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Diversity at EMC: Forcing Engineering’s Hand

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

In my last post, I talked about the background I bring into the diversity conversation as a member of an engineering organization within EMC.  You should realize that I’m not claiming that we are “better” than anybody else at this, though.  In fact, if you look at the history of the situation, you’ll see that we have plenty reason to be humble.  That doesn’t mean there are no lessons to be learned here, of course.

The Labor Shortage

You’ve probably heard one of the many stories about a lack of technical workers in the US.  It is generally understood that a company cannot compete in today’s market without bringing in skilled workers from overseas.  You can read more about this at Wikipedia, and see the number of H1B visas granted to overseas workers by major US tech firms and universities.

If you’ve been working in the tech industry for the past decade or so, you’ve seen a steady growth in the number of people from around the world who are employed at US companies. This isn’t because hiring managers suddenly got more open-minded about diversity.  No, it’s a matter of necessity.  In order to hire qualified engineering talent, companies have to broaden their horizons.

In some ways, this is true about any way that a hiring might be discriminatory.  When it’s hard to find good talent, good talent gets hired, regardless of race, gender, cultural background, sexual orientation, religion, and so on.

The high-tech workplace of 2008 is diverse, or it’s not competitive.  A company simply cannot afford to discriminate.

The Global Workplace

At the same time, companies are being forced to operate globally.  Even if a company isn’t looking to cut costs by moving development offshore, there are benefits to having a global presence.  If you want to sell your product to the world, you better be prepared to show the world you are global.  EMC is a global company, but the organization I work in is relatively focused — we “only” have sites in 3 countries working on core ControlCenter components.

Our Hands are Forced

These two factors have, over the past decade, really forced the hands of our engineering organization, and probably many others around the world.  Individuals have to learn to operate in a diverse environment, or they can’t survive in the organization.  Whether you like it or not, your team will be made up of people who you probably otherwise would never have met.

You Can’t Force Hearts

The thing is, our hands have been forced, but our hearts have had to follow at their own pace.  You can have a diverse office without having an office full of people who value diversity.  I happen to believe, though, that years of having our hands forced have led to an environment where the hearts have followed.  Going “up the ladder” from new hires through low-level management finds a true melting pot, not just of ethnicity but of gender, lifestyle, religion, and age.

I listen to the people I work with, and I hear more and more often what sounds like heartfelt enthusiasm for our diverse culture.  People want it more diverse!  When we see something we don’t know, we actively move towards it and try to understand it (“What’s that you’re eating?” “What holiday is this that you’re celebrating?” “Can you explain Cricket to me again?”).  It wasn’t always like this!  I remember when it felt forced.  But it doesn’t feel forced now.

I feel the front lines of Engineering (at least in my immediate surroundings) are among those that “get it” at EMC.  But even Engineering is much bigger than the small part of it I see, and the company is much bigger than just this.

In future posts I will dive deeper into the issue, and bring in some perspective from people who are exposed to a lot more of the company than I am.

Diversity at EMC (Introduction)

You want long-term success?  Diversify.  That’s usually financial advice, but the corporate world understands it applies in a much broader scope.

I remember my first mandated corporate diversity class — we learned all the reasons it made good business sense to be diverse and learned about the law as it related to discrimination and the workplace.  We had it pounded into our head that not only was it the law, it was a Good Thing.

Years later, I work in one of the most diverse offices I can imagine.

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