SAP Accused of Lack of Diversity in Singapore High Court
(Bloomberg) -- A former manager at SAP SE’s Singapore office has sued the German software maker over allegations she was pushed out of the company for confronting executives about a lack of gender diversity.
Billie Jean Burlingame said that SAP broke the country’s employment rules when it eliminated her role during a reorganization last year, according to documents first filed with the Singapore High Court in December.
After raising the issue of potential gender bias at SAP during an all-hands meeting and again in an email in June 2020, Burlingame said her position was unexpectedly terminated about two weeks later. She said she was previously told her job was safe. Though Burlingame met or exceeded her performance targets and was on the succession plan for her former managers’ position, she wasn’t legitimately considered for other jobs, according to the court documents.
Male employees affected by the restructuring were offered other roles, Burlingame argued in the case filings.
In its response, SAP disputed that it had told Burlingame -- who’d worked at the company for about four years and led the company’s business-transformation unit, making her one of the more senior women in the region -- that her job wouldn’t be affected. The company said in court documents that a number of other executives had also left in the reorganization that year, and that while it had tried to help Burlingame find another job, she was “not suitable for the roles that she applied for.” Gender had nothing to do with the decision, it said.
“SAP is committed to being a diverse and inclusive company,” a spokesman for the German company said in an emailed statement. “We embrace and proactively promote cultural, gender and generational diversity across all regions where we have employees.”
The case comes as employers in Singapore face greater scrutiny over their hiring practices. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has asked his government to present concrete proposals to tackle workplace equality issues for women by early next year, according to a report in the Straits Times.
Countries in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asia have one of the better rates of women in senior management roles worldwide, according to a report by Grant Thornton last year. They hold about 35% of these jobs, making progress because of initiatives like Singapore’s requirement that public companies disclose their board-diversity policies, the report said. The rest of Asia Pacific hasn’t fared as well, with female managers holding just 27% of high-ranking jobs, the lowest of any region surveyed.
SAP’s spokesman said that 34.7% of its workforce in Asia-Pacific-Japan are women, up 1.5 percentage points since 2018, and 34% of the region’s senior executives are women. Singapore’s managing director and the president of SAP Southeast Asia are both women, he said.
Burlingame’s lawyers at Harry Elias Partnership said that their client “who was a top performer of SAP, felt the organization had treated her unfairly and differently apparently due to gender and diversity issues so it was necessary to stand up against such unfairness.”
The two sides are finishing laying out their cases ahead of a potential trial, and a date hasn’t been set yet.
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