Two years after the murder of George Floyd, it seems that major US corporations have made great strides to address social justice challenges in society. We sat down with Carla Grant-Pickens, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer for IBM, to discuss the importance of diversity in IBM from a reflection by the company after the murder of George Floyd to IBM’s commitment to being an advocate for diversity and equity.
She and her employer are strong advocates for diversity and how a diverse workforce not only supports underserved communities but how it creates stronger results. Diversity and inclusion have been a pillar of IBM’s culture for over 100 years and under Carla’s leadership, the company has been globally recognised as a leader in the space, named as a “Top 10 Working Mother Best Company,” a “Top 10 Company for Dads,” and a “Top Place to Work for LGBTQ Employees” by the Human Rights Campaign, among others.
For Grant-Pickens, her role is to foster a “seat at the table” for those traditionally overlooked while looking for talent regardless of their education level.
Three things struck me when we spoke:
- Diversity is in the DNA of IBM: When I commented on the long-held stereotype of IBM-ers as a monoculture of “straight white men in suits” running a company, she gave credit to founder James Watson for the opposite. She commented: “Our purpose came from Watson who wanted to provide opportunities for those who can think of smart by skills or passionate about their work and it didn’t matter which creed or colour your background just socioeconomic status your gender identity – he wanted great talent and that’s been strategy that we’ve had around ensuring inclusiveness and setting goals to win sure.”
- Commit: Following Floyd’s murder, IBM worked with Embrace Race in cocreation with the Black community to advocate for safety and police reform in the US. As well, as a technology company, IBM used its resources to work with CallForCode.org to cocreate computer code, programmes, and ideas around bias and social justice. They created lots of assets for free-to-download for individuals and organisations committing to addressing bias. As Grant-Pickens notes, “They wanted us committed to growing representation of diverse communities – women and people of colour — and that’s what we’ve been doing with IBM-ers.”
- The myth of talent shortages: In finding diverse talent, Grant-Pickens confronts the suggestion that there is a talent shortage. “I call those myth busters,” says Grants-Pickens. ”We have to confront head on and be intentional. If you are intentional, you will create a strategy and path to find out where that pipelines works. … Going to places you might not usually go, from visiting new schools and working with non-profits, and investing in internships programmes. And having diverse folks doing the recruiting matters. . . You just have to go where the talent is.”
IBM exemplifies how diversity is a competitive advantage. Its approach to responsible business and GrantPickens’ leadership as well as our interview together highlight many of them.