Tech Giants in Legal Dustup Over Diversity

15 February 2018
News & Knowledge, Symmetra


For years Symmetra has been advancing the proposition that diversity and inclusion benefits businesses with regard to employee engagement; enhancing the generation of ideas; innovation and ultimately profitability. This stance, supported by data and research relating to returns on investment, share price movements and metrics on innovative capability has become widely accepted.

Now with a looming legal battle between IBM and Microsoft comes the surest sign that global corporations are recognising that not only is diversity an essential requirement for business progress in the modern era, but that diversity strategies are themselves becoming a valuable asset. The aim is not only to recruit, retain and leverage diverse talent but to devise the most efficient and effective ways of doing it. Thus diversity strategies have become increasingly sophisticated and now, it seems, are being treated as a kind of trade secret which justifies legal protection.

IBM is suing Microsoft in order to prevent IBM’s erstwhile Chief Diversity Officer, Lindsay-Rae McIntyre from taking up employment in that role with Microsoft. IBM alleges that McIntyre worked there for two and a half years and oversaw teams that developed artificial-intelligence based tools and methodologies to track career development, recommend growth opportunities and potential paths for promotion and to monitor diversity metrics. The argument for IBM is that the information and skills that McIntyre acquired are so sensitive and valuable that she should not be allowed to transfer them to a direct competitor of IBM.

It is clear that diversity strategies have moved up several notches in the hierarchy of corporate priorities. The lesson for companies in Australia and elsewhere is that it is no longer adequate to tick the box and say you have a diversity policy. Diversity strategies will evolve rapidly with changing cultural norms and will be spurred on by new technologies. Those companies that want to stay at the top of their game will need to monitor and adapt their diversity strategies constantly. Companies will no longer be judged by whether they have a diversity strategy but rather by how good it really is.