Listening to Diversity

For organizations reluctant to treat diversity as a core value of their corporate culture, true inclusion has remained elusive. And yet, the benefits of inclusion are real at every level. In this conversation, Sergey Gorbatov, Professor of Leadership and Human Resources at IE Business School, talks to Gian Venturini Reis, Lifetime CX Director at SAP, about a challenge that, despite its initial complexity, can be effectively tackled through active listening.

Escuchando la diversidad

Sergey Gorbatov: How does SAP work with its customers to build their experience?

Gian Venturini Reis: Customer experience is one of our organization’s strategic objectives at the global level. By actively listening to our customers about their needs and challenges, we are able to build new opportunities with them and develop a relationship based on understanding and a genuine concern for their success.


Sergey Gorbatov: You just mentioned the words listening and understanding, which are closely related to inclusion. How does SAP approach the issues of inclusion and diversity?

Gian Venturini Reis: Diversity is present both inside and outside of companies. It’s in the community, our customers, our suppliers, etc. It is essential that we understand all of them, think with them, and work alongside them to create real opportunities for improvement. Integrating diversity is ultimately about building greater capacity for innovation.


Sergey Gorbatov: Indeed, many academic studies have found that diversity is associated with greater employee creativity and innovation. What are the main challenges you are facing at SAP as you work towards greater inclusion, and what are your priorities for the future?

Gian Venturini Reis: SAP is a global company, so our integration efforts have to cover all of our offices and all of our areas. Each region is different, so we have to take a specific approach to inclusion in each place. In Europe, for example, diversity is a concept that is best understood in comparison with other geographical areas dominated by, shall we say, more conservative thinking. Those regions will require more effort and support on the part of the company, until it is no longer necessary to talk about inclusion. And we will know that it is no longer necessary when understanding others, accepting them, and integrating them is simply a part of how people behave.

Integrating diversity is ultimately about building greater capacity for innovation.

Sergey Gorbatov: That’s a very noble goal. How long do you think it will take to achieve it?

Gian Venturini Reis: It’s hard to say, but it might be possible to get there in about ten years. The current trend towards more conservative thinking prevents me from being more optimistic.


Sergey Gorbatov: But each of us can do our part. What are SAP’s specific priorities for working towards this goal?

Gian Venturini Reis: We need to create an ecosystem based on alliances with other inclusive organizations, so that we can cover as many social sectors and populations as possible. By working with a network of companies committed to the same aims, we can do something today to ensure that diversity within organizations will become a reality for future generations. Besides creating these ecosystems, we have to study the experiences that have worked and share our integration strategies. It’s a matter of taking steps in the right direction and consolidating our progress so that we do not slide backwards.


Sergey Gorbatov: SAP is world-renowned for its inclusion efforts. How can your organization help to promote greater diversity and what role can it play in these efforts?

Gian Venturini Reis: Our company can be considered a hub, since about 70% of the world’s transactions go through our system. This figure gives you an idea of how many people we interact with. SAP’s role is to try to plant the seeds of diversity in each of our customers and suppliers, creating an ever-larger network all around us. But these efforts have to begin internally: we ourselves must first be fully inclusive. To do this, we need to have leaders who are fully convinced that diversity is worthwhile because it achieves tangible results. At SAP, we are fortunate that our leaders support this work, because they know that integration fosters greater engagement, helps our people develop as professionals, and increases productivity, which ultimately has an impact on the bottom line. We spend a significant portion of our time at work; having a pleasant, diverse, and enriching work environment is much more cost-effective.

We need to have leaders who are fully convinced that diversity is worthwhile because it achieves tangible results.

Sergey Gorbatov: Let’s imagine that a manager in a non-inclusive organization wants to work towards greater diversity, but the local business culture is not conducive to it. In other words, this manager wants to go against the flow. What advice would you give?

Gian Venturini Reis: In such cases, direct confrontation is not the best strategy. You have to go step by step. To ensure that the transition goes smoothly, diversity and inclusion have to gradually permeate the company’s culture and work their way into its core values. SAP has been working in this direction for more than 30 years. We know that it is difficult at first, until you manage to overcome the prejudices that we all have—even the most open-minded among us—and break away from the long-established rules. It gets easier over time. If you want to put yourself in another person’s place and really understand them, the key ingredients are active listening and empathy. From there, you can make better decisions, both for your team and for your company.


© IE Insights.


Sign up for our Newsletter

Newsletter Subscription