Gender Equality: 6 Key Lessons From VMware

International Women’s Day is here and this year’s theme, #BeBoldForChange, offers an opportunity to revisit the origins of VMware’s initiatives for gender equality. In 2014, the VMware team realized it needed to do something different in the area of diversity and inclusion, specifically gender equality. At the time, companies across Silicon Valley and the world were experiencing challenges recruiting, promoting and retaining women.

Three years along the path, the VMware team has learned six key lessons guiding the company’s gender equality practices and diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives.

1 – Women are not a “problem” to fix. Shortly after deciding to embark on this journey, VMware employees looked to the broader tech industry for best practices. After participating in a workshop with Deloitte’s diversity and inclusion team, the takeaway was clear. Rather than focusing on “fixing” women (through various training and development efforts), we focused on recognizing institutional barriers and biases and prioritized opportunities for the recruitment, promotion, and retention of women. To do this, VMware repurposed and reevaluated its recruiting practices. The company developed executive sponsorship programs to help foster and create internal opportunities for women, and peer mentoring circles (called DIALOGUE Circles) to help establish a common understanding of organizational barriers and enable change agents.

2 – It’s better to teach than to preach. VMware launched an unconscious bias education program in January 2014 to increase awareness and drive action among leadership. Mahzarin Banaji, author of “Blind Spot” and Richard Clarke Cabot, professor of social ethics in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, introduced the topic of implicit bias to over 200 VPs at VMware. This training program marked the soft launch of the Women’s Initiative at VMware. The unconscious bias education was subsequently rolled out to over 60 percent of management staff (and VMware continues the program today). Training focused on rich research to drive awareness, and proactive actions managers can take to reduce bias. Over 90 percent of attendees of VMware’s unconscious bias training report leaving with a commitment to take action in their talent decisions.

3 – Executives need a number. Metrics drive change. Collecting data on the representation of women in VMware’s population was one of the first tasks on the list. VMware first examined representation rates along with hiring, promotion, and retention rates for women at every level. With these numbers, the Women’s Initiative team was able to demonstrate areas of opportunity to leadership. The numbers made one thing clear: increasing the representation of women within the company was going to be a process, and consistency would be key.

4 – Men need to be involved. From the beginning, the VMware team knew that men needed to be engaged. They made a concerted effort to involve men in building, maintaining, and guiding the Women’s Initiative. When the Women’s Executive Council was founded, 50 percent of its members were men. Bringing men into the fold helped the Council review its offerings and programs with a holistic lens.

5 – Inclusion needs to be driven by everyone, at all levels. VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger is passionate about diversity and was formerly responsible for driving gender equality at Intel. While he was adamant about initiating the journey at VMware, he also understood how long cultural change can take. At a grassroots-led company like VMware, the support of individual contributors was essential to help drive this cultural shift. Employees had to be ignited and mobilized to participate. Since middle management often set the pace for change, VMware rolled out Unconscious Bias Education to this group first and then augmented it with discussion groups and other learning opportunities to help attendees support their teams throughout the journey.

6 – Including women is a business imperative. The world is rapidly changing in its diversity—of markets, customers, ideas, and talent. It’s clear that supporting women in the technology industry is something companies need to do or risk being left behind. But it doesn’t end there. Last year, VMware expanded the Women’s Initiative to encompass a broader subset of the VMware community. The VMinclusion team was formed, and Power of Difference (POD) groups were developed for underrepresented minorities and to drive inclusion around local sites. As the Women’s Initiative (now called Women@VMware) moves into its fourth year, participants across the company are spearheading the D&I movement and bringing it to colleagues and surrounding communities alike. On February 28, VMware hosted the second Women Transforming Technology (WT2) Conference. Gloria Steinem and Kara Swisher delivered keynote speeches to more than 300 leaders in Palo Alto and over 4,000 online viewers across the globe.

“VMware set out to create opportunities for women, not to fix a problem.”

VMware continues to break barriers in the Diversity and Inclusion space. Just recently, the company released its diversity story and numbers on its new D&I site. The work isn’t done, but VMware is committed to working diligently for a measurable difference.

Learn more about Diversity and Inclusion at VMware and the recent WT2 Conference 2017.