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Women in Leadership: SAP's Anka Wittenberg on Women in Technology and Leadership Roles

by Anka Wittenberg, SAP

April 29, 2015

Anka Wittenberg


Anka Wittenberg, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for SAP globally, talks about SAP's role in bringing women into leadership positions and the importance of fostering diversity and authenticity in the workplace. Topics of this discussion include:

  • SAP's efforts to create an inclusive environment that attracts and retains employees
  • Why diversity and inclusion is so critical in business today
  • How authentic leadership supports business and fosters innovation
  • Advice to women on how to be more authentic

Listen to the podcast, and read the transcript of the conversation here:

Natalie Miller, SAPinsider: Hi, this is Natalie Miller with SAPinsider and welcome to the SAPinsider Podcast. Today I am speaking with Anka Wittenberg as part of the Women in Leadership Podcast series. Anka is the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for SAP globally.

Hi Anka, thank you for joining me today.

Anka Wittenberg, SAP: Hi Natalie, it’s an absolute pleasure to be here with you today.

Natalie: So, as chief diversity and inclusion officer on the global scale for SAP, can you talk a little bit about what that means and a little about your background?

Anka: Absolutely. So from the background, I’m actually a very dry economist. I don’t know if dry really translates well, but I’m an economist. I’ve been, for over 30 years now, in the HR space and have done about all the operational roles you can think of. Going into the corporate world, I had small children, three small children, and I actually applied for jobs in German companies, and I was never even invited to an interview just because I had three small children. And I thought, no, that has to change. And now after, with all the experience I’ve brought to the table I thought, this is a place I would really like to have an impact. That’s why I took over the responsibility to work at SAP as the chief diversity officer. My main focus is really to create an inclusive environment, which means that we attract people, but we can also retain people, and we can retain them on the base they are—so that’s where I think we are going to have the biggest impact going forward.

Natalie: When you were first starting out, what kept you on the path to reach your goal?

Anka: It was really my children, because when I went home in the evening I had put everything back in perspective. During the day, when you work in the corporate world, things seem to be so extremely important. When you come back home at night and your three children talk to you and talk about issues they have and what is important for them, you put everything back into perspective. And I think that is something that helped me to be really balanced in my corporate world and professional life, and that really helped me moving forward and being successful.

Natalie: Great. So this issue of diversity and authentic leadership is obviously something that you work with every day. Can you talk about your thoughts on how authenticity supports business?

Anka: Sure; so let’s go one step back. Why is diversity and inclusion so important, and I think we all know about the studies. We know about the McKinsey’s who say ‘Women Matter,’ where the research shows that gender diverse management keeps generating higher operating module; we know that inclusive workplaces have higher customer satisfaction; and so on. But I think what we sometimes forget is all this research shows, or the base of all this research was that the employees, that the individuals really can be authentic. If I look at what we have done in the last couple of years, especially focused on gender, but also sexual orientation. Let’s start with females. What we have done a lot of times, is we have trained women to think like men, to behave like men, even to negotiate like men. But if we look a little deeper, that is not really where we bring our strengths to the table. We bring our strengths to the table when we can be ourselves. I know, for example, we’ve worked quite a bit with Barbara Annis and the research group there and she has talked to a lot of women and she always says, ‘The women I see succeeding bring their whole self into the world.’ And that’s, I think, why it’s so important to ensure that we have an inclusive environment where people can be the way they want to be.

And coming back to your question, how authenticity then support your business, well, when people feel free to be who they are and what they are, so both privately but also in their professional life, they have a lot more energy to create and innovate. It does take a lot of energy away when you try to act like somebody you are not. And we see this; more people burnt out; energy is less; productivity is going down; so clearly authenticity supports business because we allow the people to be who they are and to use the energy they bring to the table and really focusing on the work they are doing and not playing a role that they are not in.

Natalie: For women who are in leadership roles now, are there things they should think about or steps they should take to begin to break from the way they were brought into business and break into being more authentic?

Anka: Well, I believe there is a lot of unconscious bias still out in the corporate world. One thing is for women to show that sometimes; to reflect it to the culture, to our counterparts, to our male colleagues, who a lot of times are just not aware of it. Now you asked also, what does it take so that women are successful? I strongly believe that its really to help each other, to back up each other, and to network. And that is something women can still get better at.

Natalie: Great. How open would you say is this topic at this point in time? Are a lot of other companies bringing this to the forefront or is there still a lot of work to be done to even start talking about this issue?

Anka: There is still a lot of work to be done; and it’s not that people don’t want to talk about it, a lot of times people just feel uncomfortable talking about it. That’s where we just need to create an environment where we can be transparent and where we can talk about it, which helps everybody. So what we just said before, you know, it’s worthwhile to show the real person that you are, to show the vulnerability that you are, and not to try to play somebody you are not.

Natalie: Alright, great. Well, thanks so much for your time today.

Anka: Thank you so much.

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