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Cawa Younosi considers the pursuit of equal opportunity as both his profession and vocation. As head of HR for SAP in Germany, he provides opportunities for people to excel, even if their resume is a bit different than what recruiters typically look for. His own experiences taught him to find the possibilities that lie beyond a conventional way of thinking.
In the late 1980s, when war was tearing apart his home country of Afghanistan, Cawa’s parents put him on an airplane at the age of 14 to Europe. As an unaccompanied minor, he was accepted as a refugee and put in a children’s home and later in foster care. Despite such a difficult beginning, he thrived; he learned the language, made friends, and exceled in school in the German capital city of Bonn. Diverse backgrounds weren’t unusual in that city, because many children of foreign diplomats lived there. After graduation, he married his high school sweetheart and started his own business.
Similar to SAP CEO Bill McDermott’s first venture into the world of business, Cawa took over a small corner store, ultimately tripling the store’s value and selling it a few months later. He continued to work as a small business owner to put his wife through college before earning his law degree and joining SAP to take on a task at an important crossroad for the company.
Cawa joined as a lawyer in the legal department. He saw opportunities and seized them by moving around and up in various roles including Corporate Affairs, Diversity & Inclusion, and now head of Human Resources.
As an HR leader, Cawa fights passionately for equal opportunity – for all people of cultural and ethnic origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, mental and physical abilities, and different living and working conditions. “My main concern is that we create the framework conditions to offer everyone the same access opportunities,” he says.
As the company’s main liaison to the new works council, he helped to establish a culture of trust and cooperation. This has put him in the right position to pilot several new projects that helped make SAP an award-winning and trusted employer brand. Some examples can be seen in the promotion of women at SAP.
For instance, in October 2016, Cawa launched the Power2XLEAD program for female junior executives for SAP in Germany. The internal candidates are specifically trained and serve as a pool for open management positions. After moving to a leadership position, women will continue to be supported, through coaching or mentoring.
Equal opportunity is about fairness. “It is also about giving SAP a critical advantage in attracting and retaining the best and brightest so we can stay ahead of the pack and really stand out as an employer of choice,” says Cawa. Success starts with a mindset: “I was aware of my ‘otherness’ early on. Instead of looking at this feature as something negative, I occupied it positively. Being different and having a minority feeling does not mean that I am inferior to the majority, but the possibility of mutual enrichment.”
It is often the unorthodox choices and ideas that, when coupled with a goal, can drive innovation. Cawa’s recipe for success is based on that kind of thinking. “I feel if you level with people and find common objectives, you can forge strong business alliances and friendships. And if you put trust in people, there is no end to what you can achieve together.”
And it works. Cawa drives forward dozens of unconventional and pioneering projects in the field of HR, making SAP shine both in employer rankings and internal job satisfaction surveys.