Purpose, Inc., episode 1.14: Lesley Slaton Brown of HP, Inc.
Key takeaway: Hitting diversity targets is wonderful, but values-driven companies need to address the causes of racial disparities.
In this episode of Purpose, Inc., host Michael Young talked to Lesley Slaton Brown, chief diversity officer at HP, about rethinking our ideas about diversity and inclusion.
Lesley has been with HP for 25 years in a variety of positions. Working for several years in West Africa helped her find what she called “the joy in her life”: addressing the digital divide, both in the U.S. and Africa. Michael and Lesley spoke about her current role as head of D&I at HP just a few weeks after the murder of George Floyd and the national conversations it sparked about racial justice and equity. (The week before, Michael talked to Johnson Controls’ Grady Crosby about racial justice and corporate citizenship.)
At HP, founded as a values-driven company, Lesley shared, diversity and inclusion have become one of its core values. That value has led HP to assemble one of the most diverse boards of directors in the tech industry. “We’ve seen the impact that that board has on our leadership,” she said. “We have a very culturally diverse leadership. I think they represent over seven or eight different countries.”
Rethinking diversity and inclusion
HP has built D&I programs that are sticking, Lesley said, such as the relationships it has established with business deans from historically black colleges and universities (HCBUs). Diversity goals are wonderful, she said, and so are engagement opportunities that help people feel a sense of that they bring their whole selves to work.
But now we have to address the root causes of marginalization. “We’re focusing more on the systems and the structures that have been put in place that have held these groups—and particular, African Americans—back,” she said. It’s not for black people to fix a system that has been intentionally set up to disenfranchise African Americans. White people and others in majority positions must ask themselves: “How do you become an ally, a better ally and advocate for black people, for people of color and marginalized groups? We’re galvanizing around Black Lives Matter because if you can fix this for black lives, then all lives can be impacted.”
Diversity and recruiting
Michael and Lesley turned the discussion to focus on how this shift—both in consciousness and organizational values—might affect recruiting.
One example: HP’s paid summer internship program, which in normal years brings in 200 students. Many tech companies canceled their 2020 programs after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out — a loss of experience and income that disproportionately hit students from marginalized backgrounds. HP instead expanded its program, recruiting participants through HCBUs, the Society of Women Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers, and other diverse talent organizations.
The 2020 HP Summer Scholars Program, Lesley said, hosted more than 1,800 students for a six-week training. Through courses taught by HP staff, as well as hackathons and business challenges, students gained experience in supply-chain management, business strategy, leadership, and sustainability. “At the end of that, you get a certification, and you’ll be able to say although you didn’t get the hands-on experience, you got the learning,” she said. “It eliminates that gap in in the resume for 2020.”
Values like diversity and inclusion are increasingly important when it comes to outside perception of a company. Customers want to respect the values of the companies they partner with. So do prospective employees. “I often tell students, you should care about the culture of the company that you that you work for,” she concluded. “And proudly, in HP, the culture is our differentiator.”