To push for more women, Dell aims to train men

Posted April 14th, 2017

Doug Hillary has spent nearly 20 years working for Dell Inc., where he eventually was promoted to lead the 1,000-person performance analytics group.

Statistically speaking, 57-year-old Hillary has spent his career working alongside people who look a lot like him: white and male. Of Dell’s 100,000-person global workforce, 68 percent are men and 68 percent are white. (Those workforce stats are from last summer, before Dell acquired EMC and added another 40,000 people to its workforce.)

Hillary, who is retiring this month, was selected three years ago to fly to Ohio with 20 other Dell executives to receive special diversity training. 

The “Men Advocating for Real Change” sessions offered by a nonprofit called Catalyst are aimed at the people who make most of the hiring decisions at tech companies: men.

READ: Workforce data shows Austin tech employers hire significantly more men than women

“They have influence over strategy and how dollars are spent,” said Jeff Barth, the program director for Men Advocating for Real Change, or MARC. 

He added that men traditionally haven’t been the target of diversity training sessions, which is a mistake because in so many businesses, it’s men who hold a majority of executive positions and have the ability to enact change.

“Men are very interested in this topic and want to support it, but are perhaps unsure how to do so,” he said. “There has been historically a lack of good avenues for men to play a supplemental role in the solution.”

Barth said the three-day MARC sessions, which are targeted toward executive leadership, create a dialogue around concepts of dominant culture, masculinity, privilege and unconscious bias. 

But the training also stresses “concrete adjustments,” such as correcting salary bands and succession planning. Although it’s geared toward men, Barth said there are women who attend MARC training as well.

“One of the refreshing things about it was it wasn’t all men talking about men things,” Hillary said. “There were a number of women there. It was a pretty safe, open environment.”

Hillary said he walked away from the training sessions enlightened about various changes Dell could make in order to recruit, retain and promote more women.

For instance, Hillary said they discussed with one executive, who did not work for Dell, at the MARC session why he was having a hard time getting women to apply for a job within his department. 

After looking at how the job advertisement was worded, the MARC group identified words that were written in “masculine” or “aggressive” tones, Hillary said, with lots of action verbs.

“Women started telling us that it turned them off,” he said. After Hillary and others at Dell attended that first MARC training, the company reviewed and edited “thousands of job descriptions to replace words that had overly masculine connotation,” according to a Dell spokesperson.

Ralph Barrera/AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFFAudience members listen to Michael Dell give the keynote speech at the DellEMC/World conference at the Austin Convention Center Wednesday morning October 19, 2016. 

During another MARC group discussions, Hillary said it emerged that women might need more encouragement to apply for jobs for which they feel unqualified. “It’s part of our responsibility to help build a pipeline,” he said. Hillary said he’s used the company’s twice-a-year annual reviews to identify “emerging women in the organization that have really great talent.”

His leadership team is now comprised of 50 percent women, he said, although he acknowledges that in his business analytics department, it’s a bit easier to promote women because there are more of them.

Hillary said after attending MARC, he and other Dell executives joined Dell’s women-focused employee resource group, called WoMen in Action. 

These groups are designed to provide networking opportunities for women. He noted that the group was already participating in a company-wide mentorship program called “top floor coaching” that is designed to partner women with executive-level mentors.

But despite embracing programs like Men Advocating for Real Change, statistics from 2015 show that Dell hasn’t made significant progress in the number of women employed overall, or in leadership position. 

The company’s workforce is 32 percent female, and women make up 24 percent of senior management.

Catalyst’s MARC program was started in 2012. Dell helped pilot its “MARC Leaders” program that Hillary participated in, Barth said. 

Though other companies have participated in MARC, Barth said Dell “is definitely pushing the curve.” He said other businesses haven’t been as public about their support of Men Advocating for Real Change.

Nearly 700 Dell managers from all over the world have taken part in the training. And a lot of the Dell managers who attended MARC training then led sessions back at the office to educate other Dell employees. 

“Our goal is to have 100 percent of our executives attend a full day, externally-facilitated MARC session,” Dell spokeswoman Emily Laderman said, noting that the company aims to complete that training goal in 2017.