Tackling the STEM Gap with Alicia Lenze, Global Head of CSR at SAP

tweet-jam-SAP-1-2015-1-300x300In advance of tomorrow’s Twitter chat about STEM Inclusion, I chatted with Alicia Lenze (@alicialenze), Global Head of CSR at SAP, to find out more about the STEM gap. Join TriplePundit, SAP and our esteemed guest panel TOMORROW at 8 a.m. PST / 11 a.m. EST – at #SAPYouthChat to share your thoughts. 

TriplePundit: Define what “STEM Inclusion” means to you. Why does SAP care about it? How does it boost the bottom line? 

Alicia Lenze: At the heart of SAP’s 40-year success story are people whose skills and talent are the foundation of our ability to innovate and grow. For that success to continue, SAP needs to keep pace with the key forces that are shaping the future of work. With the exploding scale of mobile, cloud and connected technologies, billions of new machines and devices will soon be interconnected changing the way we live and work. The need for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills is becoming even more critical across all businesses and industries.

Yet, there remains a frustrating paradox: By 2020, the global economy will face a shortage of 40 million high-skilled workers, especially with STEM knowledge, while millions of young people are working poor or unemployed – 85 percent of them in developing countries. We need more young people from diverse backgrounds to be included in the digital economy!  It not only makes business sense, but it fits perfectly with SAP’s purpose to help the world run better and improve people’s lives.

3p: How is SAP working to build a pipeline of qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds? 

AL: SAP’s biggest strength when it comes to preparing diverse candidates for our future workforce is the diverse set of corporate social responsibility (CSR), human resources and business programs that are all aligned around this goal.

With a strong focus on the education needs of the local markets, CSR programs focus on helping disadvantaged youth around the world develop the skills they need to thrive in the digital economy. This can range from direct skills and workforce development programs in cooperation with nonprofits or schools, to fun and inspirational programs that awaken an interest in tech, to helping social enterprises grow and scale, thus driving our mission further in local communities.

We also have amazing relationships with universities around the globe through the SAP University Alliances program. Working with more than 1,500 universities in over 80 countries worldwide, the UA program develops highly qualified graduates with critical SAP skills. So far, 2.2 million students have experienced SAP through the program.

One final example would be SAP’s initiative to employ people with autism.  Recognizing the unique strengths of people on the autism spectrum, particularly for the technology sector, the Autism at Work program aims to employ 650 people from within the autism spectrum by 2020.

3p: With diverse programs in such diverse spots across the globe, are there any universal ingredients for success?

AL: First: Find the sweet spot of programs that are experiential, inspirational and fun. In recent months young people from all walks of life have participated with SAP experts in various “hack-a-thon” events, ranging from developing apps for soccer clubs in Germany, to an app challenge to combat underage drinking in Colombia.

Second, take advantage of key assets – for SAP that is our people and our technology. Motivated and skilled employee volunteers can make all the difference in success and sustainability of a program. And leveraging our own technology is critical to showcase and teach how STEM skills are being applied.

Finally, don’t go it alone — collaborate with strategic partners such as NGOs and public services with a track record of success as well as trust from their communities.

3p: STEM inclusion is really complicated. What is one action our readers can take to improve diversity in these quality jobs? 

AL: Either volunteer or use your position to support volunteering programs that expand access to STEM education.  A recent United Nations General Assembly resolution even recognized the value of corporate volunteering to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  It really can and will make a difference!

Jen Boynton

Jen Boynton is editor in chief of TriplePundit and editorial director at 3BL Media. With over 6 million annual readers, TriplePundit is the leading publication on sustainable business and the Triple Bottom Line. Prior to TriplePundit, Jen received an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. In her work with TriplePundit she's helped clients from SAP to PwC to Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA -- court appointed special advocate for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.