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Author's profile photo Mark Gibbs

It’s time for a beyond bias approach to diversity in the workplaces of China

While  Mao Zedong famously proclaimed that “women hold up half the sky” gender equality in China is still a work in progress. Having just hosted the second SAP Women’s Leadership Summit in Beijing, however, I’m firmly of the belief that the opportunities for women in business have never been stronger here.

Of course there are already some notable business women in China such as Yang Lan, Co-founder and Chairperson of the Sun Media Group and the Sun Culture Foundation, an inspiring role model who was once again kind enough to co-host the SAP Women’s Leadership Summit. Other high-profile participants included Grace Chen, the embodiment of haute couture in China, Beijing Women’s Federation vice chairwoman Zhou Zhijun and British diplomat Carma Elliot. We were also fortunate enough to have Berlin-based Yang Liu, an award-winning designer and professor in communication design, provide a video segment on her work around differences between genders, eastern and western outlooks, and how technology is changing our lives.

Digital Thinking

That last point is particularly significant in terms of women’s prospects in business. We are accelerating into the era of Industry 4.0 and Digital Business with a new wave of innovation around machine learning and advanced robotics beginning to build. This is going to result in a huge shake-up of business, workplace and jobs, disrupting the status quo. With the arsenal of transformational technologies that are at hand there is going to be a premium on innovative business thinking, for which diversity is an essentially underpinning.

Given that start-ups are a wellspring of creative business ideas, it’s interesting to see who’s starting digital businesses in China. According the State Council’s white paper on “Gender Equality and Women’s Development in China” released last year, the number of female entrepreneurs keeps growing and now accounts for a quarter of the total number of entrepreneurs in China. Notably, about 55% of new Internet businesses are being founded by women.

To help sustain this entrepreneurial momentum we donated RMB 1 million to China Women’s Development Foundation to support the @Her Social Dream Program at the SAP Women’s Leadership Summit. The aim is to support the development of young women entrepreneurs in China by unleashing their potential through digital empowerment and social innovation.  

Millennial Change

The impressive progress being made by women in China stems in part from the characteristics of China’s exceptional Millennial generation who are far better educated, wealthier, self-confident and digitally-savvy than their predecessors – especially so the women. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Gender Gap Report, China leads the world in terms the enrolment of women in higher education, with gender split 15% in favor of female students at the country’s tertiary institutions.

As China’s Millennial generation continues to flow out of the universities it is reshaping the country’s workplaces and markets. For enterprises keen to hit the marks on customers’ needs and expectations it is therefore important to ensure your workforce is representative of this generation and corporate culture embraces their perspectives. Furthermore, in light of China’s shrinking labor pool, the increasing competition for high-value skills and Government-backed business transformation initiatives such as Internet+ and Made in China 2025, embracing an inclusive work environment would seem essential to business success.

Delivering Diversity’s Dividends

So, how can companies ensure they are tapping into the power of workforce diversity? It’s a challenge that many organizations have struggled with for years, often with costly diversity programs that have yielded little success overall. A major stumbling block seems to lie with unconscious bias (that we all have) which, by definition, are hard to overcome. Even if each occurrence of bias is subtle and we tend to shrug it off as “not a big deal”, their cumulative impact over time can be significant.

Fortunately some smart technology is now available that can help to consciously address the issue. Using text mining and machine learning based on the SAP HANA platform, we’re aiming to help companies review job descriptions, performance reviews and similar people processes for potential bias and suggest changes to encourage equity. This complements existing SAP SuccessFactors capabilities – such as analytics and reports focused on diversity and inclusion – that already help address inequity.

Business Beyond Bias

SAP CEO Bill McDermott says that “none of us is as smart as all of us”, reflecting the fact that the power of workforce diversity on business and employees is real. So when you look at your workforce, remember that diversity and inclusion are good business practices. And best practices breed strong results.

Companies should step up effort to empower women in the gender-blind digital workplace, making space for diverse range of views and a more creative business culture. After all, an organization’s culture is its heartbeat, enabling it to attract new talent and helping the current workforce thrive.

Photo Caption:

SAP Greater China donated RMB 1 million to China Women’s Development Foundation (CWDF) to support the @Her Social Dream Program at the SAP Women’s Leadership Summit in Beijing.


(Left to right) Yang Lan, Cofounder and Chairperson of the Sun Media Group and the Sun Culture Foundation; Mark Gibbs, Global SVP, SAP SE and President, SAP Greater China; Qin Guoying, Vice Chairman and Secretary-General, CWDF; Beidi Sheng, Chief of Staff and Chairwoman, Business Women’s Network, SAP Greater China

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