IBM: Ahead of the Curve

Bringing Equality To The Workplace

IBM: Ahead of the Curve

By Treesmittenex — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

IBM supported diversity and culturally sensitive policies and strategies long before the terms were relevant in the workplace. Shortly after becoming president of IBM in 1952, T. J. Watson, Jr. set the company standard for diversity.

In 1953, IBM’s first written Equal Opportunity Policy called for equal opportunity in hiring “Regardless of race, color, or creed.” This policy was signed by T. J. Watson, Jr., and written as a result of IBM’s building manufacturing plants in the South and being confronted with demands that we maintain segregated facilities. He said there would be, “No separate, but equal facilities” — one year before the Brown decision ending “separate but equal” in public education and 11 years ahead of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the U.S. (IBM, 2020)

IBM took advantage of the tremendous benefit to diversity allowing it to leverage the different ways that diverse groups think about problems and solutions (Engleberg & Wynn, 2012). This benefit allowed the company to use greater creativity and problem-solving capabilities (Engleberg & Wynn, 2012). This was a tremendous opportunity for IBM because diversity enhanced their competitive nature. IBM has continued to leverage this strength by committing research to the improvement of diversity. IBM committed a study that spanned ten years of diversity training within its operations throughout the nineties (Cunningham & Green, 2007) (Thomas, 2004). IBM’s research in diversity found that diversity benefits were founded on, “in-group understanding, acceptance, and an application of ethics in a diverse workplace on a global scale” (Thomas, 2004). What was highlighted in this study was the fact that diversity training could provide the necessary elements of cultural awareness and more effective communication between diverse groups within the workplace. Similar research in international business setting yielded similar findings:

Doing business with people from different cultures is commonplace in our global economy where cross-border mergers, joint ventures, and alliances are the order of the day. Because of differing assumptions about how to think and act, the potential for cross-cultural conflict is both immediate and huge. Success or failure, when conducting business across cultures, often hinges on avoiding and minimizing actual or perceived conflict (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2004).

The components of diversity training allowed IBM to increase its profitability and to leverage more effective and productive work environments (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2004). Training for diversity also provides a means of reducing conflict which is a necessary element of any diverse workforce. What Watson started in 1953 was light years ahead of competitors and the success of IBM cannot be denied as the company continues to grow and profit.


Cunningham, D., & Green, D. (2007). Diversity as a Competitive Strategy in the Workplace. Journal of Practical Consulting, 1(2), 51–55.

Engleberg, I., & Wynn, D. (2012). Working in Groups: Communication Principles and Strategies. Prentice Hall, NJ: Pearson.

IBM. (2020). Diversity & Inclusion. Retrieved from IBM:

Kreitner, R., & Kinicki, A. (2004). Chapter 14 Managing Conflict and Negotiation. In Organizational Behavior. New Jersey: McGraw-Hill.

Thomas, D. A. (2004, September). Diversity as strategy. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review:


Vincent Triola. Wed, Feb 10, 2021. IBM: Ahead of the Curve Retrieved from

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