Celebrating International Women’s Day: A Conversation Between Mike Eberhard, SAP Concur President, and Jenn McColly, SAP Concur Vice President of People Connection

In recognition of International Women’s Day, SAP Concur President Mike Eberhard, and Jenn McColly, Vice President of SAP Concur’s People Connection, sat down to discuss how to create more gender balance in the workforce.


Jenn McColly: Mike, gender diversity is a passion we both share, simply because achieving it is the right thing to do. But I’m struck by studies that clearly show how good it is for business, as well. In fact, McKinsey & Company found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. One of the ways leaders can achieve better balance is through sponsorship. Why do you believe sponsorship is such a vital component to achieving gender inclusion and equality?

Mike Eberhard: As leaders, all of us would like to believe we are where we are today based on our smarts and talent. But the truth is we didn’t get here on our own. We had a mix of parents or other family members, teachers, coaches and mentors who encouraged and guided us. That’s why, once you have some momentum in your career, you have a responsibility to help others in their journeys. As you think about who to sponsor, it’s also really important to think about people who don’t have the advantages you did, and those who are underrepresented in your field. In STEM fields, we have a long way to go to achieve a fair gender balance. In addition, how can we, as an industry, make products and services for diverse customers if our teams don’t include people from diverse backgrounds? These are some of the reasons that, as I’ve mentored young professionals, I’ve made sure to coach women interested in roles in the technology field.

Now, Jenn, I want to ask you a question. Your team plays a critical role in supporting our employees in bringing their best, authentic, selves to work every day, and in diversifying our teams. What sort of initiatives have helped us make progress at SAP Concur?

J.M.: I am so proud of the progress we are making towards balance.  Our employee base is 46% female. Thirty-nine percent of our leaders are women, and 24% of employees in technology roles are female. Our focus on creating that balance is very intentional. Last year, for example, we hired a firm to help us better understand the experiences of senior-level leaders, including the specific challenges they face in staying engaged with our organization over the long-term. The information we learned from these conversations will help inform what it means to be an inclusive culture and help guide the creation of new initiatives.  And not just for women, but for everyone. 

 We also look a little more globally, beyond our own business, to see how we can have a positive impact on this issue. That’s why one of our Corporate Social Responsibility partners is CARE.  They work to eradicate poverty, which is directly connected to gender inequality. By supporting the economic empowerment of women and girls around the world, through education, they become catalysts for positive change in their communities.

Mike, to your point about sponsoring young women in their careers, would you share an example of the impact you’ve seen that has improved our culture and our business at SAP Concur?

M.E.: Well, given the two of us are talking, I think the best example is the fact that we actively recruited you to serve as the leader of our employee experience team, today called “People Connection.” If I recall correctly, you had left SAP Concur for a time. But your leadership potential was clear, and fortunately, we managed to convince you to come back. Is there a connection between the fact that we put the right leader in place, at the right time, and we’ve steadily improved our diversity numbers? I would like to think so.

J.M.: Thanks, Mike. I like to think I’ve had an impact, but it really is a team effort on the People Connection team, in partnership with the SAP Global Diversity and Inclusion Office, our HR organization, the Executive Leadership Team, and our Employee Network Groups. We have so many team members who give their all every day. That said, asking me to return to SAP Concur to lead this team speaks volumes to the role you have played as a sponsor. Your vision to see me in this role strengthened my confidence as a business leader. I also worked under Scott Torrey’s leadership for several years. As you know, he’s our Chief Revenue Officer for international markets. Scott has been a huge advocate for me and my teams.  He helped me grow my career from individual contributor to a senior leader, providing ample opportunities to expand my scope and impact at the company.  I do feel fortunate to have had so many awesome leaders committed to helping me realize my potential.

Mike, this year’s IWD theme is around “balance for better.” When you think about the opportunity ahead of us in creating balance, what comes to mind?

M.E.: Actually, what comes to mind is one of the things I heard you say at our most recent all-hands meeting. You were talking about recruiting and shared the idea that often people want to know if a candidate will fit in to an existing team’s culture. The better thing to consider, as you pointed out, is what the culture of a given team is lacking. Then the conversation shifts to be about how you can find someone who adds that missing element or elements. As we know, because the data on technology companies is clear, diversity is often the thing that’s missing. We run into problems in the recruiting process when we look for people similar to us. We ought to look for people who balance our teams. That means bringing on more female professionals and people from ethnic groups under-represented in a given field. That’s what we need to do to balance our teams, to make sure we are hearing all perspectives, to make our business more inclusive and successful.

J.M.: I couldn’t agree more, Mike.  I recently had a conversation with a male colleague who was inquiring about our support and promotion of Employee Network Groups, specifically the Business Women’s Network group.  The individual wondered if the focus on women will “tip the scale.”  That choice of words affirmed that there is currently a gender imbalance.  I think it’s really important to recognize that our focus on gender intelligence is not about tipping any scales, it’s about balancing it.

Mike, as we close out our conversation, and because I know you believe in making things action oriented.  What is your ask of everyone reading this?

M.E.: That’s easy: look for people different than you to mentor. Keep in mind that, still today, women are under-represented in many fields. Of course, I have a bias here, but I think it’s especially important for male executives in the technology field to mentor more women. This is a great conversation to have on International Women’s Day. Let’s all continue that conversation throughout the year, and also ensure that we are outreaching to every group under-represented in the technology workforce.

J.M.: That’s a great point. Both mentorship and sponsorship play important roles.  It’s important to call out, however, women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored.  As individuals, it’s important we understand the role each plays in advancing our career.  As a leader, be intentional with sponsorship.  As a women leader, remember to pay it forward and help the advancement and promotion of other women and underrepresented minorities.  It’s been great talking with you, Mike, on this International Women’s Day.

Loading next article