HP Inc aims to have a 50% female executive leadership by 2030. Here’s the plan

Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett By Madeline Bennett May 21, 2021 Audio mode
Summary:
Firm goes public with ambitious targets to increase gender and racial diversity as new research reveals depth of bias against women in the workplace

equality

HP Inc has set itself some bold and public targets to improve gender and racial diversity at the company by 2030.

Currently, nearly a third (around 31%) of HP’s leaders are women, which is already almost double the amount across the tech sector, according to research from Entelo. However, it has been widely documented that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on women, and up to four million women are thought to have left the workplace over this period. HP is now making a concerted effort to support women’s career advancement, in the face of these backward steps.

The firm has set itself a target to achieve gender equality in HP leadership by 2030, increasing the number of women in leadership from 31% to 50%. Across the tech industry, this number is somewhere between 10 to 20%. It has also set a goal of having more than 30% technical women and women in engineering roles by 2030, up from 21% currently. Lesley Slaton Brown, Chief Diversity Officer at HP, explains the thinking behind setting these targets at this point:

Women have been fundamentally left out of opportunities in the tech industry, but yet we're the purchasers of and the decision makers for technology. It's important that we're reflective of our customer base, and so it's important that we bring in leadership that reflects that. We don't have to wait until 2040 and 2045 and 2050 for that to happen. We want to be very intentional about what we need to happen now. It's not going to happen by chance.

HP already has a number of programs in place to help meet these targets, including its Catalyst sponsorship program for women and underrepresented populations to increase their representation in technical and leadership roles, along with leadership programs across the world to help everyone develop inclusive leadership skills. The company is also re-examining at how job descriptions are written in order to attract women:

It is about everybody being in, everybody making the investment in an inclusive workplace for all. We invest in our culture, in leadership skills and characteristics, and principles around how we work and behave, and the places that we go to hire as well. It's a holistic approach that's being taken to ultimately achieve our 2030 goals.

This holistic approach means HP is focusing on both retaining and promoting women who are already at the company, as well as ensuring there is a bigger pool of talent of new women to join the business, she adds:

We make investments early on for education for young girls, for kids of color as well to get them on the trajectory for learning and career development in the technology space, with programs like Hour of Code through to our investment in tech ed at university. We make those investments upfront to build out a stronger pipeline.

Social justice

HP has also set itself new targets around racial equality and social justice. Earlier this year, the firm launched its Racial Equality and Social Justice Task Force, and it plans to build on this with racial/ethnic representation across the business that meets or exceeds current market availability by 2030. 

This goal should see the company’s 55,000-strong workforce become more reflective of wider society. 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 national workforce. This is a similar ratio to many other tech vendors, including Salesforce and SAP. However, Slaton Brown says HP is focusing on tracking and increasing the number of available technology workers in this group, rather than measuring itself against national numbers:

If you look at just market demographics, then you're saying that demographically, 14 percent of the US population is Black and African American, but only a certain percentage of those people have the technology skillsets or degrees. So we're looking at the people that qualify for a tech role and have the skillsets.

The investment that HP is making is our commitment to what we can do in growing skilled talent in order to attract people to HP. You need to get to the people that have the skills that match the jobs that we're hiring for. That's what we'll be tracking, that's what we'll be measuring and evaluating ourselves against.

In addition to its 2030 racial/ethnic representation target, HP has pledged to reach one million workers through its worker empowerment programs. The firm has also joined the OneTen coalition of businesses, which are coming together to upskill, advance and hire one million Black individuals in America over the next 10 years.

HP is hoping to use its influence in the market to encourage a trickle-down effect among its suppliers as well, aiming for 10% of HP diversity spend to be with Black and African American suppliers by 2022.  The firm is aiming to assure respect for labor-related human rights for 100 percent of its key contracted manufacturing suppliers and higher-risk next tier suppliers by 2030. To achieve this, HP is encouraging its internal divisions to seek diverse, Black and African American suppliers specifically, says Slaton Brown:

If you're doing web design, there are Black and African American web design suppliers that are out there, so we're encouraging internal use of minority suppliers. It's important for us to make that investment internally in seeking out suppliers to provide that diversity because we have a diverse customer base.

Then externally we're helping educate suppliers on the processes needed in order to become a certified supplier of HP, coaching and mentoring them through the process of what you need to do.

Although HP has nine years to achieve its objectives, the firm will be giving regular updates on its progress, both through its Sustainable Impact report and its Human Rights report, which came out for the first time in 2020 and will now be published annually. Slatton Brown explains: 

We are very, very open and transparent about where we're making progress and some of the best practices that we use in order to get there, and we'll continue to do that. Our hope is, as we share these very ambitious 2030 goals to drive a more diverse, equitable and inclusive tech industry, we really want to influence and lead within the industry, and so that brings the entire industry along.

We all do better as a result of that, but it takes being bold, it takes being intentional and it takes holding ourselves to accountability for that to really happen.

My take

HP’s targets come as new research reveals how far off we are from achieving the gender aspect of the equality challenge. According to a study by Samsung Pioneers – Samsung UK’s gender equality platform - only 19% of British people think there is gender equality in their workplace. The ‘Breaking Bias Research’, which surveyed 2,000 UK respondents, also found that the role of CEO is nine times more likely to be seen as a job for men compared to for women.

The technology and engineering sectors are both still seen as traditionally male industries. When asked to list industries associated with men, 33% cited engineering and 19% said technology. Women were more associated with fashion (30%), retail (14%) and healthcare (14%).

Furthermore, there are still ingrained attitudes to the key attributes of men and women in the workplace. The qualities most associated with men were assertiveness, leadership, numeracy, productive and resourceful; when it comes to women, their core skills are empathy, listening, understanding, social skills and organizational.  

Only five percent of respondents cited leadership as a skill associated with women, highlighting the difficulties women face when trying to reach the highest rungs of the career ladder. Meanwhile, empathy, listening and understanding were only listed by five percent of respondents as skills they associated with men.

This kind of bias – unconscious or not – across much of the technology sector can lead to claims of favoritism and tokenism, with firms accused of filling roles with women who aren't necessarily the right people just to meet gender targets. Slaton Brown is quick to dismiss any such concerns, however, and is confident HP will be able to achieve its 2030 targets with very much the best people for the job:

When it comes to the tech industry, there are very capable, very talented, very smart women. We have to go to the right places to find those women, and we can't think that what we've always done through the traditional means of recruiting and attracting women will be what is needed to achieve the goals. We're here, we exist. We have to go to the right places and develop the right partnerships in order to pull through in that pipeline.

One to watch.