Delivered June 2, 1995 at the
1995 Hewlett-Packard Technical/Professional Women's Conference
Diversity Journeys. Our Experiences with Our Own and Each Others' Differences.
Mine began when I was 7 years old, struck with an incurable skin disease. Covered with scabs for two years, and with medicines that were purple, tar black or pasty white, I was the "stinky girl" at school. The one never picked in Red Rover Red Rover.
I learned young about the cruelty we humans are capable of, and the loneliness and pain of being the target of it. I had only one friend I could count on to touch and play with me. The ocean. And she is now my oldest friend.
Growing up in Miami, Florida in the 50s, diversity was the Catholics, whom we learned smelled different from us Protestants, and were going to take over the country with all their kids; and Jews who were smarter, but could be our friends because maybe some of it would wear off on us. Since I had given up on people and switched to books, none of this affected my relationships because I had none.
Besides the ocean, the only friend I remember was in high school. We met at church camp in the kitchen, where we were both working off our scholarships. Peeling and quartering green grapes for the salads of visiting dignitaries, we found we had a lot in common, both being outsiders, living mostly in our dreams of how to save the world from the cruelty we saw around us. We discovered we'd both picked the same small women's college as our first choice. Being bookworms we had good grades and knew we'd both get in. We decided to become roommates and continue our plans for changing the world.
But to this plan my father said, "No way. I'm not using my hard-earned money to send you up there to room with a Black girl and get both of you killed." In 1963, he may have been right.
So I went to Florida State.
Through my church group at FSU I got involved in an exchange program with Florida A&M, the all Black college across town. Boys and girls paired up and went to the movies. I remember several painfully awkward evenings with my date, as we went around town and campus, the objects of curious, and more often hostile stares and remarks. Another activity was the Freedom Schools: Black children boycotted the schools, forcing the district to lose matching revenues; and meanwhile, we taught the kids in the Freedom Schools and together with them learned about Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and each others' hair.
I remember the bright early morning our youth minister, a frail old woman named Mrs. Wilson, calmly told us that we had received bomb threats, and to keep our eyes open for white men in cars cruising too close to the school. I remember feeling for the first time in my life that I was in a moment in history that mattered, one of those moments when life invites you to decide who you're going to be. And while I was very scared, I decided that what ever happened I was doing what I was meant to do . I didn't know till several years later I was part of a much larger Civil Rights Movement.
I went on to the University of Chicago, the only woman from the South in my class, and one of only 5 women out of 100 admitted to the Divinity School. I continued in Freedom schools, through involvement in South Side political work. Again, on the watch for white men with guns or in groups.
About this time I had a breakdown of some kind as first one, and then the other of my two major professors, also ministers, propositioned me with accelerated development in my program in exchange for - as one of them put it, "a special friendship. " I had these men very confused with God and my world was falling apart. It didn't help that they were also telling us five women that our minds could not withstand the rigors of doctoral work, as one of them put it. Nor did it help, as I learned on the admissions committee, that women applicants were divided into the dogs and the prom queens. And although one of the so-called dogs had the most brilliant mind that her recommending professor had ever encountered, she weighed 200 pounds and her application and picture -we had pictures then - merited only laughter and rejection.
Thankfully, small groups of women were springing up all over in 1967 - 68. I joined several. Out of these came another of those life moments: we determined to file a class action suit against the university of Chicago. I wrote the case against the divinity school. While I had nightmares of my professors shooting me, and even going to the grocery store made me nervous - what if I saw one of them? - again, I had that feeling whatever happened, I was doing what I was meant to do. The suit resulted in widespread improvements at the university. Through it, I learned that no woman had ever graduated from my program.
From Chicago, I followed my husband to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he was finishing his doctorate.
During the long hours, days and months as a clerk filing cards in the library, I dreamed of saving the world. My folks always felt each of us four kids had great contributions to make and should make them, and so my mom had a dream: that I'd become a journalist. I pooh- poohed this idea. What did she know - I'd never taken journalism or even a writing course! What newspaper would look at me? Besides, the only thing I would have any interest in writing would be a feminist newspaper column . Who'd buy that? Would anybody buy that? Being at the library, I avidly read newspaper columns for the first time in my life to see how they were written. I put it out to my women's group who said, "Go for it! We'll help! Let's brainstorm ideas!! !" And so was born what the Capital Times, in Madison, Wisconsin, billed - and in retrospect it was true - as the first feminist newspaper column in the country.
My first fan letter was a voodoo doll with pins stuck in it; my last was from a guy in prison who had been running white slavery rings throughout the midwest, kidnapping women and drugging them into compliance with the wishes of their customers. While Madison and Milwaukee police departments were congratulating themselves on breaking the case, I had asked in my column, why it took two years after they first learned about it? Could it be that they'd had to take it slow not to expose the customers, some of Wisconsin's most illustrious citizens? (I knew this to be the case through a friend in the police department.) In any case, my correspondent laid out his plans to kidnap me, and told me his boys had me surrounded. The letter was delivered to my new office, with a room number on it that wasn't officially assigned until a month later. Now I was terrified, and talked to police psychologists, and friends who'd been in prison, to try to gauge how seriously I needed to take all this. But underneath it, I had no regrets for the column, because the hundreds of letters between the first and last were wonderful. They spawned networks and friendships that gave rise to a rape crisis center, women's speakers bureaus, and several women's studies departments.
Through the column, I got the visibility and credibility to get another great job-- working for the governor, as an advocate for women within the civil service. Along with appointees from the African-American, Native-American, Latino-American, Handicapped, and Disabled Communities we traveled throughout the state, supposedly putting out fires. In fact, we fanned the flames of new communities of support arising around issues of inclusion and equal rights.
My closest colleague was Joe McClain, an organizer in the Black community. As we moved around the state, I experienced a number of those "life moments" as we'd walk into restaurants in sleepy little rural towns and all conversations would stop for the duration of our breakfasts. Joe would sit facing the door in the back of the restaurant, where he could see any sudden movements, and I'd chat away acting like there was nothing going on, while we'd gulp breakfast.
The moment I remember the most vividly was one night in Milwaukee at a rally where Angela Davis was speaking. Joe and I walked in, and the director said, "Oh Joe, I'm so glad you're here. We're two guards short and we've had threats". With that she tied red arm bands on us and walked us to the back of the stage where the training began: "Is each of you quite clear you are ready to put your body between Angela and an oncoming bullet? Close your eyes now and think. Because now is the time to leave." I closed my eyes and felt my heart thudding. But a clear voice asking, who was more important on the planet for the things I believed in? Barbara Waugh or Angela Davis. I had decided. Another moment.
The good news is, no one got shot. The bad news is, I never saw Angela, because guards sit in the audience with their backs to the speaker, looking for sudden movements, ready through signals, to alert the rest of the team.
When our flames-fanning work gave him the wrong kind of visibility, the governor disbanded our group, and we all became equal rights investigators. I investigated dozens of cases, and in this experience, as in my own case, I was struck by the enormous costs to the complainants of this step. The psychological costs, nightmares, paranoia, financial costs from doctors, therapists, lawyers. And strangely enough, I was also surprised at how often I really liked the bad guys, in addition to the good guy. It seemed like almost everybody was fundamentally a good person. Wasn't there a better way to work things out? And this all took so so long.
Frustrated with the speed of change through these channels, I saved money to drop out for a while. My husband and I had split up when he went to India and I stayed behind. I joined a commune on a rural farm and got into street theater going on through socialist and feminist political groups. Inspired by the power of dramatizing conditions and the immediate ease of organizing people to change things, I decided with a friend to go big time. We traveled all over the country looking for the right place, and landed in San Francisco. I believe it was here I first saw Dick Watts. The only guy without Birkenstocks. I thought he looked familiar! "NOT", as my kids say.
In San Francisco, I joined a small troupe already in existence, and we played to standing room only audiences in the tiny little Studio Eremus. But I got hungry, and by now had seen enough great actresses to know I was not destined to become one. I became a temporary secretary all over the city, and meditated daily on the power and oppression of the secretarial role in most companies.
After a year of temping, I became a director of the women's center for nine theological schools in Berkeley. In the seven years there, I learned the limits of the politics of confrontation, and the possibilities of compassion and dialogue. The tremendous loss arising from a good guys/bad guys approach: we miss the bad in the good guys, most importantly in ourselves; and we miss the good in the bad guys, which is the real possibility for change.
Trying to understand the viscious in-fighting that often threatened to shut down our center, I enrolled in a self-directed action research doctoral program through the Wright Institute, in Berkeley. It was here I learned the enormous human danger of poorly defined tasks or tasks defined far out of proportion to the resources assigned them. Our task at the women's center was "Eradicate sexism from theological education and the church." Our resources were 3 directors paid 6K a year full-time with no benefits, 10 volunteers, and a 40K budget. All of us read my textbooks, and together focused our task, increased our resources, and became one of only two women's centers in theological education to survive the 70s, and now the 80s and 90s.
After my doctorate, I wanted very much to get into the electronics industry. It seemed like where it was happening. But with a theology degree, a psychology degree, and seven years running a non-profit women's center I wasn't exactly a fit anywhere, and repeatedly ended up number two in the interviews. I decided to direct the South Bay campus of an electronics college, and at least get closer to the industry. My students and faculty began recruiting me, and so I came to HP eleven years ago as a staffing manager at Santa Clara Division.
At HP, I hid out a lot. Radical, feminist, non-technical, female: how was this ever going to work? I read three or four spy novels a week, unconsciously trying to learn how to live in a different world without being discovered.
Hiding ended after six months when one of the hiring managers stalked into our office, threw an offer letter down on the secretary's desk and said, "Get this out by 10 or you're gonna hear about it." and stalked out. Another moment: the secretary in tears, my hair on end and my adrenaline pumping. I stalked him to his office, cornered him and said low and firm, "Don't you ever treat one of my people like that again or we'll never help you with another hire". Quite astonished, he asked, "What do you mean? What did I do?" He really had no idea what he'd done. Unbeknownst to me, this was his style. Unbeknownst to him, not for much longer. A deep and abiding friendship began that morning, and grew with each confrontation.
The next confrontation occurred in SEED hiring. "So", I asked him, " how many SEEDs do you want? We're targeting minorities, and this is a great opportunity for the division" His face fell and he said, "Well, I'll take two minorities and then get me two smart ones." I replied, " How about four smart minorities?" "C'mon, Barb, you know what I'm saying." "C'mon, you, give me a chance!" "Oh jeesh, whatever." Pestering the minority professional groups for candidates, Joan Krieger and I developed a great candidate pool, and the division hired 90% minorities. The average GPA that year was the highest we'd ever had: 3.8: pulled down from a 3.9 by the two Caucasian hires. My friend hired 4 minorities, and through his relationships with them, did 180 degrees, becoming my best minority college recruiter. He won over several new hiring managers, whom none of the rest of us had been able to reach. He had a level of credibility with them that the women and minorities among us did not.
I moved from Santa Clara to Corporate to run recruiting for HP. Keith Johnson said "You've got so many ideas about how to fix us, come on up and do it!" Luckily for me, Emily Duncan had just joined HP. Though I immediately went into the high school uglies - "Emily's one of the beautiful popular girls and she'll never be my friend", I just told her about it and so got over myself.
Together, we looked at our AA hiring. In every category we were hiring fewer people than the statistics suggested could be our share. Worse yet, our statistics were based on the availability of electrical engineers. But we were hiring more than half computer scientists where more women and minorities were available. When we recomputed availability, we were even further from our goals. What to do?
Emily's genius is to start with what we have and move on from there. I often overlook what we have in my enthusiasm to get us where I think we should be.
What did we actually have? Small clusters of HP hiring managers, staffing and AA reps all over the country who "got it." We didn't have to educate, convince, or persuade. All we had to do was identify them, introduce them to each other, and give them visibility for their successes. In less than two years our hiring in every category exceeded our goals.
I moved onto HPL, where in my first year I got to work on the '92 TWC. That was the year we insisted on company time, reasoning - as Laurie Mittelstadt put it so eloquently in the front page of the WSJ, "Everyday is a man's conference at HP. We just want two days for women!"
With Barbara Shula, and Laurie, and blessed voicemail, we worked.
And we learned of unexpected support for women in pockets at the top, all over the company. Threatened with cancellation of the conference for expense control, I called friends who had friends in top management until I got the answer I wanted: Dean Morton declared the conference ON. Threatened with no way to handle the money, my own controller and dear friend Andrew Liu took on the handling of the money, as well as the possible exposure if we had a shortfall.
Out of the TWC experience I was invited to help with the Deaf and Hearing Impaired forums, and out of that, to keynote that conference. Here I was truly a minority, awkward, painfully aware of my own inadequacies, begging the organizers to find someone else in HP that could do this better. Why me??? And so I began my talk, nervously signing, "I'm so pregnant to be with you today!!!" And walked away inspired by the forgiveness, courage and persistence of my fellow employees, and gratitude that I work in a culture where it is not OK not to respect each other.
During my years at HP my partner and I also adopted our children, both African-American. Meeting their birth mothers, coming to love them and share the pain of their broken dreams, and relentlessly cruel worlds, I walked through the invisible veil that until then had separated me from the true devastation of poverty and racism in America. With each experience in these other worlds, I became physically very sick. And haunted by the question, "How can I make a difference?"
I don't know what it is to grow up Black in this country, but I know what it is to love someone who is, and it's the most pain I have ever known
I watched the lights go out in my daughter's sparkling eyes in Kindergarten. I couldn't figure it out. Her teacher was the advocate for handicapped kids in the district, and two children with quadriplegia were among Lexi's friends. So I sat in on the class day after day, holding my catatonic clingy daughter, and listening to this bright, well-meaning, cheerful teacher. And finally, I got it in our 4th or 5th conference together. I had pressed her to tell me that indeed, my daughter was performing in the bottom 10%. But she said, "what do you expect? Did you know her birth-mother? Was she on drugs?" And I got it: black, adopted, must be a drug baby, must be brain-damaged, don't expect too much. We transferred the next month - no small feat in the public schools if you've ever tried it.
I watch my son's rage fueled by unfairness all around him. Why did we always get the calls when there were always at least two kids involved? So we sat in on his classes, and noticed he was never asked his side of the story, and by age 3 had al ready learned his story didn't matter. Big, black, male and mouthy, by definition he was the problem. And what kind of problem? A little white boy was naughty, our son was evil. A little white boy was full of beans, our son was a budding criminal. We went through three schools, and much trauma before we finally landed in a kinder place.
My kids are only 5 and 7. And already, so much. Thankfully, we've got Emily Duncan, Al Moye, and Eugenie Prime in our lives to help us sort this mess out.
Meanwhile, back at HP, I learned that we were supporting Gov Wilson's 1993 budget reform initiative, and had in fact contributed money to it. While called budget reform, in fact, the initiative proposed to reduce the AFDC and other benefits going to the poorest women and children in the state.
This seemed to me absolutely contrary to our citizenship objective. I sent a voicemail message to about a dozen friends who I thought would probably think the same way, researched the initiative, corporations' support for it, and various groups' opposition to it.
I then wrote a long letter to John Young with all my documentation and phoned a few people on the committee that decided these things. John HP-Desk-ed me back, and shared his own misgivings about our position. Later I learned that all this had reversed the decision, and in fact HP came out against this means for balancing the California budget.
And the journey continues. I have lost many of the radical friends of my pre-HP days, who think anyone in a corporation has sold out. So why am I here? Why do I stay?
I was confined to bed for a week recently with another bout of an ongoing inner ear disease. I used this time to reflect on my life and ask myself, "What do I care?" "Does any of this really matter?" And I reviewed the balance sheet:
On the minus side, is there a woman or minority in HP who seriously aspires to become the CEO of this company? I doubt it. This is a crying shame. And it's still the case more often than not that unless a sympathetic male colleague repeats our insights in a meeting we are not heard. This erodes our souls and breaks our bodies.
On the plus side, we have a Technical Women's Conference. And space and time sanctioned for us to gather, thousands strong, to tell the truth as we see it, and dream our dreams for HP's future, and network with each other and with the men we work with to realize them. And this is amazing. Catalyst thinks so. The Wall Street Journal thinks so. Even Cosmopolitan magazine thinks so.
Also on the plus side, I have never been penalized for telling the truth in this company, not even when I contradicted my manager and wouldn't back down, or even the CEO. In fact I have been rewarded for it, time and again, with money, opportunities and the best friends I have. My current manager, Joel Birnbaum, far from penalizing me for pushing back, eggs me on at every step - first, through the example of his own courage, and through many rewards, most recently, by giving me the best job I've ever had: project manager for HPL's transformation.
And reading Dave's book, I learned I am part of a tradition that goes back a while. He tells of personally canceling Chuck House's project on a display monitor for oscilloscopes. In total disagreement, Chuck continued the project as a skunkworks, and then persuaded his managers to manufacture it. He sold 17,00 displays and made $35 million for the company before Dave found out. Whereupon Dave bestowed upon him a medal for "extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty." Now this is what we need more of!!
Dave muses, "How does a company distinguish between insubordination and entrepreneurship? The difference lies in intent." As Chuck put it: "I wasn't trying to be defiant. I just wanted a success for HP. It never occurred to me I might lose my job ."
And when I add it all up, I find I passionately want HP to survive. When it's all said and done, HP remains the best place I've ever worked, including the women's center that I created with others to be the ideal workplace that in fact turned out at times to be pretty awful.
Sure we've got tremendous challenges ahead in the diversity arena. But this struggle is not just an HP struggle. It is everywhere and in many places, including the churches I worked with, where it is often more virulent than here.
The diversity struggle is the species struggle to transcend the limitations to human life imposed by our seemingly reflexive need to always assign better and worse, more and less, higher and lower: through sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, discrimination against the differently abled and those from other countries.
Where better to wage the battle than in one of the most powerful agents for change on the planet, a Fortune 30 company in a world where companies more than nations, create the future?
And where more likely to win the battle than in this company in the Fortune 30 that has somehow kept a balance between profit and decency and had enormous influence in the world, constant in its example, that these two terms are not mutually exclusive.
And so I find myself here today, at the close of these three days, and in the context of my own journey with two burning thoughts.
The first thought: Relationships
As I read Dave's book I am moved anew by the beauty, grace and integrity of this company, which I believe stems from the fact that it was founded on a relationship of love and respect between two people. This is not the Hewlett company or the Packard company, but the Hewlett-Packard company. The order decided not by higher or lower, greater or lesser, but by the flip of a coin. As I read it, Dave's book charts the history of the company through hundreds of significant relationships. And not just relationships with peers, but up and down the hierarchy. The paucity of Dave's words spoke volumes when he recalled, "We got the idea of profit sharing from Genrad. Only instead of just engineers, we thought everybody that contributed deserved to share the company profits, so we extended it to everybody." Period. Nothing more said. Of this generous benefit out of their own pockets that has rewarded so many hundreds of thousands of us, and beyond us, hundreds of thousands more in companies that followed HP's lead.
And I believe it is the quality of the relationship between Bill and Dave and those early employees that people refer to when they say they miss the HP way. They miss the depth, and authenticity and simplicity in relationships of those days.
I believe we must somehow recover it. And I believe this to be the greatest human resource challenge we face. Because the world is more complex. There are all us women. I didn't read about many in Dave's book. And all us races. Not many races there, either. From all these countries. Working all hours in any 24. Living all over the planet. With cycle times down from years to weeks. Everything getting faster, and doing more and more with less and less.
So how? I don't know. I just know this is the question. I know we must dialogue, and listen without preparing the next remark: as Lew described a recent experience of listening. We must shut off the incessant judgment machine urging us to decide who's smarter, right, most likely to succeed. In dialogue I believe we can begin to approach the raw wound of racism that tears our world apart and discover how is it robbing HP. In dialogue, I believe we can face our own blatant stupidity and overwhelming helplessness with colleagues who are differently abled. I believe we must. A relationship founded our company. Relationships gave birth to the HP way. Relationships will be the key to unlocking the promise of MC2 and the future of the company.
The relationships forged here this week, and in the months that prepared the event are a tremendous contribution to this work. I believe we here today can and must lead the way across the divides of gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, geography, technology. How? I'd suggest we each pull out that list of conference attendees and highlight everyone we know and everyone we met and everyone we wish we'd met. Count how many lines we crossed with new friendships. Focus on those that crossed the most lines. Build these relationships. Call each other. Get together for breakfast, for lunch. When you know you're going to be in the neighborhood for a meeting, schedule an extra half hour or two to catch up. Put each other on teams. Create teams of those we want to work with. Create the future.
The second thought: Contribution
This TWC, each year bigger, more beautiful, more superbly executed. All done by women on top of their full time jobs. Many with obligations at home. Some with little or only begrudging sanction from a manager. Most with no resources beyond themselves. What a lot of work!!! And yet everyone I know who's involved feels grateful to have had the job. Why? Because it's worthy of us. Through the TWC we grow our responsibility to match the authority and tremendous talent that we have to offer, refusing to be confined by our demanding, but often small jobs.
And so I have come to believe that to ask "What can we do for HP?" while a necessary question is not THE question. Why? Because it confines us to HP as it is, and to existing jobs as the channel for our dreams. This is unworthy of us. We are bigger than this. Much bigger and much more powerful. Just look at us!
I believe the critical question before us today in not, What can we do for HP?' but rather, "What can HP do for the world through us?"
The dream of our founders was to make a contribution to the world. In fact, the contribution that Hewlett is most proud of was no technology or product we ever sold, but the HP Way given freely to the employees and the world.
And now it is our turn to ask, what contribution can we make to our beautiful, suffering, fragile world and its precious people? What are we uniquely positioned to do? What can our life-giving, life-enabling technologies contribute? What destructive ends can we divert them from? What might we do through our citizenship objective if we identified beyond the relatively well-off of the HP plant to the global village that is now home?
I propose that these be the contributions we dream of. For WE are now the founders. Of the future HP!
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