Career Advice, Interviews

Leading By Example: How IBM Is Promoting LGBT Pride Across the Globe

These days, the word “diversity” is a loaded term. When used in the workplace, it can refer to gender diversity, racial and ethnic differences, age variances, cognitive style, education and even background. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, at its core, diversity is “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements; variety; the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.”

A simple definition for a term that encompasses so much. And for multinational tech giant IBM, it is a word that motivates rather than intimidates its +414,000 employees in 170 countries.

At the helm of these efforts sits Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, IBM’s Chief Diversity Officer, who is quick to remind outsiders that IBM isn’t just jumping on the “diversity in tech” bandwagon. IBM established an equal pay policy for men and women in the 1930’s, and an equal opportunity policy 11 years before the Civil Rights Act became law.

“We were among the first companies to include sexual orientation as part of our Equal Opportunity policy, and we extended domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian employees in the U.S. almost 20 years ago,” said McIntyre. “And our progress has not stopped. We now offer a variety of benefits in 53 countries to same-gender domestic partners or spouses. This year alone we announced the launch of same-gender partner benefits in 11 countries.”

As we celebrate leadership and LGBTQ Pride Month, Glassdoor’s Amy Elisa Jackson caught up with Lindsay-Rae McIntyre to talk about how she is pushing the boundaries of diversity, standing as a prime example of IBM’s dedication to working moms (“I did the unthinkable overseas and I had three children in three years.”) and how being a competitive gymnast prepared her for navigating corporate America.

Glassdoor: When many of us in Silicon Valley hear the phrase “diversity in tech,” we roll our eyes. It’s been such a buzz phrase for years and has seemed like a PR-stunt for some companies. Not for IBM, though.

Lindsay-Rae McIntyre: I think IBM is distinct on three things. We are global in our scope as a company and we are global in our scope in reaching[…] diversity and inclusion. The passion that we have around our technology extends to our diversity portfolio. You may have heard the intensity with which we engaged in all the Watson Healthcare and security, and all of that is done in the context of a company that is deeply passionate about diversity and inclusion, and we have matched our actions and our words pretty much for a century, which is kind of cool. We hired women and our first Black employees in 1899. We have a female CEO [Ginni Rometty] standing up talking about a world of Watson — [which] in addition to being smarter, safer, cleaner is also a world that is more tolerant, more fair. We have a management team that walks the talk every day. We don’t talk about flexibility programs — they model our flexibility programs. We don’t talk about leave of absence — they model leave of absence.

Glassdoor: It’s not a millennial recruitment tactic.

McIntyre: Diversity isn’t a program; diversity is really a culture.

Glassdoor: How does that apply beyond gender and race?

McIntyre: I happen to be one of those people who loves to solve ugly, gritty problems that allow us to achieve the impossible. I tell my team all the time: today, we do the hard stuff, and tomorrow, we’ll do the impossible stuff. It will be done tomorrow. For example, we opened up LGBT benefits in 11 countries last year including two where it’s illegal.

Glassdoor: That definitely counts as the impossible stuff.IBM LGBT Logo RGB 768x520

McIntyre: For us, it’s about full inclusion and making sure that from a value system standpoint there is a really consistent drumbeat all over the world. I’ve had the benefit of working intimately on the ground in a lot of countries and disseminating to many more. We started to look at how can we do more? How can we push the envelope to be more inclusive? How do we be more fair? How do we continue to push the envelope across the whole of the IBM family? That is where the conversation came from and there are tremendous thought leaders and champions at all levels of the firm who didn’t blink.

Glassdoor: Top-down initiatives are vital. How are you mobilizing and empowering employees across the globe to support this LGBT initiative, especially in places where being “other” is not only frowned upon, but dangerous?

McIntyre: We created a role model initiative over 70 countries where we had a nomination process for folks to be able to be role models in places where we didn’t have significant populations or it wasn’t culturally embraced. The momentum and the passion that has been unleashed from creating this new leadership family around this subject to teach one another, to engage with one another, to share in social networks and communities has been incredible so all I can say is that we’re deeply committed to climbing the next hill and really innovating hard on how to continue to get better.

Glassdoor: What does leadership mean to you?

McIntyre: Leadership is having an informed point of view that is deeply connected to the business. I happen to be an HR leader. I am obsessed with the context of the business and our clients first and foremost because it helps guide and shape the work that we do and how we allow our talent to unleash itself. I have a personal belief around transparency and relentlessness. It happens that IBM’s value system and my personal value system are really closely aligned.

Glassdoor: You’ve been at IBM for over 10 years. How has that time shaped you as a leader?

McIntyre: The intensity of our value system really connected to me as a human. I’ve always been really pushy and audacious. I have managers and leaders who have given me tremendous challenges, support, and opportunity. I’ve moved a lot. I’ve physically moved 13 times in 18 years. I worked up and down the east coast. I went overseas but at every juncture I feel like the IBM leadership team had the incredible wisdom to sort of see me where I was, hear what I wanted to be when I grew up and just gave me every bit of confidence and opportunity to lean into that.

Glassdoor: What role did mentorship play in your success? 

McIntyre: I benefitted from lots of different kinds of mentors inside and outside of IBM over my career, but when I look at the mentoring relationships that we stand up for, our women who are joining us, we don’t wait for them to ask. We’re really sort of proactively offering them really engaged, super inspiring people who can help them navigate their careers or their client conversations. At IBM we’ve gotten much better about unleashing a mentoring model that allows our young women and all employees to have access to [in-person] relationships in their management chain, outside their management chain as well as virtual connectivity. We’re really getting so clever about how to use social connectivity to bind people on conversations, platforms, geographies, domains, technology.

Glassdoor: What are some of the benefits or perks or things that you personally have taken advantage of that highlight what IBM really stands for?

McIntyre: I did the unthinkable overseas and I had three children in three years.

Glassdoor: Whoa, overachiever!

McIntyre: I took a leave, albeit a short leave, for all of those babies and I nursed all of them for a year. I used IBM’s lactation programs and lactation rooms all over the world as I was leaning into that personal objective. When I moved back to the United States I needed an even more tremendous amount of support and we have a great initiative through our global work-life fund that connected me to childcare providers and specialists that really sort of took the hard work out of it for me because I knew that they were IBM-endorsed providers, and it really allowed me a much more seamless move back to the US with three small children and a spouse and to pick a childcare program that I really love. I’ve used our college coach programs to help my nephew. While I’m not there yet, I have an elderly grandmother that I’m very close to, [and] we’ve got a general care program for elder care that I use. I’m a mother of three. You have to imagine. Despite my busy schedule, I flex all the time. Yesterday was my six-year-old’s birthday. I work from home in the morning. I took her for lunch at lunch time and then work in the afternoon. I really feel like a huge beneficiary and a role model.

Glassdoor: You’re a role model for sure.

McIntyre: My team gets to watch me use all of these rich programs and put them to work.

Glassdoor: Last one, what was your first job?

McIntyre: I was a competitive gymnast and so my first job was to be a gymnastics coach.

Glassdoor: Do you have a specialty? Floor? Uneven bars?

McIntyre: Floors. What did I learn from it? I learned that teaching is not as easy as doing. Coaching somebody on how to do a trick is much harder than actually doing it yourself.

Glassdoor: It is a new muscle. I’m sure there are a lot of similarities between that experience and your career. Though, being a leader, it’s a lot harder.

McIntyre: In the corporate world we call it growth mindset, right? You always have to be committed to learning and growing at all times. That was a lesson I learned very early on.

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