74 • HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Spring 2005 team plays the key staff role, total delegation spectators, but for those who thrive on from the top, without active involvement, is change—not for change alone, but change a recipe for failure. that is a catalyst for improvement—creating fairness when it doesn’t exist, moving organ- It’s About Leadership izations from separate but equal points ofThe cornerstone view to inclusiveness, and migrating peoplein the partner- There’s a great deal of debate about the qual- from conflict to collaboration.ship between ities needed for a successful diversity execu- Diversity leaders also can learn from thesenior linemanagement tive. “What attributes must a diversity execu- leadership of Tom Watson Jr. When it in-and diversity tive have in order to be effective in volved IBM, he also sought to live by his val-leadership must corporations today?” and “How can a diver- ues as he led the business. In his book, Abe their passion sity executive work in the corporate board- Business and Its Beliefs, Watson said, “If anabout the room but stay in touch with the various con- organization is to meet the challenges of apeople working stituency groups and their needs and still changing world, it must be prepared tofor theircompany and remain credible and effective?” are questions change everything about itself except its basictheir customers. asked by experts and executives alike. beliefs as it moves through corporate life. The During my 37-year IBM career, I’ve only sacred cow in an organization should be thought about these questions often, and its basic philosophy of doing business.” about the answers even more. I always come And so, he identified three basic beliefs to the same conclusion: It’s about passion to serve as the cornerstone of IBM’s ap- and leadership. Do we exhibit leadership both proach to business: (1) respect for the indi- in our personal approach to diversity and the vidual, (2) service to the customer, and (3) policies we embrace for our company, and do excellence must be a way of life. Watson led we care about the outcome of the debates we by these beliefs, reflecting his view of the val- engage in? Do we hate to lose? ues required to lead a great company during the time in which he lived and worked. In a Leadership by Example personal meeting with Mr. Watson in 1990, I asked him why he wrote what I believe is To answer these questions, I look at two peo- America’s first equal opportunity policy letter ple I have learned from and admire greatly— in 1953—one year before the U.S. Supreme Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision and Tom Watson Jr. of IBM. “Life is not a integrating America’s schools and 11 years spectator sport,” said Robinson, who broke before the Civil Rights Act. the baseball color barrier in 1947. “If you’re The letter communicated his commit- going to spend your whole life in the grand- ment to fairness and inclusion. Mr. Watson stand just watching what goes on, in my replied that during negotiations with the gov- opinion you’re wasting your life.” ernors of two southern states regarding the And Robinson lived as he believed. While building of IBM plants, he told them there in the Army, from 1942–1945, before base- would be no “separate but equal” racial poli- ball, Robinson challenged segregation at cies at IBM. To ensure the governors took Camp (Fort) Hood. As he went through mili- him seriously, he wrote a letter to his man- tary channels stating his case to superior offi- agement team in 1953 and made the letter cers, Robinson’s protest led to desegregation public. As a result, he said, both governors at the camp. He also once faced and defeated responded by choosing payroll and tax dollars court martial proceedings after refusing to over bad social policy. They chose progress. move to the back of an Army bus when the The cornerstone in the partnership be- driver gave the order. Robinson’s protest, a le- tween senior line management and diversity gitimate one since Army regulations prohib- leadership must be their passion about the ited discrimination on government vehicles, people working for their company and their eventually led to all charges being dismissed. customers. Leaders must help all people in- Robinson laid out a valuable lesson for volved with their business understand that diversity executives today. Our work is not for workforce diversity can be the bridge between
Managing Workforce Diversity at IBM: A Global HR Topic That Has Arrived • 75the workplace and the marketplace. Passion Are we being evenhanded? Are we justis contagious, and when combined with lead- saying, well, gay and lesbian people workership, the equation is very effective. here, so we must solve this benefits thing? To achieve this convergence of passions, Or do we see them as a part of our core busi- A diversitythe most important quality for a diversity ness environment—employees, leaders, and leader must be able to drawleader is the ability to motivate others to be customers? We must ask the same inclusion others into thepart of the leadership on this subject, and see questions about our disabled community. Is debate and beit as part of their personal day-to-day per- our approach to “disability” anchored in sym- the catalyst thatformance. A diversity leader must be able to pathy or based on respect for the individual can convincedraw others into the debate and be the cata- and a high regard for “ability”? others that helping tolyst that can convince others that helping to Third, a key emerging issue is the con- change thechange the content and character of the cept of being global, whether we’re in the content andworkplace makes the team stronger and a United States, Europe, the Asia-Pacific re- character of thebetter performer in the marketplace. gion, Latin America, or Africa. When we look workplace at our businesses, do we see a company that makes the team stronger and aWhy Is Diversity Leadership Important? is limited to conducting its day-to-day opera- better performer tions in our country, or do we have a per- in the market-The answer to why diversity leadership is spective that crosses borders? What are our place.important is simple: Our work is not done. expectations about our business’s conduct inFirst, we have not solved the problems of other countries? Do we have a commitmentgender and race. Women represent more to ensure fairness in the treatment ofthan 50% of the world’s population, but women, people with disabilities, gays and les-they’re not 50% of our workforce and cer- bians, and ethnic minorities—no mattertainly have not achieved parity on our man- where we do business? Are we taking steps toagement and executive teams. They are, understand the workforce diversity legisla-however, increasingly becoming executives tion in each country where we do business?and owners of their own businesses. We Is our company in compliance with the ex-must view them in a more important and in- pectations of the legislation in each countryclusive context—as workforce talent and where we do business?customers. The issue of race has been a pivotal item A Heritage of Leadership and Diversityin the United States since its founding.Today, driven by immigration patterns, the IBM is committed to building a workforce asgrowing presence of people of color as citi- broad and diversified as the customer base itzens, business owners, and customers puts serves in 165 countries. Reflective of thisthis issue on the social, business, and politi- customer base, we have a broad definition ofcal agendas of many countries. diversity. In addition to race, gender, and Second, the gay and lesbian workplace physical disabilities, it includes human dif-issue achieved legitimacy as a discussion ferences such as culture, lifestyle, age, reli-topic in the last decade. The driving force was gion, economic status, sexual orientation,the debate around whether or not to offer do- gender identity and expression, marital sta-mestic partner benefits. Although approxi- tus, thought, and geography.mately 145 Fortune 500 companies offer do- We consider diversity a business impera-mestic partner benefits today, most tive as fundamental as delivering superiorcompanies don’t. Although the domestic part- technologies in the marketplace. And to en-ner benefits issue is still a legitimate topic of sure that talented people can contribute atdiscussion, we must move forward within the the highest possible level, our company in-gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT) dis- sists on a workplace that is free of discrimi-cussions to address issues of leadership. Do nation and harassment and full of opportu-we have equivalent programs to attract, de- nity for all people.velop, and retain GLBT talent as we have At IBM, diversity is composed of the fol-done for women and people of color? lowing three areas: equal opportunity, affir-
76 • HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, Spring 2005 mative action, and work/life. The common ter, since each of Palmisano’s predecessors denominator is access to the workplace—ac- had personalized their commitment to build- cess through an environment free of harass- ing an inclusive IBM community where tal- ment in a workplace that provides the tools ent was the common denominator. After to eliminate disadvantage and that under- more than a century of small victories, IBM’sIt’s clear to me stands that work/life balance makes it possi- record in diversity is unassailable—one thatthat IBM’s ble for employees to come to work and be is unmatched by any other company in its in-leaders, in productive. dustry. The forward-thinking vision of theeverygeneration, From its inception more than a century company’s CEOs has put IBM on the fore-believed that ago, IBM has embraced workforce diversity front of promoting diversity, challenging in-diversity was as a fundamental value. IBM’s commitment stitutional barriers that preclude a more in-right for the to workforce diversity can be traced back to clusive community.company no 1899, when we hired our first female and What is the future of diversity at IBMmatter what the black employees—20 years before women’s and where is it heading? According toprevailingissues of the day suffrage, 10 years before the founding of the Palmisano, the lesson IBM draws from amandated. NAACP, and 36 years after the signing of the century of leadership in diversity is to stay Emancipation Proclamation. And part of that true to the company’s shared values. The heritage is the fact that eight IBM chairmen marketplace demands it, and it’s what we be- have acknowledged the importance of work- lieve—and have always believed—is the right force diversity to our business, to our cul- thing to do. ture, to the marketplace, and as a corner- stone of our IBM values. Global Diversity Winning Plays Under the leadership of IBM Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano, IBM’s values have Today at IBM, we’re attacking diversity issues been redefined and drive everything we do. through innovation and actions that we call They are: winning plays. These winning plays are dis- tinctive and allow us to execute globally and • dedication to every client’s success; compete locally. Here are some examples. • innovation that matters—for our company and for the world; and • Building on what was America’s pre- • trust and personal responsibility in mier corporate commitment to basic all relationships child and dependent care initiatives in the 1980s/1990s to create IBM’s It’s clear to me that IBM’s leaders, in $50 million Global Work/Life Fund every generation, believed that diversity was Strategy in 2000–2006. We remain right for the company no matter what the the only company to have such a prevailing issues of the day mandated. That strategy, which includes 74 child kind of leadership didn’t just happen. It care center relationships around the sprang from our shared beliefs and values, globe. and from the efforts of our visionary • Creating eight executive task forces founders to infuse every aspect of our busi- in 1995 (Asian, Black, Hispanic, Na- ness conduct with the deeply held convic- tive American, Gay/Lesbian [cur- tions of IBMers. And that type of leadership rently named Gay/Lesbian/Bisex- begins with the CEO and the leadership ual/Transgender], People with team. Disabilities, Men, and Women) to When Sam Palmisano, IBM’s eighth each look at IBM through the lens of CEO, took over the helm of IBM in 2002, he their group and answer these four not only had the responsibility for heading questions: What is required for your up one of the world’s leading global technol- group to feel welcomed and valued ogy companies, but he was also entrusted here? What can IBM, in partnership with ensuring that IBM continued its com- with your group, do to maximize your mitment to diversity. This was no trivial mat- productivity? What decisions can
Managing Workforce Diversity at IBM: A Global HR Topic That Has Arrived • 77 IBM make to influence the buying nority issues becoming a dominant factor in decisions of your group? What out- the labor market. side organizations that represent the When we look at the landscape, we are interests of your group should IBM confident we will maintain a path of innova- have a relationship with? tion and leadership. Every year, we demon- • Growing our investment in our sup- strate our willingness to solve new chal- plier diversity program from $370 lenges. In Canada, for example, we million in 1995 to $1.3 billion in developed separate washing facilities for our 2003 in the United States and $263 Muslim employees who must cleanse their million outside the United States. feet before they pray; more than 100 em- • Helping to address the digital divide ployees use the solution daily. In Brazil, as a through programs like our signature result of our EXITE camp, we had a 16-year- initiatives, including Reinventing old girl open a bakery business. Education, Native American, Black For IBM, maintaining the integration of Family, and La Familia Technology our global diversity initiatives within the Weeks, to offering Exploring Inter- mainstream of the corporation is crucial to ests in Technology and Engineering our future success in the information tech- (EXITE Camps) for middle-school nology industry. girls. Diversity is becoming a key factor in help- • Showcasing our assistive technology ing to define leadership in today’s market- at the California State University place. Workforce diversity is about effectively Northridge Conference and subse- reaching customers and markets. As a com- quently in six Global Accessibility pany, we are clearer than ever before about Centers. our values and our commitment to diversity. • Incorporating the eight constituen- I know we have some very tough and cies mentioned above into our adver- challenging diversity issues today. I also know tising and marketing campaigns— the world is smaller today than it was when I which speaks to advocacy. was growing up. But one thought has guided me during my lifetime: My mother continues The business of workforce diversity is to tell me to always set high goals. She says,constantly evolving and presents us with new “Never reach for the mountaintop. If you fall,and different challenges, especially as busi- you may fall to the bottom of the mountain.nesses become more global. Always reach for the stars; if you miss you One major winning play we are develop- may land on the mountaintop.” We still haveing at IBM is a global workforce strategy that several mountaintops worth pursuing.will span 2004 through 2010. This strategy If reaching for the stars will help ourwill address the growing equal opportunity companies have the most diverse, talentedlegislation taking shape around the world, workforce we can assemble in our respec-play a positive role in shaping the debate tive marketplaces, then it is a goal we oweabout global sourcing, and respond to the to our shareholders, customers, and em-growing variety of multicultural/ethnic mi- ployees to pursue. J. T. (Ted) Childs Jr. is IBM’s vice president of global workforce diversity, with worldwide responsibility for workforce diversity programs and policies. He is a gradu- ate of West Virginia State College and a member of the board of directors and a past president of the University’s Foundation. He is also a member of the Executive Lead- ership Council and the Conference Board’s Work Force Diversity Council. Ted has served on various councils including the New York State Governor’s Advisory Council on Child Care, the White House Conference on Aging, and the U.S. Treasury Secre- tary’s Working Group on Child Care.