By Chris Haydon, President of SAP Procurement Solutions
In the software industry the “network effect” arises when, as new participants join a digital platform, existing ones reap incremental value. From social media and multiplayer video games to auction sites and business-to-business commerce, the more inclusive the network, the richer the experience using it.
It’s certainly true for SAP Ariba, the world’s largest business network. Achieving ever-greater scale is central to our business model, and it’s propelled our growth to include 4.8 million buyers and suppliers in 190 countries, transacting $3.3 trillion in commerce annually. It’s also true for SAP Fieldglass, the industry pioneer in external workforce and services procurement solutions, bringing together 164,000 suppliers in 180 countries, with a combined $55 billion in spend under management.
Yet as proud as we are of these metrics, we’re even prouder of the way we’ve applied the same emphasis on inclusion within SAP. That’s because recruiting diverse sets of employees strengthens the workplace in much the same way that welcoming a broad range of trading partners benefits a procurement network. Just as a digital network can connect buyers and suppliers previously unknown to each other yet well suited to create complementary value, technology likewise holds the potential to pair companies with outstanding, if occasionally overlooked, talent.
That’s what technology is all about. It democratizes opportunity, extending it outward from the few to the many. At SAP, we want to be the most diverse, inclusive company in the cloud. We’re getting closer to achieving that goal, and one of the highlights along the way has been expanding our ranks of differently-abled employees. Through SAP’s Autism at Work program, we’re seeing people on the spectrum unleash their creative talents across the company. People with autism are realising more than meaningful work; they’re enjoying professional success. They are valued, accomplished colleagues. In fact, earlier this year Nicolas Neumann, a 21-year-old SAP employee from Buenos Aires who is on the spectrum, won the prestigious Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award, SAP’s highest employee recognition, for developing a groundbreaking tool to simplify accounting processes.
CBS Sunday Morning reports on SAP’s Autism at Work program, February 11, 2018
Yet tragically, an estimated 85 percent of working-age adults with autism are unemployed. Of course, in the procurement business, where matching supply with demand is our specialty, we know a mismatch when we see one! Chronic unemployment for people on the spectrum — people with talents and ambitions and dreams — reflects a serious mismatch. It’s also a missed opportunity for people with unique skill sets to offer society.
The cloud software industry can help to fulfill that unmet potential.
Many people with autism are incredibly gifted in mathematics, abstract thinking and analytical skills. They think differently. At SAP, thinking differently is a tremendous asset. We don’t hire people with autism because it fits a preconceived view of corporate social responsibility. We do so because they contribute toward creating value for our customers and shareholders. We recruit people on the spectrum because it’s an incredibly wise investment in our people and our future. It’s all about hiring the best people capable of meeting the toughest challenges.
After all, shouldn’t that be the bar we set for everyone? When we recruit the best people, we end up extending offers not only to candidates with autism, but to those with a wide range of other unique attributes as well. These colleagues enrich our workplace with their skills and their capacity to perceive things the rest of us sometimes miss. So it should be little surprise that our Autism at Work program has led us to reevaluate how we define talent, how we measure it and how we source it. It’s also given us a goal. We’re aiming to ensure that in the coming years, people with autism are increasingly represented within our global workforce. This means expanding our internship opportunities and work-study programs with vocational schools, with an eye toward candidates on the spectrum.
When companies commit to building an inclusive culture, everyone benefits. All employees get to thrive at work. This begins with recruiting and retaining diverse talent. But that’s only the start. Companies also must lend employees, whether on the autism spectrum or neurotypical, the tools they need to succeed once they’re on board. In recent years we’ve seen a revolution in the technologies that make meaningful work accessible to millions of autistic and differently abled persons for whom it might otherwise lie beyond reach. These cloud-based technologies, many involving artificial intelligence, have changed people’s lives and lent them a renewed sense of purpose. They’ve also changed companies like SAP Ariba and SAP Fieldglass infinitely for the better. These technologies serve as a tremendous equaliser leading to retention, advancement and career satisfaction.
At a time when technology has made inclusive hiring and retention easier to achieve than ever before, businesses owe it to their employees, their communities and — above all — their customers to pair the right opportunities with the many talented people with autism in their midst. By ensuring the same opportunities for career advancement to all employees, an organisation cultivates a genuinely inclusive culture centered on individual talent, mutual respect and human dignity. Instilling these tenets across the enterprise empowers its people to deliver consistently high value and superlative customer experiences.