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Design teams defy the gender norm in Silicon Valley


SAP’s d.Studio design team is 70% female. Coincidence or by design? 

The high percentage of women in the runs counter to everything we hear in press reports about how women are under-represented in tech – particularly here in Silicon Valley. This begs the question: why are women flourishing on SAP’s design team?

d.Studio is ultimately made up of rock-star designers who are the best fit for the job. The competition during the hiring process is tight and real. While 70% women on my team is not by design, gender equality in the hiring process certainly is. It comes down to a very simple but consistent execution of one tactic: doing everything we possibly can to ensure a 50:50 mix of men and women candidates especially in the beginning stages. Then it’s up to the individual’s capability that determines the hire. Having a pipeline of candidates that is gender-balanced is the first crucial step toward closing the gap.

In tech, women usually hover somewhere between 20% and 30% of the overall working population – largely because they are not graduating in these subjects in the first place. I fully support the focus on encouraging girls and women to pursue STEM subjects, which will ultimately result in equal representation in the workforce. While that’s very important, it’s also essential we look at where we don’t have to fight that fight, and instead be opportunistic about reaping the rewards.

In design, we have a real possibility to shift the balance – we already have girls and women pursuing creative subjects in academia at the same levels as their male counterparts. Women are entering the workforce in higher percentages here than many other tech-related professions.

While this must happen across the board and more consistently in an organization for true gender equality – the fact is, every bit counts.

Hiring women in equal numbers alone is not enough, retention also plays a big part – but that’s another blog post.

As design continues to play a more central role in tech companies’ strategies and successes, I do envision women flexing their design muscles and becoming a bigger part of the tech environment. With the industry growing and changing in a positive direction, I feel encouraged that it will translate to more equal footing for men and women.

As organizations and hiring managers, we have to recognize the opportunity in front of us and do our part to close the gap.  With a little effort and a simple, yet well-conceived strategy, I believe we can get there.


Siva Sabaretnam is a design leader with almost 20 years of experience in the combined fields of online advertising, marketing creative, and product user experience. She currently leads design – a think tank style offshoot within SAP focusing on next generation products, brand experiences and events.

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      Author's profile photo Sophia Marx
      Sophia Marx

      Great article. I recently read an article in Fortune stating diversity is a priority at Cisco and their plan to achieve it. View full article here.

      Some of their goals include:

      • personal mentoring of women by women
      • internal groups for female employees
      • partnering with organizations like Girls Who Code (or some of us joined the Technovation Challenge this year for encouraging young girls to get into STEM.
      • Getting more women on the executive team, as managers, and in all areas
      • Enabling and allowing women to balance both work and home life with flexible schedules, child care, backup child care, telecommuting, etc.