ENDICOTT, N.Y. -- When Marcy Van Horn, an IBM technology applications
engineer, learned of a company project to bring low-cost wireless computer
technology to undeveloped, poverty-stricken populations in China, she
immediately connected the dots to conditions on the reservation where she
"After the meeting I worked up the nerve to ask the manager if we were
going to market this in the U.S., because I thought the reservation would
be a good place for it. He was shocked at first, but he saw the potential
and encouraged me to make some contacts," said Van Horn, Turtle Mountain
Van Horn's idea sparked an initiative to consider the technology needs of
Native people on reservations 'in an effort to bridge the digital divide
between mainstream America and Indian country.
"We've got a pilot project going now with a Chippewa tribal college and
it's working with wireless infrastructure and employing education through
wireless infrastructure to build up and enhance a work force that will have
cutting-edge skills," Van Horn, 27, said.
The project is deeply satisfying, she said.
"It's my opportunity to give back to my community. I've often thought on my
journey through my education that technology for the sake of technology
doesn't excite me all that much, but when I can see how it's applied -- and
IBM has helped me see that it's to improve society -- I realize that's
really why I wanted to become an engineer; and with my manager's support
I'm able to see what the technology can be and bring it to improve people's
lives. That's really exciting," Van Horn said. She has worked full time at
IBM for around three and one-half years.
The kind of encouragement and leeway that allowed Van Horn to transform her
idea into a project to serve her community is emblematic of IBM's
wide-reaching and seasoned diversity initiative.
While the technology giant is No. 10 on the Fortune 500 list, it was first
to institutionalize an equal opportunity policy -- and it did so at a time
and place where "equal opportunity" was anathema to a wide swath of the
Thomas J. Watson, the IBM president who issued the first equal opportunity
policy letter in 1953, is the icon of IBM's culture of diversity.
The policy said, in part: "Under the American system, each of the citizens
of this country has an equal right to live and work in America. It is the
policy of this organization to hire people who have the personality, talent
and background necessary to fill a given job, regardless of race, color or
Watson later used the policy as leverage in negotiations to build plants in
two Southern states. Every CEO who followed Watson not only reasserted his
commitment to equal opportunity, but developed it into a muscular diversity
program that proactively seeks opportunities to recruit, hire, train and
retain the best minority employees it can find.
The company has literally dozens of outreach programs, educational
initiatives, mentorships, conferences, workshops and projects ranging from
elementary schools to family-oriented science activities to professional
development for mature employees.
In 2004, IBM employed around 1,000 people who identified themselves as
American Indian or as American Indian and another race.
"Based on [our] 136,000 employees in the U.S., it's a pretty significant
number for us; and it's growing and we like that idea," said Michele
Morningstar, Oneida, Native American Program manager for IBM's Global
Workforce Diversity group.
During Watson's era, promoting equal opportunity and diversity in the
workplace was seen as a moral imperative. It still is, but it's also good
business to reflect the marketplace, Morningstar said.
"We want our employees to succeed, because then we succeed. We're showing
our employees that their community is important ... to IBM, period. So it
helps them feel valued. It's about the people and how can we reflect the
external community, how can our people work and succeed and make
connections for us. And as a business we're looking at multi-billions of
dollars in Indian country, and how does IBM reach out and get a part of
that?" Morningstar said.
Doing business in Indian country is a two-way street for IBM. Last year,
the company purchased roughly $61 million from suppliers in Indian country.
The biggest challenge is finding enough students in the degree programs the
"We look for a wide range of degrees and we look to see if students are
taking the right classes in sciences and math. We even look at grade
schools and try to work with schools to make sure the schools are offering
the right courses and the kids are taking them; and it's about encouraging
them to go out and get a higher degree. And then working with the colleges
to make sure the courses they offer are at the level we need for people
coming in to work," Morningstar said.
The company has a university relations team that provides professional
development for teachers and offers courses, course data and books for the
curriculum to ensure students are getting the right kind of training and
knowledge for the job market.
The American Indian Science and Engineering Society, a national nonprofit
organization that promotes education, is a key recruiting partner through
its programs for high school students and other initiatives.
Van Horne spent her high school summers involved in AISES academic
enrichment programs, an experience that was instrumental in her selection
as an IBM intern once she reached college.
The AISES/IBM relationship goes back more than 20 years.
IBM employee Mark Hakey, St. Francis-Sokoki Band of Abenaki, received the
2005 AISES Technical Excellence Award at AISES' 27th Annual National
Conference, which took place in North Carolina in November.
Hakey is currently manager of IBM's Advance Process Technology Team in
Albany, N.Y. He is a member of IBM's Native American Leadership Council.
The award is given to a recipient who has made a significant contribution
to science, engineering or technology by having designed or assisted in the
development of a product, service, system or intellectual property.
For more information about IBM's diversity programs and opportunities,