Knowledge Center

The Executive Women’s Diversity Task Force was one of eight task forces at IBM that began in July, 1995, with an ambitious mandate: to promote significant culture change in the organization both nationally and globally, by improving women’s opportunities for development and advancement. The task force began by asking women leaders about their perceptions regarding the barriers to advancement. A formal, six-month examination of these issues resulted in the creation of numerous subcommittees with an emphasis on global concerns. The various task forces—the Women of Color and Women in Technology subcommittees, the Global Women Leaders’ Steering Committee, and programs such as Mentoring and Employee Development—empowered, developed, and advanced diverse individuals throughout IBM. Specific global-focused components include a work/life survey in Latin America; a work/life survey in Europe, the largest work/life survey in the world; Global Women’s Leadership conferences; a global dependent care assessment; the institution of global women’s networks and women’s council; and a global partnership promoting flexibility in the workplace.

As a champion of IBM’s Task Force initiative, CEO and Chairman Lou Gerstner encourages a “top-down, bottom-up” approach to culture change. He communicates personal commitment to employees through letters, e-mails, and postings on the company’s intranet. Managers are required to attend diversity training courses, conduct departmental diversity meetings, and promote attendance at diversity town-hall gatherings. At the same time, constituency groups are encouraged to drive the culture change and diversity agenda by identifying their needs and opportunities for change. Accountability at IBM is strong: managers are accountable for meeting diversity results; Gerstner in turn reports results directly to IBM’s Board of Directors. Evaluations for both executives and managers include sections on commitment to diversity efforts.

Women’s representation at the executive level worldwide has increased steadily since the start of the initiative, Global Women Leaders' Task Force: Creating the Climate to Win. In North America, women comprised 14 percent of all executives in 1995; by 1999, that figure has risen to 21 percent. In the Asia-Pacific region, women executive representation grew from 1 percent in 1995 to 8 percent in 1999. In Latin America, there were no women executives in 1995; in 1999, women account for 5 percent of executives. And in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, women’s executive representation grew from 2 percent in 1995 to 8 percent in 1999. In fact, in total since year end 1995, the number of women in executive level positions has increased 175 percent and now totals over 500 women executives around the world.