Inclusion and Innovation: IBM Makes Diversity a Business Priority

The drive to increase inclusion and diversity within the realm of employment has long been pursued under the banner of employer “innovation”.  And when it comes to the combination of employment and innovation (technological and beyond), there’s very few companies with a bigger legacy than IBM.

Founded over 100 years ago, IBM has long been the international first and last word in the development of innovative business tools and practices.  Within Canada, IBM is one of the country’s top 10 private R&D investors. The company has a unique approach to collaboration that provides academic researchers, small and large business, start-ups and developers with business strategies and computing tools they need to innovate. For more than a century, IBM has believed that diversity and inclusion are business priorities.

As a company continually looking to harness the power of inclusion, IBM has partnered with Ready, Willing and Able (RWA) for more than a year; starting locally with its operations in Halifax and shortly about to expand into a national partnership.  Thomas Sykes, the Early Professional Talent Acquisition Partner for IBM Halifax reflected on the start of the IBM-RWA partnership:

About one year ago, an IBM candidate proactively told me they were working with Autism Nova Scotia (ANS)* At the time, I hadn’t worked with a candidate with autism before, so I reached out to ANS, who then connected me to RWA. This was the beginning of a partnership that continues to see IBM collaborate with RWA to ensure we provide candidates who identify as neurodivergent with the support they need during the hiring process.

*one of RWA’s Nova Scotia delivery partners

This partnership between IBM Halifax and RWA has led to a number of hires.   Amongst these hires is Richard, an IT Test Specialist within IBM’s Quality Assurance IGNITE team.  Hired via RWA in May 2019 after graduating from college, Richard is a manual tester for a key mobile app client. Since joining IBM, Richard has excelled in his role, not only completing his professional duties, but volunteering as well for the IBM’s IGNITE program (helping to plan and promote events), as well as learning test automation skills.

Thomas Sykes commented, “Ever since joining IBM, Richard has been enthusiastic about his role. He’s been a very strong performer from a business perspective and is thriving.”

While the business benefits of inclusion and innovation are increasingly recognized, some employers continue to hesitate because of perceived challenges or the possible need for accommodations.  As for IBM, Thomas Sykes recognizes that the challenges are no more than with any hire, and the key to meeting them is utilizing the same approaches taken with all employees: dialogue, flexibility and support.  Said Thomas, “To help mitigate challenges, we keep an open dialogue with RWA for ongoing advice and help with communicating to our teams on what to expect, and the differences in social interaction and work styles. We also encourage an honest Q&A session to allow for questions and feedback.”

As for needed participant accommodations, Thomas continued, “We continue to seek advice and assistance from RWA. In one instance,  RWA (and their partner agency) provided an interview coach to work closely with a candidate during the IBM interview. By doing so, we were able to provide an environment that was more conducive to the candidate’s needs.”

Overall, IBM has long known that the benefits of inclusion far outweigh any challenges.  Thomas Sykes commented, “At IBM, we recognize the unique value and skills every individual brings to the workplace and want to ensure everyone has equal opportunity to participate here. To create an ideal work environment, we need to bring a variety of teams, perspectives and opinions to the table that reduces homogeneity and leads to innovation. By being inclusive, we can create a work environment where everyone feels comfortable and empowered to be their authentic selves. Also, by hiring with diversity and inclusion in mind, the talent pool becomes so much richer. I’m a firm believer that everyone is capable of success given the appropriate work environment.”

The RWA-IBM partnership is now expanding from the success in Halifax to a fully national partnership with initiatives planned in multiple locations across Canada in the coming year.  When asked to comment on the future of partnering with RWA Thomas Sykes concluded, “It’s important to create an open and collaborative work culture that celebrates diversity and inclusion. Encourage employees to be their genuine, authentic selves at work and help provide opportunities to educate and honour the differences within your workforce… Together with RWA, IBM can continue to provide an environment that welcomes diversity, leading to better innovations and outcomes for our employees, clients and society.”