Wednesday, February 28, 2007

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Diversity council

IBM takes “workplace diversity” very seriously, and it's one of the reasons I'm proud to work there. We have an executive position, Vice President, Global Workforce Diversity, leading a 60-person organization devoted to setting policy, advising and assisting other organizations, and monitoring the programs' successes. And we have a network of diversity councils at many company sites.

Last year, hearing that the council at my site was looking for new volunteers to replace some members who were leaving, I volunteered. I first asked my third-line manager what she thought. “Do they really want ‘straight white guys’ on the diversity council?”, I asked. She said that yes, in fact they did. She used to be on the council, and it always bothered her that it was all women and minorities, and that few “white guys” thought to volunteer. And so I sent my name in tout de suite.

OK, what does a diversity council do? Well...

  • It assists in the recruiting process, helping to identify channels to recruit minority candidates for job positions (channels such as schools and professors, professional organizations, and the like).
  • It sponsors speakers, panels, and other events, in which IBM executives and outside speakers — women and minorities — present topics of interest to our research community. This highlights the contributions of our diverse workforce and gives people an interesting view into the work and careers available to everyone.
  • It publicizes things like Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, and Women In Technology, and sets up events to go along with those.
  • It helps connect newer employees with mentors, if they want that. That's not limited to certain groups, of course; we'll help anyone who wants a mentor to find one.
  • Related to that, it welcomes new employees, or those who are new to the area, to the diverse set of people and cultures we have at the lab.

Last year, for instance, the diversity council sponsored panels of Asian executives and of Latino executives, who talked about their careers — and the challenges they faced — and related that to their cultures and to their experiences as immigrants to the US. It sponsored a talk by Dr Shirley Ann Jackson, the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. For Gay Pride Month, it sponsored talks by two company vice presidents, a lesbian and a gay man. It sponsored a series of “brown bag lunch seminars”, in which employees were invited to give informal presentations about things they like to do, ranging from amateur radio to sky diving.

By having a council arranging these events, we all share in the responsibility for all of it. We don't round up all the African-Americans and ask them to do the “black” thing; we don't corral the Latinos to handle Hispanic Heritage Month. Instead we have a bit of everyone — including a white guy or two, because, yes, it's about all of us — taking care of a bit of everything.

We don't change the world. And we don't directly change the company's bottom line. But indirectly, through education and outreach, through promoting awareness and understanding, we contribute to the company's vitality, and that ultimately does feed into the finances. In addition to that, the very existence of the diversity councils demonstrates the company's commitment to diversity at a basic “employee on the street” level, just as the high-level Global Workforce Diversity organization demonstrates it at the executive level.

So maybe in that small way, we do change the world a little.

3 comments:

Yoshiko said...

I don't know why I feel a little uncomfortable when I hear "Women and Minorities" in IBM's Diversity program...
I don't know why I feel a little uncomfortable when I hear "Asian"in IBM's Diversity program...
( I am happy to born in an Asian country and am proud of a member of Asian people. )

Yes, the program is worthwhile and has contributed a lot to pick up many excellent employees for their deserved positions in the company.
Yes, we still need the program.

Still sometimes , I feel I am I, not being here to be categorized like such.

Barry Leiba said...

I agree with you: we should not categorize people. In an ideal world, we wouldn't. As Martin Luther King, Jr, said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

But in the United States there's still a disparity between how we pay women and how we pay men. There are still many fewer women in executive positions. There's still discrimination against Asian-Americans. A major goal of the diversity programs is to address those problems.

Of course, there'd be no reason in Japan to consider Asians as a special group. These diversity councils are in the US, so, of course, I'm talking about dealing with issues that women, blacks, Latinos, Asians, gays & lesbians, handicapped people... have in the business environment in the United States. Those issues would be different — and the groups would be different — in other parts of the world.

And yes, I'd be delighted to see all this go away because it's not needed any more.

Yoshiko said...

Yes, I understand your points and I really think it's great that IBM has promoted the diversity program all over the world. In fact, even in Asia, "Asian" is one of key criteria, which dose not mean "American-Asian", of course, though. What we are looking at is how we could improve "Asian" contribution to IBM since the company is a global company, but still very US centric company.

But as an Asian , I always feel a little uncomfortable when US folks talks "Asian" in the diversity program ( not for US diversity program like what you are talking about ) because it sounds like "OK, Asian is Asian. there is no difference between India and China, nor Japan and Korea". I don't know if I can explain well though...

Well, so it's something like that... you know, if you live in the world ( or society ) where budheads are not paid or not promoted appropriately. Of course, this is not right, so people is trying to correct it and keep talking again and again, "OK, we should think about "budheads and minorities."" Maybe budheads sometimes feel , "yea, I am a budhead, so what ? ". Of course, I don't have anyone specific in my mind when I say "budhead". :-)

Again, I really think the program is great and we are benefitted from that. ( not only in the US IBM , but for all over IBM. )