Claudia Brind-Woody

A talk with… Claudia Brind-Woody

The cost of thinking twice

Claudia Brind-Woody is IBM Vice President and Managing Director Intellectual Property Licensing. She has worked for IBM since 1996, including various global management positions, and is a recognized speaker worldwide. In her lectures and books (Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office, 2013 and The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out is Good for Business, 2014) she promotes an open and appreciative approach to sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace. It also advises various LGBT*IQ platforms, initiatives and institutions, including Workplace Pride, Stonewall Global Diversity Champions and Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, OUTstanding. Lambda Legal and the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. Claudia Brind-Woody has been awarded the Out & Equal Trailblazer Award, and numerous international magazines list her as a global leader in the LGBT sector.

What is the D&I approach of IBM about?


Claudia Brind-Woody: We want everybody to feel welcome to succeed at IBM. If people bring their whole selves to work, they are more productive and they are more positive about the workplace and therefore our clients and shareholders benefit. The statistics of multiple studies show a 30 % productivity reduction, if people are hiding and spending their time afraid to be out at work. Afraid that being who they are is not acceptable. It is good business to make sure that folks are able to be productive at work. We want the top talent from all diversity constituencies. We encourage people to come to IBM and stay with us; we want them to advance because they are doing good work for our clients. Shall it be male or female, gay or straight; being a workplace that welcomes everyone enables us to get the best and brightest folks from all types of diversity.

What was the intent IBM addresses LGBTI?


Claudia Brind-Woody: IBM has a very long history of D&I that goes back into the 1920s. In the 1940, equal pay for equal work for women was established in the US, the first IBM diversity non-discrimination policy was established in 1953. We added sexual orientation to the non-discrimination policy in 1984 and added gender identity and gender expression to that in 2000. We also even added genetic make-up to it which means that you couldn’t discriminate based on your DNA-makeup. We have been very much a leader in diversity, based on the values of our early CEOs Thomas Watson and Thomas Watson jr., where they focused on valuing the individual. That set the tone for the non-dis­ crimination policies. For us, valuing of diversity is different from just having diversity. I believe it is in the valuing of diversity that you get the inclusion. We are diverse. We are a global company, we have different countries and cultures and people in diversity constituencies – old and young, black and white, gay and straight, people with disabilities, people who are multicultural – so we have all kinds of differences. The question is: do you value them? That is where inclusion comes in. Are we making the work place inclusive? Back in 1984, when they were debating about adding sexual orientation to the non-discrimination policy, one of our senior executives asked another senior executive: “Don’t we want to make IBM a place where everyone is welcomed to succeed?” That is the inclusion part. Everyone is welcome to succeed at IBM!

Why does IBM take care for LGBTI?


Claudia Brind-Woody: We have a really big company. It is very difficult to say by adding a LGBTI policy, share prices go up by certain figures or the like. However, we will say is that, IBM prides itself as an innovation company. All the research points to the fact that innovation comes when you have diversity. Diversity of thought comes from diversity of experiences and diversity of background. You could say that diversity of thought creates the innovation. We pride ourselves on our global technology outlook and the innovation that we do at IBM. That really comes from valuing IBMers all over the world. Now, we can also specifically point to the fact that we have a business development team that leverages LGBTI relationships for business. And they generate about 150 million dollars’ worth of business opportunities every year. That is just because of the relationship in the LGBIT business space enables us to close more deals, to have more clients, and to have an affinity with those clients. We have various programs on LGBTI business developments and they help our client teams serve our clients all over the world. We have LGBTI execu-tives leading different parts of the business. My co-chair Fred Balboni leads the IBM-Apple relationships for the entire company and is delivering value every day in that relationship. And he is there because IBM is a good place to work.

What does LGBTI mean on global business?


Claudia Brind-Woody: There are different parts of the world, where it is still illegal to be LGBTI. We want to make sure that it is safe for our employees, first of all. Secondly, we also want to be in countries where we can have business dialogue and leverage our business brand all with other brands, to make a difference in the discussion on LGBTI workplace inclusion. We have a diversity indicator in our human resources system, that allows people to self-select whether they are LBGTI. And we have rolled this out all over the world where it’s legal. There are still some countries where it is illegal to do so, like for instance the Nordics, which is surprising. In places like India, we had almost a thousand people, self-identify as LGBTI. In India it is still illegal to be gay. So, even in countries where they discriminate against LGBTI people, we work to create a climate where our employees know that within IBM, they are not going be discriminated against. They are going to be judged by their work, and how they create benefit for our clients.

“If you want to create value for your business, then make sure that you both have and value diversity.”

What achievements can be reported and measured at IBM since LGBTI has been issued? Would people rather not do business with IBM?


Claudia Brind-Woody: IBM stands for values. Throughout history we have held to those values. When we had discrimination, for example if client did not want to have a black or female sales representative, IBM said, we won’t send you any sales representative; we don’t want you as a client. That is the living of our values. We are proud to live those values.
We have three basic values: 1. Dedication to every client’s success, 2. Innovation that matters for our company and the world. And 3. trust and personal responsibility in all relationships. We are not going to worry about losing business from a client who is going to discriminate against IBMers.

What is the learning of IBM about recognising LGBTI in their D&I approach?


Claudia Brind-Woody: LGBTI is not an easy thing to address and yes, it is easier to talk about women or other minorities. But we experienced the following. A colleague of mine in the UK who was at a MBA recruiting conference for LGBTI MBAs for IBM kept having Asian women stop by the IBM booth throughout the day to get recruiting materials and talk about jobs at IBM. He finally said to one of the Asian women that he didn´t believe that all Asian women he saw that day were lesbians. The woman said: No, but we know that companies who understand and value their LGBTI employees understand and value all the rest of the dimensions of Diversity. They value women, Asians, Hispanics, Blacks and people of other cultures because LGBTI is the key indicator. It is the leading indicator that IBM is good with their Diversity policies.


What is on the LGBTI-agenda of IBM for the future?


Claudia Brind-Woody: Every year, we refresh what we call in the LGBTI community at IBM our “Vital Few.” We bring all our 34 out executives together for a one-day workshop, where we discuss what we think could be the vital areas of work for IBM in the LGBTI community. We look at equal benefits for IBMers all over the world. We look at how we can make sure our transgender benefits go beyond just some of the Western countries. We look at education and leadership development because with the diversity indicator, we can match people who self-identify as LGBTI to our lists of people who are considered to be top talent. We do LGBTI leadership seminars like we do for top talented women or top talented young engineers, just to mention a few. We are bringing that next generation of LGBTI-IBMers to a place where they get to improve their leadership skills. We have various things that we focus on doing. Certainly recruiting top talent is going to be something on our agenda always. We want the bright young talents coming into IBM. We want to be sure to support and develop them. We are always looking to expand our Employee Resource Groups. We are very proud of them. There are 42 LGBTI resource groups throughout the world with 13 chapters in North America, 7 Chapters in Latin America, 15 chapters in Europe, 4 in Asia Pacific including India and chapters in China, Japan, South Africa.

There is always plenty to do in terms of where to go next and there are many ways we want to make sure to be moving in that direction.

We think that D&I is good business. When we talk about the “costs of thinking twice,” we do not want the cost of lack of productivity. We do not want that personal cost of people hiding and not bringing their whole selves to work. There is a productivity cost there. There is a cost of not being able to hire the best and brightest, if you do not have a good workplace climate. There is a cost of cities if you are not innovative. If you think of big cities, which are innovative, which are tolerant such as Silicon Valley or places in Europe, for example. We do not want to pay the cost of being intolerant and not having innovation to make the economy grow.

Do not forget, that some of our clients are LGBTI as well. They should also feel welcome to succeed by doing business with IBM. There are many costs if LGBTI people are not welcomed in your business. If you want to create value for your business, then make sure that you both have and value diversity.