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Why SAP supports Lesbians Who Tech

Why SAP supports Lesbians Who Tech

Tanja Kaufmann of SAP

SAP recently sponsored the Lesbians Who Tech London conference. The event took place 9-10 November at Facebook’s new London offices and was attended by around 200 participants.

SAP’s involvement should not surprise anyone. For over 20 years, the leading software and tech company had been embracing diversity and promoting the importance of inclusivity.

SAP, which specializes in cloud and business technology, began life in Germany but now has over 95,000 employees and operates in 180 countries around the world.

Based in Walldorf, Germany, Tanja Kaufmann is SAP’s Global Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Products & Innovation. That means she is very involved with the development of new software and the tech side of the business.

It’s an area generally perceived as male-heavy across the global tech industry. This is partly why she is so passionate about SAP’s support for Lesbians Who Tech.

‘At SAP we place a very strong value on inclusion. We believe in embracing differences and building bridges not silos. So everything we look at in terms of company values and culture is toward inclusion,’ she says when asked why the company supports the conference.

Highlighting women as tech experts

She says SAP’s LGBT+ employee resource group, [email protected], and its business women network, are its biggest employee groups.

‘We’ve been focussing on gender for a long time, especially women in management. However, last year, we noticed that if we focus on women in management only, we’re leaving out a whole huge group of women who don’t want to become managers. Nevertheless, they’re still experts in their field and are often true techies. So, in my area, we started the Women in Technology @ SAP movement with the goal of providing women in tech greater visibility.

‘We have events, and we encourage women to come on stage and be much more visible as tech experts. And it’s not to talk about, “Oh, it’s difficult to be a woman and we’re so discriminated against,” but putting women up there as tech experts.

‘Many of these women don’t want to be connected with quotas or anything like that. They just want to be seen as the tech experts they are. We’ve built a strong network with regular events and created a space where women in tech can be visible, can support each other and talk about tech topics.

‘Lastly, we have a long history with Lesbians Who Tech in San Francisco. We’ve been supporting that event for years and have been quite involved there. So, when I heard they had a new headline event in London, it was kind of a no-brainer.’

Lesbians Who Tech began life in San Francisco. Launched by entrepreneur Leanne Pittsford in 2012, it’s for queer women and their allies working in the field of technology. It held its first summit in 2013, and now holds summits around the world. The first London conference took place last year.


Kaufmann says SAP is very mindful about intersectionality. Inclusivity does not target disparate groups: many people have more complex identities.

‘It’s not just about white women, and Pride’s not just about white men, or white gay men. We have to always think, “Are we making everybody feel included?’ Are we giving opportunities to everybody?” The Lesbians Who Tech event in London was a great way for us to combine all those things that we already focus on anyway. It was just a bad-ass event for inclusion in tech, as their slogan says!

‘And it’s just a great way to show our support for inclusiveness and respect for all human beings. That, for me, is what the [Lesbians Who Tech] conference embodied.’

Kaufmann believes such events remain of vital importance. She points to the fact that over 40% of LGBTI graduates go back in to the closet when they enter the world of work.

‘Three-quarters of people who identify as LGBT+ have hidden their sexual orientation or gender identity at least once at work,’ she says, referring to a study undertaken by Vodaphone and OutNow.

‘More than half were not out because they feared discrimination, and one in five said that being out about their sexual orientation of gender identity was the hardest thing they’d ever done. So those are the challenges LGBT+ people face.’

‘A double-edge sword’

The situation is even more challenging for women and for women of color.

She says, ‘29% of LBT+ women aged 18-35 are out at work compared to 44% of men. That shows clearly the double glass ceiling they face. Fifty percent of LBT+ women are not open about their sexual orientation against 39% of males. So it seems to be a double-edge sword.

‘The tech industry is not an easy industry for women in general. There’s is still a lot of work to do. Until we can say we’re inclusive all the time, I think events like this are really, really important.’

SAP’s embrace of diversity and inclusion

Kaufmann has been with SAP for 17 years. She says the company has made huge strides towards inclusion over that time.

‘What I think is so unique here is that our CEO, Bill McDermott, is completely behind wanting to make SAP the most inclusive. He keeps saying this wherever he goes, at every presentation, that SAP wants to be the most inclusive software company on the planet.

‘We’ve been working in the area of diversity and inclusion for a long, long time. But I remember 17 years ago, when we were already quite big with 30,000 employees, we had one single woman doing diversity and inclusion.

‘We now have huge employee resource groups, with around 13,000 in the business women’s network and about 8,000+ in [email protected] I think we have at least 80+ people working on D&I across different teams in every region and every business area.

‘Even if we’re not perfect, we will keep pushing and supporting events like Lesbians Who tech, until we get there. We won’t stop.

‘A lot of us working in the field of diversity and inclusion at SAP say the same thing: our goal is to make ourselves obsolete in these roles. When we’re no longer needed, that’s when we’ve achieved what we want to achieve.’

SAP is a client of Gay Star News

See also

Why SAP is winning recognition for embracing LGBTI diversity and inclusion

SAP: The tech giant championing diversity and work-life balance

‘You should always expect to work for someone who cares about you’