D&I Interview Series #3: Deborah Richards, IBM

May 24, 2020

Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your role at IBM

My name is Deborah Richards and I am the Diversity & Inclusion Leader for the UK and Ireland, my responsibility is for all the lines of business and every aspect of inclusion from hiring to retiring.  I think my role is to be the grit in the Oyster, irritating but in the end it turns into a pearl, so I remind the business that for every process and activity inclusion should be part of it. 

At IBM you mentioned the D&I mantra is “I Believe, I Belong, I Matter.” How do you interpret this?

I interpret this as the global employee proposition, whoever you are, whatever your background and experience you believe that IBM’s workplace is inclusive, that you will find kindred spirits there and that your views, feelings and representation is important. 

Your passion area and focus has been on Bringing Your Whole self to Work, can you explain that a little?

Many people cover up aspects of themselves at work and at home, we want every IBM employee to feel that they are valued for being who they are, there is no need to hide your gender identity, sexual orientation, heritage, disabilities, or mental health. You can just be who you are without fear of prejudice or judgment. 

How do you effectively create a D&I strategy for pre-employment, before they have even joined IBM?

IBM works with young people in schools and colleges with a great programme called P-Tech, Pathway to Technology offering technical education and internships for young people of 16 to 19. Working with schools and colleges to encourage young people to study STEM subjects. Providing internships for Teachers, offering a range of technical apprenticeships  and work experience through the Government’s Movement to Work Scheme. Graduate and placement students go back to their schools and colleges and talk about their experience of working at IBM, with inclusion and social mobility being embedded in all these programmes.  

Whilst you mentioned you do have internal communities for Women in Tech, BAME and Disability amongst others, are you also trying to tailor programs for the employee lifecycle instead of particular pockets of the employee population?

We have ERGs for all the different constituency groups Women, LGBT+, Veterans People with Diverse Abilities, Carers, BAME, but no one fits neatly into one community and needs change over time so we focus a great deal on intersectionality across diverse communities and run programmes of shared interest. For example mental health and wellbeing, managing work and leisure when you are a Carer, coping with hidden disabilities or long term health conditions and flexible working.  

How important is line management to foster an inclusive workforce?

The line manager plays a key role in creating the inclusive workplace, they are the interface between the business and the employee and their behaviour and attitude is critical to any employee feeling that they belong and can be themselves at work.  

At IBM, do you feel Diversity & Inclusion has a voice at the Executive level?

Undoubtedly yes, from our Chairman and Chief Executive to our Country Leadership Teams inclusion and people are the first thing on their agenda. IBM may be a Technology business, but it is also a people business and we cannot deliver to our clients without our people. They all actively talk about the importance of inclusion and representation, we must reflect the society we come from and work in, we must also look like our clients. The best solutions are developed by diverse teams, bringing a range of different perspectives to develop the best technologies for the world.  

Finally, as it is topical, how are you and your team adapting to the Covid-19 situation?

We are very fortunate that being a global technology business we have all had the tools to work remotely for some years, we communicate and collaborate using technology, so although it is a new normal we were able globally to get everyone working from home within 24 hours. The business has had Crisis Management Teams working in every country since the beginning of the year, and there has been extensive planning on both shutting down and reopening offices. Flexibility and agility have been part of IBM for many years.