Amid the array of keynote addresses, educational sessions, and product demonstrations that filled out this year’s SAP Sapphire & ASUG Annual Conference in Orlando, one clear standout was the ASUG Women Connect panel.

Focusing on the importance of identifying mentors, networking with peers, and creating a healthy and growth-centric culture within teams, the 40-minute panel discussion drew a standing-room-only crowd, with overflow congregating to catch the dialogue from the show floor.

ASUG’s research director Marissa Gilbert moderated the panel of experienced female technologists from professional services, industrial, and manufacturing sectors. They included Amy Her, Associate Partner, IT/ERP Recruitment and Solutions at AscendN; Julia Navarre, Finance System Lead—SAP at Owens Corning; and Dawn Solomon, Enterprise Business Architect II at Haworth, Inc.

Throughout the discussion, top of mind was the growing skills gap for IT professionals, a talent shortage that threatens to derail business transformation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate has ranged between 3.4% and 3.7% since March 2022. The situation is tighter in the tech sector, where unemployment has threatened to fall below 2%.

A challenge for technology leaders across the country, the skills gap particularly concerns those charged with securing talent to execute imminent SAP S/4HANA migrations. With limited supply and rising demand, the price of SAP professionals will skyrocket and exacerbate disruptions unless strategic steps are taken now to fill the SAP talent pool.

In this context, the ASUG Women Connect session in Orlando, only the latest such panel from this active ASUG focus, was especially intriguing and important.

The jam-packed session spotlighted a cohort of women technologists in the SAP community that is dedicated and growing. For companies that placed bets on enhancing their market position by maintaining, migrating, and modernizing SAP investments, accelerating the presence and influence of women technologists in the SAP community offers a clear way forward.

Accomplishing this, however, may require a different approach to recruitment, staffing, retention, and leadership development in general, but especially in the technology sector. Just as colleges and universities across the country now assess how to diversify IT, organizations must revisit HR practices and workplace culture to avoid inadvertently closing the door to more than half of the emerging college-educated workforce.

Any organizations’ talent acquisition should develop an end-to-end strategy that supports the career life cycle for women technologists. Social and organizational structures within corporate cultures must be established to both retain talent and elevate career development and leadership opportunities.

Solomon described how she benefited from a formal mentoring initiative that led to her participation in a Harvard Business School leadership program. The experience empowered Solomon to pay it forward, as she incorporates mentoring into the rhythm of her own career at Haworth.

“The leadership program really helped me in my professional development, and then helped me be a good mentor to the rest of my team,” she said, adding that serving as an ASUG Champion and ASUG Chapter Chair has further enabled her to mentor and collaborate with other technologists.

As an emerging leader at AscendN, Her seeks ways to support her team members while challenging them to expand their horizons and contribute to organizational objectives in new ways.

Her, who was recently named the ASUG Chapter Volunteer of the Year, encourages her team to get out of their comfort zone and try new experiences outside their day-to-day responsibilities. “This provides them with a bit of exposure and perspective into the bigger picture,” she said, and can help set them up for future promotions or new opportunities.

Anecdotally, it was interesting to note the indirect trajectory to enterprise technology taken by the ASUG Women Connect panelists: all came to the profession from finance and accounting. Unlike the male-dominated field of IT, where according to a research report by Accenture and Girls Who Code the proportion of women to men in tech roles has declined over the past 35 years, women are thriving in finance and accounting. Women made up almost 60% of accountants and auditors in the United States last year, posting a year-over-year increase of just over 3%, according to Statista.

This suggests at least two things. The first is that women can—and do—succeed at scale in fields that demand excellence in complex process and quantitative analysis. The second is that the finance profession may be a terrific hunting ground for tech organizations starved for skilled, experienced talent, especially at leadership levels.

Ultimately, it comes down to what level of commitment organizations are willing to make in fostering a corporate culture that leaves the door open for talent without restricting their field of view to the stereotypical IT candidate or career path. Companies that can meet diverse candidates where they are may gain a competitive advantage in both closing the skills gaps at their businesses and achieving their future-state objectives.

Quoting the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an influential figure in the history of women’s rights, Navarre said, “Whatever you choose to do, leave tracks. That means don't do it just for yourself. You will want to leave the world a little better for your having lived." 

At Owens Corning, where she leads finance systems, Navarre believes in the importance of cultivating the next generation of women leaders. "I do want to leave tracks, but I don’t want to do it in a selfish manner," she said. "I want to lift my team up and bring everybody with me.”

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