In 2012, fed up that the shortfall of women and other under-represented groups in tech had only widened since she entered the industry, Slaton Brown left Hewlett-Packard Company to research and strategize on practical ways to move the needle. Two years later, the newly split-off HP Inc. wooed her back to apply that expertise to its aggressive diversity and inclusion strategy.
Under Slaton Brown’s watch, HP is moving more women into executive offices and diversifying its workforce to truly reflect its customers. It’s also using its clout to push key partners, including ad agencies and law firms, to hire more women and under-represented groups and put them in positions of responsibility. And with its Reinvent Mindsets campaign, HP is establishing a new way of training and tracking its own progress.
Slaton Brown spoke with the Garage from her offices in Palo Alto, Calif.
How would you describe your job?
My focus is on how to create an equal and equitable place for all people to work, to thrive, to belong, to innovate and to grow.
I started in HP’s network server division in Boise. I’ve worked in disc memory, printing, supplies and graphic arts. I’ve worked to help entrepreneurs in third world counties build sustainable business to help grow their economies. Then, for many years, I worked in global marketing, so most of my focus was on emerging markets, growth markets and how we impact particular audiences. Those were diverse audiences, multicultural audiences we were trying to reach.
So my current role gives me the opportunity to take what I’ve spent 20-plus years doing professionally, what I’m passionate about and what I believe is my life’s purpose, and bring them all together.
Where does your drive to create more equitable workplaces come from?
It’s in the DNA of my family — I come from a very diverse background. My grandmother was one of 14 children in a multiracial family, with my grandmother in the middle of the siblings’ color spectrum. There were blue-eyed, blond-haired kids on one end and those with darker skin and hair on the other. Colorism was alive and well in her family. My grandmother, who had hazel eyes and fairer skin, witnessed the discrimination both sides suffered.
And that came out in the stories she told. I was one of the children who sat at her feet and listened to her stories, which were often about not being silenced and speaking up, the power of getting an education and the responsibility to help others.
How did you choose tech as a career?
The short and kind of funny story is that I was in a bank robbery at a local branch.
As a bank management trainee, I was doing a rotation and working with the tellers at the drive-through. The minute the guy walked into the branch, I caught his eye and had a feeling in my gut. So I watched him to capture and remember every physical feature possible. That’s how I helped identify and prosecute the robber.
That was a life lesson: We have a sixth sense that we need to tap into and honor. From that day onward, whenever I feel that tug, I respect it and respond. It’s protected me from harm and danger and it’s helped me with sound business acumen.
Were you excited when HP approached you about leading its Diversity & Inclusion group?
Actually, my first inclination was “No thank you.” All the research I had done on how you begin to solve this problem — in tech in particular — had said that the No. 1 thing was to start with the company’s leadership. Then Tracy Keogh, the head of HR at HP Inc., said to me, “Lesley, we're starting at the top, with our Board of Directors.”
That got my attention. The time for talk is over — the time for action is now.
What Oprah communicated so articulately at the Golden Globes is exactly how I feel about the work we do here in Diversity & Inclusion. Whether it's Time's Up, #MeToo or Reinvent Mindsets — as Oprah said, a new day is dawning. You can be an ally. You can be an advocate. You can be an evangelist for change.
That’s what we’re doing at HP.
What’s on your desk as we speak?
A lot of data, some great resumes, a few good plans to productively disrupt much of the bias we see happening in the industry and some inspiring quotes. Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B. Last year, I dealt with extreme tragedy and loss in my family, and Sheryl's book is really insightful. It’s about facing adversity, building resilience and finding joy after the death of her husband.
Oh, and an HP fidget spinner. The funny thing is, I remember saying, “I don't know what the fascination is with these things,” but the first time I put one between my two fingers, I was like, “Wow, I like this!”