Author: Nevena Taneva, SAP Labs Bulgaria,
Senior HR Business Partner / HR Manager Bulgaria and Romania

The article is initially published by the author on July 1, 2019
SAP works with over 437 000 clients in over 180 countries, has over 98 000 employees in 140 locations around the world and holds over 46 years of history. Established 19 years ago the SAP innovation and development center in Sofia, SAP Labs Bulgaria is one of the key strategic departments of SAP SE. Presently in the company are working 930 professionals as 75 % of the team are working on topics connected to cloud technologies. SAP Labs Bulgaria has key role in the defining and development of the SAP Cloud Platform.

Now, when the Pride Month is over with all mixed emotions and challenges around it in the CEE countries especially, I realize how important it is for companies to have consistent and all-year activities aiming at raising the awareness about Diversity & Inclusion, prejudices and stereotypes amongst employees. SAP has a long-term commitment to embracing and stimulating diversity, applying the United Nations Standards for tackling discrimination at the workplace and extending those requirements towards its subcontractors. Still, many cultures are at a different stage of accepting diversity and especially the LGBTQ+ topic. In those locations the global D&I message sets the ground but might not be enough to make a change and move beyond. The routine of the global corporate talk might be overcome with a local engagement – the local management and HR to initiate the discussions locally. However, an additional step is needed to start the journey…

I will not elaborate on why Diversity & Inclusion is so important for the business, but instead take a closer look about how this journey looks like at SAP in Bulgaria. For almost two years already we keep the diversity topic on the table and have a consistent agenda throughout the year.

How did everything begin? Relying on the external know how, we have established partnerships with local non-governmental organizations working in all aspects of D&I and brainstormed with them on potential joint activities applicable in a business environment. Then, we started using all diversity-related international dates to provide focused activities – info sessions and workshops – to our local colleagues, namely the International Women’s Day (March 8th), the International Day Against Homophobia (May 17), the International Day of Roma People (April 8), the International Day of Deaf People (end of October), the International Day of People with Disabilities (December 3). For each of those dates we organize local events providing information and personal experiences, so that our employees have the chance to step in the shoes of someone from the so-called minorities and approach this with empathy. Sometimes, this is experienced literally by sitting in the wheelchair of a disabled person or taking a walk with a mask on the eyes relying entirely on a sight-disabled guide or trying to identify aromas with closed eyes and realizing how difficult it might be to recognize the well-known coffee smell without one of our senses or trying to read someone’s lips with ear plugs in the ears…. Seeing someone with a physical handicap lending you his/her wheelchair or walking for an hour with a mask on your eyes guided by a blind person turns out to be a life changing experience for the “normal” person – time flies differently when you are deprived of vision, it is unbelievable to see that you have been able to walk 200 – 300 meters only in an hour or what an effort is required to pour yourself a glass of water or choose the right money to buy something. After such an experience you are not the same. Listening to personal stories and understanding, for example, how difficult it might be for a deaf person to get access to education or for a person from the LGBTQ+ community to filter consciously the information about his/her personal life while trying to integrate in a team won’t leave anybody indifferent. And I believe, sensitization is the key towards overcoming prejudices and stereotypes.

What other tools have we used at SAP in Bulgaria? Running a Feel the Pain campaign with statements about the feelings of the LBGT people at the workplace (ex. “Imagine what it is like not sharing with your colleagues, because you are afraid of revealing the truth about your personal life!”), which was appreciated and re-used for a major SAP internal event – F-Kom, merchandising materials – stickers and notebooks – with the motto “The Power to Be Yourself” and the Pride colors, psychological lectures about the nature of prejudices, parental info sessions on how to talk to children about disabilities and differently-abled people, Open Days type of workshop for Roma students. And all this couldn’t be successful without the commitment of our business stakeholders. I am convinced that our local commitment to enabling an inclusive, healthy, bias-free culture is undoubtedly crucial for fostering employee engagement, sparking innovation, driving customer success and even contributing to societal changes in the long run. So, just a single step is needed to start a journey…