Black History Month – closing the digital divide is crucial to diversity in tech, says ServiceNow's Karen Pavlin

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett February 28, 2022 Audio mode
Summary:
In the final piece of our Black History Month series, ServiceNow’s Karen Pavlin explains why virtual reality and veterans are part of the firm’s DE&I strategy.

ServiceNow

From an early age, a career in diversity seemed destined for ServiceNow’s first Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer, Karen Pavlin. Growing up in New Jersey, she lived in a community where Black families were rare, and her father was one of the first African Americans drafted into the NBA.

On a full track scholarship at the University of Virginia, Pavlin trained hard to be a nationally-ranked NCAA 400-meter hurdler, which helped set her on the path she is walking today.  She recalls:

Running allowed me to connect with people from different backgrounds and experiences than my own. Sports can be this incredibly great equalizer when it comes to race and identity.

Pavlin began her career in technology at Xerox, where she worked for over 20 years in various sales, technology, leadership and business transformation roles. She also led a global diversity council and several employee resource groups there, before joining Accenture, where most recently she was North America Inclusion and Diversity Leader.

Coincidentally, Pavlin’s first boss at Xerox was Bill McDermott, who took the helm at ServiceNow in 2019, after long stints at both Xerox and SAP. Pavlin credits McDermott with being an early diversity champion:

He was the one that demonstrated and modeled inclusion and belonging long before it was a thing, literally 30 years ago on my team, which was my first sales team and was truly diverse.

Progress

Pavlin began her new role at ServiceNow in January, joining a company with a broad DE&I strategy already in place, made up of five pillars:

  • Workforce training via inclusive learning programs that build awareness, address bias and drive behavioral change.
  • Equality for all, creating and evolving the equitable process through policies and practices.
  • Giving employees a voice to foster a sense of belonging and share experiences.
  • Lobbying for good, using support and direct action to advocate for change.
  • Recruitment/career advancement to further increase representation and inclusiveness across all levels.

The company made great strides in 2021, Pavlin says. The business has integrated diversity, inclusion and belonging tenets into all its flagship learning and development programs, including manager training and global leadership development courses. It has also expanded its DE&I micro-learning modules to incorporate additional technologies like virtual reality and AI:

This helps to make our employees feel even closer to the situations they're exploring and living in those shoes of under-represented communities.

The firm has a wide array of Employee Resource Groups, including Black at Now, Latinx at Now, Interfaith at Now and Veterans at Now. The belonging groups each have sponsors inside of the community, as well as an executive leadership sponsor from the most senior level, explains Pavlin: 

What's really important is that we have very strong ally participation inside these belonging groups. You don't have to be a part of that community, you could be an ally and still be aligned to Pride at Now or People with Disabilities at Now or Black at Now, even if you are not within that particular community or not of that particular demographic.

Divide

As well as supporting its own staff, ServiceNow is striving to help close the digital divide through its work with non-profit organizations for underserved communities. The firm launched its Next Gen Program in early 2019 to open up digital careers to people with non-traditional backgrounds. In 2020, the program was expanded and intentionally focused on communities of color with engagements and grants to organizations such as The Prince’s Trust, Hack the Hood and Tech Bridges. Pavlin expects this work to lead to 8,000 participants placed in jobs over the next several years.

The decision to target communities of color for career opportunities comes at a time when ServiceNow’s workforce is 3% Black or African American, in line with the enterprise technology industry, including Zendesk and Zuora. This represents an increase at ServiceNow of almost a percentage point, compared to the previous three years when the number hardly shifted, indicating progress is being made. Pavlin says: 

From a recruitment perspective, last year we were able to meet all our diversity goals for Black, Latinx and women at senior level. One of our key areas for 2022 and beyond is hiring with intention. We are focused on recruiting top talent across the organization at all levels, and not just simply accepting the status quo.

One way of increasing diversity in recruitment involves the firm’s Solution Consulting Academy, originally created to help early career talent. In 2021, ServiceNow added Armed Forces veterans to the mix, helping former military launch their post-service careers as trusted advisors to sales teams. Pavlin observes: 

It was a good match. Veterans understand the intricacies of our federal business accounts and the concept of what we call winning as a team. We are looking forward to continuing to evolve and expand the focus on hiring with more intention.

Overall, Pavlin is optimistic about the prospect of progress, and the fight for racial equality and championing a voice for all becoming a movement, not just a moment:

When you look at D&I five years ago, it's not the same as it was. We are building this plane while we're flying it, there's no roadmap. The amount of movement that we've experienced in the last two years has been tremendous.]

However, this will only happen with leaders at the helm who believe in the power of diversity and understand it’s not just a nice to have, it's an incredible opportunity to drive sustainable growth and a sense of belonging inside their company.

My take

Pavlin’s remark that diversity isn’t just a nice to have is certainly borne out by the data. A 2020 survey from Glassdoor revealed that 76% of job hunters said a diverse workforce was important when evaluating companies and work offers, while 37% wouldn’t apply to a firm that had negative ratings among people of color. Businesses really can’t afford to ignore the pressure coming from staff, especially among younger generations, to build and retain diverse workforces. Hopefully, the advice from our BHM 2022 series will inspire more companies to take seriously the link between DE&I and the ongoing battle for tech talent.

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