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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

SThree: HR Benefits Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn