I did my undergraduate work in Manpower Management, which focused on the tools then in place to grow employees to their full potential. As you would expect, this educational path had a lot of focus on psychology, behavior, group dynamics, manipulation, and applied training. This background had me conclude early on that the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) approach to the problem was going to fail, and given that decades later we are still struggling with adequate diversity in even brand new companies, I think I was proven right.
I remain fascinated by the work Tracy Keogh, HP’s Chief Human Resources Officer, has done at that company. HP’s recent Sustainable Impact Report showcases market-leading advances in several environmental areas, but where I’m going to focus is on their progress on diversity. This progress far exceeds most companies, and that is because Tracy, and HP’s executive management, focused on understanding the problem and then executed a comprehensive plan. This plan wasn’t like most seem to be, focused on optics, but on transforming HP into a successful, diverse company where success and diversity weren’t an oxymoron. They showcase that you not only can do one without hurting the other, but by doing both, you can become even more successful.
Let’s explore HP and diversity this week.
HP, like most technology companies, was mostly white male staffed, at least in line and operational roles. It was the nature of the initial technology world that engineers - and engineers who ran companies - were, to no small extent, primarily white and male.
HP has had two female CEOs, both rather famous for not caring for their subordinates much and for not doing much for women in technology. I still think this was mainly due to the EEOC-related practice of having minority quotas that pitted minorities against each other for jobs earmarked to be diverse. This impression forced women and other minorities into seeing other minority members as rivals rather than partners in a more significant effort to increase diversity at their firms.
Done right, as HP is doing it, diversity isn’t a disadvantage the employee has to overcome or cover up, it is an advantage providing real benefits to the modern company. If we look at some of the better books, like “Technically Wrong,” many, if not most of the failed products brought to market have resulted from a lack of diversity in teams creating them. Teams that aren’t diverse struggle far more, creating products that need to sell in what is a diverse marketplace.
Presenting diversity as something that the government requires as opposed to something a successful company needs to be successful is a long-standing mistake, and HP realized that years ago. But to do it successfully, you need to drive diversity at all levels of the company, particularly at the top. If you skip the executive staff, all you then do is reinforce the glass ceiling you continue to be crippled by a lack of diverse thinking.
HP started their changes at the top; their board, which used to be all old white guys (kind of like me), is now 42% women and 58% U.S. minorities. It once was rare to see an HP woman executive, and now 23% are women, and given directors are now 31% (and directors tend to advance to VPs), the women executive percentage will continue to advance. Overall, women in critical roles in the company now represent a whopping 55% of the employee base. Currently, new hires are at 40% women and 40% U.S. minorities. And given how we often forget our veterans, HP set an aggressive target for veteran hires and exceeded it by 43%.
They’ve driven the concept of diversity into the company, with 92% of the employees believe in this effort, which is very uncommon in older firms. One of the big problems for most firms is the existing, mostly male, white employee base, and employees don’t believe in diversity because they falsely believe it puts their job at risk. But the more significant risk is a failed company, and diversity reduces that chance of failure.
Wrapping Up: The Core Of The Problem
At the core of diversity, the problem appears to be a systemic belief that people are like some universal non-existent machine. They can do anything; they can hold any job; they are truly created equal. But the fact is they aren’t. Our likes are different; our skills are different, our living conditions are different, and what makes us happy is different. If you want to fix a problem like an employee mix and not cripple the company and create a whole new set of problems, you have to be pragmatic. Much like a doctor must choose not only the right organ for a transplant but the right donor, you still have to match the employee to the job.
Enrique Lores and his predecessor Dion Weisler (who just joined Intel’s board) understood the delicate and challenging nature of this problem and backed Tracy Keogh to the hilt. As a result, the firm has made fantastic progress over the last five years, not only with diversity but making HP into a more reliable, more successful, and far more powerful company in a global effort to improve the world. And, as a result, you can see the resulting pride in the employees and executives, and the vastly improved quality and innovation.
We need more positive examples like HP, but the only way to get there is to forge a company into a team that together can address the problem in the context of creating a more successful company. This diversity effort was very nicely done. Oh, and one more thing, they attribute $1.6B to their sustainability and diversity efforts, so even the financial rewards for doing this right are, in fact, very significant. But the real benefit is that they created a company with a heart, and that, my friends, is priceless.
Rob Enderle has been a TechnologyAdvice columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an AS, BS, and MBA in merchandising, human resources, marketing, and computer science. Enderle is currently president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly worked at IBM and served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester.