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How SAP Audits Its Gender Diversity Efforts

September 14, 2016, 9:29 PM UTC
Photograph by Bloomberg via Getty Images

It’s difficult to find a high-profile, high-tech company that isn’t prioritizing better ethnic and gender diversity, and talking about it pretty regularly even when progress is questionable.

Most of the data they use to back up their proclamations, however, is internally sourced. SAP has taken the relatively unusual step of undergoing an independent audit of how well it’s doing.

This week, the German software giant became the first multinational technology company to earn global recognition for its commitment to workplace gender equality under a methodology launched four years ago during the World Economic Forum. It’s called the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (aka EDGE) initiative.

Among the things EDGE examines—through a review of company data and surveys of at least 30% of a company’s employees—are compensation policies, recruiting and promotion practices, training programs, mentoring, accommodations for flexible work hours, and culture. There are roughly 100 organizations seeking certifications. Aside from SAP, other companies that have earned an EDGE designation include L’Oreal, Marriott International, Allianz Global Investors, and IKEA.

“We are very proud of our investments in technology and programs to drive inclusion,” said SAP CEO Bill McDermott, in a statement. “This certification is another step in our leadership on this critical issue, all geared toward helping the world run better and improving people’s lives.”

It took SAP (SAP) roughly nine months to finish an assessment of its U.S. operations; it’s been working toward the global one since March. Among the countries that participated were Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.

There’s a fee for the program, depending on company size, although SAP declined to disclose what it paid. The certification must be renewed every two years.

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“This is because part of the certification process is the action plan,” said Nicole McCabe, senior director of global diversity and inclusion, gender equality at SAP.

The Swiss organization managing the program was co-founded by former Arthur Andersen consultant Aniela Unguresan, who grew up in communist Romania. Two of its strategic partners include She Works (an initiative managed by the Internationl Finance Corp.) and workplace benefits company Mercer. In an interview last year, Unguresan said she started EDGE to drive more transparency and accountability around diversity issues. “In all cases, one of the most significant outcomes of the process is a systematic and structured way to close the gender gap,” she told the Financial Times.

Although its initial focus is on gender, EDGE will focus on corporate ethnic diversity in the future, Unguresan told Fortune in response to several emailed questions.

SAP’s official goal at the board level is to fill 25% of its leadership positions with women by the end of 2017. Right now, it’s just shy of that commitment. As of the second quarter, women accounted for 24.1% of SAP leaders and 32.5% of all employees, the company said. The company employs slightly less than 80,000 employees.

SAP has a vested interest taking action on human resources issues: it owns SuccessFactors, which specializes in software for HR management and recruiting. One of its strategic priorities is using artificial intelligence to help companies improve their diversity polices. Among other things, it’s developing software that will screen job descriptions for potential biased language that could unintentionally limit a pool of candidates.