As we open up the First Women Awards for our readers to decide which company deserves the prestigious Business of the Year title, First Women speaks to IBM, one of the shortlisted companies, about inclusion and its efforts to further the diversity agenda.
The global technology solutions and cloud platform company is all about leveraging innovation and data to improve business and it believes that, like innovation, diversity is essential to its success.
While IBM’s UK board is 50-50, across Europe, women make up 31.2 per cent of its workforce. There’s a huge drive to hire more females.
To facilitate this agenda, IBM launched Girls who can, which focuses on early professionals within the STEM and technical community.
“We’re working on developing a technical community – both hiring and retaining,” Carmina Lees, head of IBM’s security arm for UK and Ireland, tells First Women. “So we put a lot in place around career programmes, development and training.”
For career development, IBM is identifying and nurturing female talent across its business units through Elevate Plus— a 12-month female advancement programme, which takes on 30 participants per year.
The scheme had a 42 per cent success rate in its first year, with these participants now on the executive path within 12-18 months.
“We first ran the programme in 2016 and we now have more people on the programme this year,” Lees explains.
“It has really enhanced people’s visibility because they get to present to senior leadership team. And when we’re looking for people to move up to next level, we have them identified on this advancement programme.”
The senior executive team plays a significant role in delivering diversity programmes across the company.
Lees said: “We have a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Council, set up with executive team members. I’m the executive sponsor for women within D&I council and we have a spokesperson for each of six diversity areas. The executive team and leaders are pillars of D&I at IBM.”
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Ensuring its people are spreading the message of diversity across the organisation and within the industry, individuals take part in events such as Connecting Women in Technology, which is linked with eight tech companies including Cisco, Dell, HP, Intel, Microsoft and Google.
Lees explained: “This was founded in 2008 to bring women together from big tech companies to connect, share and develop together in an inclusive setting. The theme at the last event was about bringing one’s whole self to work.”
For IBM to maintain its position as a leading globally integrated organisation, it is crucial that it creates an environment that offers employees not only financial security, but also the prospect of development and advancement, buttressing these opportunities with flexibility.
In 2013 the firm developed six core global flexibility principles to balance both employee and business needs.
The principles, encompassing trust and personal responsibility, continuous enterprise and focus on results, can be adapted according to legislative and local requirements of the different regions in which the company operates.
For the two-thirds of IBM’s women executives across the world who are working mothers, flexibility offers a range of work options for them to meet the needs of the business while balancing their motherhood responsibilities.
Lees said: “We want to break down challenges and perceptions that women can’t have a career and family because some women think they can’t move on to the next level because of family or caring responsibilities.”
“Sometimes for women, it is an issue of perception. So, with our maternity returners for example, we run workshops before they leave, and we align people with a maternity buddy. I do maternity buddying. I have two young children myself and have been able to progress and be promoted.”
“Another course we run is building relationships and influence training. The course helps women understand some of the challenges in tech and gives guidance on how to overcome them, through mentorship and broadening their network.”
For IBM, the next phase of diversity moves beyond hiring practices and safeguarding employees, to creating an innovative, integrated business through inclusion.
Lees concluded: “IBM recognises the unique value and skills every individual brings to the workplace. We believe that innovation comes from seeking out, and inspiring diversity in all its dimensions.
“We’re consciously building diverse teams and encouraging diversity of ideas helps us make the greatest impact for our clients, our colleagues and the world.”