Women in Tech: Why HPE is Setting the Standard For Boardroom DiversityAugust 26, 2016
On Women’s Equality Day, HPE’s women board members reflect on why it’s critical to have women at the table
Early in her career, Meg Whitman got some pivotal advice: speak up. The president of The Walt Disney Company Frank Wells told her that she needed to talk. At the HPE Discover Women In Tech Panel in June 2016, she recalled Wells telling her, “You need to speak up because you are just as smart as these guys but if we don’t hear from you, we won’t know that. So, make yourself speak.”
She not only found her voice, but as CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise she created a culture to give women a louder voice in the boardroom and throughout the company.
When Hewlett Packard split into two companies in late 2015, Whitman and HPE Chairman of the Board of Directors Patricia Russo had an opportunity to set a new standard in Silicon Valley. They had the opportunity to create two new company boards and hire 12 new directors so they set out to get a diverse board of women, African-Americans, Latinos and people with unique experience.
“You don’t do this because it’s the right thing to do (or) because it’s politically correct,” Russo told the panel. “You do this because when you have people with different perspectives sitting around a table, you get a better answers.”
You do this because when you have people with different perspectives sitting around a table, you get a better answers.Patricia Russo
Having more women in the boardroom is correlated with higher company profitability and yet about 60 percent of companies don’t have any female board members.
Initially, they were told they were setting an impossible standard, but the pair dug their heels in and wouldn’t compromise. They told the team assisting with the board member search that they wanted diversity and they wouldn’t accept anything less. “When you do that, there’s lots of qualified candidates,” Russo said. “I refuse to accept that there are not enough candidates. That’s just BS.”
The result? Hewlett Packard Enterprise was celebrated for creating one of the most diverse boards of any tech company in America with one third of the board seats filled by women compared with the 20 percent of women on Fortune 500 boards. Russo, Pam Carter, Ann Livermore, Whitman and Maggie Wilderotter fill five of the 14 seats on the HPE board.
During Discover Las Vegas 2016, HPE featured Whitman and the female board members in a panel to talk about their experiences as women in technology and the advice they have for aspiring leaders and innovators.
Carter, who served as the vice president of Cummins Inc., a machinery design and manufacturing company, and as president of the Cummins Distribution business unit, said disruption is key to success both for a company and as a women in business. When she was pregnant with her second child while in law school there were very few options for mothers. She made sure she had flexibility so she could take her children to school, but it took standing up for her needs. “Disrupt. Don’t do what everyone tells you to do – do what’s going to make it right for you and things, over time, will actually work out fine,” she said.
For Whitman, meeting her needs also meant setting boundaries. At work, she networked by excelling in her position, building teams and solving problems. She had two sons at home so she said she declined the extra-curricular networking offers such as golf games on Saturday and Sunday to be home with her children. When she was in the office, however, she was focused on the job at hand.
“How you treat other people – how you build that reputation of trust of meaning what you say and saying what you mean… it’s really important,” Whitman said. “People need to know they can count on you. It’s interesting how small this world really is… just remember that everyone you meet, you may meet again.”
People need to know they can count on you. It’s interesting how small this world really is, everyone you meet, you may meet again.Meg Whitman
To succeed in business, networking isn’t enough – authenticity and sincerity is highly valued by the HPE female board members. Carter said, “If you really care about people – even if you’re an introvert or an extravert – then you can begin to engage with people every day. Whether it’s a secretary, whether it’s a janitor (or) whether it’s a CEO, the broader and deeper and more diverse network, the more things will circle back because they’ll know how your interact with people, that you’re comfortable engaging with them, that you genuinely care and that you’re authentic and those are the attributes one can use every day (without) going to a networking event, though that can be part of it.”
Wilderotter who was CEO of Frontier Communications and a senior vice president at Microsoft said she and her sister Denise Morrison who is president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company, were lucky enough to grow up in a household where their ambition was valued and nurtured. In the 1960s, when it wasn’t yet popular for fathers to take their daughters to work, Wilderotter’s father did it anyways. She said both parents exposed her to the possibilities available to them and helped build their confidence. “My parents really instilled in us (that) we can do anything we set our minds to,” she said.
Click here to watch the full video of the Women in Tech event or watch the recap below: