Many companies have had diversity-related aha moments in which they realized that their culture needed to become more inclusive, but fewer have translated these revelations into significant, long-term change. In fact, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts are often seen as something “extra” or as “help” for underrepresented employees rather than as critical investments in fostering a healthy business culture and generating bottom-line results. Making matters worse, DEI efforts around the world are now being pared back in response to economic headwinds, political backlash, and legal decisions.
During VMware’s 10-year DEI effort from 2013 through November 2023, when VMware was acquired by Broadcom, we had to learn how to make diversity gains stick well past aha moments and through ups and downs in the business cycle.
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Through this effort, VMware has steadily increased the percentage of women it employs globally and, in the U.S., the percentage of underrepresented employees (the populations that are most challenging for tech companies to hire and retain) at rates that are within the top decile of the tech industry. This journey has lessons for other organizations that seek to prioritize DEI efforts that move the needle in ways that are sustained over the long term.
An Inclusive Culture Requires New Relationships
To become more diverse and inclusive and retain its successes, VMware tried novel ways to change the culture over the long term, both from the leadership level down and from the employee level up. Working in partnership with Exponential Talent, a DEI consultancy, VMware sought structural changes that incorporated DEI into the organization’s cultural DNA.
A key goal was to ensure that meaningful relationships were built across levels and differences within the company. Company leaders decided that bringing together people with different backgrounds and experiences and connecting them at an authentic and emotional level was essential to resetting implicit biases in people’s brains.
VMware sought structural changes that incorporated DEI into the organization’s cultural DNA.
In addition, the company realized that if everyone receives value from their time spent advancing DEI goals, it can sustain efforts even when there is variability in the business cycle.
Two key actions helped VMware set the stage for success:
1. Establishing accountability. This is table stakes for any successful long-term initiative. VMware specifically tied DEI goals to the incentive structure, starting with bonuses for top executives in 2018.