership”

Renata Janini is the Senior Vice President, Human Resources at SAP Asia Pacific Japan. She is a strategic Human Resources business partner with expertise in global talent management, project management, organization design and development, strategic employee communications, workforce planning, total rewards, and employee relations. She has worked in Latin America and Asia Pacific countries. 

In an interaction with People Matters, Renata shares a lot of insights on women leadership including how to attract more women on-board, how diversity of thought and true inclusion are crucial for a better tomorrow and challenges HR professionals are likely to face in 2019.

The rising education levels and skills among women across countries make it a compelling economic case for women in leadership. Do you think the pace of women ascending into senior roles is still not fast enough to address the region’s growing needs?

While we have made good progress in electing more women to leadership roles, as a region, we still have a long way to go. Asia lags behind in terms of women leadership (12.8%) compared to other regions such as Northern Europe (35.6%), Western Europe (23.6%) and US/Canada (20.9%), according to the Women Board Directors of Asia report by Corporate Women Directors International. 

This needs to change as diverse senior leadership is good for business. To win and seize opportunities in today’s digital economy, businesses and organizations need to offer a unique and compelling end-to-end customer experience. To this end, understanding the customer journey of different target audiences is essential, which is more challenging if leadership is composed by a homogenous group of people of the same background. Gender diversity and intelligence can bring a refreshingly different take or approach to the table and complement the existing leadership team with new strengths and skills. 

Simply put, diversity of thought and true inclusion are imperatives to innovate for tomorrow, to better understand customers’ needs and to maintain business success. 

At SAP, it is the unique perspective of each of our individual employees that makes us a more innovative and dynamic organization, and this is a key source of our success that drive business results.

Reports suggest entrepreneurship rates for women have risen over the last few years with more women breaking the glass ceiling and changing the face of start-ups today. What's your take?

I’m heartened to see more women take bold steps towards causes that they are passionate about and trailblazing a new path in the industry. 

Some of the most prominent females breaking ground in Asia’s start-ups are the likes of Upasana Taku, co-founder of mobile wallet and online payment platform MobiKwik, and Tan Hooi Ling, the co-founder of Grab, Southeast Asia’s largest ride-hailing platform. Their tenacity in traveling down an unconventional path is an inspiration to aspiring female entrepreneurs around the world, however also brings to light the hurdles faced by women in the start-up scene. 

Female entrepreneurs have to work doubly hard in the current start-up system, especially when most venture capitalists are comprised of male-dominated teams, which is what makes their success stories even more impressive. 

Despite the uphill climb, the rising entrepreneurship rates for women in recent years is a positive indication of a growing number of women taking the leap of faith to break into a field that has traditionally been male-centric. Their vision, resilience and courage to chart new waters truly embodies the entrepreneurial spirit, and I believe the growth of women-led start-ups will only increase in the coming years. 

Studies show that more female voices are useful for an organization tackling complex problems and that companies with diverse board representation outperform those without. Is the current number good enough to realize the result?

Diversity on boards is definitely good for business. Cultivating a culture of inclusion creates a more cohesive workforce, and also boosts talent and creativity that will drive the business forward. Unconscious bias and the lack of inclusion hold organizations back from harnessing all available resources for innovation and growth. Employees who are part of a diverse workforce know that they are respected for who they are. Differences are not only embraced but also celebrated, and this encourages a dynamic exchange of perspectives and viewpoints. 

In fact, the results are measurable – according to The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance And Women’s Representation On Boards (2004–2008), a report by Catalyst, a non-profit organization that promotes inclusive workplaces for women, companies with the most women board directors outperform those with the least on return on sales by 16%.

A lot more can be done to bring more women onto the board and most of it should be led from the top. One of the steps SAP has taken to lead by example and tackle inequality in the workplace is to launch a fully integrated, company-wide leadership initiative called Business Beyond Bias. The program focuses on eliminating unconscious bias and creating an inclusive culture. It has helped drive improved business results, fuelled innovation, and increased the satisfaction of both our customers and our workforce.

Technology should also be used as a force for change. For example, our customers globally are deploying SAP SuccessFactors to harness the best-qualified and available talent and make the best business decisions to move beyond bias in their own organizations.

Do you think it's time to scale up focused inclusive leadership programme across APJ organizations to attract more women on-board?

It is definitely the right time for APJ organizations to ramp up on initiatives to include more women on-board and in leadership roles. Cultivating an inclusive environment needs to be intentional and driven by top management. 

Two years back, we set a goal to have 25% of our management positions (or one in four members) filled by women by the end of 2017. In June 2017, we achieved this goal – six months ahead of schedule. This included the addition of two female executives to SAP’s Executive Board in the second quarter of 2017. We are extending this even further, with an aim to increase women in leadership by 1% every year to 30% in 2022.

SAP is the first multinational technology company to receive the global certification by Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE) organization, the premier standard, and methodology for evaluating corporate commitment to gender equality, launched at the World Economic Forum. We also received the award within Asia Pacific Japan in Australia, India, Japan, and Singapore. Most recently in October 2018, we achieved worldwide recertification with the EDGE global standard, a mark of our commitment to creating a gender-equal workplace.

What are the barriers in particular for women in APJ organizations to rise to key leadership positions? Are they more about cultural inhibitions that hold women back from achieving excellence and assuming leadership roles?

In Asia, culture remains as a main barrier that hinders women from rising to key leadership positions. Though steadily diminishing, the expectation of males to be breadwinners and women to become caregivers after giving birth is still present. 

It is possible for women to balance work commitments and family, but only if there are supportive structures such as flexible workplace policies set in place by companies that encourage women to do so. 

SAP recognizes that many women who have stepped away from the paid workforce to focus on personal commitments are highly qualified and experienced and represent an untapped pool of high-calibre professionals. As such, we launched a Back-to-Work programme to enable a seamless transition for professional women to re-enter the workforce after a career break. The programme offers project-based assignments and practical assistance, and successful candidates are assigned to projects that complement their skills and experience.

How can women gain more visibility in all business functions including IT? What should HR managers do to encourage more women workforce in IT?

IT has traditionally been a male-dominated field, and we acknowledge that it has been challenging for more women to make their mark in the industry. 

On the HR front, for instance, recruitment can evaluate the gender gap facing the workforce and set minimum targets in sourcing for candidates to ensure that candidate pools have a greater representation of women.  Likewise, hiring managers also need to be open and bias-free when interviewing so that all candidates have an equal chance when applying for open roles in an organization.

It is important for HR managers to facilitate an environment in which women can find strong role models or mentors that they can look up to and get inspired by, either through a mentorship program or creating interaction sections for women leaders to share with the younger generation. 

What has been the greatest challenges in your career and how did you overcome them?

Challenges came with change. But once I understood what the change was, why it was happening and the benefits it could bring, and simply embraced it, then things followed through to success. Moving from Brazil to continue a successful career in Asia was definitely one of these moments. And it did require tenacity and humility to ensure I could thrive in a completely new, and yet exciting, scenario in my life. Focus and hard work do pay back. 

Same goes for greater challenges at work. They typically come accompanied with the need for change and in order for people to embrace it, they also need to understand the reason why the change is happening and how they can benefit from it. 

Back in 2017, we knew it was time to review our traditional performance review approach and lead a change that would better position SAP to success. To revamp the process, we introduced SAP Talk, an initiative that creates two-way, continuous conversations between managers and employees to help the latter identify opportunities for growth. 

In contrast to the annual review, SAP Talk paves the way for more frequent and meaningful discussions on performance, challenges, goals and aspirations. We see this as an important step to creating a better workplace of the future where employee growth and their contributions are prized. 

These open, forward-looking conversations also foster greater collaboration and adaptability within our organization, granting not only our employees but our business as a whole the agility to succeed in a fast-evolving landscape. 

What will be HR’s biggest challenge in the coming years?

The workforce of the future will be underpinned by a shift towards the digital economy, where technology is integrated in every facet of day-to-day job functions. Many organizations already recognize the benefits of new technologies such as AI, data analytics and digital solutions that bring about efficiencies and ease the widening manpower crunch. Preparing the workforce for this shift will be one of the biggest challenges for HR departments in the coming years.

HR will need to navigate organizational challenges that come with digital evolution, such as upskilling their workforce across generations and levels of expertise, training around new tech solutions, resolving concerns by employees and equipping them with a greater diversity of skillsets. 

Above all, HR needs to be deeply involved in the digital transformation journey and will need to leverage technologies such as predictive analytics for a more insightful understanding of the workforce, in order to win the talent war, keep employees engaged and unleash their full potential.

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Topics: Leadership

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