Editor’s note: Investor and serial entrepreneur Donald Thompson is a regular contributor to WRAL TechWire. His columns appear on Wednesdays.

RALEIGH – Since I started this column three months ago, I have shared many of my thoughts on leadership and professional success. This week, I want to try something new and introduce you to my friend Tim Humphrey so you can hear his guidance instead.

Tim is the vice president of IBM’s Chief Data Office. Originally from Fayetteville, NC, he began his career as an electrical engineer and has been consistently promoted and today he serves as the senior location executive for IBM in North Carolina.

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Tim sat down with me last week as part of The Donald Thompson Podcast to talk about leadership and racial inequity. You can download the full podcast on my website, but I wanted to share the highlights here, since I think Tim raises some powerful points for business leaders and professionals.

If you enjoy the conversation, reach out to me on LinkedIn. I’d love to hear what your business is doing to integrate diversity, equity and inclusion into the core of your organization.

DT: Thank you being here. I’m going to dig right in with the biggest question on my mind. As African American executives, we cannot ignore the racial unrest in our communities this year. From the standpoint of diversity, equity and inclusion, what do you think IBM is doing right? 

TH: Well, I could probably go on forever, but I won’t. When all this started, the pandemic and the awful murders that occured, our first focus was on our team. We spent time connecting with all of our employees and just making sure that they were ok, letting them know that it’s ok for them to show up as their full, authentic selves at work and making sure that we have the resources available to get people help if they needed it.

We’ve engaged with elected officials on all levels to help try to influence the areas where we think reform is needed and to partner with them on various technology aspects of their initiatives. We exited the business of facial recognition technology, which looked like it could have been badly used, we’ve started introducing some of our cutting-edge technologies like quantum computing into curriculums and research amongst the HBCU (historically Black colleges and universities) community, and we’ve launched our new-collar concept which has this great little slogan: No Degree, No Problem. We’ll train you.

‘An entrepreneur:’ Meet Donald Thompson, newest contributor to WRAL TechWire

Through that new-collar idea, we take people from unconventional routes into technology fields and give them the skills they’ll need. We have a re-entry program for people who have had to take time off from working, and we put a real focus on diversifying the workforce from multiple angles.

We’ve also started a lot of programming around helping out in the communities, just listening to what our employees say they need in their communities. I’m proud that we’re doing a lot, but I’ll be the first one to tell you. I think there’s more that we can do.

DT: There’s always more than we can do, right? Along that line, will you talk to me about supplier diversity? I know you’re passionate about that, and I know IBM is doing big things to diversify. 

TH: You know, it’s difficult to do business with large companies like IBM, but there are some great minority-owned companies that have great products and deserve a chance. Maybe they just haven’t achieved the scale yet to be able to do business internationally and across all those sectors.

It would be easy as a big corporation to just look at your process and say “Well, that’s where they are, and they’re not ready.” But it’s more responsible and more interesting to say “How do we enable people to grow with us?”

I’ve always had a big focus on supplier diversity, and I’m very glad to say that IBM has now increased our spending targets tenfold for minority-owned businesses. We’ve got management systems and reviews around that and we’re looking for all the impediments along the way  so we can be prepared to adapt. I hope this starts to infuse wealth into specifically the Black community to create more equitable opportunities for minority-owned businesses.

DT: That’s so important, Tim. Do you have any guidance for how people of color can navigate working in a mostly white environment? What are some of the things that we need to think about in that space? 

TH: For me, it has always been the same three things. I sort of preach these three things to all my mentees, regardless of their color or background. The first one is to have a high-performance mindset. Give it your best regardless of who is around or what you’re working on. Always, always show up ready to do your best.

The second one is to have a vision. What do you think you can accomplish? Who are some good role models who have achieved what you want from your career?

And the third one is to build meaningful relationships. Not just networking but real relationships. Find people you respect, you want to be around and who will give you real feedback in real time – people you trust.

You need to know what makes you stand out from your peers. Are you bringing value to the business, to other leaders, to other fellow colleagues and peers, to clients, etc? I started thinking about it from that perspective and it changed my entire career.

I had to be real with myself about what my strengths and weaknesses were. The number one thing I had to focus on was my communication skills. Could I get in front of a large room and keep everybody’s attention and focus and deliver my points? Could I negotiate with people who had a slightly different perspective? I couldn’t do it. I could speak the engineering language but I couldn’t speak the rest of it.

DT: Is there any last thing you’d like to say as we wrap up? Whether it’s about leadership, racial inequity or whatever else is on your brain? 

The one thing I maybe didn’t say that I want to say is that I do believe that businesses and corporations have a responsibility to society. The fact of the matter is that you make your top and your bottom line from the communities you serve. You owe it to those communities to give back.

And, to my fellow leaders, are you doing enough? Does your workforce look like your community? Probably not, so start fixing it. Go get started on that journey, because if you don’t get started, you’ll never make progress.

About the Author

With two decades of experience growing and leading firms, Donald Thompson is a thought leader on goal achievement, influencing company culture and driving exponential growth.  He is a serial entrepreneur, Certified Diversity Executive, CEO of Walk West, the fastest-growing digital marketing agency in NC, and co-founder of The Diversity Movement, a data-driven diversity, equity and inclusion consultancy. Get more tips and hear from business leaders across all major industries by listening to The Donald Thompson Podcast

The role of business in helping improve society is a mantle that many are taking up in these unprecedented times. The Diversity Movement is co-hosting a webinar on Oct. 8 with partner Ablr and representatives from Walmart eCommerce, NBCUniversal and General Motors on creating Accessibility and Inclusion for All. Register here.

To learn more, follow Donald on LinkedIn or visit donaldthompson.com.

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