Diversity at EMC: The Complexities of Business

(This is part of a multi-post series on Diversity at EMC.  See all posts in the Diversity category here.)

Even once you accept that diversity is inherently valuable in the workplace (just as it is in finance), there are still business realities which can complicate the situation.  For example, a team competing solely on time to market will be more likely to win if the members of that team share common language and cultural assumptions (no overhead dealing with cultural gaps, communication difficulties, etc.).  Similarly, a sales team might benefit from having a similar demographic makeup as their target audience, even if that audience is homogeneous.

Over time I believe these would turn into weaknesses for those teams, but sometimes “over time” isn’t what matters.

The complexities of business, then, do creep into the hiring process.  No individual candidate is going to be rejected during the interview process for reasons of gender, race, or sexual preference.  But in the whole, the profile of accepted candidates may tend to cluster around the least-risk demographic.  Even more telling, depending on the job, short-term successes might come more rapidly to those in that demographic, skewing your senior and rewarded team members even more (and sending a powerful, if unintentional, message to everyone else).

I sat recently with Natalie Corridan-Gregg, president of EMC’s Women’s Leadership Forum, and talked about this particular issue.  We agreed that this will be a problem in any organization like EMC (that sells into a global market, that has so many geographically distributed business units, etc), and she told me her research has shown EMC is in a similar place as many of its competitors in dealing with it.  She and I spoke on a handful of topics relating to diversity, inclusion, and life at EMC, including many of our strengths and challenges.  At the risk of sounding like a corporate shill, I will say she felt one of our strengths is our CEO, Joe Tucci, who is deeply involved in promoting diversity and inclusion throughout the company.

Of course, EMC is challenged due to its nature as well.  We have grown a great deal via acquisition, and our business units often operate fairly independently.  The current economic climate means many teams are not bringing in lots of fresh talent.  So, change comes slowly, often through reorganizations.  Cultural norms in some parts of the company still carry the legacy of people who left nearly a decade ago.  In addition, a company we acquire might have its own cultural issues, which may not be addressed immediately (when everyone has greater concerns).

As an EMC shareholder, would you demand that the company intentionally cut its profits in order to shake up smoothly-operating teams to artificially introduce diversity?  Just how would you put such a plan into place, if you were in charge?

I can tell you what I see EMC doing.  There are two main fronts where I see progress being made.  First, we try to minimize the penalty someone is operating under as member of an under-represented group.  This can hopefully counteract some of the reasons someone would face difficulties as an outsider to the “least-risk demographic” I talked about earlier.

Second, there’s a spread of inclusion as a core value of the company.  The end goal is a culture where everyone feels valued and needed, regardless of whether the demographic makeup is in line with theoretical equality.  Find a way to weave inclusion into the company’s DNA, and watch as diversity follows.

I’d like to dive a bit deeper into each of these in upcoming posts, both in terms of what our successes have been and what challenges still remain.  There are a couple other points I want to bring up as well.  In the end, I hope I can help paint a more complete picture of the EMC of today, and how it is trying to change for tomorrow.

1 comment so far ↓

#1 Diversity at EMC: Employee Circles — Dave Talks Shop on 08.07.08 at 8:05 am

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