Diversity in Tech: HP Praised After Appointing Aida Alvarez to Board of Directors
This week HP announced the appointment of former Small Business Administrator chief Aida Alvarez to its board of directors, a decision that has drawn much praise from diversity advocates around the country.
Tech's Stubborn Status Quo: Leadership
Silicon Valley has been working on its diversity problem for nearly two years, ever since the Rev. Jesse Jackson challenged the industry from the podium at HP's shareholder meeting in early 2014.
But while there have been some slight improvements across the industry toward building a more inclusive workforce, some have recently drawn attention to the fact that top leadership of most tech companies has remained mostly unchanged and as homogeneous as ever.
Much like Jackson's initial call for transparency regarding the diversity -- or lack thereof -- in big Silicon Valley companies, calls for reshaping the executive and board level have met resistance.
For example, Apple has demonstrated a commitment to diversity in its own company. The company has also promised to open opportunities to underprivileged students to get early exposure to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Nevertheless, the company strongly criticized a recent proposal by a Latino shareholder to institute an accelerated recruitment policy to appoint more minorities to the company's executive and board positions. Apple's top senior management is entirely white and includes just one woman.
Latina on the Board
HP took another step toward diversity in technology industry leadership with its appointment of Alvarez to the company's board of directors, as CNN reported.
Alvarez, who is also currently a board member of Walmart, will bring a lot of experience to the position. Beginning her career as a journalist, Alvarez spent more than a decade in investment banking and finance. She then went into public affairs, directing community relations for New York City's Health and Hospitals Corporation, the largest public healthcare system in the country.
She was also the first Latina ever to hold a cabinet-level position in the federal government. President Bill Clinton appointed her as administrator of the Small Business Administration for his second term.
"Aida is a tremendously talented individual with unmatched experience spanning both public and private sectors. Our board, company, shareholders and ultimately our customers will benefit from her diverse background, financial acumen, and ability to guide and govern large institutions," said Meg Whitman, chairwoman of HP Inc.'s board of directors.
"My fellow directors and I are thrilled to welcome Aida to the HP family and look forward to working with her as we keep reinventing HP."
Wave of Praise for HP
Alvarez's appointment brought praise from Latino organizations and public figures of all persuasions.
"In announcing its appointment of Aida Alvarez to its board of directors, HP Inc. becomes one of the latest examples of a top technology company working to increase its diversity," said U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-CA., chairman of the Democratic Caucus.
"Alvarez is a great choice for its bench of senior talent -- not because of her background but because of her experience: she is the former administrator of the Small Business Administration and she was the first Latina to hold a U.S. Cabinet-level position," he added. "I hope more businesses take similar steps to prioritize their board and workforce diversity in 2016."
Charlie Garcia, CEO of the Association of Latino Professionals For America (ALPFA) -- the largest Latino membership-based organization for Latino business leaders, which collaborated with Whitman to help identify prospective Latino board appointees -- also congratulated HP's choice of Alvarez.
"Meg [Whitman] showed the world how easy it is for a technology company, which actually cares about diversity, to form a high performing, diverse board of directors," Garcia said in a statement.
On the other end, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's (USHCC) President and CEO Javier Palomarez pledged his organization's support while applauding the appointment.
"While we recognize the need for Silicon Valley to increase diversity in the boardroom, this appointment represents an important first step for HP," he said in a release. "We have no doubt the company will benefit from Aida's expertise, as well as enhance its services and market penetration to diverse consumers as a result. The USHCC looks forward to supporting her in this new role and working with HP to continue recruiting qualified Hispanic executives to its board and leadership."
HP's Women, Latina & Latino Leaders
The appointment marks an important step for diversity at the top level of HP, but it's worth noting that HP has been a leader in its inclusion of women and underrepresented minorities before diversity was a buzzword in Silicon Valley.
In fact, HP's long-running ahead-of-the-curve stance on diversity was one of the reasons Jackson chose to kick off his campaign at the company's shareholders meeting. In calling out Silicon Valley for its lack of transparency, inclusion, and diversity, Jackson duly noted HP's effort in the area, saying, "HP is uniquely positioned to lead this new era. Inclusion and fairness is part of the DNA of HP's history."
For example, a half a century ago, when it was still called Hewlett-Packard, the company established the first minority business program in the U.S. In more recent years, several women have served in leadership positions at the company, including former CEO Carly Fiorina, the first woman to lead a Fortune top-20 company; former chairwoman Patricia Dunn; and current chairwoman, President and CEO Meg Whitman.
Now, as Garcia noted, Alvarez will be joining several Latinas and Latinos in the upper levels of HP Inc. and its recent split-off, Hewlet-Packard Enterprise (HPE).
"To put an exclamation point on it for the Latino community, " Garcia stated. "Meg's authenticity is exemplified by the C-Suite roles of HP's General Counsel Kim Rivera, Chief Marketing Officer Antonio Lucio, HPE's Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Henry Gomez, and HPE's General Manager Antonio Neri."
"HP has always led the industry with a culture of innovation and diversity," said Raj Gupta, lead independent director of HP. "We are proud to continue that leadership with a diverse range of expertise, gender and cultural perspectives."
"Today's announcement helps support what we have been architecting -- to ensure we are reflective of the markets and customers we serve, starting at the very top," he added.
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