Electronics company HP recently announced a new plan to address racial injustice and drive change. On Jan. 15, the company, which earned the No. 43 spot on the 2020 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list, unveiled its Racial Equality and Social Justice Task Force. Some of the goals in the task force include strategizing ways to help Black employees advance within HP, working with Black suppliers within the industry and advocating for change at both the local and national level.
Lesley Slaton Brown, chief diversity officer at HP, spoke to DiversityInc about the task force and HP’s history of civil rights action. While HP has had a long history of engaging in conversations about racism, Slaton Brown believes the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020 opened the floor to more frequent (and frank) discussions. Some of these conversations started by simply asking employees — especially Black employees — how they were doing. But the talks went deeper into issues that were arising as well. As a Black woman herself, Slaton Brown said she worked hard to be authentic in the face of the pain she was feeling.
“I didn’t feel like being on video every day, because I, too, was traumatized by what was going on,” she said. “To be on video and to be smiling and to act like everything was okay didn’t feel authentic to me. The beauty of the culture that we have at HP is that when you’re able to have your voice be heard, people are willing to listen.”
Although initial conversations between management and employees within the company focused on the pain many in the country were feeling, Slaton Brown said she also made a point of acknowledging that the pervasiveness of racism was not new for Black individuals, even though the summer of 2020 was an awakening for the majority of America. In addition to providing an outlet for employee emotions and feelings, the talks Slaton Brown had with employees involved ideas for what HP leaders could do to support their Black employees and examined ways the company could better help the communities it serves.
In addition to working with its employees to try and make sense of what was going on in the world, HP donated $500,000 to social justice organizations and $16 million in grants and technology to underserved communities — but the company also wanted to do more.
Slaton Brown said HP’s leaders were on board with making public commitments to improve their company’s diversity numbers and social impact. Making these commitments publicly would ensure accountability. The actions began with HP looking at its data and identifying where it needed to improve. It identified three areas: its people, its industry and local and national communities.
When it came to its workforce, the company focused on recruiting, retention and promotion, especially of Black associates. Within the tech industry, the question involved how HP could grow its influence and presence by increasing its business specifically with Black vendors and suppliers by 10%. Around local and national influence, the question was how the company could leverage its power to become an advocate for Black communities through public policy, civic action and clear corporate goals.
The Creation of the HP Task Force
To carry out these goals, HP decided to create its racial equality and social justice task force, comprised of about half of its executive leadership team and more than 400 employees who volunteered to take part. Volunteers have been dispersed across three different chapters of the task force.
“[The leaders] all kind of raised their hands and said, ‘Hey, I want to be a part of leading or sponsoring the people pillar or the industry pillar or local and national pillar.’”
The task force’s first three goals are to double HP’s number of Black and African American executives by 2025; double Black and African American promotion rates and technical representation by 2025; and achieve 90% (up from 84%) in inclusion index score for Black and African American employees in 2021. Each of these commitments is public. Slaton Brown said HP analyzed its existing diversity data and ongoing work to see where there was room to grow.
“How do we accelerate that? How do we supercharge our efforts to really focus and hone in on those? And that’s how we came to the commitment to double the number of Black and African American executives inside the company by 2025,” she explained.
Slaton Brown said it is HP’s — and other large corporations’ — duties to stand up to racism and uphold commitments to the values of the company and the customers it serves.
“I love the pressure that is on us as an industry to be better. When you know better, you must do better,” she said.
HP’s History of Civil Rights Work
Slaton Brown also explained how Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, the organization’s founders, always had a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion efforts. In fact, the pair were pioneers in the area, engaging in affirmative action to increase the number of Black hires as early as 1942. That progressive attitude has continued through the company’s history, with the company founding its first LGBT employee resource group in the 1980s.
“We had African American executives coming out of the engineering ranks moving up into the executive level,” Slaton Brown said. “We hired women in non-secretarial roles way back in 1942. As we think about being a company that creates technology for everyone and everywhere, it’s good to look back and know that our founders had always aspired to build a company that reflected everyone from everywhere. That was the goal of the early days — and that is the legacy that they’ve built.”
In addition to the company’s groundbreaking hiring practices, HP has a long legacy of working with historically Black colleges and universities to build strong recruiting relationships and to aid in the development of a diverse board of directors. The company also has a strong workforce diversity measurement system in place that it regularly uses and reports on.
“We believe that diversity breeds innovation,” Slaton Brown said. “And once we get people here, we want to be able to keep them. We want to be able to develop them. We want to be able to grow them and so we like to build what we call productively disruptive programs and processes to do that.”