Women now constitute a significant part of tech professions. Giving women more visibility and helping them network are the goals of a new partnership between SAP and Global Digital Women, an international network of female digital pioneers.
“Diversity sparks innovation,” said Elke Manjet, senior vice president of Human Resources for Products and Innovation at SAP, when she opened the first joint event hosted by Global Digital Women and SAP last week. About 120 women from tech and digital professions met at the SAP Data Space in Berlin to network and discuss the future of Big Data.
This is an important topic for women, said Manjet, because applied in the right way, Big Data will also contribute to finally closing the gender gap.
Big Data for Diversity and Empowerment
If digitalization means “intelligently connecting people, things, and businesses,” as Michelle Mensing, an SAP software developer in Silicon Valley, pointed out in her keynote, that makes networking a sort of natural component to digital transformation.
Manjet explained: “As an employer of women in tech, it was the obvious thing to do for SAP to cooperate with Global Digital Women and create a network for women in tech to realize their potential.”
“Networking was always important to me during my years in political consulting,” said Tijen Onaran, founder of Global Digital Women. “Three years ago I created a regular meeting here in Berlin called Digital Business Women, which had about 500 members eventually.”
In 2017, Onaran was invited by the U.S. State Department to travel through the U.S. with female founders from 47 countries. “It was an eye-opener,” she said. “I became aware that everywhere in the world diversity and empowerment, digitalization and innovation are the topics to work on, even though the conditions may be varied. I knew then that I wanted to bring a global organization into being for women in the digital age.”
In early 2018, Onaran founded Global Digital Women, an organization financed in cooperation with international companies such as SAP, BMW, Fujitsu, and Microsoft. The partners also provide space for networking events and panel discussions that the organization hosts on a regular basis in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, and Zurich.
“At Global Digital Women we have three important goals for women in digital professions,” Onaran explained. “Networking to bring great female digital minds together; visibility to make the world more digital and female; and empowerment to open chances for female career paths and the topics women in tech are working on.”
SAP’s Lone Aggersbjerg, vice president Operations for Products and Innovation at SAP and initiator of Women in Tech@SAP, responsible for the cooperation with Global Digital Women, considers visibility perhaps the most important of Onaran’s three goals: “SAP runs lots of internal initiatives to the discover the female ‘hidden gems’ in our workforce. Global Digital Women can support us here with its network, which can help our women make contacts and increase their visibility by, for example, giving keynotes at conferences.”
At SAP, the partnership with Global Digital Women is being driven by HR in cooperation with the Products & Innovation Board Area.
Data Powers Innovative Technologies Like Blockchain, IoT, Machine Learning
The Global Digital Women event at the SAP Data Space included a panel of five female tech experts and soon turned to socially relevant topics. Big Data is a point of intersection for the technological developments of our time — data powers all the other new technologies, such as machine learning, Internet of Things, and blockchain. Refined data shaped to the requirements of the respective technology is a prerequisite for these new technologies to function and realize their full potential.
Participants asked if Europe may be tripping itself up due to its strict data protection regulations when it comes to availability of data as prerequisite for using and further developing new technologies. For the startup scene especially, this concern is justified, but as Professor Heike Hölzner from HTW University of Applied Sciences Berlin noted, changes in the environment, such as regulations, can also act as drivers for innovation. The European startup scene attracts founders and developers interested in data protection, pushing forward ideas such as the “self sovereign identity,” or an exclusively self-controlled digital identity based on the blockchain technology.
“Certainly, we as users must develop awareness for how important our own data is,” said Alexandra Galin from Gtmhub, a company located at the SAP Data Space in Berlin that has developed a data-driven software platform for high-performance companies to manage objectives and key results. “But I also want to be able to rely on developers and legislators to have put their mind to how to protect my data and that related regulations are in place.”
Artiona Bogo, a software engineer leading business development blockchain endeavors at SAP, points to the actions SAP has taken to protect customer data long before GDPR came into force: “With decentralized technologies like blockchain, we take the next step. Blockchain creates a second defense line for personal data as it gives full control to all partners in the network about how much of their data they want to share.”
At the same time, Bogo stressed the benefits that Big Data can bring to the individual user. Personal analytics is a field of application only now developing; it may give us information about our own lives that we wouldn’t have had without Big Data.
If and how Big Data may be leveraged against discrimination was an important question for the panelists as well. While they agreed that Big Data won’t abolish discrimination, applied in the right way, it may contribute to taking more bias-free decisions.
Manjet explains: “This is what we at SAP are aiming at with our software on principle, for example, in recruiting processes where data is being used to identify decision-making patterns and influence them in a positive way.” She is convinced that women in tech must be the new norm.
But both within SAP and throughout the industry, Manjet sees a demand for action to get more women into tech professions: “This is where the partnership with Global Digital Women comes in, as it helps SAP position itself as an employer for women in tech. With their help, we manage to create and maintain a female network where women can get inspired by women.”