The greatest hurdle to workplace diversity

HRD speaks to a leading chief diversity and inclusion officer about how to overcome barriers to achieving diversity

The greatest hurdle to workplace diversity

One of the biggest hurdles to achieving a diverse and inclusive workplace is unconscious bias.

According to Anka Wittenberg, senior VP and chief D&I officer at SAP, acknowledging that all of us have unconscious biases is crucial to drive the agenda forward.

To make a case for it, the D&I advocate shared her personal experience with HRD.

“I was flying from Frankfurt to New York the other day and I was listening to the pilot welcoming everybody – the pilot was a woman,” she said.

“It was the biggest airplane in the world, the A380. I thought, ‘great, finally a woman flying the biggest airplanes!’

“Then when we were flying over Greenland, it was very turbulent. I was thinking to myself, ‘wow, I hope she has it under control’.

“If it was a male pilot flying the plane, I would not have thought about it. I got so upset at myself because I’m talking about unconscious bias all the time and I still had it.”

Applied to HR processes, unconscious bias can affect diversity numbers right from the very beginning of the recruitment process – in job postings.

“We may be using gender-bias language in job postings,” she said.

“For example, if we state that we are looking for someone who is assertive and political-savvy, many times the job becomes unattractive to females and not a lot will apply for the position.”

She believes that technology can help make us aware of unconscious biases. For instance, software programs can identify biased language in job ads and prompt us to make the necessary changes prior to posting.

“Digital transformation is going to help us to move diversity and inclusion in the right direction,” she said.

Banking on experiences

Besides using technology, enabling people to have varied experiences will also help to propel a mindset change.
Wittenberg shared about SAP’s successful Autism at Work program, which brings autistic people on board to its offices worldwide. The initiative currently includes 120 colleagues filling over 22 different positions globally.
“The program has had a huge impact on so many because people often think that autistic people are very hard to employ,” she said.
“It has given many people a different view and understanding of how everybody can add to our society."
Wittenberg explained that due to the nature of autism, the environment and corporate culture would have to adapt to each individual. 
This is instead of the reverse in workplaces that fail to be inclusive – where an individual is forced to adjust to the majority.
The program thus teaches the organisation the importance of considering each individual's needs and above all, to focus on what they can bring to the table.
“Despite any [differences], everybody has a strength, and focusing on people’s strengths is what will really drive diversity and inclusion.”



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