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Former SAP leader's lawsuit claims she was canned for pushing corporate diversity

Company says 34.7% women in their workforce is pretty dang good

A former office leader for SAP in Southeast Asia has accused the German software company of violating local laws by treating her differently from male counterparts during a corporate restructure and leaving her jobless.

According to BJ Burlingame, former head of SAP's Asia Pacific and Japan business transformation unit, the action that earned her unfair treatment was voicing concern over a lack of gender diversity within the company.

She did so first at an all-hands meeting and later followed up with an email in June 2020. Two weeks after the email, she alleged, she found herself canned despite no hints at her job being in danger, decent performance reviews, and a succession plan in place that she would take on her former manager's position at some point.

And although Burlingame wasn't the only party hit by a corporate restructure, she claimed that affected male parties were found other roles.

SAP reportedly responded in its own filing that other execs had also left in the reorg, and that Burlingame had not been "suitable for the [other] roles that she applied for." It denied gender was a factor.

Francis Goh, partner at Singapore-based law firm Harry Elias, told The Register of Burlingame's case:

Our client, who was a top performer of SAP, felt the organisation had treated her unfairly and differently apparently due to gender and diversity issues so it was necessary to stand up against such unfairness.

Goh said the case is now before the courts in Singapore and that trial dates were yet to be determined.

Documents were first filed with the Singapore High Court in December and various hearings have taken place between February 2021 and September 2021.

A SAP spokesperson told The Register.

"SAP is committed to being a diverse and inclusive company. We embrace and proactively promote cultural, gender and generational diversity across all the regions where we have employees," before rattling off statistics about the percentage of women in the company's workforce.

Those statistics include women making up 34.7 per cent of SAP's Asia Pacific Japan (APJ) workforce, 34 per cent of the region's senior executive leadership team, and three out of four core regional senior executives – the chief operations officer, chief HR officer, and chief financial officer.

"In Singapore, SAP Asia recently won the Tripartite Alliance Award, which recognizes fair and progressive employment practices," added the spokesperson.

The company was unable to comment further due to the ongoing litigation.

According to public LinkedIn profiles, SAP's female CFO for Southeast Asia appears to have started the role in July 2021 – over a year after Burlingame's termination. The female CFO for Australia and New Zealand appears to have started at some time in the last two weeks. According to her LinkedIn profile, the current female APJ chief operating officer has been in the role since April 2021.

Requests to SAP to better understand the gender makeup of its APJ C-suites during Burlingame's tenure were not answered.

For comparison's sake, Google's APAC 2021 workforce was reported [PDF] at 36.4 per cent women, and globally women made up a paltry 27 per cent of Cisco's 2020 workforce.

Dell reported [PDF] 31.8 per cent of its 2021 global workforce as female but has instituted a mandate that half of its overall workforce and 40 per cent of its people leaders identify as women by 2030.

According to The World Bank, women made up nearly half (49.5 per cent) of the global population in 2020. ®

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