Ronald C. Glover, vice-president, diversity and workforce programs, helps unify people across time zones, languages and cultures

Globe and Mail
January 26, 2009

Randy Ray

Diversity has particular global importance to IBM. About two-thirds of its revenues come from outside the United States. To remain competitive, IBM needs employee populations that mirror and understand the markets it serves uniting different cultures, languages, geographic origins, professions and perspectives into one globally integrated enterprise.

As a result of its diversity programs, IBM has experienced a 500-per-cent increase in female executives since 1997.

Sixty-five per cent of its global female executives are working mothers; and there are 16 female country managers in locations such as Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Spain. IBM’s U.S. African-American executive population has grown by 130 per cent over the past 10 years.

Randy Ray: What is the role of a diversity officer?

Ron Glover: The job involves helping a company connect externally to various communities to improve the pipeline of talent and working to create a positive environment inside the company. A diversity officer has to improve the leadership ability of a team to manage people across time zones, cultures and language differences. IBM is a globally integrated company; so if you work here, you are likely to be on teams where people speak a different language, work in a different company, with a different perspective on technology and who come from a profession entirely different than yours. We are always calling on resources from across the globe to work together, so my ability to understand how someone in Asia deals with conflict, hierarchy and communicating becomes a critical ingredient in melding people as a team.

IBM as a company can succeed only if it gets the best and brightest people in the marketplace. We understand that those really smart, bright and capable people can be found in every part of the human family and that no race, gender or socio-economic class has the corner on the market for talented people. If we want them to choose IBM, we have to provide an environment where those differences are understood. It is my job to help the company make a connection to those parts of the community by reaching out with thoughtful practices to make sure that happens. We also offer programs and policies to ensure we understand and learn about those similarities and differences, and that we engage in ways to teach people how to benefit from those differences.

What does the job involve?

For me and my team, the task is to figure out externally where we are most likely to make contact with people who are not always visible, who we can use as a pool of talent. We work with universities, professional associations and non-profit organizations that are trying to develop talent within various communities, such as women’s groups or associations of Hispanic engineers, so we can get our message out. These organizations have the same aim as us, so we partner with them. As a consequence, when people in that community look for opportunities, they think positively about IBM.

My team also has specific activities, such as holding summer camps that get kids interested in math and science. We work with diversity associations when they run recruiting fairs to ensure jobs at IBM are visible to all recruits. The end goal is to connect to communities that have the talent we need.

When people of various backgrounds come to our company, we work to help them form diversity network groups in the company, and then we engage with other employees to understand needs of people in those groups. Aboriginal employees, for example, can form a diversity network and they will support each other, mentor each other to improve their professional and technical skills, to share insights with their community and with their colleagues. This improves engagement and dialogue and they help us deliver further mentoring at summer camps and with students at universities

Do you get buy-in from your executives?

Our executives are better than just supportive. The way we manage is that everyone who reports directly to the CEO has direct responsibility for one of the communities – women, Asians, Hispanics, etc. There are Hispanic executives, aboriginal executives that represent a community, who, in fact, sponsor that community, and we work with them to understand the needs of that community to design responsive programs.

For example, the senior vice-presidents who are the sponsor of a particular community design programs to help managers understand how the attitudes of women impact women. Three to five years after we started doing this, the number of women executives has increased at IBM by over 500 per cent.

Do you feel your role as diversity officer is a public relations kind of job, something for a company’s optics, or is it something that actually makes a difference?

IBM runs on the competence of its people; the success of the company is in direct relationship to how good our people are. We are in a war for good people around the globe and the talent we need is in short supply. We believe diversity means we are more effective in terms of the productivity of our global teams, which are the core of our success.

Are there differences between how the diversity issue operates in the workplace in Canada as opposed to America or other parts of the world?

Yes. Canada has its own issues. In Canada you are looking at shifts in demographics. Aboriginal people coming to the workplace and gaining real opportunities, differences in the language and culture between Quebec and the rest of the country.

Canada is a country with multiple languages and cultures and all of these things have an impact on what goes on in the workplace. And there are a whole different set of issues in Central America around class, educational opportunities and women that are not found in Canada.

Does having a diverse workplace actually help the company’s bottom line?

The simple fact of the matter is that there is great talent everywhere but if everyone comes from the same place, speaks the same language and goes to the same school, what are the chances of getting a lot of innovation? They are not good. There is a difference in the way we experience and look at the world and that is one of the engines of innovation.

Diversity is also helpful in the markets we deal with. By having people from many communities, we are more likely to understand the needs and expectations of the marketplace; having someone from South Africa means local knowledge, local experience and local connections and a better chance of success than flying someone in [to South Africa] from New York or France or Germany.

To do business in many countries you need to understand the country, its companies, its people and its culture. The perception of people in those countries is that we are a local company, although we operate globally. We sell to women-owned businesses globally, and to the small and medium business sector and we sell to visible minorities in Canada and to U.S. businesses owned by minorities. We believe we do $1-billion worth of revenue per year selling products and services into those communities.

How does diversity contribute to employee satisfaction?

Employee satisfaction at IBM is measured by simple issues, such as attrition rates or people’s commitment to stay with the company. Another interesting measurement is when we ask people to help us recruit talent from various communities. How many people are willing to do that for IBM? The answer is that I have yet to have an occasion where I have called on my employees where they have not shown up on work time, after hours and on weekends.

They help because they care about the issue of diversity.

Reference: Globe and Mail