Xerox Embraces ‘Commitment' Over ‘Compliance,' Company Leaders Say

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The opening general session Dec. 6 of the annual Diversity Summit of the Washington, D.C., Chapter of the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources (NAAAHR) provided an inside look at how Xerox Corp. launched its diversity effort in 1968.

Kevin Carrington, NAAAHR's president, first asked Kevin Warren, president of U.S. Client Operations for Xerox Technology, in Norwalk, Conn., and Barbara L. Koontz, vice president of Human Resources and Learning, Xerox North America/U.S. Client Operations, how diversity and inclusion became part of the “Xerox fabric.”

(Bloomberg BNA edited the discussion for clarity.)

NAAAHR: How did diversity move beyond a program and become part of “just the way we work?” What was different at Xerox?

Warren: It was not by happenstance; it was very intentional. Our founder and first chief executive officer, Joe Wilson, was struck by the civil rights movement in the late 1960s and took an inventory of how many black employees Xerox had. He was astounded. It only had a handful of African American employees. He couldn't believe it. He met with the local city and community leadership, in Rochester, N.Y., and they challenged Xerox, as well as other companies, and they improved that. Xerox later found out a lot of progress was not made, and Wilson told the community leaders, “We will hire anybody who is qualified.” In the late 1960s, a large part of the black population there didn't have a high school diploma. Joe Wilson hired the people anyway and had them work the first half of the day and, during the second half of the day, helped them get their GED. That's the difference between commitment and compliance with diversity. … Anne Mulcahy was the first woman CEO of Xerox; Ursula Burns, an African American woman, is our leader today.

Koontz: Kevin raises a really good point. You can say a lot of things. The question is: What do you do, and how do you know if you're making progress? That's where HR has been important in driving diversity through the organization. You need leadership who's not compliant, but committed. Nothing happens if your leadership doesn't have a value around diversity. Our program started in 1968, and continues until this day. From an HR standpoint, we started to build in lots of measures and expectations in every program we do. We have since 1985 deployed a Balanced Workforce Strategy, focusing on how many African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native/American Indians are on staff. What we want to do as a company is reflect in our workforce the populations where we do business and live. We try to reflect “community” in all of our geography. It starts with hiring, with development, and with promotions. We ask, “What does the diversity profile look like with senior staff and their direct reports?” We try to reach a balance, so at every level in our organization we see balance. Today, we look at age and whether employees are American or non-American. We look at the mix of people outside Xerox and those who are homegrown. We have immense diversity of thought and, ultimately, we see that as an enormous advantage.

NAAAHR: When middle management pushes back about diversity and inclusion, how do you hold them accountable?

Warren: There's the big risk they will do just enough to get by. If you position this as, “This is about talent,” what organization would not want the most talented people. So then diversity and inclusion is an enabler and a competitive advantage and will allow you to tap into a more talented pool. No. 2, ask, “What is your diversity representation throughout the organization?” Make sure you have representation throughout the value chain. And the key to that is managing the succession planning population to make sure the employee feeder base is diverse. That's where HR can really play a consultative role to the operation and say, “You have gaps here. Let's look at your organization versus your colleague's organization. Here are your gaps.” Finally, affinity groups can play a role, too. At Xerox we have corporate champions of these affinity groups. The champions and affinity groups can push the case for the company.

NAAAHR: I was impressed with your Management Readiness Program.

Koontz: With our MRP, for example, we took a look at Kevin's senior leadership team, which is one of the most diverse. We looked at the diversity mix of Kevin's team and we looked at the diversity mix of our management pipeline. What we care about is who's in the pipeline for ascensions, for key jobs, and that's when we start to target people. Most of us need a little help, so we assign mentors informally. We send them to management development programs and start to give them visibility. Different leaders have their succession plan and their diversity mix. Also, we hire a very diverse pool of entry-level employees. Our most successful ability to drive diversity involves pulling up through the organization. Our philosophy is: everybody should have an equal chance to earn success.

NAAAHR: What are the drivers behind this commitment to diversity, and why is it important?

Warren: It was the values of the person who started Xerox 45 years ago. But beyond that, this is basic business sense, and common sense. Think about diversity in terms of the client base you're calling on; it's not all the same. If someone can't see there are other issues at stake, that's where HR might have to push and make them see this is not an extracurricular activity or charity. This is good business. It's very basic.

By Rhonda Smith  

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