Diversity and the Changing Colors

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When the first millennials were born in 1980, the census bureau reported that about a fourth of all census tracts in the US. were nearly exclusively white. Fast forward to 2045 when the Brookings Institute forecasts that minority groups will collectively make up more than half the U.S. population. And if others like the LGBT community, handicapped, learning disabled, etc. were included, that date could move up even earlier.

This revelation, as well as diversity and inclusion (D&I) movements and heightened consciousness among millennials and Gen Z, gained much momentum among many companies in 2020. There are no signs of a let-up either. What experts will be watching is those companies that actually “walk the talk” versus those that merely put out press releases.

One of the D&I pioneers is IBM. In June 2020, its Indian-American CEO informed congress that the firm would stop sales of its facial recognition software to organizations that use it for racial profiling, mass surveillance, or any other violations of human rights and freedom. This stance came at a time when IBM continued its slide among Fortune 500 companies. The firm was ranked 38th in the 2019 Fortune 500 rankings.

Companies genuinely seeking to improve their D&I efforts may wish to consider some of the steps IBM with its more than 350,000 employees worldwide has taken. Like many others, IBM reviewed its training manuals, products, and other materials to be sure that they’re sensitive and not offensive. It has been educating employees about the sensitivities of inclusive language. It made it a point to inform its staff that language matters.

IBM is also one of several companies that have formed and fostered multicultural employee resource groups. There, workers are encouraged to share their experiences. And this pertains not just to ethnic or racial minorities, but every group from neuro-diverse, LGBTQ, disabled, etc. By way of this corporate action, all other employees are invited to attend, learn, and broaden their perspectives.

To accompany its actions, IBM adopted a public policy and reform platform that includes D&I as well as other related topics. They include immigration, laws on hate crime, and domestic abuse. After the deaths of George Floyd and others, it adopted a Call for Code for Racial Justice, as its way of encouraging open source solutions to social justice problems.

The company went a few steps further in its global educational outreach. It partners with high schools throughout the world in helping provide underserved students the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

And after noticing that larger colleges with bigger endowments had tech programs and that there was a void at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU), IBM recently launched the IBM-HBCU Center at 13 campuses. The center gives Black students access to resources they wouldn’t have had, access to quantum computers via the cloud and support to learn the Oiskit open source software development framework. In addition, the company is providing funding for graduate and undergraduate research.

Transparency, action and accountability are the keys that IBM cites as the foundation for its D&I actions. But what its CEO credits as her most important collaborators are her employees.

What’s next? A 2019 study by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic, reported that ideological diversity may be next.

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