Corporate culture is different at each company, but one mainstay of the mainframe industry is its collaborative culture. This culture works best when informed by diverse perspectives and experiences, as well as skill levels and training. As part of the “Making Our Strong Community Stronger” initiative, IBM, Broadcom, Rocket Software, TechChannel, and The Linux Foundation recently hosted a webinar on corporate inclusion and how personal stories can influence company cultures and foster greater diversity and inclusion, entitled “How Personal Experiences Shape Corporate Inclusion.” For the collaborative session, Dr. Gloria Chance, president and chief executive officer of The Mousai Group, moderated the panel, which included Ashley Peterson, product marketing manager for IBM Z and LinuxONE at IBM, Jeff Henry, vice president for product management and design in the mainframe software division at Broadcom, Sharra Owens-Schwartz, senior director of inclusion, diversity, and equity at Rocket Software, and Jerry Chuaypradit, manager of IBM Z enterprise networking solutions at IBM.
Dr. Chance pointed out that diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, is a journey that not only companies are embarking upon, but so too are individuals on a personal level. Each journey is different, but no less important. Lived experiences, she said, influence culture. In a May 2020 report from McKinsey & Co., "Diversity Matters: How Inclusion Matters," overall employee sentiment on diversity was 52% positive, but overall sentiment on inclusion was only 29% positive. Dr. Chance suggested that while companies are hiring a diverse workforce, it is not going to be successful unless those employees also feel included. She added that each individual's personal myths and backgrounds begin to form when they are children and it is these lenses through which we make sense of the world.
Building Empathy through Personal Stories
Each panelist’s personal upbringing, whether from the rural Midwest or the melting pot of New York City, carries with it an inherent bias. Employees are not blank slates when they come to work, said Sharra Owens-Schwartz, who leads DEI work at Rocket Software.
For example, Jeff Henry stated that his diverse neighborhood and upbringing in the D.C. area exposed him to different perspectives and allowed him to empathize with others who face discrimination daily, but it failed to make him color aware. He discovered that he was color blind in that he viewed every person as equal without taking into account society's history of discrimination and how that impacted who those individuals are. Henry explained that without understanding the whole of a person, it is difficult to ensure these diverse voices feel included as part of company teams. He also added that we all need to be aware of our own biases.
Owens-Schwartz revealed that as a teen growing up in diverse, but segregated Boston, Massachusetts, she felt erased by her white classmates when they used racist terms to describe other Black students, especially when they told her that she was not like the others. She expressed the support and education her parents imparted to her about how to navigate institutions and bias, but this high school event demonstrated to her that, despite this preparation, she was still vulnerable to the effects of pervasive racism. It also solidified for her how deep racism and bias are ingrained in each individual and how it shapes how we interact with others and the world around us. Owens-Schwartz also pointed out that this invisibility caused a sense of isolation and was something she has dealt with in the workplace, too, noting that even close colleagues can be invisible to their teammates in an interracial relationship.
Jerry Chuaypradit recounted a story from his teen years in which he was attacked physically after standing up for himself and his friends. The incident made it clear to him that not only do you have to stand for what is right for yourself, but that your community, your family, and your allies also need to stand up for you to advocate for justice and change. Chuaypradit explained that later on in his career, when someone he wished would take the time to mentor him did not, another leader at the organization where he worked steered him toward the learning opportunities he craved. He added that this leader sought to become his ally, perhaps because they had faced similar barriers. Now, as a means of paying it forward, Chuaypradit chooses to be an ally for others as well.
Ashley Peterson also chimed in, sharing how her roommate and friend viewed her participation in clubs or sports at school — making sure other Asians were included — opened her eyes to things Peterson never had to think about because she was always represented within a group. Peterson added that this reflection forced her into uncomfortable conversations, and noted that she had to take the time to do research and focus more on who she wanted to be.
Leaders and Teams Do the Work Together
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, companies with a strong diversity and inclusion lens improve their market share by 46% and are 70% more likely to capture new markets, said Dr. Chance. Henry further advised companies to keep their minds open because they don't know what they might need in the future. Peterson agreed, stating that we need to choose to understand, grow, and change individually, but also to expand those changes into corporate and social policy.
Chuaypradit added that he encourages his teams to listen to ideas from all members of the team, not just the most vocal teammates. Henry added that at his organization, he ensures diverse thinkers are on a team, which can generate both conflict and creativity. His team deliberately brings in members from different backgrounds and empathy maps to force creativity to happen, rather than selecting people who think and work the same way. Henry said this often produces better results.
Peterson shared that companies need to foster trust by being authentic in how they approach diversity, ensuring underrepresented groups have a voice at the table, are able to engage in projects that stretch their abilities, and that all teammates' contributions are recognized. Owens-Schwartz explained that as individuals, we also need to adopt a growth mindset that takes our learning farther than it would staying with groups that understand us and have similar backgrounds. Dr. Chance agreed, adding that we need to expand what diversity means. It is more than just race, it is about backgrounds and different ways of thinking and working together.
Visit The Open Mainframe Project on June 28 to register for "The Pandemic's Ongoing Impact on Work/Life Integration and Corporate Inclusion," the next webinar in the "Making our Strong Community Stronger" series, scheduled for July 28.