Diversifying away from the white, male, middle-aged manager

Computer giant Hewlett-Packard believes discrimination adds up to a waste of talent. Roger Trapp reports

Early next month, Lew Platt, president and chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, will visit the California-based computer and office-equipment company's UK headquarters at Bracknell, Berkshire, to present three out of only five quality awards that he is making in the world this year.

With such a clear recognition of the British business's contribution to the continuing success of a group that last year achieved worldwide revenues of $38.4bn, it might be understandable if it just basked in the glory.

But Mr Platt will find an operation in the midst of a transformation that John Golding, UK chairman and managing director, is convinced will effect the company's "very survival". The initiative in question revolves around the quest for diversity - a concept that has increasingly preoccupied managers and consultants as a result primarily of demographic changes that are putting more women and ethnic minorities into the workforce.

Concern about discrimination by race or sex has dogged companies for the past couple of decades at least, but Alison McDermott, one of the executives leading the programme, stresses that, while earlier efforts were morally or legally motivated, the current push results from business need.

Companies are realising that by excluding certain people or barring them from promotion they risk missing opportunities and not making the best use of the talents at their disposal.

Many observers might be surprised to hear that this is seen as a problem for Hewlett-Packard - which is as well known for the management principles espoused in "The HP Way" as for the sustained performance over the half- century since it was founded in a garage in what is now California's Silicon Valley.

But a review of the organisation recently carried out by occupational psychologists Pearn Kandola as part of the first stage of the diversity programme revealed hitherto unrealised problems.

Women, in particular, felt left out by a company that, according to one respondent, held meetings at "silly times" and was inflexible about family needs. It was even felt that the culture encouraged by the HP Way subconsciously created "HP clones".

Mr Golding - one of a group of senior executives to have gone through a training programme that followed the audit - has become "evangelical" about the issue to the point of saying that he is deeply worried that every member of the European management team is like him - middle-aged, white, Anglo-Saxon and male. Consequently, when it came to gaining different points of view and opinions all bar one must be redundant.

Emphasising that the programme - which has already been under way in the United States for some time - will become as central and all-pervasive as quality has become over the years, Ms McDermott says that great efforts are being made to impress on staff that it is not a "flavour of the month" and that it will take a long time to implement fully.

But in the meantime, she and her colleagues are demonstrating that they mean business by reinforcing rules against harassment, studying improvements to recruitment and promotion processes and spreading the message through special employee publications and training events.

While she expects there to be some who will be sceptical to the end, she stresses that the moves are not about positive discrimination and that well-qualified male managers have nothing to fear.

And though the strong culture at the company might ostensibly make it difficult to embrace a wider cross-section of people, Ms McDermott is convinced that the HP Way produces an advantage over other companies.

Treating people fairly and with respect creates an effective platform, she says. Mr Golding adds that, though the refinement of the company's values amounts to a "fundamental change in the way we work, think and interact with each other", he is convinced this will make the organisation more competitive - essential if it is to continue to grow at the 20 per cent a year to which it has become accustomed.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
lifeAiming to show breasts in a non-sexual way for cancer awareness
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Arts and Entertainment
tvBut something’s not quite right
Life and Style
The designer Veronica Etro (right) and her models enjoy the closing moments of her show during the 2015 spring/summer collections at Milan Fashion Week
fashionVersace at Milan Fashion Week
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week