Frances West Video Transcript



 [ Frances West​ ]:

Life is about making decisions.

Some are big, some are small, some are intentional, some are not so intentional.

Some are trivial, and some are pivotal.

I made a pivotal decision in the fall of 2003 to accept the job to head up IBM's Human Ability and Accessibility Center.

This organization, the mission is to develop advanced technology to make sure people with disability and people who are aging are not excluded from technology participation.

In other words, we wanted to make sure that there would be complete digital inclusion.

By the way, that was not my first job.

By then, I already had almost 25 years with IBM.


Some of you, who are probably calculating how old is this lady, I actually held many different jobs, very exciting jobs, including, for example, in the 90s, I went to Beijing, China, to help build out the China payment system, which is equivalent to the Federal Reserve interbank clearing system.

So when I accepted this job, I thought I'd have something to learn because I wasn't aging, so I couldn't really relate to that, and also, I didn't have any disabilities, so I thought I'd just do this job for, eh, two, three years, then move on to my next job, like I have done in the prior 20-some years.

Little did I know, that became a life-changing job.

Because for the first time, I was working with, for example, blind scientists, and they developed technology on the web so that people who are blind or low vision can hear the web.

I also worked with these incredible, talented deaf researchers, who wrote elegant programming code to take voice, continuous voice conversations, and translate them or convert them into text.

That's when I realized, "Wow, this company really created a work environment, and really understood the basic concept of authentic inclusion, that is: Diversity is the source that drives disruptive innovation."


Then I start reflecting on my own story.

Back in a beautiful spring day in June of 1979, I was a fresh graduate from University of Kentucky.

Go Wildcats!

And I was in the campus review — I mean campus interview, sitting across from a gentleman by the name of Frank Friedersdorf.

And at that time, I've only been in the United States for three years, so my English was actually quite broken, and my only one job experience was waitressing in a Chinese restaurant.

But boy, did I want to join this great global company, so I used every English word I knew and tried to impress Mr. Friedersdorf, that being a waitress was the best training to understand customer service.

At the end of a one hour interview, I was offered a job to be a systems engineer, and for the next 37 years, I had a very, very fulfilling career with IBM.

And that is the thing about authentic inclusion, in that this is a company that really understood that every person can make a difference, not in spite of, but because of our difference.


But I didn't really focus on this topic of inclusion because I was busy working, until in 2016, when I retired.

Well, excuse me.

I don't like to use the word "retire," because that made me sound really old.

I like to say I "graduated" from IBM.

So if you recall, that was the year that was at the height of Silicon Valley inclusion crisis.

There was the famous Google walkout.

Remember that?

And almost every day, you would see it in the press, how the Silicon companies, whether it's Google, Facebook, you name it, were not diverse enough, and they were basically trialed in the press, you know, for lack of inclusion.


So as a result, all these companies start really trying to address the issue by spending a lot of resources, time and financial resources, to conduct, for example, diversity trainings.

And it seems like overnight, there was a, you know, rising of the DNI, or diversity inclusion industry.

A lot of consultants, you know, start setting up shops, and lot of time and energy were spent.

And yet, you read the report by Deloitte consulting company that came out in 2017.

It said that over 80 percent of millennials, which are many of you sitting out here, think that inclusion is very important, and that over 50 percent of you will leave a job or company if you don't think the company is doing enough in the inclusion area.

And yet, over 30 percent of you believe that — only 30 percent of you believe that the upper management or the senior executives is really doing something real about inclusion.

And another report that came out of Wired magazine last year said that between 2014 and 2019, within that five-year time span, the inclusion dial in the technology industry really hasn't moved that much.

Maybe with the exception with the gender area.


So that's when I decided that, because I was very fortunate and was able to benefit from authentic inclusion, that I need to do something about it.

So I wrote a book about it, and then also I started sharing my work at the United Nations — or with the United Nations.

Now, some of you might say, "Why United Nations?"

Well, because inclusion is a topic about human, and human is a very tough topic because we sometimes have the strong perception or biases that's hard to change.

And especially in today's world, every human seems to hold on to their belief so strongly that we really need to work with a global institution such as the U.N., because they work across the world and really put out what I call the aspirational goal, such as the U.N.'s sustainable development goal of 2030, which calls for the ending of, for example, poverty and also climate change.

So I work with the U.N. to help business. In this case, business includes government, includes, you know, startups, includes nonprofits.

Every organization really needs to understand that they need to think about inclusion as part of the principle and also the governance of their institution.


I also started working with startups.

I love working with startups.

Actually, I knew — I know some startup executives in this audience, and they are millennials.

Why? Because the entrepreneurs in startups, you are the future of the next Google, next Microsoft. And it is so important that you understand authentic inclusion, or inclusion of everybody, and recognizing their differences can make a difference in your thinking, so that you can create and design in the right experience for everybody, and be conscious about it.

So this is the kind of work that I do on a day-to-day basis now.


Now some people ask me, including my own two sons, have said, "Why are you working so hard? Why do you have this sense of urgency?"

And I say to them, "There are three reasons."

First, I'm a technologist.

I spent the past 40 years or so in the technology business, and I know where technology is going.

If you look at what's happening in the world, everything we do today and everything we will do in the future will be underpinned by technology.

It affects how we learn, how we work, how we play, how we socialize.

So if technology is going to underpin everything, we have to make sure that we think human first.  Because as technology is being developed, such as artificial intelligence, to augment the human being, and what I always say, "As technology gets more human, human needs to get more human."

In other words, we need to Increase our higher sense of humanity, so we can design the technology to augment us, not create unconscious bias in that.

So that is one of the reasons why I have the sense of urgency, because we are at the cusp of significant, significant technology innovation.

Second, I'm a businesswoman.

I think profit-making is very important, because money makes the world go around.

Money may motivate — or profit motivates people for growth, for sustainability.

And I want to advise all the leaders, especially business leaders — like I mentioned, it covers the whole gamut from government to, you know, business — that there is actually a sea change, created actually by millennials such as yourself, in that the social expectation of the company is changing.

If you think about the movements, such as Black Lives Matter, the Times Up, the #MeToo, the world is becoming such that they expect people who are in power or in decision-making positions to be responsible.

Now, last year, about 180 companies, the biggest U.S. companies, led by Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, came out and made a declaration in that they said the purpose of a company, a business, is not — the responsibility of a business is no longer just to the shareholders, but to the stakeholders as well, and that a company has to be purpose-driven.

So I'm an optimist from the East, and I believe that there is beginning to have a change for the businesses to recognize that in order to differentiate themselves, and also in order to recruit the best talent, and also to create a bigger market expansion, they need to think about inclusion and also operationalize inclusion through every fabric of their business as a competitive advantage.

So this kind of thinking, of recognizing inclusion as not just a buzzword, or an HR initiative, but fundamentally a competitive advantage, is becoming what I believe is a kind of a business imperative.


Last but not the least, standing in front of you is a first-generation, Chinese-speaking immigrant.

I, like I said, benefited tremendously from authentic inclusion, even though the framework was created for business consumption.

It came from my personal belief and aspiration that we are in a world, we have to think human first, and that if we collectively and consciously make decisions in everything we do, in every person we meet, that we put human first, and harness and understand that differences actually can help us to create incredible, incredible, disruptive innovation, then we can help address some of the bigger problems in the world and make this world a better world, not just for some, but for all.


Thank you.


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