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For the Greater Good

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The lack of women in IT and IT leadership is a ‘hot topic’. Yet few organisations demonstrate proactive strategy beyond generic policy initiatives. SAP is not one of those. Partnering with Fabian Dattner SAP have and continue to run a very special program.

Anyone with any knowledge of the tech sector knows there is something of a battle on to attract and retain women. Increasingly, boards and executive teams are sold on the commercially competitive advantage of gender equality, but real change is tough. Despite significant investment in policies to address systemic issues (i.e. workplace flexibility, pay equity, etc.), there is still low female representation and, where women are joining organisations, they are often not staying around.


SAP is the world’s largest business software company. Renowned for being forward-thinking and a globally recognised brand, SAP wanted to tackle gender diversity head-on. Under the leadership of John Ruthven (MD), Gina McNamara (now SAP ANZ CFO) and Lisa Christy (now HRD Wolters Kluwer APAC), SAP engaged Dattner Group and Fabian Dattner to explore opportunities. Lisa had previously sent a team of SAP women to do Dattner Group’s national women’s program, Compass, and decided the program would be more effective if it was tailored to SAP’s specific needs.


Dattner Group redesigned their Compass program, normally seven days across five months, to a three-day intensive, with a focus on building an internal collaboration of women at SAP. This represented a significant challenge – in compressing the program so much, would the women have the transformational experience? If Dattner Group ran the program entirely internally, would the participants get that sense of common issue/cause that emerges in a public program?


In the words of Fabian Dattner, founding partner and creator of Compass: “What emerged was possibly the best program I’ve designed for women and it worked like a rocket”. High-performing, senior women from different areas of SAP who had no relationship to speak of got to focus on personal purpose and values, to share quality time exploring their sense of self in the context of a highly competitive sector and, lastly, to explore the narrative of business acumen as a means of accelerating their contribution to the SAP business.

The program was so successful that it is being repeated annually and Dattner Group have done alumnae programs on new content to keep the women refreshed and connected. Further, to their credit, SAP have increased their support for women and continue their focus on properly engaging their female workforce. The participants have also self-organised internal processes for staying connected in the months following the program to ensure the impact is felt long after the intensive three days is finished.


There are approximately 80 women who have done the internal Compass program through SAP. Several participants have taken on more senior roles in SAP, with greater influence and commercial impact. These women are clear about who they are, their boundaries as leaders, their voice and influence, and the power of their unique and often feminine approach to leadership. They also have each other’s back in tough times. Other participants’ feedback suggested that the program had been deeply transformational, had taken them by surprise in the nature of its content, and had increased their effectiveness not only as employees of SAP but as friends, mums and partners.

Author, Fabian Dattner, Founding Partner Dattner Group, Co Founder Homeward Bound.