For a company with 355,000 employees serving more than 170 countries, diversity comes with the territory.
“What makes IBM unique is we aren’t trying to build a culture of inclusion and diversity. That is inherently a part of our culture – and not just our culture from an employee perspective but in terms of how we operate the business,” Glover says. “We are truly a global enterprise.”
At IBM, the notion of being ‘global’ isn’t just a tag phrase – it’s the ability to engage people at every level to work effectively together across different countries, time zones, languages and cultures.
Enabling employees to work together across those lines of difference not only fundamentally enables IBM to operate as a truly global enterprise but to operate with efficiency and innovation. “Our job is to fundamentally enhance the ability of the people in this organization to understand those differences, to work with and across them respectfully, and to actually use them to the greatest extent possible to leverage innovation and effectiveness in terms of the work we do and our ability to respond to our clients,” Glover says.
While the cornerstone of IBM’s diversity work centers around eliminating traditional barriers that may exist due to race, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, or language – IBM has also had to address issues of culture that extend beyond the typical attributes associated with differing backgrounds. “We’re seeing that culture now extends to areas of difference across other dimensions such as technical orientation, management style and other domains, which affect how we run the business and interact with others,” Glover acknowledges.
By addressing the gamut of issues that may arise from cultural differences, IBM has maintained a true culture of inclusion that erases any notions or beliefs of hierarchy based on individual differences. “When you begin to build a culture that is respectful and inclusive around things like race, gender and sexual orientation, the organization learns the skills to manage without assumption,” Glover explains. “That skill can be applied across lots of things – so you can put technical and non-technical people together and people don’t necessarily assume that they’re smarter, better, brighter and more able than others.”
A culture of inclusion
The notion of inclusion that’s ingrained in the IBM workforce is critical to success. Operating in 170 countries across the globe requires management to continually take into consideration how management approaches and decisions will need to vary from country to country as cultural differences come into play.
“The places where we operate have cultures, traditions and values that are important to the people who live there and it is never our intention to overrun those cultures,” Glover says. “To the greatest extent possible we try to manage our people and our practices in ways that are respectful of the core principles of any given country or organization or culture.”
As long as those different principles don’t conflict with IBM’s set foundational values or principles, the goal is to create harmony among those ideals and to see that reflected in the workplace, which enables employees to work together more effectively.
Nothing was more evident of IBM’s learned cultural mindset of inclusion than Glover’s response when asked what holiday incentives or practices were entertained around the holiday season for employees. What first came to mind to Glover was not Christmas but rather his upcoming visit to India to celebrate Diwali – a true sign of a mind trained to think with a global perspective.
Such merging of cultures enables employees to celebrate and share their own holidays as well as learn from other traditions that may be unfamiliar to them. “We try to support our employees’ ability to celebrate what are locally appropriate holidays,” Glover expands. “I’m going out with a group of our Indian employees who are celebrating Diwali – and we’re going to do something at one of the local sites to enable them to not only celebrate but to also share their culture and what the festival is about with their fellow IBMers at that location.”
Holidays are just one example of IBM’s overarching global perspective – that same approach is also employed on a daily basis on an operational level. One example Glover references is the notion of how hierarchy may be understood and respected differently among unique cultures. In certain group situations, assumptions are not made that just because someone doesn’t contribute to a conversation that the person isn’t committed or doesn’t understand. “We understand such cultural differences and we find ways to help employees maximize their contribution to the team,” Glover says.
Dividends of diversity
Aside from the day-to-day operational effectiveness that arises from a culture of diversity, there are also huge competitive advantages – largely in the form of recruitment and retention of talent. “When you build that culture and you have a deserved reputation for it in the external world, you tend to be able to attract people who are looking for that,” Glover says.
Glover points out that IBM employees directly cited the opportunity to work with diverse people and to be respected for their differences when asked why they chose to come to IBM. “In fact, employees say that while IBM is among the leaders around diversity for race, gender, sexual orientation, the company has also created that other culture where differences are not assumed to be a sign of inferiority,” Glover elaborates.
Employing individuals who gravitated towards IBM solely for the company’s approach to diversity ultimately translates to higher performance in the workplace, as a result of motivated individuals who are enthusiastic and committed to working in such a diversified workforce.
“More critically, when you have that culture, people experience the organization in a way that says what happens to you next in your career is a function of what you can contribute. That kind of meritocracy working serves as an incentive to motivate people to higher levels of performance.” At IBM, employees know there are no barriers to their career paths based on attributes such as age, sex or gender – but rather success is dependent on the ability to respond to the needs of the business and of the customers.
In fact, the customer component is another huge competitive advantage that’s a core part of a culture of diversity – as it grants organizations an enhanced ability to engage with and relate to customers of all backgrounds. “If you have an inclusive culture and a diverse workforce and you’re a global company, your ability to truly understand the culture and the expectations of your diverse global customers improves pretty significantly,” Glover says. “When the customer looks inside your organization, what they see is themselves – and that’s a huge benefit to the organization as well.”
With such competitive advantages, it’s no surprise why IBM is pleased to be synonymous with diversity. While other companies aren’t quite there yet when it comes to embracing a culture of diversity to the same extent that IBM has, Glover feels that some are catching on and catching up.
“There are some great companies that do great work in diversity but there are others who have not been paying attention to this,” Glover says. “As they try to live in a global world and try to reach out and interact with customers and people that they want to employ around the world, they are beginning to realize how important this kind of inclusive culture is to their ability to attract or retain talent.”
Understanding the needs of both employees and customers is simply part of the game of functioning as a true global enterprise. And IBM will continue to work to improve its acclaimed culture of diversity. “We do operate globally and that means that we need to be able to understand the needs, expectations and issues in different parts of the world,” Glover admits. “We look at where barriers to opportunity may exist for whatever reason in a particular location, and then work with others in HR to knock those down. That’s how we can better help IBM integrate, develop and strengthen our skills around managing across lines of difference.”
IBM is currently working on key diversity objectives for the coming year among the eight constituency groups, including: women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, people with disabilities, GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) and men – in addition to another group that focuses on work life balance.
Along those lines of constituency, there are 195 employee-initiated IBM diversity network groups around the world. Those groups help to drive programs to improve understanding of their related constituency, create community among other members of their group, and to ultimately help the organization be more effective in reaching both customers and employees in that certain area.
While IBM is still finalizing its key diversity objectives for ’08, there will be continued focus on encouraging and implementing education and site specific programs to improve employees’ and managers’ ability to work across lines of difference. Taking into account the differences between a traditional office and today’s global enterprise, IBM is also looking more closely at how to support employees across both their work and personal lives.
“We’re taking a real sharp look at what it means to support employees to achieve success in work and life,” Glover says. “The work is generated here 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Tonight when I’m asleep at three in the morning, somebody in India on my team is generating work. So we want to improve our employees and our managers’ ability to cope with this constant twenty-four day world and that will be a major focus for us as well.”
[Ronald C. Glover is IBM’s Vice President, Global Workforce Diversity, Human Resources, with worldwide responsibility for workforce diversity. Mr. Glover joined IBM in 2003 as Vice President, HR, Integrated Supply Chain, and subsequently became Vice President, HR, IBM Global Services-Americas. Prior to joining IBM, Mr. Glover was Vice President, HR, for i2 Technologies, a global software supplier. Before joining i2 Technologies, he was Vice President, HR, Global IT Outsourcing at Compaq Computer.
Mr. Glover is a member of the Society of Human Resource Managers and the New England Human Resource Association. He is a founding member of both the Conference Board’s Council on Workforce Diversity and the New England Labor Council. Mr. Glover is a guest lecturer and author for the Conference Board and Suffolk University’s Continuing Legal Education Organization and a former adjunct professor of business and labor law at Northeastern University in Massachusetts.]
THE IBM HERITAGE
IBM has become synonymous with diversity, and we highlighted some of the company’s milestone achievements from its long history of diversity.
1899: IBM hired three women, 20 years before women were given the right to vote.
1899: The first black employee was hired ten years before the founding of NAACP and 36 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
1914: IBM hired its first employee with a disability, 76 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act.
1934: IBM recruited its first professional women.
1935: T. J. Watson, Sr., IBM’s founder, said, “Men and women will do the same kind of work for equal pay. They will have the same treatment, the same responsibilities and the same opportunity for advancement,” 28 years before the Equal Pay Act.
1943: IBM appointed its first female vice president.
1944: IBM was the first company to support the United Negro College Fund.
1946: IBM hired its first black salesman.
1953: IBM’s first written Equal Opportunity Policy called for equal opportunity in hiring “regardless of race, color, or creed,” 11 years ahead of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
1956: IBM announces its three-month Leave of Absence Policy, 37 years before the enactment of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
1974: IBM helped to create the Hispanic Leadership Fund.
1995: IBM commissions eight Executive Diversity Task Forces: Asian, Black, Gay/ Lesbian/Bisexual and Transgender, Hispanic, Men, Native American, People with Disabilities and Women.
2001: IBM’s Global Work/Life Fund, which supports employee child and elder care needs, is extended into 2005.
2002: IBM documented its support of ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) act that would create a new federal anti-discrimination law that would prohibit an employer from making a decision to hire, fire, promote or pay a person based on his or her sexual orientation.
2003: IBM launches the Global Accessibility Center to make information technology more accessible to all people regardless of ability or disability.
2003: IBM provided an Amicus Briefing to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the University of Michigan along with other major corporations to include race, among other factors, in its admissions process.
2004: Working Mother magazine recognize IBM as one of the 100 Best Companies for working mothers for the 19th year in a row, and honors IBM as one of the top 10 companies for the 17th year in a row.
2004: IBM launched the Native American Family Technology Journey as part of its continuing corporate responsibility efforts to increase technology education and computer literacy among Native American families and the Native American community.
2005: IBM announces that it will not use genetic information in hiring or in determining eligibility for its health care or benefit plans.