Quality executive leadership in Diversity and Inclusion amounts to more than mission statements and bottom lines; an exceptional leader displays empathy and is willing to step outside their comfort zone in order to meet a fellow person halfway. Two years into Lenovo’s global expansion, Yolanda Conyers joined the company as its inaugural Chief Diversity Officer. Tasked with the responsibility of integrating corporate cultures from the East and West, Conyers set out to become a holistic leader and champion of diversity.
The Co-Author of “The Lenovo Way — Managing a Diverse Global Company for Optimal Performance” pioneered the inclusive and empowering company culture that has helped Lenovo remain a leader in the tech space. Additionally, she serves as the President of the Lenovo Foundation, Lenovo’s philanthropic arm that seeks to expand access to STEM education in underserved communities. In the following Q&A, Yolanda Conyers delves into her leadership practices, D&I philosophy, and more. Check it out!
Evan J. Cutts: Can you tell me about your roles as chief diversity officer and president of Lenovo Foundation as well as your role as VP of global human resources?
Yolanda Conyers: I came to Lenovo in 2007 in the Chief Diversity Officer position – it was really the first time a company of Chinese heritage had hired a Diversity Officer role, and it was a key move for Lenovo as they expanded on to the global stage in the tech industry. Two years prior, in 2005, Lenovo had acquired IBM’s PC business and ThinkPad product line and the company was really grappling with the challenge of how to integrate those two distinct cultures of East and West. My role was to work closely with the executive leadership team to identify a strategy to designate the set of values and beliefs that would guide our daily behaviors under a consistent team culture.
Over time, my role has expanded to include VP of Global HR. In this role, I lead a team of HR business partners who work closely with business leaders representing, research, information and technology, Lenovo Capital Investment Group, legal, finance, marketing, strategy, and human resources. The HR role is a great opportunity for me to take my analytical skills as an engineer by training and combine it with my passion for championing diversity, to develop people programs and service strategies enhancing these organizations’ approach for positive business results.
13 years later, we’re now a $50 billion Fortune Global 500 company with 57,000 employees serving 180 markets worldwide. We’ve come a long way, and on that journey, I also acquired the title of president of the Lenovo Foundation, our philanthropic arm that we re-launched in Fall 2018 to provide under-served communities around the world with access to technology and STEM education. The mission aligns with our diversity and inclusion strategy as well as our corporate vision of bringing smarter technology for all.
All these roles are intertwined allowing me to solve complex business problems and lead diverse teams.
Looking back on nearly 30 years of executive leadership between two top tech companies, how has your perspective on leadership shifted? What do you value now that you may not have then?
I look at leadership a lot more holistically now – not just in the context of “What am I doing in this role,” but now looking at “What am I doing to be well-rounded in and out of the office?”
I’ve come to know a few great leaders and I find that the best ones strike a balance in the way they manage their time and energy, both at work and in their personal lives at home. Something I didn’t value as much as an early-career professional that I take very seriously now is better self-care through exercise and meditation. Early on I traveled frequently and worked very long hours and didn’t really make time to be sure my cup was “full” so to speak, and that I was taking care of me. I’m a lot stricter these days about achieving that work-life balance and maintaining a higher degree of self-care.
Looking ahead, how can organizations ensure they remain relevant and effective in the D&I space as the socio-cultural landscape shifts in the US?
I think the best thing you can do to stay relevant and effective is to stay up to date on shifting trends.
We utilize data a lot to drive our strategies. Internal data, like the information disclosed in our annual diversity & inclusion report, is utilized to keep us transparent, accountable, and on track toward our goals, but we also utilize external data that helps us to keep a pulse on what’s going on around the world. Specifically, my team actively evaluates attitudes on diversity and inclusion, particularly as it relates to the Workplace and, in Lenovo’s case, technology.
Last year, Lenovo began conducting global research on these attitudes around D&I and we use that to evolve our own approach.
This year, we continued our global research efforts and among the key insights we’re taking way is that, for the first time ever, we’re now looking at four generations in the workplace with the growing presence of Gen Z. They’re by far one of the most diverse and ‘activist’ of any generation we’ve seen, and they’re already very inclusive as a generation and exposed to more diversity at a young age than certainly those in the Boomer and maybe Gen X categories. They’re not afraid to call out and stand up to injustices and they’re carrying this attitude into everything they do – including the companies they choose to work for.
Furthermore, we’re seeing a continued evolution over the last two years of how “inclusion” is defined. It’s still about gender and race/ethnicity as it traditionally has been, but the conversation is broadening its scope to include intellectual diversity, mental health and overall wellbeing, individuals with disabilities, among other factors.
For the rest of this conversation, visit colormagazine.com.