How Women are Succeeding in SAP

Posted on August 2014 By Speller International
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This past week we received an email from one of our clients seeking to increase the number of female SAP staff in their organisation. The email was focused around the nature of the wider statistics around women working in SAP and what they could do to make their organisation more attractive to potential female applicants.

This got us thinking about the relatively low number of women working in SAP-related roles, what can be done to remedy that and what it means to be a successful woman working in SAP today. We did some research into the current state of the industry and interviewed four women who currently hold senior positions in the industry to find out how they got to where they are and what advice they have to offer women looking to start working in SAP.

The results of our findings were largely positive and very exciting – both for women seeking to enter the SAP industry and for organisations hoping to boost their percentage of female staff. It certainly seems that the state of SAP for women is in absolute influx, with systems, processes and commitments in place allowing women to grow, achieve and succeed in SAP.

Firstly, despite the widely-held belief that the IT industry is completely male-dominated, in 2012 SAP announced their intention to increase the percentage of women in management from 18% to 25% by 2017, with a focus on greater conscious efforts to recruit women to SAP. Additionally, the company has put in place systems to ensure that women have the ability to reach their full potential within the organisation – whether they are in consulting, technical or other roles.

Additionally, that same year SAP enlisted the support of both male and female executives to build a foundation toward achieving this target. The result was a Women and Men Leading Together workshop that helped foster understanding of “the often-unspoken assumptions and subtleties of gender in the workplace so that women and men both can thrive.”

Sona Venkat, Vice President, SAP Business One Marketing offered her advice last year to women starting out in their careers, from the perspective of a highly senior woman in SAP:

  1. Do not be afraid to speak and voice your opinion. You are just as smart as anyone else in the room.

  2. Become an expert on an area that is rising in importance and learn it better than anyone else.

  3. Speak with conviction, poise, and confidence. Train yourself so that the words “um” and “uh” never cross your lips.

  4. Learn to take criticism and failure with grace.  Accept responsibility, learn from experience and move on.

  5. Be true to who you are. Anything else just comes across as either artificial or trying too hard.

Despite these great advancements, there is still much room for improvement in Australia. Last year, a study by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency found women in the ICT industry made up fewer than 20% of the workforce. This relies on both employers like our client seeking to make their organisations more attractive to women and on female jobseekers taking the plunge and entering an exciting industry where hard work is valued irrespective of gender.

To ensure we got the best real life advice we could, we interviewed four females working in SAP: Tracey Evens, Head of Enterprise Applications at Seek, Leanne Johnson, an SAP HR Consultant, Rachelle McLean, an SAP Change Manager, and Allison Quinn, a Senior SAP BI Consultant/Lead. Their answers were incredibly insightful, undeniably personal and full of fantastic advice for both women seeking to enter the SAP industry and the employers looking to hire them. Take a look at the full interviews below.



Find Tracey on Linkedln 

Tell us a little bit about your SAP career, and your current role.

I’ve been working in the SAP space for about 10 years in various roles as part of SAP implementation programs and also as part of the SAP support function within organisations.  In my current role I’m responsible for the health of the Enterprise Applications landscape for SEEK Limited which includes SAP as one of the core applications, I have a team of approximately 15 people that sit across the CRM, BW and ECC modules and spend a large part of my day working closely with them and our key business stakeholders ensuring our SAP platform remains current and relevance in supporting our business

How did you end up working in SAP?

The SAP space found me.  I had completed an MBA and my career thus far had been over a number of different departments so I had versatility, experience and a desire to be a positive contributor in all my work places.  Having gained a lot of experience, one of my previous employers was looking for internal resources to support their reimplementation of their SAP platform and I was asked if I would like to join the team in the role of the CRM business analysis.  My career in SAP has grown from there.

What do you think the biggest challenges are as a woman in SAP?

Working at a senior level in any industry has it’s challenges for both men and women.  The IT Industry, and the specialized SAP space, is predominantly male and so finding female peers is difficult for networking and support.  Hours are often project based and therefore can be long when deadlines are closing in. Working in an inflexible organization that doesn’t consider work life balance can be limiting as it makes it difficult to juggle if you are looking for something beyond your work commitments.  This can be addressed by women in the SAP space learning how to steer their careers to secure the right opportunities that enable them to be successful and fulfilled in their life overall.  Further to that, very talented women that speak up and are driven are still described as ‘aggressive’.  Those same qualities displayed in a man are positively associated with their ‘drive’ and ‘passion’.  As organizations continue to employ women in more senior IT management roles this attitude will change, however it will take time.  For all those women out there that have been labeled ‘aggressive’, keep believing in yourself and keep speaking up. And for those men who work with these women – think about your own behavior before labeling women.

What advice would you give to women embarking on a career in SAP?

Don’t be afraid to take risks and speak up whenever you get the opportunity to do so. Learn to say no when you’re workload is full; don’t be the person that is always picking up the extra bits and pieces. Don’t take on the emotional problems of the team because a man has put it in the ‘too hard basket’ and can’t deal with it.

What advice would you give to companies wanting to increase their ratio of female staff?

There’s no short-term fix, it will take time and commitment to increase your female ratio of staff.  Make sure females have access to good mentors and coaches as they navigate through the careers with you.  Provide them with constant feedback on development opportunities and provide them with an environment that they are able to speak up and contribute.



 Find Leanne on Linkedln

Tell us a little bit about your SAP career, and your current role.

I’ve been working for 17 years with the SAP product focused on SAP HR, Reporting and Security. I’ve been extremely privileged to have worked long term for a company who took a very novel approach in the early days of SAP here in Australia to keep all their Support in house, carried out by their employees who were all long term employees, knowledgeable about the business and skilled in SAP. This company also decreed their SAP System as their central IT system and SAP always had to be investigated before any other software was allowed to be purchased or used. My Analyst roles, especially this long term role allowed me to own projects end to end from concept to post go live support, being hands on is most cases through the entire end to end process giving me expertise in Stakeholder Management, Configuring, Documentation, Testing, UAT, User Training, Security and Implementation; also working closely with other teams members to ensure any changes made in their modules or the HR area did not impact adversely. I have been through 4 implementations and 2 upgrades and numerous organisational restructures.

Before my recent break from SAP, my last role involved implementing a new Organisational Design and Global Restructure, providing SME and Functional Analyst support to the business day to day, working on integration of data between SAP systems via ALE and to other 3rd party products.

How did you end up working in SAP?

I ended up working in SAP accidently. I’d left work to be a full time Mum and was invited onto a project as a I knew the legacy system and what started at a 3 month contract ended up as over a year and included post go live support working in the business then onto other companies, implementations and other projects and roles. It’s been fun!

What do you think the biggest challenges are as a woman in SAP?

I think the biggest challenges women in SAP face are the hours some project demand, inflexibility of some companies and projects to take work life balance serious and breaking through the barriers of IT roles which have typically been the domain of men. Interstate roles can also be challenging. Women are starting to be taken more seriously in the industry but there is still a way to go.

What advice would you give to women embarking on a career in SAP?

Make yourself as employable as possible. Be willing to be learn about other areas, modules of SAP and never think you are not as good as the next person male or female because you are! If its projects or interstate work you desire make sure have the backup support to allow you to undertake these roles. Always be mindful of your work life balance – ensure you are looking after yourself and getting enough work, rest and play.

What advice would you give to companies wanting to increase their ratio of female staff?

Hire more women! Seriously I would say offer flexibility in employment conditions, such as job sharing, flexible hours, working from home and be attuned to the needs of working mothers. If companies just think outside the norm there are many amazingly talented SAP women who can perform the role and deliver the outcomes the same as anyone else.



Find Raechelle on Linkedln

Tell us a little bit about your SAP career, and your current role.

I learned about the world of SAP in my mid-twenties when an older cousin became a ‘SAP Consultant’ and none of us had any idea what it was. I have worked in the IT industry since I was 21 years old, and SAP has had a strong influence on my career. From working on SAP projects in the FICO, BI and PM space, to integrating Service Management implementations where SAP was the backend for the catalogue ordering systems. SAP has evolved from being the number one implementation Software Implementers for large-scale companies, to now completing a second round of assisting these companies with a revamp of their requirements and processes.

How did you end up working in SAP?

I spent the first part of my career working in the finance/operations areas of businesses, and ended up working in a software development company for seven years where I was introduced to implementation consulting, and support desk management. In this business, the integration with SAP FICO was key. I then went onto work with a boutique SAP recruitment firm in the Contractor Management and Finance Operations side of their business and got to know many people within the small SAP world in Australia. I then moved back into a software development company and into Change Management a short time later, straight back into an SAP project at Telstra. It was thanks to the contacts I had made within the Australian SAP market that I was able to smoothly move back in.

What do you think the biggest challenges are as a woman in SAP?

The IT industry overall is dominated by males in the technical roles, and this in no different in SAP. Women in this space have to be able to cope working within a male dominated industry, not be intimated by that, and put their heads down and do a great job, just like the men. This is evolving slowly over time, with more women getting into technical roles, however in my experience, women have been more aligned to lead consulting roles, sales, communications, training and change management.

What advice would you give to women embarking on a career in SAP?

Don’t think that behaving like a man is going to change things. We are different for a reason, so whilst you have to work in an industry that is male dominated, keep your gentleness and your womanliness. You can still get the results that you want and need without “becoming one of the boys”. Enjoy what you do, if you don’t like your career, it shows at every turn.

What advice would you give to companies wanting to increase their ratio of female staff?

Make it a priority to your hiring managers to review just as many female applicants as they do male applicants. Select the person for the roles based on ability, and not on emotion, because surprisingly, sometimes women are less emotional, particularly where stress and egos are involved. By making it a priority to put women in to roles, it will make life easier for your sisters, daughters, granddaughters and niece to break down the remaining barriers.



Find Allison on Linkedln

Tell us a little bit about your SAP career, and your current role?

I studied the Bachelor of Information Technology at Swinburne University, and was put straight into a graduate SAP role with Deloitte Consulting (as an SD consultant).  It was less than a year after commencing my career that I started working with SAP BW (1.2).  I’ve been working in BI ever since and SAP my entire career.

An SAP career has allowed me to live out many of my ‘dreams’ while working.  It’s truly a global skill, and something widely sourced with your qualifications recognised worldwide.  As such, I’ve travelled, lived and worked in many continents including Japan, the USA, UK and Europe.  Which yes, means I’ve worked on multilingual projects, had the challenges of global roll-outs etc; but it also means that I’ve snorkeled the Bahamas, been to ‘Champagne’ to drink Champagne and of course been to the Oktoberfest in Germany!

I recently completed a role with Fonterra where I worked closely with the business implementing SAP Business Objects Advanced Analysis (MS Office Edition).  It was great to work with them one on one and really ensure a practical solution.

How did you end up working in SAP?

The truth?! When I was in university (now remember, university students generally live on bread, water and vodka), I was told that SAP was “where the money was”.  That was really all it took to convince me at the time!  One of my university placements was with a company assisting with their SAP roll-out, I then secured a graduate position that sent me to the USA for SAP training, the rest is history!

What do you think the biggest challenges are as a woman in SAP?

I don’t necessarily think that being a woman in SAP is any different to the challenges that women face in the wider ‘IT’ industry, or broader work environments in general.  Yes, it’s a fairly male dominated industry, but I remember being the only female in my IT class in high school so I entered the world of IT with my eyes wide open.  Perhaps the slight male domination is why my love for beer was nurtured so early in my career.

I’ve met some fabulous professional women in our industry.  There are some very successful women who I’ve had the pleasure of working with throughout my career, and who I have acted as excellent role models, allowing me to learn a lot from them over the years.  I’ve also attended the odd networking breakfast etc. for women in IT.  These groups can be empowering and a reminder that if you work hard, the world is your oyster.

I guess the real challenge for many women can come from the home front, and the ability to balance your career with your family life (which for some women is more challenging than others).  I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband. He’s my secret weapon (well, him, and our nanny)!  A word of advice I was once given that still rings true today is ‘get everything ready the night before’!

What advice would you give to women embarking on a career in SAP?

It’s exciting!  Work hard, and you will be recognised and rewarded.

What advice would you give to companies wanting to increase their ratio of female staff?

I guess the same advice for any industry!  Don’t think that just because they are female they are not more than capable of fulfilling any role.