A good role model is hard to find – and that’s especially true if you’re a woman in the technology industry.
Role modeling, along with tackling unconscious bias in hiring and investing in programs to widen the pipeline of women in technical positions, is of course part of a well-rounded strategy for leveling the playing field.
Of those strategies, role modeling is probably the trickiest to execute well. But as we’re learning at HP, where I’m head of diversity and inclusion, it doesn’t have to be that way.
This week I’ll take the stage at the Forbes Women’s Summit in New York, where, on a panel with my colleague Stephanie Dismore, we'll aim to break down some of the misconceptions about role modeling and share what is working at HP.
At its core, good role modeling revolves around trust. Not only does it require trust between individuals, it also requires an organization that fosters frank conversations, openness and the ability to meet people where they are.
That’s evident when your company actively seeks out ways to become a “speak up” culture, as we are working to do at HP. It’s enabling women to have courageous conversations – especially about the unique challenges they face in the tech workforce – and talk about barriers to their success.
Among those barriers: Outdated advice that recruiters and hiring experts might bring to the table when considering female candidates. These damaging stereotypes are among the raw, emotional sticking points in the video below, unveiled today as part of HP’s ongoing “Reinvent Mindsets” campaign. It features heartfelt conversations between fathers and their young adult daughters, who together confront some of the blatantly sexist hiring practices that still threaten to hold women back.
There are other sociological barriers, especially in the often insular bubble of Silicon Valley.
People tend to hire what feels familiar – a bias that gives preference (whether overt or unconsciously) to people who look, speak and think like them. What we have been pushing for at HP is learning to recognize and remove this type of affinity bias to help diversify our ranks.
Another win for tackling affinity bias: Removing it helps give women of color, especially black women in technology, an entry point that that they have often been denied. The same goes for women who hail from cultural, social and religious backgrounds that have been “othered” in tech.
Still more barriers arise years before women are thinking about entering in the workforce, as young students entering higher education flee the hard sciences. The recent groundswell of interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning, as well as tech-ed focused organizations and nonprofits, shows that there’s still a critical need to build the pipeline of girls and women with technical talent.
One of the things we’re very passionate about as a company is to be able to partner with STEM and educational programs, such as Black Girls Code, that are impacting the lives of underrepresented youth.
It’s one of the reasons HP awarded Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Black Girls Code Kimberly Bryant, our inaugural Diversity Champion Award at the Forbes Women’s Summit this week.
Her organization, which has scaled up from the Bay Area to have satellites all over the country, aims to provide African-American youth with the skills to occupy some of the 1.4 million computing job openings expected to be available in the U.S. by 2020.
More black women in technical positions holds space for girls looking to succeed in the industry, just by making sure that there are people who look like them to emulate. Bryant’s done a phenomenal job of inspiring and engaging girls to learn computer programming skills and as she puts it, “become builders of their own futures.” There’s something incredibly powerful about internalizing the message: “She looks like me, and she’s succeeding.”
While HP and others in the tech industry are actively working to knock down some of these barriers to inclusion and diversity, there is a lot more work that needs to be done to cultivate role models for women at their respective companies.
When I think of successful role modeling, I think of the “growth mindset” that HP is adopting as it builds its corporate culture. This mindset is critical to the success of creating a place where women can bring all of who they are to work. Without it, we lose out on greater opportunities to innovate, to develop leaders and yes – to grow our bottom line.
Here’s a rundown of some of our best practices:
1) Build networks of trust where women can get to know each other. Networks of trust enable role models to share and be open. Building out women’s power circles and affinity groups enables real sharing of their hopes, their dreams about the future and their passions. It helps role models become authentic cheerleaders by enabling them to sponsor, mentor and coach others.
2) It is not only a woman's responsibility to be a role models. If every employee brought someone else in who is from an underrepresented group, we would speed up the trajectory of change. The model we have at HP is an “everybody in” culture – it is everyone’s responsibility to coach, to mentor and to lead. We celebrate leaders at all levels. That’s especially important for our male allies to understand.
3) Company leadership must walk the walk. None of these efforts matter unless there is demand for change at the top. Our diversity and inclusion efforts at HP are backed up and amplified by leaders such as Chief Legal Officer Kim Rivera and Chief Marketing Officer Antonio Lucio, who are using their voices and influence to make change in their industries by demanding that outside vendors, partners and agencies working with HP meet certain standards for diversity.
To learn more about HP’s Global Diversity and Inclusion efforts, visit the company’s website and follow me on Twitter. Follow along with the Forbes Women’s Summit, which continues through June 13, with the hashtag #redefinepower.