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IBM on seeing providing equal opportunity as a business imperative

Taking a closer look at IBM Corporation’s pro-LGBT moves. “(Providing equal opportunity) is a strategic business imperative. Every company wants the best – you want to hire the best talents, and you want to retain the best talents. So it makes sense to understand the business case for diversity,” says Tony Tenicela, global leader for workforce diversity and LGBT markets.

HOTOS COURTESY OF IBM

PHOTOS COURTESY OF IBM CORPORATION

The focus, Tony Tenicela said exclusively to Outrage Magazine, should be in hiring people according to their qualifications. And this is why IBM Corporation – where Tenicela serves as the global leader for workforce diversity and LGBT markets – has a “global commitment to equality”.

“(Providing equal opportunity) is a strategic business imperative,” Tenicela said. “Every company wants the best – you want to hire the best talents, and you want to retain the best talents. So it makes sense to understand the business case for diversity.”

Currently doing business in 170 countries with over 380,000 employees worldwide, IBM Corporation’s push for equal access to opportunity may be traced back in 1953, when then company president T.J. Watson Jr. issued IBM’s first equal opportunity policy letter. This letter specifically called for equal opportunity in hiring “regardless of race, color, or creed”; just as it mandated that in the building of manufacturing plants in southern US, there would be “no separate, but equal facilities”. This development was at least a year ahead of the Brown decision that ended “separate but equal” in public education in the US; and over a decade – 11 years, to be exact – ahead of the Civil Rights Act in the US.

The company, therefore, became “one of the very first (companies) to issue equal protection policies,” Tenicela said.

Yes, although it did not specifically mention sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE) yet (it was the 1950s, after all), IBM Corporation may be considered “forward thinking even then.”

FOCUS ON PINK

Fast forward over 30 years later to 1984, when sexual orientation was formally added to the company’s global EO policy; and then in 2002, when the company extended this global policy to include gender identity and expression.

Other LGBT-related highlights in IBM Corporation’s history include the launch of the Lesbian and Gay Task Force in 1995; providing of same-sex domestic partner benefits for US employees in 1997; launch of the LGBT Supplier Diversity program in 1999; launch of LGBT/Diversity Business Development Program in 2001; introduction of About You Indicator (voluntary self-identification) in 2006; and publication of the 1st IBM LGBT Annual Report in 201o.

The company also currently has 43 LGBT diversity network groups around the world, with 19 in the US, 16 in Europe, four in Latin America, and four in Asia and the Pacific.

CONFRONTING HURDLES

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A question that begs to be asked is how IBM Corporation implements policies that may run contrary (if not afoul) to existing social policies and/or norms in the various locations of their offices around the world.

The company, said Tenicela, has a “glocal” approach. That is, the strategies are global, even if the skills used for their implementation are local. As such, “there is consistency,” Tenicela said. “When you work for us (and become an ‘IBMer’), we have one cohesive culture.”

The same position was stressed in “Diversity & Inclusion”, the company’s “diversity brochure”, which stated:

“IBM leadership chose to manage employees in line with our values and beliefs and to engage governments, communities and other corporations in our effort to change, even if our efforts were unpopular or disruptive to normal business relationships.

“As we approach decisions and negotiations regarding expanding IBM operations around the world, where our values are not held in the same regard, it is critical that our client teams and business leaders have appropriate dialog with those who don’t know ‘us’ or understand how we conduct ourselves in the world of business and a global community.

“IBM will not be deterred by different cultures or beliefs but will share who we are as a company so that we can conduct business within any country that is in concert with our global corporate values and employment policies.”

If that’s not enough, the policy letter dated January 1, 2012 of Virginia M. Rometty, president and CEO of IBM Corporation, similarly stressed:

“In respecting and valuing the diversity among our employees, and all those with whom we do business, managers are expected to ensure a working environment that is free of all forms of harassment. This policy is based on sound business judgment and anchored in our IBM Values. Every manager in IBM is expected to abide by our policy, and all applicable laws on this subject, and to uphold IBM’s commitment to workforce diversity.” 

HONORING PINK

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IBM Corporation currently provides salary and benefit equity for LGBT employees in countries where it operates unless specifically prohibited by local law. As such, the domestic partner health care benefit program is in place for over 80% of the employees worldwide.

Domestic partnership benefits are provided in Greater China Group, India, Thailand, Australia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Ecuador, Canada, US, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, UK, Switzerland, Austria, Finland, and Hungary.

And yes, the same benefits are offered in the Philippines.

There are also 43 LGBT diversity network groups around the world, with 19 in the US, 16 in Europe, four in Latin America and four in Asia Pacific. In the Philippines, the Employee Alliance for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Empowerment (EAGLE) at IBM is active in “working with the company to leverage talents,” irrespective of their SOGIE.

The company has development programs to provide LGBT employees opportunities to be considered for promotion to executive positions.

The open support for diversity may be credited with more “IBM Corporation LGBT executives willing to be out and open as role models and mentors for LGBT employees.”

Even allies can have a go, via the “Straight Ally” and “Straight Ally Certification”. Here, senior executive allies can serve as surrogates for closeted or nonexistent senior LGBT executives. Also, the company has a training module to certify a “Straight Ally”.

Everything isn’t always rosy, with diversity-related criticisms surfacing (such as THIS and THIS), but citations abound – including a 100% ranking on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index for the US for six consecutive year; and top marks in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index in the UK.

But for Tenicela, the pro-equality effort is – in itself – its own reward.

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At the end of the day, “if you go in an office, being LGBT shouldn’t matter. It should be about giving value – whether you can maximize value to the business. That’s the way we do business; that’s the way business should be done,” Tenicela ended.

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