Q&A with Keysight's Director of Inclusion & Diversity — Women's History Month and Gender Diversity Trends
By Michele Robinson-Pontbriand | Director Corporate Social Responsibility
As Keysight’s Senior Director in Global Learning, Leadership Development and Inclusion & Diversity (I&D), Leslie Camino’s role includes activating the company’s enterprise wide ecosystem to foster an inclusive environment that serves as a competitive advantage, while increasing opportunities and innovation through a diverse workforce.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I recently spoke with Leslie about Keysight’s I&D program, the company’s rich history of gender diversity programs, and where she sees the future for women in Keysight.
It’s Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of women to history, culture, and society around the world. As a female in the tech industry, and Keysight’s Director of I&D, what does this month mean to you?
Leslie: Women’s History Month is a time of reflection, acknowledgement, and empowerment. We have an opportunity to learn about the contributions of women throughout history whose stories have not been told widely, particularly in the technology industry. Examples include: Gladys West, an African American mathematician whose work served as the foundation of global positioning technology; Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman to go to space and now is Director of the Johnson Space Center; and Katherine Johnson, who’s mathematical computations were instrumental in sending the first Americans into space.
I applaud these and other historical female technologists in enabling today’s advancements and next-generation developments. We must continue sharing these stories and bringing to light that women are here in order to inspire, educate, and set the course for the future. This role model effect is powerful in broadening our mental models by noticing the women amongst us and taking stock of our own impact.
Having been part of the tech industry in particular for over two decades, there has been amazing progress in the role of women in driving innovative technological solutions. At Keysight, women are leading important initiatives, collaborate across some of the best technologies in the world, and help run our thriving businesses. I think of Ingrid Estrada, our Chief Administrative Officer, and her leadership style which encourages us to stretch and break the status quo. I think of Shidah Ahmad, our Vice President and General Manager of Order Fulfillment, and the value she brings to our business. I think of the women in the production line, our marketers who enable Keysight’s story to be told, the administrative staff who play many roles in support of others, our women in the field consulting with our customers, and our female engineers who played the odds when they decided to pursue a career in engineering. No matter what the job title, undoubtedly, they are mastering many roles as professionals, mothers, daughters, community supporters, and managing it all at full steam during an especially challenging time.
With all this said, there is much room for improvement and gender equity both in tech and societies around the world. For Keysight’s part, over the past year we have taken additional measures to formalize our strategy in this area, concentrating in creating opportunities to attract, retain and develop diverse talent, continue to build a sense of belonging and foster equality by ensuring we evolve our practices for continuous improvement in equity. This strengthens our position as a best in class company.
While Keysight’s I&D strategy was only recently formalized, diversity is nothing new to the company, we’ve been working on this for quite a while.
Leslie: In fact, we have been working on it since before Keysight ever formed. Through our heritage from the original Hewlett-Packard Company of 1938, founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard built the business on an inclusive culture. So, while it sounds a bit cliché, the reality is that inclusion and diversity are truly a part of Keysight’s DNA.
Under Keysight CEO Ron Nersesian’s strong leadership, we have been able to take it to another level with multiple inclusion and diversity efforts this past year. We put an emphasis on inclusion as a necessary foundation for diversity to thrive. On the gender front the company already has nearly 1:1 gender compa ratio worldwide. We support multiple female-led employee networks, have a strong Society of Women Engineers (SWE) program that we call KSWEEP, and a learning and development portfolio that we keep expanding and includes high potential employee development programs to build a future leadership pipeline. We have also launched several targeted mentoring programs, including a recently announced Women in Quantum Mentoring program in partnership with the professional organization Women in Quantum (WIQ). We keep strengthening and looking for new external partnerships, such as Black Girls Code and finding ways to support development and involvement of women in tech.
Keysight’s recently formalized I&D strategy ensures continued progress into the future by focusing on 3 key areas:
- Enabling Keysight growth by attracting and developing diverse qualified talent in the company. Particularly focused in women globally and in the U.S.A. in under-represented minorities in tech (Black/African American decent, Hispanic, and Native American)
- Using I&D as a competitive advantage in driving innovative technologies that connect and secure the world. This involves telling the story, especially in diverse communities, of Keysight and the amazing technologies we support in Communications- 5G, 6G, Aerospace and Defense, Automotive and Energy, Software and Services, etc.
- Accelerating our high-performance culture by fostering inclusive leadership across the company, ultimately enabling us all to grow together as a company. We have a goal for all our managers to go through a Fostering Inclusion program.
I have been excited to see the development work on the more formalized Keysight I&D strategy. What are some of the key elements of that strategy that relates to gender equity advancement and related challenges?
Leslie: As an innovation company with a solid culture, great benefits, flexibility, amazing people, and multiple best places to work accolades — including Fortune’s best places to work for Diversity — shifting our workforce demographics to better balance employee diversity is going to take time. That is probably the biggest challenge. Sometimes it takes two steps forward and one back. Keysight employs four generations of workers from Gen Z to Baby Boomers that help partner next-generation initiatives with experience. We are proud to have generational diversity learning from each other, which is not too common in the tech sector. As a result, we have a very low attrition rate with some employees literally spending decades in the company. As such, we look at skills and leadership development across career-spans. For example:
- Early Childhood Development - We have programs that look to inspire early interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) topics through grade school education engagements focused on girls, such as Black Girls Code mentioned earlier, but also our Keysight After School program, participation in Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, or the plethora of other local engagements with girl education efforts.
- University Engagement – Whether it is supporting educational tools like lab equipment, research grants, individual mentoring relationships, or hiring female interns across our business functions, Keysight engaged women at the university level as well. In fact, last year our KSWEEP team engaged more than 15,000 women university students through online technical webinars.
- Keysight Women Development Opportunities – Keysight has a robust women’s development program. Some opportunities are informal, like Keysight’s internal women’s networks, while others are formal professional organization engagements and academic programs. Most importantly, women have the flexibility to chart their own path to develop on the job, learning by doing which is an operational philosophy at Keysight. Based on individual development plans, employees work with their managers to identify the best development solution across the different approaches to find the best approach for the individual.
Many companies refer to these efforts as diversity and inclusion (D&I) or diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), but Keysight’s is specifically I&D. Is there a reason for that from a strategic perspective?
Leslie: We made the active decision to put inclusion in front of the diversity reference in our case. While there are many nuances to this, the biggest reason is to align with our culture focused on being a community that supports a sense of belonging and providing the psychological safety for all of us to feel heard and valued. When this is present, employees are able to bring their best ideas forward and have the courage to implement them. At the core of this is dignity and respect for the individual which makes our culture what it is today. I feel very proud of our environment and how we each live this every day while at work. I often hear new hires say in amazement how generous, encouraging, humble and smart everyone is, and that is our secret sauce. This helps position our workforce for the critical efforts around delivering technology innovations with purpose.
However, even in such a wonderful environment there is room for us to learn together, to explore how to become more inclusive. As a global company, we have the luxury of collaborating across more than 80 nationalities and each has an opportunity to explore how to localize inclusive practices. We need to challenge the way we do things in every part of the world and recognize the opportunity that women offer, which is why our focus on women is global.
I remember being a part of the leadership development program years ago and found it extremely beneficial in my personal development, so I applaud those efforts and the positive individual employee impacts they bring. But there are lots of reasons companies, not just individual employees, benefit from gender-based development.
Leslie: That’s right Michele, you and I go way back when you were selected for our high potential programs. I have the luxury to see the tangible evidence, through our program alumni like you, of the impact such programs have in building a pipeline of talent who emerge to deliver great value. I myself was “discovered” in one of those programs and was asked to lead them. They are a great way of uncovering talent within the organization. Our recent Emerging Leaders Program has a high percentage of women from around the world and, anecdotally, the project teams of past programs with gender diversity typically performed better.
And as I mentioned before, there are now a multitude of studies exemplifying how a diverse — particularly a gender-diverse — organization performs better financially. It makes sense as diverse teams bring varying perspectives to solve problems. Teams that are more autonomous have more potential to miss a unique aspect of a product or solution that could really drive next-generation innovations. As a result, these opportunities can open new markets and new product or solution benefits that in turn drive increased revenue and profitability. It makes sense.
Where do you see the gender-based I&D efforts trending in the future?
Leslie: It is clear that shareholders, customers, employees, and other stakeholders are keen to take advantage of the performance, resilience, and opportunity that diverse companies bring to the table. We are already seeing a significant increase in requests and requirements for more gender-based metrics and specifically diversity targets.
Social justice issues are at the forefront and as such we are at a very important moment in time where we can capitalize on this consciousness to make advances. Keysight is a learning organization, aligned to a “growth” mindset, challenging ourselves to think long term in building inclusion and diversity skills. When we say inclusion, we mean we are all in this together, learning inclusive leadership skills, awakening to our own personal biases, having the courage to try new things, and give opportunities that diverge from the status quo. This requires a fine balance and we may not go as fast as we all would like, but when I hear about a group of interns from Historically Black Colleges and Universities working with us, or our partnerships with Black Girls Code, or a female expert in 5G, quantum, or energy fields, that is the moment we know what is possible.
And of course, at Keysight, we continue to evolve and understand the need to be more transparent. There is still work to be done. In fact, our next annual CSR Report will provide more transparent gender metrics as well as communicate our first set of publicly communicated diversity goals.
It’s an exciting time to move the needle in I&D, be role models to new generations who demand diversity and support building a legacy of passionate women in tech who are helping us in our mission to innovate to connect and secure the world.