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MIAMI muro por Frederico Draw

Social transformation, innovation, and diversity

Filipe Roloff

Customer Success Manager | SAP Labs Latin America | Pride@SAP LAC Leader

“When I came out of the closet, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders,” said Filipe. He was finally able to relax and be true to himself and to others. He experienced this feeling for the first time during his teenage years when he told his family and friends that he was gay. Their support made him strong.

Although coming out is never easy, it turned out quite well for him. His mother found out even before he told her. She’d seen a therapist to know how to best support her son. When the time came, she was ready to hug him and help break the news to the rest of the family. Filipe’s friends were very supportive as well. However, it was his job that he wasn’t at peace with. Born in a small town in the countryside of a southern Brazilian state, Filipe had already seen homophobia in many different forms, but the labor market stood out for its conservatism.

Filipe was still studying foreign trade at university when he got his first job in the private sector. He felt uncomfortable, but didn't know why. He thought maybe the area he was working in was not really what he wanted to do. Over time, he realized it was the work environment he was inserted in that significantly contributed to his dissatisfaction. “Even though I was working for a multinational, their mentality was extremely backward. Nobody ever talked about diversity,” he said.

He avoided talking about his personal life at work. He believed – and in some situations, he was certain – that discussing his sexual orientation would have negative consequences for his career. The need to hide isolated him from his colleagues. Whenever they planned any activities after work, he dodged them for fear of inadvertently revealing something he did not want them to know. “When we cannot be ourselves to the fullest extent, we spend most of our time and energy hiding who we truly are and thus fail to communicate well with others,” he said.

At those companies, he saw how intolerance, in all its forms, was unproductive. Back then, Filipe had a good job that paid well. Still, he decided to take what he believed to be a few steps back: In 2012, he joined SAP as an intern in a different role. It was then that he discovered that he had been right all along: Diversity is all about innovation. “Especially in technology, you have to be ahead at all times. For us to be innovative, we need an inclusive environment that allows our employees to feel empowered and share their ideas,” he said.

Filipe began working at SAP the same year Pride@SAP was launched in Brazil, and he insisted on participating from the get-go. At that moment, he realized how work relationships could be different from what he had experienced so far. His manager at the time encouraged him to join the network and even went on to say that he considered it essential for the success of the team. Filipe knew there was no need for hiding any longer and that it was time for him to invest his energy into this new project. Little did he know that years later he would become the network lead in Brazil and co-lead for Latin America.

Filipe felt empowered and wanted to help others feel that way – in fact, he reckoned it was his responsibility to ensure it happened. “There’s always the option to hide and do nothing, but you can also be a role model, and show people that they can be who they are. When that becomes your responsibility, you are motivated to touch other people’s lives,” he said.

All his efforts since then have been in this direction. Filipe wouldn’t want anyone to go through what he did during his early professional life. That is why, together with Pride@SAP, he created the LGBTI Summit, an intercompany event with the goal of promoting inclusion in the job market, an initiative that has already reached more than 130 companies. “We had the responsibility to impact not just SAP but also the external community,” he said.

This sense of responsibility was essential for Filipe to become a diversity ambassador. He’d always been proud of who he was and, over time, he felt the need to take up the banner of inclusion and become a social agent of change. “I was no longer just a person with a trait, but someone with the responsibility to transform my community. I connected with many good people who wanted the same, and it changed my life,” he said. His commitment has been recognized several times. The SAP Labs Latin America awarded him with the “Embrace Differences” award in 2016 for his collaboration on diversity issues within the company. More recently, he was ranked 30th on the Financial Times’ Outstanding List “Top 50 LGBT+ Future Leaders.”

Even if corporate change does not happen overnight, Filipe believes that the exaltation of diversity is the future, and that more and more companies will realize that they are bound to lose their talents if they fail to foster inclusion. Soon everyone will understand that diversity is essential, not just for the employees’ well-being, but as a business strategy. That's what Pride@SAP so passionately demonstrates when raising awareness of managers: If our employees feel safe, they will leave their worries outside of the office, perform well, and feel free to voice their ideas – which is key in an innovative environment.

Being yourself can be transformative, not just for you, but for others. You must understand that everyone has the potential to be a leader, and that doesn’t just mean occupying a management position, but developing the ability to positively influence others and change reality through action. When they feel this responsibility, they will feel empowered and help change other people’s realities," said Filipe, satisfied with his journey of empowerment, pride, and leadership, towards a more diverse and inclusive society.

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