How To Engineer Diversity And Inclusion: A Conversation With Dell Technologies’ Chief Diversity And Inclusion Officer, Brian Reaves
When I started thinking about developing a series on diversity and inclusion in tech, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just replicating the information that we see many companies share in their annual reports. I wanted an honest conversation with the leaders in tech who are tasked with the great responsibility not just to make the numbers better but to drive the conversation forward. The companies I looked at all have a particular angle from which they approach diversity and inclusion either because of their leaders’ vision or because of the company history and business role.
Over the past couple of years, I have had the opportunity to follow what Dell Technologies has been doing to grow diversity and inclusion within the company. Back in November, the company launched its Progress Made Real social impact strategy and 2030 goals. In diversity and inclusion, they want to acquire, develop, and retain women, so they account for 50% of the company’s global workforce and 40% of global people managers. In addition, Dell Technologies aims to acquire, develop, and retain Black and Hispanic team members, so they account for 25% of the company’s US workforce and 15% of the people managers in the US. These are hefty goals, considering that the current its workforce demographics shows 30.4% of team members are women, and women with leadership roles represent 23.4%, up from 22.5% in 2018.
I have had the chance to meet Dell Technologies’ Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Brian Reaves, a few times prior to us sitting down for our conversation. Reaves joined Dell Technologies in 2017 after developing and implementing several diversity and inclusion initiatives at SAP.
One aspect that I have always found fascinating about Reaves is that his background is not human resources, but engineering. While this is fascinating to me, Reaves believes everyone can have value driving diversity and inclusion regardless of background. Still, he admits that “the engineering mindset has kept me curious and pushed me to test things that sometimes follow existing patterns but also explore new ones. I am very comfortable bringing in an engineering and innovation mindset to what I think is a complex business problem.”
And maybe it is the analytical mind that makes it so easy for Reaves to talk about diversity and inclusion as a business problem with a human focus. At the same time, many still think about it only as a people problem defined by numbers.
Diversity is about building teams with different perspectives, whether in terms of gender, or race, or generation, or sexual orientation, or religion. But of course, the key that comes with inclusion is that those perspectives are not only valued, but they are encouraged. Furthermore, Reaves points out “people are encouraged to be their authentic self, meaning you’re not trying to ‘code switch’ and be like everyone else. When all the people in the room are open to someone else’s point of view, you really get that one plus one equals three or sometimes even four effect.”
You Acquired Talent, Then What?
We cannot talk about diversity without talking about talent acquisition, but thinking that acquisition should be the most important focus is a fallacy. It really must be about the whole value chain from where we identify talent to how we engage, hire, onboard as well as how we develop such talent once they joined. While the talent and skills shortage gap is real, Reaves questions how deep the gap would be if more businesses and governments enabled a wider net of people to succeed. For example, you might think there is a lack of talent if you keep on looking in the same schools or communities. As I listen to Reaves continue his argument, I feel that such a belief might be born from his own experience of not being considered “typical” diversity and inclusion leader material because of his engineering background.
As an organization, if you are really committed to diversifying your talent pool, you stop looking at just the traditional top schools and you start looking at schools that offer more diverse demographics like women or Black and Hispanic students. Another way to find talent is to create it by making tech a more interesting career for women and minorities to invest in and by diverting talent through training. Reaves tells me about Project Immersion, an initiative that Dell Technologies has been created in partnership with colleges such as Morehouse and Spelman Colleges, both Historically Black Colleges (HBCUs) in Atlanta.
The support offered to diverse talent during their onboarding is critical. The support, Reaves is quick to point out to me, is not limited to finding your ways on the company campus, but it is about realizing that for many of these new employees this might be the first time they are away from home. So anything from finding the food they love to eat, a place to worship and even someone who can do their hair are all aspects of life that will help them feel more settled.
Within the organization, career progression plays a critical role in fostering diversity in leadership roles. Reaves likes to talk about a talent continuum that is built on mentorship programs focused on community and business impact. The goal is to empower that diverse talent “to stretch those professional muscles that you might not get an opportunity to stretch until you had a formal role and leadership position.”
This all sounds great, but I push Reaves on accountability because you might have all the programs in the world, but if managers don’t buy into it and support, promote and recognize the importance of inclusion progress will not be made. He tells me that Dell Technologies has a program called MARC – which started out as Men Advocating Real Change but has now evolved to Many Advocating Real Change – that was created in collaboration with Catalyst. Every executive at Dell Technologies has completed the program and by the end of February all people managers will have done so too. In the next two years, the plan is to have all Dell technologies employees worldwide go through so they can learn about unconscious bias, intersectionality and microaggression, all topics that have to be understood for people to mitigate the biases each of us possess.
While MARC addresses awareness, Dell Technologies also makes sure there is a feedback loop for employees – done through its annual Tell Dell survey, which includes questions that assess inclusion and trust. At the end of the year, all leaders are also measured on how they performed as an inclusive leader and that is true from Michael Dell to his chain of command and every people leader in the organization. I guess it is true that at Dell Technologies “What gets measured, gets done!”
Privilege Can Be A Superpower
As my time with Reaves was coming to an end, I could not help but ask him about our respective intersectionality mine, as a white woman and his, as a Black man and what role privilege has, especially in a diversity and inclusion leader. Privilege can be honorable and used for good, says Reaves, as he points out that waking up every morning is a privilege. “Understanding your privilege and rooting yourself in empathy for others opens up your mind to the thought that we are more alike than we are not.”
That curiosity that drives Reaves’s engineering mind should also drive every one of us in our quest for a diverse and inclusive workplace. In his words, “inclusivity ends when we are no longer curious to know other people’s stories, viewpoints and opinions and we stop asking questions and start making assumptions.”