Increasing diversity is a common theme across technology companies, but most will likely fail for several reasons. They are starting at the bottom rather than working from the top, which strengthens the glass ceiling rather than eliminating it. They haven’t addressed a culture that is hostile to women. And they haven’t addressed the core problem of a lack of qualified women candidates, so their candidate pool is too shallow.
IBM is one of only a small number of companies that are addressing all three core causes. They were early with the first two and most aggressive with the last. This problem was highlighted during IBM’s Virtual Think Conference this month when Ginni Rometty shared the stage with philanthropist and artist will.i.am out of the Black Eyed Peas.
Let’s explore that this week.
IBM And Diversity
Unlike a lot of women executives, Ginni Rometty didn’t treat other women as threats and has been unusually supportive of IBM’s diversity efforts during her tenure there. Also, while IBM has been improving its culture for the last several decades, making it one of the few companies where being a woman employee or executive isn’t a significant handicap. I should add they were also one of the first companies to put in place a zero-tolerance policy. When it came to sexual harassment, and I once saw a top executive escorted off the property and fired because he thought this policy wouldn’t apply to him. For at least the last three decades, IBM has taken protecting women very, very seriously.
I should add that IBM has historically been comparatively employee focused. While they don’t have the pensions or employment for life policies that once defined the firm, these were eliminated by the one non-IBM CEO decades ago; they still work to treat every employee with respect, enforce an aggressive open door policy, and tend to have employee loyalty that ranks towards the top of the firms I cover.
And when it comes to AI, not only are they a leader, but unlike other firms who seem to think the goal of AI is to replace employees, IBM’s stated goal is to use AI to enhance their employees instead.
P-Tech And Open P-Tech
As I noted above, however, one of the big problems with the technology industry is the lack of qualified minority candidates. And this starts in grade school. IBM’s P-Tech program (#weareptech) provides courses that help people in need to get a high school degree, an industry-recognized AA (Associate degree), and gain work experience so that they could get an entry job at IBM (or any other tech company).
IBM just announced its Open P-Tech program expands on this in areas where IBM and the industry have or will have shortages in areas like Cybersecurity, Blockchain, Data Science, AI (Artificial Intelligence), design thinking, and professional skills. This last is a critical and often overlooked set of core skills on how to function in a large company.
The programs use digital learning on cutting-edge technology specifically designed for the students. Founding the classes are videos designed to engage the attendees with gamified assignments and assessments designed to spark and hold student interests. The programs are generally free to teachers, students, and even academic institutions. And they can, during these difficult times when most all of us are struggling with kids at home, are an excellent resource for existing teachers and those of us who have suddenly become teachers.
IBM also has a Returnship program and enhances their Internship program for those that had to leave the technical workforce to have kids, follow a spouse, for an illness they have now overcome and want to get back to work but need a skill refresh and a chance.
At Virtual Think this year, Ginni Rometty showcased again not only her heart but the heart of IBM by focusing on the programs the company has pioneered to address diversity problems at their root, the lack of candidates. She was talking with will.i.am who fully supports these efforts she walked us through the massive effort IBM is making to assure we have enough divers’ candidates to eliminate the lack of diversity in the technology industry eventually.
Showing the world the way to get things done has been an informal part of IBM’s legend, and it was great to see it again detailed in what is likely to be Ginni’s Swan Song at Think. I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye than assuring other women have a better chance than she did to become an IBM CEO.
While Ginni doesn’t have daughters of her own, she has made the world better for those that do and, in a way, the women that benefit from these various programs may be her virtual daughters, and with her efforts, she has undoubtedly done them proud. I think that is a legacy anyone should look back on fondly, and a measure of success of which anyone should be proud.