Black History Month - stop talking, start being, says HP Inc’s Chief Diversity Officer

Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett By Madeline Bennett February 22, 2021 Audio mode
Summary:
Every single company needs to put in the work around racial equality, according to HP’s Chief Diversity Officer Lesley Slaton Brown.

HP Inc
(HP Inc)

When Hewlett-Packard separated into two companies back in 2015, the newly formed HP Inc – comprising the PCs and printers side of the business - had the opportunity to build diversity in from scratch and become more of a reflection of modern society than its 80-year old Silicon Valley 'parent'.

According to HP Inc's Chief Diversity Officer, Lesley Slaton Brown:

When you think about the opportunity that HP had at separation, it was really to form the most diverse board of directors in Fortune 100 tech companies. We did so by first saying, ‘We have the ability to create and stand up an infrastructure that will be successful, a lasting infrastructure, which lasts well beyond Lesley and well beyond Enrique Lores [HP Inc CEO] and all those folks’.

It's kind of like a do-over, if you will - ‘Let's build from our legacy and let's create this infrastructure that then allows us holistically to look at, think about and attack the barriers that exist today’.

What came out of that intent was a board of directors formed of 54% total minorities, 46% women and 30%  under-represented minorities. The executive leadership team, meanwhile, is  54% total minorities, 23% women and 23% under-represented minorities. 

That’s all very commendable, but fast forward to 2020, and HP found itself prompted to re-evaluate its diversity strategy by events in the wider world. Slaton Brown explains:  

Quite honestly, I would say the brutal murder of George Floyd gave us the opportunity to really bring the ‘purple elephant’ conversation to the table. And that is that as a US-based company, systemic racism exists and HP exists to create technology for everyone everywhere. 

So when you look at the mission of the company and you look at the barriers that exist within not only our country, but globally, it is the opportunity to marry those things together and say, ‘No longer will we have the pay discrepancies between men and women, and white women and brown women and black women’. When we start thinking about equity, we have to think it more holistically.

Tasked

Out of this came the HP Racial Equality and Social Justice Task Force, constructed around three specific pillars: people, industry, and local/national. The idea was to set some very specific goals to achieve a greater sense of belonging for Black and African-American people in particular. 

For the people element, this includes achieving 90% (up from 84%) in inclusion index scoring for Black and African American employees in 2021; doubling Black and African American promotion rates and technical representation by 2025; and doubling the number of Black and African American executives by 2025. 

On the latter, HP has already seen a one percent increase in Black and African American VP-level hiring since putting the goal was put in place in June 2020. 
 However, the company’s 55,000-strong workforce is still not reflective of wider society, as is the case with most technology companies. HP’s US workforce is currently just under four percent Black and African American, falling short of the 13% they account for of the total workforce. This is a similar ratio to many other tech vendors, including Salesforce and SAP, which have previously featured as part of our Black History Month series. 

On the industry side, HP is focusing on how to use its industry leadership and spending power to influence its ecosystem of partners, vendors and suppliers. The firm has set itself goals of ten percent HP diversity spend with Black and African-American suppliers by 2022; ten percent of HP supplier account managers to be Black and African American by 2022; and complete STEM pilots and target communities to help build the pipeline for its channel partners and suppliers. HP Inc is also one of the founding signatories to the OneTen initiative, which aims to train, hire and promote one million Black Americans to jobs over the next 10 years.

At the local and national level, the firm wants to be a better advocate for Black and African-Americans through public policy, civic action and clear corporate positions, and also protect and expand diversity, equality and inclusion rights through legislation. Slaton Brown explains:

One of the things that we've already done there is working with California legislators to enforce Black and African-American representation on boards of directors for tech companies. Since June of last year, we've already pushed that through, working with our legislation.

Supporting criminal justice, policy reform and police practices that help foster greater trust and safety is another focus area, she adds: 

Where HP has the ability to influence within the communities that we live and work in, we want to make it a better and more psychologically safe community for people. Think of places like Boise in Idaho, Corvallis in Oregon and Vancouver in Washington - those are places where HP has large businesses or sites. When we have interns come in who are ethnically different than the broader community, we want them to be safe. We want them to not be harassed and not be discriminated against within the communities that they live in and work in.  So it's not just about being able to bring your whole self to work, it is about being in a community that is fully supportive as well, and safe for you and for your family.

One specific measure HP is taking here is to forge partnerships and education with the police force and municipalities within the communities in which its staff live and work. One of the firm’s largest hubs is in Houston, Texas, and a couple of months back, it had the Chief of Police come in and talk with the team there:

It was our first step in beginning to build a relationship with the police force. It is what's needed to reduce bias and micro-aggressions perhaps, and what impact we can make in building those partnerships to do training, to do education, to do engagement together in order to eradicate that.

Ongoing progress

Slaton Brown meets with her CEO monthly to share where the firm is along its goals and the metrics put in place:

If we see yellow or red, there's action that has to be taken immediately. I love that we have our senior leader, our executive leadership, that says, ‘I'm holding you accountable, and I'm holding myself accountable’. Each of our executive leaders made a pledge around racial equality and social justice. Each one made a personal and a professional pledge, whether it's to have courageous conversations within their organization, to check in on people, to do better hiring, more aggressive hiring.

Although HP believes that it has a “phenomenal culture of inclusion and belonging” today, Slaton Brown says the firm wants to find out how that pans out for Black people and has put various measures in place to evaluate this:

How are we experiencing the day-to-day within this corporate environment, this kind of white-normalized corporate structure? When you think about equity, when you think about equality, it is now looking at these different demographics.

The company carries out annual and quarterly surveys to assess the general population’s take on HP and diversity and then drills down into the experiences of  Black and African-American, Latino employees and women. It also tracks whether Black and African-Americans are being offered the same opportunity to get nominated for key talent programs, for example, and when they do go through those programs, whether there are movement or promotion opportunities equal to other staff within the general population. 

While HP has set itself some very public targets around racial equality within its own workforce, Slaton Brown shies away from referring to those goals as quotas, a term that often has negative connotations around diversity. However, she is less reticent in calling on “every single company” to do the work that needs to be done here:

When you look at the gap of what's represented within the workforce today and what the general population is, you have to be able to see the barriers that have been put in place. Some of us have navigated through that and quite honestly are trying to usher in space for others to come along. But it is a time right now for wanting to be very intentional, intentional daily about the work that you can do. 

What I say at HP is that everybody has to be in. You have to start looking and challenging yourself, wanting to have the courageous conversations, to educate yourself. Don't look to a person of color to educate you, but educate yourself about where your own biases and micro-aggressions exist and the impact that you can have in your day-to-day job to make a difference. Ultimately it is, 'Stop talking about it and start being about it'.