How SAP SuccessFactors addresses women leadership challenges

The women leading SAP SuccessFactors share their stories and describe how COVID pushed the conversation for employee stress and flex work.
By: | September 28, 2021

The exodus of women from the workforce during the pandemic has been a big challenge for employers. But it’s also creating opportunities for some companies, like SAP SuccessFactors, to address the needs of their workforce, tackle stress and create a more flexible workplace in order to entice female workers to return to the workplace. That’s according to SAP SuccessFactors’ senior leadership team, who spoke Tuesday during the Women in HR Tech Summit’s closing session.

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About 3 million women have left the workforce since February of last year. “That’s a shocking, shocking statistic,” said Maryann Abbajay, chief revenue officer at SAP SuccessFactors, who spoke on the panel along with President Jill Popelka and Chief Product Officer Meg Bear.

When women do return to work, they will inevitably face hurdles. The panelists cited organizations such as The Mom Project and Path Forward that help women re-enter the workforce. “They help women with mentoring, with wardrobe, with all kinds of skills to help bring them back into the workplace,” Abbajay said.

Organizations can also offer better benefit packages that include not just childcare and eldercare allowances, but that find these services for their employees. “I’ve seen multiple companies doing that,” Abbajay said. “It’s super impressive.”

Talking with and listening to stressed-out employees also is vital for management. 

“I think women do this better than men. Sometimes we ask a lot of questions, not because we’re nosy but because we care,” she said. “I feel like as a manager, we have to ask questions so that we can make sure that we take care of our employees.”

After conducting employee surveys, SAP SuccessFactors found that its managers are suffering from stress and anxiety along with their subordinates. 

Popelka said that managers’ stress levels were “off the charts,” saying individual contributors’ responses were in the orange zone but managers’ were often in the red zone. 

“How do we make sure that the managers who are feeling pressure from above, but also pressure to support their team, get a little bit more support?” said Popelka. “In addition to trying to model these things, we wanted to give them the opportunity to take a day off to focus on internal business, to schedule what they need to in order to make their lives balanced and healthy and sustainable.”

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This has often meant not expecting the traditional dress code for Zoom calls. “I can tell you that all three of us have shown up on calls in our workout gear, hair in ponytails and in tank tops,” Popelka said. 

To address stress, SAP has launched a “pledge to flex” pilot program for its U.S. workforce to allow employees to decide where and how many hours they want to work. Older employees who are close to retirement age can cut their hours, and new parents can control the number of hours they work after the birth of their child. 

One employee took off the entire summer to be with her children, Abbajay said. 

“It’s about opening up conversations. The first step is equipping line managers to have these conversations because they don’t necessarily come naturally to all of us. Not all of us is taught to talk about these things and yet, without creating that space, it’s almost impossible for people to feel whole,” Abbajay said. 

Boosting diversity in race, gender and neurological functioning is also important, Bear said.

“When we try to think about the whole self, we really want to be able to bring more constructs to that thinking,” she said. “Obviously we have tons of work to do in the LGBTQ community, and we have to make opportunities available for everyone in racial and ethnic diversity, but we also need to think in terms of neurodiversity.

“We need to think in terms of creating opportunities that really lean on the best of each of us, because each of us have so much to offer and so much to give.”

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Phil Albinus is HR Tech Editor for HRE. He has been covering personal and business technology for 25 years and has served as editor and executive editor for a number of financial services, trading technology and employee benefits titles. He is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and lives in the Hudson Valley with his audiologist wife and three adult children. He can be reached at palbinus@lrp.com and followed on Twitter @philalbinus.

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