Teacher goes IT Meet Adaire Fox-Martin, the second woman on SAP's executive team

Irish-born Adaire Fox-Martin went from teacher to one of two women on the software company SAP’s nine-manned executive board.
She’s the one on the left.

Adaire Fox-Martin is a rare sight in two respects: She’s in a position of power and works at an internationally-known IT company, where women tend to be conspicuously absent. Ms. Fox-Martin oversees global customer operations at Germany’s software giant SAP. Last year, she became the second woman added to SAP's executive board, after working for the company for 10 years and previously at their US competitor, Oracle Corp.

The tech industry’s lack of diversity is one of its major critiques, as is the small number of woman in decision-making roles. 2017 was the year SAP reached its own target of 25 percent of women in senior management roles. The software giant now hopes to reach a 30 percent female-leadership quota by 2022.

After having worked for SAP from Singapore with a focus on Asian countries for many years, Ms. Fox-Martin knows better than most that promoting women into leadership positions greatly depends on the country and culture. What works for Germany won’t necessarily work in Japan. This is part of why the inclusivity advocate isn’t keen on debating quotas, but would rather focus on attracting women – after all, “they make up half of the world’s talent pool,” she told Handelsblatt.

Companies should not overlook their role in helping women reconcile their careers with their family lives.

To date, one-third of SAP’s 88,000 employees are women. In Germany, the tech industry is just as white and male-dominated as it is in the United States. A little less than 20 percent of employees in the industry are female, according to German consulting firm Kienbaum. Higher up things look worse. Less than one in 10 executives is a woman. At Google, women make up 31 percent overall and only 20 percent in technical professions.

The need for diversity is simple: It leads to more innovation, Ms. Fox-Martin said. The entire company agrees. “We believe we can increase our revenue as we increase the proportion of female executives, enabling us to better serve the needs of our diverse clients," SAP wrote in its annual report. This goes for other types of diversity as well, including sexuality, religious beliefs and cultural backgrounds.

Supporting equal rights and modernization within a company, ultimately making a workplace more inclusive, is very important to the 53-year old Irish native. Yet hiring women to work in tech-related fields starts long before a recruiter reviews a resume. It begins with emboldening young women and girls to study technological fields needs, Ms. Fox-Martin, a former schoolteacher in London, said. Yet that’s not to say companies should overlook their role in helping women reconcile their careers with their family lives.

The Trinity College graduate may not be willing to debate quotas. But she does believe any conversation, like the #MeToo movement, that helps fight forms of discrimination is worth having. That is one way to help the industry change.

Thomas Tuma is a deputy editor in chief at Handelsblatt. Christof Kerkmann is an editor for Handelsblatt and writes about the technology sector. Handelsblatt’s Lazar Backovic also contributed to this article. To contact the authors: kerkmann@handelsblatt.com, tuma@handelsblatt.com.

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