Making Diversity and Inclusion Real

I’m excited to open the Women in Tech Festival next week on May 23 in Mountain View, CA and to meet the diverse group of talented women attending and presenting. We at IBM are partnering with the Silicon Valley Forum (@SVForum) on this great event celebrating women in STEM, business, and leadership. As I prepare for this event, I want to share with you my thoughts on how to make diversity and inclusion real in the workplace. I hope you will join us at the festival to spend two empowering days with women leaders in tech celebrating female entrepreneurs and/or watch the videos of the event after the event.

Step one to driving the expansion of diversity and inclusion is to establish a personal deep belief that they are core to business success and personally enriching. I learned to value diversity at a young age as my mother has always fought for equal rights. Later I learned the value of diverse teams in business, both from my personal experience and from studies such as McKinsey’s ‘Delivering thru Diversity’ and IBM’s ‘Women, leadership, and the priority paradox.’

In 2014, I founded the IBM Garage 5 years ago to co-create innovative solutions with clients using IBM Cloud. Our team has a diverse set of designers, developers and architects. We have Garages in 12 countries. We have men and women, people of various ethnicities and religions, recent graduates to 30 year IBMers, right brain and left brain thinkers, introverts and extroverts, geeks and sports lovers. The diversity and inclusion in the Garages has been critical to our success innovating with clients. Diversity is more than gender, race and ethnicities — look around you; is your team diverse?

Diversity Recommendations

My advice to leaders interested in fostering diversity in your organizations is:

Hire diverse leaders who have empathy– whatever it takes

If you want diversity candidates to want to work at your company, they need to see diversity in your leadership team. If you don’t have any, start with one leader and ask them to take a leadership role in improving diversity. A candidate who is a woman or minority themselves, and/or places priority on diversity will absolutely notice the diversity of a team when they interact or interview with that team. Leaders who empathize with different points of views and ways of working will foster a culture of lively interactions maximizing the benefits of diversity.

IBM Cloud Garage leaders from around the world

Interviewers should be diverse — matched to candidates when possible

We have a lot of women leaders in the Garage. We make a point of having women interview women candidates and matching roles (e.g. a technical woman interviewing a technical candidate). And do our best to have diversity in all sets of interviewers.

Be diverse and intentional in your company’s public presence

A 25-year-old, Latina is researching a company she is going to interview with and sees a speaker lineup that is a mostly white male, from the US, and over 40 on their conference website. How do you think she is going to view the company?

Create a culture where hiring diverse team members is expected

Our Garage leaders often take the initiative to explain to me how they are doing in diversity hiring, particularly when they are having challenges. They know that our senior leadership cares and will hold them accountable for building diverse teams.

Inclusion Recommendations

Diversity and inclusion must go to together. In this article on inclusion, the Society for Human Resource Management defines inclusion as “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”I think what makes an environment truly inclusive is:

Value, action, and continuous improvement

First, you and your senior leadership must internalize the value of inclusion. Inclusion needs to be talked about, but only talk isn’t enough. Missteps that occur need to be addressed, differences need to be celebrated, and everyone must be held accountable. Say a mistake is made scheduling an event in conflict with a religious holiday. Create a policy that checks for religious holidays against the planned attendees.

Put in place programs and policies, and use data

Have programs that are proactive in matching women and minorities with growth opportunities and mentors. Check that the diversity of attendees nominated for a course match the diversity of the organization’s population.

Show inclusion and diversity in all that you do

I remind my team that when presenting client examples to make sure to include clients from all geographies. You want to ensure there is visible diversity; for example, the people in the front row of a broadcast event shouldn’t all look the same. If you don’t have much diversity, you need to get creative.

Expectations and actively addressing issues

The Garage recently publishing a blog series. The ‘ask’ for writers was made to a diverse population, however what got submitted was mostly from people from North America, men, and our experienced population. We noticed and proactively asked consultants from other geographies, women, and people with different experience levels to write additional blogs. We also discussed it as a senior leadership team — I’m optimistic we will do better in the future.

Knowledge and sensitivity

You can respect people’s privacy while getting to know them at a more personal level. Take time to get to you know your colleagues more holistically, so you can better benefit from their different points of view and become knowledgeable about them in order to be more inclusive. Imagine you learn that a third of your team doesn’t have kids. Change the ‘how was your weekend’ discussion that is getting dominated by ‘teenagers are a delight…’ (I know as I have one) and unintentionally excludes non-parents to a more inclusive discussion.

Diversity and inclusion aren’t always easy — it is easier to relate to people like ourselves, but that is simply not as interesting or productive or innovative. No one and no organization are perfect on inclusion. When we aren’t inclusive, we need to recognize it, learn, correct, and address how to avoid the lack of inclusion going forward. The starting point is to truly care about diversity and inclusion and continuously improve. Personally, seeking and having diversity amongst my team, my colleagues, and my friends greatly enriches my life.

Also, I’m proud to be an IBMer and to have benefited from IBM’s inclusion programs. I’m participating in IBM’s public Be Equal program that is a call to arms to society at large to promote gender equality. Last year, IBM received the 2018 Catalyst Award for its global efforts to help advance women in business. I hope you will join our Be Equal community and make a pledge too.