Perspectives: Claudia Brind-Woody

Claudia Brind-Woody

Vice President & Managing Director for Global Intellectual Property Licensing, IBM 


We’re not a Johnny-come-lately to the inclusion question. Inclusion is in our DNA because we had courageous leadership from the early days.


IBM has a really long history of non-discrimination going back to Thomas Watson Snr. And Thomas Watson Jnr., who were CEOs of IBM. They ‘got it’ right back in 1953, when Watson Jnr. wrote a policy letter making it clear that there would be no discrimination in the company. Back then, the words were about race and creed; then they were about gender – because that was the focal point at the time.


This was before the Civil Rights Act in the US. IBM had equal pay for equal work for women before the US government mandated it. We had women Vice Presidents in the 1940s. In the late 50s and early 60s, when two states – North Carolina and Kentucky – still had separate toilets and drinking facilities for blacks and whites, IBM declared that it was not going into those states until the laws changed. And they helped to get the law changed because those states were interested in IBM building manufacturing plants there. The company did that because one of the IBM original values was respect for the individual. So how could we live our corporate values if we didn’t take a stand on that?


Today we have three values: dedication to every client’s success; innovation that matters for IBM and for the world; trust and personal responsibility in all relationships. Diversity falls into all of them. Dedication to every client’s success: our clients are diverse all over the world – their cultures, genders, sexual orientation, age, race – everything is diverse. Innovation that matters for the company and the world: innovation comes from valuing diversity of thought and diversity of people. Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships ties back to that first value; respecting the individual.


One of my favorite quotes comes from one of our top IBM executives in 1984 when it was being discussed whether or not we should add sexual orientation to our non-discriminatory policy. He stopped the debate when he said, ‘We want everybody to be welcome to succeed here.’ Everybody voted unanimously for the addition. When you stop to think about it, it’s just that: enabling everybody, male or female, old or young, black or white, or whatever other attribute, to be welcome.


So we’re not a Johnny-come-lately to the diversity question. Inclusion is in our DNA because we had courageous leadership from the early days. It’s a company I’m very proud to be part of: it makes me a proud IBMer.


All of us, every corporation that does business in a global way today is concerned about the safety of our employees in places where they might be at risk for various reasons. That’s our first obligation to our employees. For example, women in business are still not welcome in some of the countries that are also hard for LGBT people. Or they are marginalized, like others of different cultures or different colors are often not included unless they are in a workplace that values diversity – and values human rights in the broadest sense.


If countries and cities want to have economic development, they have to rise to a level of tolerance that enables them to have the kind of diverse dialogue that creates innovation. We can have a dialogue about corporate and business development in a country, including with corporations that have strong non-discriminatory policies. That’s why our corporate brands coming together as Open For Business is so important: we have a collective courage as corporates to have open dialogues that can become stepping stones – and will help us open the aperture on tolerance.