Anna McCarthy

Since hiring its first women employees in 1899, IBM has long been at the forefront of advocating for gender diversity in the workplace. But Amber Grewal, IBM’s Vice President of Global Talent Acquisition, recognizes that there is still work to be done.

Grewal recently joined Fairygodboss Co-Founder and President Romy Newman for an intimate conversation, where the two wasted no time before diving head first into discussing the ever-evolving world of talent acquisition.  

Grewal started off by stressing that “if we don’t make a major change, gender equality will not be reached in the workforce until 2186.” She also cited a daunting statistic: there are currently only 300,000 developers contributing to the Internet of Things, and yet 4.5 million developers will be needed by 2020. Grewal, who joined IBM in December 2016, preaches an “agile approach to talent acquisition that focuses on improving the experience of candidates and hiring managers,” explaining, “recruiting needs to be reinvented.”

In the past, Grewal noted, talent acquisition was siloed; it tended to function separately from the rest of a company’s business. Recruiting has been looked at as a linear process, but Grewal explains that “that won’t work, because not every job is the same, and not all requisites are created equal. If the day to day for jobs is different, why would the job description or the interview process be the same?”

Grewal suggested that talent acquisition teams must create a recruiting-first culture at the company, viewing job seekers as customers, and take time to look at their customer journey. “Ask yourself and your team to identify both the most impactful moments and painful moments within that journey,” Grewal said, adding that once you pinpoint those moments, you can highlight the positives and in turn have a guiding light of where you need to make improvements.

IBM, for instance, is constantly working to improve its talent acquisition efforts from a diversity standpoint, using its AI technology, Watson, to enhance its process. Watson gives IBM the ability to screen applications more efficiently, but also with less bias; Grewal explained, “Watson is matching key traits, which is in turn finding more diverse candidates, and reducing unconscious bias.”

Once you have the talent, how do you retain it? Grewal stressed that flexibility must be a cornerstone of the employment value proposition. Help employees cultivate personal interests and integrate the demands of the job with the demands of their personal lives and emphasized the importance of training and development. Moreover, because IBM is a global company, managers are encouraged to offer their team members assignments that provide opportunities and exposure at a global level.

Grewal also explained how employers can learn not only from current employees, but also from those who leave or take career breaks. In fact, engaging women in the reentry process is an important part of IBM’s talent plan. IBM has created a bootcamp-style reentry program specifically targeting women reentering the STEM workforce after taking time off. A 12-week internship launches them back into high-level projects, with a senior-level mentor setting them up for success and a smoother transition period.

IBM believes that whether employees are joining a team for the first time or are returning to work after a break, it is critical to support them throughout this transition phase. With over 236 employee network groups around the world — more than 50 are women’s groups — IBM believes that the success of these groups starts at the highest level, leading with executives from the company. IBM’s Six Flexibility Principles further reflect its global marketplace and is integral to their corporate character.

Grewal holds herself, her team and IBM to high expectations and is confident they will continue to be at the forefront of gender diversity. “Hold your recruiters to KPIs,” she stressed, “because at the end of the day, they’re in sales, they’re selling your employer brand.”