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A Call to Lead: SAP Sapphire Part Two

by Cindi Howson  |  June 26, 2017  |  3 Comments

Last month, at SAP’s Sapphire NOW in Orlando, I had the opportunity to attend an amazing program titled, “A Call to Lead.” If the topic of women in tech and diversity didn’t get me there, how about two of the main speakers: Former First Lady Michelle Obama and Former President George W. Bush.

It doesn’t get any more diverse than that, does it? A democrat and a republican. A working mother and a working father. Tweet_SAP

No pictures, recording devices, or laptops were allowed. Hence, it’s taken me a month to decipher my hand written notes and check that I could even blog on the topic.

For context, SAP has been on a mission to lead in improving the company’s diversity (See this note (Diversity’s Role in an Effective Digital Workplace Program.). This particular event started at Sapphire back in 2014. At that time, I had to walk more than a mile to a back corner of the conference center for a 6:30 a.m. breakfast that I wasn’t sure anyone would bother attending. But they did. Fast forward three years, and we had prime time Monday afternoon, in the Hilton Hotel, with SAP Executive Board Member Jennifer Morgan and CEO Bill McDermott kicking the session off with more than 1,100 invitation-only attendees.

SAP has a goal to ensure 25% of its leadership are women by 2017, led by Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Anka Wittenberg. This initiative was launched in 2011 when only 19% of leadership positions where held by women. But their diversity goal goes further to include culture and identity, cross-generational intelligence, and differently-abled people. Autism at Work is part of this initiative, launched in May 2013, with now 120 people on the spectrum employed by SAP.

Mrs. Obama is an amazing speaker. Equally eloquent, graceful, and funny as she talked about leadership, not popping off, and the need to think before you tweet. She commented that our children are watching and reminded us that our voices have power – so true. But I also loved that she talked about never missing a pot luck dinner at her daughters’ schools. Of course, it’s easier for her when she calls the school and asks for the calendar months in advance. As a mom, I have felt the pain of missing one football game (only one and I hope it stays that way), rescheduled last minute, and have paid hundreds in airline change fees to avoid missing another.  We do what we can.

My children were but toddlers when George W. Bush was President, so perhaps it was my sleep deprivation, but I do not remember him being so funny! I hadn’t before contemplated the number of powerful women and minorities that Bush brought to the forefront:  Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and Karen Hughes, to name a few.  He explained that he looked for smart people who knew what he didn’t know. He had always been surrounded by smart women, he said, and then painted the picture of tough conversations with his mother, Former First Lady Barbara Bush. Bush then elaborated on some of his current projects in Namibia and Botswana, which caught my interest as my daughter just left for an internship there. (Yes, I’m freaking out for the next month, but I know, too, I have influenced her courage.)

While Obama and Bush might have been the most prominent speakers, I was thoroughly impressed by the whole line-up.

  • Lynne Doughtie Chairman and first female CEO at KPMG talked about how the next three years will be more critical than the last fifty due to the speed of change. At KPMG, inclusion plus diversity leads to innovation.
  • Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership & Human Resources Officer, Accenture talked about their 400,000 strong global workforce that needed to disrupt its hiring and retention policies. They’ve started a special program in India, training 1,200 female technical architects. To balance out leadership demographics, they took the bold move of promoting all the women who were ready to move up (not capping numbers) thus boosting women in leadership. For me, I just don’t know how we don’t alienate men in this process, although I found their “push for parity” initiative interesting.
  • Diane Bryant, Group President, Data Center Group at Intel, described her personal journey to a systems engineer while in college and how she was motivated by the practicalities of having to pay for her own education and be financially independent. I can relate!
  • Other speakers included Ted Colbert, CIO & SVP, Information & Analytics, Boeing; Vicki Huff, US and Global Leader of New Ventures, PwC; Jamie Miller, President & CEO, GE Transportation – my hand-written note taking abilities just couldn’t keep up.

I left the session inspired, and so glad I arrived early to be able to attend. My small contribution here is this blog and whatever forums I’ve been able to add to our events. I have also been really pleased to see the technology industry as a whole raising the awareness and conversation around these issues. ThoughtSpot and Alteryx also recently hosted similar events. Together, we can all be a force for change.


Cindi Howson

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Cindi Howson
Research VP
1 years at Gartner
25 years IT Industry

Cindi Howson is a Research Vice President at Gartner, where she focuses on business intelligence (BI) and analytics. Her work includes writing about market trends, vendors and best practices and advising organizations on these subjects. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on A Call to Lead: SAP Sapphire Part Two

  1. […] only, we’ve been asked not to blog about the event (stay tuned, I’ll share what I can. Here’s the update).  I do think SAP’s work here is both important and showing results, having received several […]

  2. […] calls. This year, though, the inspiration from conference keynote speakers was taken up a notch. SAP hosted both former first Lady Michelle Obama (as did Salesforce) and former President Bush, and […]

  3. […] invite session and I certainly don’t want to misquote a former President.  Here’s a link to last year’s blog. For sure, I’ve become a Condoleezza Rice fan girl. Soccer star Abby Wombach also spoke and I […]

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