The year 2020 has ushered in challenges and opportunities for many across the country. As we’ve learned to navigate through the uncertainty, what has remained constant across the board is that people make the difference. People are the underlying foundation of any organization’s success, and they are the structure for longevity.

Throughout the year, ASUG Women Connect has served as a platform to highlight the stories of those who have risen to the challenge, sought diversity in ideas, and encouraged a more inclusive workspace for all.

I had an opportunity to speak with Mary Calvert, global VP of people and culture at SAP, to round off the year and get ready for next. When asked what a VP of people and culture does, she said, “we exist in a narrow swim lane that's right in between HR and learning/enablement, without duplicating either. We invest in our top talent, in leadership, and in early talent, and our team vision is ‘helping people to be the very best version of themselves.’” She has a unique perspective and was willing to share some insights on the benefits of programs around diversity and inclusion, the obstacles we need to overcome, and how mentorship is a two-way street.

Sharon: Can you give us a high-level overview of the different diversity and inclusion programs within SAP?

Mary: SAP has many programs around diversity and inclusion that are very specific and purposeful. There is the topic of diversity, which are our facts, but also the topic of inclusion because this is the acts. It's one thing to talk about all the things we need to do; it's another thing to start doing it.

The different programs within SAP include ones that develop future thought leaders, expand and optimize leadership potential and capabilities; support early talent initiatives, develop and feature female technical talents; and drive culture change through diversity and inclusion. We have specific and strong actions around gender and ethnicity, and we’re working on others around generational lifestyle and differently abled individuals and a large Autism-at-work program.

Sharon: Based on your experience, why do you think it’s important to diversify leadership within an organization?

Mary: There are a lot of studies, as well as legitimate financial models, that point to the math and benefits of having programs around diversity. While the math is logical, it’s a culture change to adapt the behavior that allows you to achieve the financial outcome.

When we think about inclusivity—and that stretches beyond gender—it’s key to focus on both the KPIs and the behavior of an organization and to blend the two from the top down. Often, organizations do a great job at having their CEOs or CMOs talk about purpose and what matters with an employee population. It's where those ideas become rubber that hits the road and where the next two layers down are benefiting from it as well that makes a difference.

When you think about a rising manager who's learning to balance their workload and skills with that more senior manager who may be in a different generation, you begin to see a barrier that people don't necessarily recognize. I've seen some very good leaders at a higher level begin to hire or build a profile for that second- and third-level manager that includes a value set around being inclusive. They're looking at diversity of teams for the first time ever, and I think we can’t break those barriers until we get there.

Ultimately, when everyone within an organization can recognize how to and can begin to provide support for one another, then we begin to break those barriers down.

Sharon: What would you say are the most prominent obstacles for women and minorities in technology today?

Mary: I think it's different for different generations. We know a lot of what helps women to be successful today is their mindset; what they were told and believe they can become. Things that factor into that include whether they were raised with a growth or a fixed mindset; whether they've had access to programs such as STEM or STEAM; whether they had strong mentors, or coaches, or people in their camp.

We also know that a female brain has both the analytical and emotional sides of the brain cross-wired, and can be very easily programmed and influenced. They also can have challenges in their self-confidence. All of those things factor in—whether you're talking about a generation of women or about minorities—to creating a mindset to identify and navigate successfully through challenges.

Each generation has had its own mindsets and challenges to overcome. If you think about the boomer generation, most women were taught to believe that they’ll never have a career, or that they’ve not had the right education to pursue one. They were taught to look for a spouse that could take care of them financially and otherwise. And they were taught that raising children was a priority. The Gen Xers didn't necessarily want that. That was the first group that we saw that really went after careers. Many were disappointed to have found glass ceilings intact everywhere. Millennials were taught to find a career, and let the career define them. And now, Gen Z has a unique set of values in which they were brought up to believe they have a new set of superpowers, and that they can be anything they want to be, but purpose is their biggest motivator. They’ve also been taught it’s natural to seek strong mentorship to get there.

To me, the difference between a young woman 30 years ago, 20 years ago, and today is when they come through the door, they see examples of strong female CEO leaders. They think of that as a natural career path for them. They don't see many obstacles.

Sharon: Let’s talk about mentorship, particularly mutual mentorship. Can you give us a high-level overview of what that is and why it’s important?

Mary: I think traditionally people have thought about the term mentor as a person that will give you guidance on anything, at any time, and in any place. We’ve thought of this relationship as lasting 10, 20-plus years.

I’ve heard this saying, “People are sometimes in our lives for a reason or a season.” I think that is true with mentoring as well. A mentor can be as simple as a friend that we have a cup of coffee with, and who just listens to what we're going through and observes, or perhaps coaches or gives advice. A mentor can be somebody at work who understands how to speak to a CFO in analytical terms and can teach us how to do it as well. A mentor can be a connector, a guide, a sage advisor in our lives. The idea that we can mutually mentor one another, whether we do that across function, across industries, and across roles, or generations means we can continually learn from one another.

I’ve heard the question asked, “When do you stop being mentored?” And the response was, “When you stop being curious.” I thought that was a great answer. When you think about all the connections you have in life, and all the different conversations you have, and in the different settings that you have, aren't you really mutually mentoring one another with your points of view in a casual discussion?

There’s a great TED Talk by Chip Conley called, “What Baby Boomers Can Learn from Millennials at Work and Vice Versa.” His basic premise is that someone older might be an experienced mentor to a young person, but a young person has a digitally innate point of view that doesn't even occur to an older person. And just as I could give you some advice, I can ask you for advice. Asking for advice opens trust, opens up inclusion, leaning in, and belonging. That's the true value of that mutual mentoring because the younger person has little confidence, and the older person has a lot of confidence, but perhaps not in the same topics. You end up building each other's confidence and learning new things, which keeps it interesting!

Sharon: What are you most passionate about solving and what’s your road map of getting there?

Mary: I don't know that I can solve this, but I will continue to passionately wave a flag for it: the simple act of civility and the behavior of de-escalation. I feel like those are skills that are missing, and it could be because we have been listening to respond instead of listening to act and to understand another’s point of view. We need some skills to manage our emotions as humans, especially when we get behind a keyboard and we become more singularly focused on social media or email. With both of those mediums, you lose intonation, you lose the ability to understand, and you're no longer listening to understand. You just listen to speak, and we don't consider that there could be another point of view because we can't shut up long enough to listen.

Sharon: What, if anything, keeps you up at night and how does that drive what your next day looks like?

Mary: There's a nice integration between my work and my personal life in the job that I have. I think that there's a lot of potential in terms of what’s possible, and I spend a lot of time exploring the “what ifs.” What keeps me awake is having to constantly prioritize what we can do for impact. Rather than driving what the next day looks like, I tend to spend some time on a quiet Sunday afternoon, looking at what the next week, month, and quarter look like. I make some commitments to myself around what are the priorities and how do we drive results against those short-, medium-, and long-term for impact.

That said, it’s not really about what's keeping me up at night, but what keeps everyone else up at night. I think a lot about the current trends, and it’s often such a moving target in this year of the pandemic that I would be remiss in trying to answer it. At times, I'm ready to just scrap 2020 altogether and forget all about it. Yet, today I stopped myself from saying that because one of the things 2020 has brought me is a much closer connection with my family because I'm not traveling so much. I am going to the gym. I am making better food choices. These are all little bitty things, but it has been so good for me. I have decided I can't completely write off 2020 because of those little things I am grateful for. Practicing gratitude has been life-changing for me. Now looking forward to 2021, and I'm optimistic.

Register for the ASUG Women Connect event: 2020, A Year to Reflect Upon on Dec. 10, 4 p.m. ET/3 p.m. CT. Join us and your peers for an afternoon to reflect on our tenacity to push and accomplish throughout 2020, discuss how ASUG Women Connect has inspired us this year, and share our goals for 2021 and beyond with a special guest appearance from Soledad O’Brien.

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