This week HP announced they would achieve a 50% diversity goal in leadership by 2030, and this isn’t a trivial goal given the shortage of a diverse workplace. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, HP had one of the most interesting and effective internship programs I’ve yet seen. I had a friendly chat with Lesley Slaton Brown, the Chief Diversity Officer for HP, this week and found the progress HP has made over this last year impressive.
Let me share some of the things we discussed.
The Importance And Problem With Diversity
Diversity is essential if you want a company that reflects the diversity of its market and can best match products and services to the market it serves. Diversity also provides a natural defense against misogyny and abuse. There tends to be strength in numbers in a diverse company providing stronger protection for abused victims and better assuring abusive managers do not advance or even stay with the company.
You can put in place lots of protections for women, but the strongest is generally more women. While women often get disproportionately placed into staff rather than line roles driving higher diversity percentages and increasingly selecting qualified female engineers becomes a forcing function over time together assuring the more diverse company future HP is driving to achieve. You can tell a company has made meaningful progress when line executives at senior levels become more diverse.
Until that happens, however, the company is often fighting itself when it comes to diversity because the predominantly male executives will see women as a threat and form a glass ceiling. And one or two women do not fix the problem because they’ll feel unique and protective of their spot, and rather than promoting other women to advance may instead see those women as rivals and work against the effort.
Finally, the more integrated the company becomes, the easier it is to integrate and the more natural protection against abuse, discrimination, and bias. In many ways, the kind of progress HP is showcasing is a tide that raises all diverse boats.
HP isn’t yet where they need to be with diversity, yet they arguably are leaders in this effort in the tech industry, showing just how far the industry has to go. Strategically, HP invests in STEM education, recruiting from colleges and universities that focus on diverse students. It actively funds and promotes programs that drive minorities to STEM education and engineering-like degrees and careers.
One of HP’s most exciting efforts is how they handled interns during the pandemic. Most companies collapsed their intern programs because, with most everyone working from home, none seemed to know what to do with the interns. HP created a summer scholar’s program where 3,500 students learned what it takes to run a company like HP over the summer.
They also brought in 250 interns to work with their teams and build a potential entry point into HP, and—with a better than 90% conversion rate—almost all these interns are expected to convert to become full-time HP employees. Interns work one day a week or one Friday a month while in the program, with the benefit being an almost assured job when they complete their education.
There is a considerable amount of stress and anxiety for those graduating from higher education regarding finding subsequent employment. This relative job surety undoubtedly mitigates those concerns while better guiding the student on a career path with a higher probability of success because of the student’s experiences in the program.
Wrapping Up: Solid Progress
Fixing the diversity problem in tech requires a multi-faceted approach that is evident in HP’s effort. They are working with education to improve the diversity in their candidates—setting concrete, measurable diversity goals in all levels of the company, and being public about those goals to survive changes in executive staff and board makeup.
It is always a treat for me to see someone as competent as Lesley Slaton Brown in a diversity and inclusion role because it showcases that the firm takes diversity seriously. Granted, I know HP’s CEO Enrique Lores and already appreciate that he takes diversity very seriously, so it is so well resourced and staffed at the company.
HP is among the growing number of technology companies driving this critical diversity trend. Thanks to those leading the company and this effort, they set a solid example for the rest of the industry.