How Lenovo IT boosts diversity and inclusion

The tech giant has broadened its recruiting efforts and improved the onboarding process with an eye to effectively bringing on tech workers from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Team member extends all hands in for a huddle. [unity / teamwork / trust / diversity / inclusion]
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As a global technology company with more than 63,000 employees, Lenovo aims to advance diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace. Part of the company’s mission is to ensure that its leaders reflect the various cultures and ethnicities of its internal talent.

Maintaining a diverse culture and achieving its full potential is fundamental to its success, according to the company’s 2020/21 Environmental, Social, and Governance Report.

Lenovo’s global D&I initiative

Lenovo’s diversity and inclusion initiative got off the ground in 2017. The company’s approach on that front is to embed D&I within each of its employee development programs. Although the concepts of D&I may look different across the various programs, they all share the corporate goal of promoting diversity and inclusion.

However, the seeds for the program were sown in 2005.

“Since the establishment of the global Lenovo in 2005, with the IBM PC acquisition, we’ve had a big focus on inclusiveness,” said Calvin Crosslin, chief diversity officer and president of the Lenovo Foundation. “The cultural integration was a key part of our success in those early years, and the senior team has, even back then, spent a lot of time in thinking about respect for different backgrounds and cultures. Then we wanted to ... formalize it for diversity and inclusion globally.”

Companywide, Lenovo has implemented employee resource groups (ERGs) that connect employees through self-identified characteristics, such as gender, race, national origin, sexual orientation, and shared experiences. These groups support Lenovo’s diverse and inclusive culture by helping each other grow professionally through networking, mentorship, and volunteerism.

“There’s a number of ERGs in North America that fit the normal constituencies you think about as underrepresented in the U.S., such as Black or African American, and our Pride organization is global for the LGBTQ+ community,” Crosslin said.

Within these groups, there’s a bit of cultural sharing, a sense of belonging or community or family, Crosslin said. “Each of those groups spend a lot of time on things like networking, mentorship, development ... and making people feel included,” he said. “But they also do a lot around career development.”

In addition, in 2018, Lenovo formed the Diversity & Inclusion Board, which consists of 10 senior leaders who help Crosslin set the strategy for the company’s D&I goals.

Lenovo has also hired a product diversity officer to ensure its products are accessible to customers with disabilities, Crosslin said.

“Then internally, we’re doing a piece of work to understand our internal organization,” he said. “There’s not a lot of incentive for people, particularly who have invisible disabilities, to declare or self-identify that they have disabilities. So we’re trying to do a better assessment of that because we obviously want to utilize our employee base for product development.”

Techniques to promote diversity among Lenovo’s IT staff

In addition to Lenovo’s global D&I initiatives, which permeate the entire organization, the IT department employs certain techniques to ensure it hires diverse talent, said Arthur Hu, senior vice president and chief information officer.

In IT, it’s important to start with the sourcing — i.e., identifying and finding candidates with diverse backgrounds, he said. To ensure that IT finds those diverse candidates, Hu and his team reach out to nontraditional colleges and universities rather than compete with other tech firms seeking candidates from the same top 20 or 30 schools.

“Many of the skills that are necessary to be effective in IT are very much learnable and can be taught on the job,” Hu said. By looking for candidates from nontraditional schools, “we can bring in some really great talent as well as increase our diversity at the same time.”

Hu discovered, however, that some of the candidates from these less traditional schools were not doing well getting through the hiring process, because hiring managers were still comparing them to the stereotypical candidate profile.

“So we really had to think about the requirements of the job and ensure that we’re interviewing diverse slates, because the data has shown that once someone is in the door, it doesn’t matter what their previous company was or where they went to school. And in some cases, it doesn’t even matter what they studied,” he said. “It’s been quite beneficial to think about diversity in that context.”

Gartner analyst Christie Struckman agreed that where people come from is only interesting on paper. It can be more beneficial to hire people who are willing to learn and do the work than it is to hire people for what they know, she said.

“In technology, we say, ‘OK, you have to have a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science,’ but you don’t need a bachelor’s degree in computer science to have a great technology career,” Struckman said. “But we put that in as this sort of artificial barrier.”

Dealing with challenges to D&I

Hu said one of the things he learned during this sourcing process was that he couldn’t assume the same starting point for everyone coming into the IT department. With an eye to effectively bringing on people from a wide variety of backgrounds, Hu found that the onboarding process was not up to par.

“As we looked at the journey for employees from interviewing to accepting an offer and onboarding, and becoming effective in the workplace environment, we actually needed to do better for everyone,” he said. “And we found that ... we had to become much more rigorous and standard about making sure people have access to the same information” and not assume they understand everything.

Because Lenovo is global, managers in locations outside the US are managing employees and teams in the US, which has been a problem. “We found that we can’t assume everyone has the same understanding around what diversity and inclusion mean outside the US,” Hu said.

Hu realized that it was necessary to communicate the importance of diversity and inclusion to the managers outside the US, who doubted the need for such a program or maybe just didn’t understand it.

“We had to invest more to help these managers in places where people people don’t talk about race and gender inclusion or don’t even have those concepts the same way that we have in the US,” he said. “We assumed that they would understand diversity and inclusion the same way that we do in the US, but they don’t, coming from an international background. So we have to put in the time to make sure people understand the context around which diversity and inclusion is happening so they can engage properly.”

Diversity and inclusion training is important for tech managers, because if they are not part of a marginalized group, they might not recognize harmful behaviors, Struckman said. “With the struggles tech leaders have to attract and retain talent, they can't afford to have employees learn they are not valued,” she added.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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