Dell Inc.’s Thurmond B. Woodard on Diversity & Company Growth

Earlier this year Dell received the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2004 Exemplary Voluntary Efforts (EVE) award for its recruitment, mentoring, career development and community outreach initiatives.

The EVE Award, established in 1983, is given to federal contractors that have demonstrated exemplary and innovative efforts in diversity. African Americans, Latinos and Asian and women represent more than half of Dell’s U.S. employees and nearly one-third of U.S. managers, and are well represented throughout the company’s senior management. In its fiscal year 2004, Dell grew its year-over-year spending with minority and women business entrepreneurs by 60 percent.

Over the past decade, Dell has partnered with multicultural organizations to support access to technology, talent, and business and education opportunities. Those organizations include: the United Negro College Fund, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF), the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), Catalyst and the Asian, and African-American Chambers of Commerce.

Company revenue for the past year totaled $41.4 billion. Dell, through its direct business model, designs, manufactures and customizes products and services to customer requirements, and offers an extensive selection of software and peripherals. Information on Dell and its products can be obtained at

Recently, Thurmond B. Woodard, Dell’s vice president of global diversity and chief ethics officer sat down with The Black Star News and answered some questions on the company’s performance.

Q: What are some of the factors behind the company’s success with respect to diversity?

A: One of the things that we believe has contributed to our success is the fact that Dell we are also a very diverse company. Over half of our employees are women and people of color. We have women and people of color on our board of directors all the way down throughout our organization. We think that this is very essential. At Dell we define diversity as being characterized by both similarities and differences. So we want people that are similar and also different because it’s really through the differences that we get innovation, that we get creativity, that we get new ideas in the field of technology.

Another thing that is important is that we are able to keep them – that they are able to develop and contribute to the success of the company and also achieve their own personal goals and objectives as well. We are retaining right now 90 percent to 95 percent of the people who are of color and women in our organization who are top performers.

Q: What accounts for this high retention rate and what does Dell do to separate it from other corporations?

A: I think the main reason for that is a number of initiatives that we put in place so that they have a great experience in working at Dell. We have developed more opportunities for them. We have mentoring programs that are in place – mid career management programs. We have networking groups. If you join Dell what you’d find is that a networking group would be there for African Americans and not only will they assist you in your transition into the company but they will also assist you in your transition into the community as well. We think that this makes for a great experience – it makes people want to stay. We have great growth opportunities. If you want to go and have an experience abroad there is an opportunity to do that – we have a program called Career Quest that we run inside Dell. It shares with employees, including people of color and women, where the opportunities are and what the jobs are like. The business leaders come in and present to a group of employees; we have sales, we have marketing, we have finance, we have research. The people who are in those roles actually talk about what they do and how they do it. You can then watch and when job openings come up we post all non-executive jobs to the entire company in-house. So you can go on the Internet and you can apply for the jobs.

Another important thing that we are doing is that this past year we issued over $180 million of new contracts to minority and women-owned companies. We did that because of the value that they bring to our business proposition. They are our business partners. They help us with things such as installations, the help desk, and tech service support. Let’s say that we have a major company and they want us to provide an onsite help desk so that you can call and you can get answers to all your questions.

So what we would so is when we install the equipment we would have as a part of our portfolio of business partners, someone to manage the help desk, so that could very well be a minority-owned company. Many of them bring tremendous expertise themselves to our training is very limited. It’s product specific. But in terms of how to do it they have their own teams – they generally have training for their employees.

The third thing that we are focusing on with our diversity initiative is closing the digital divide. We have a program called Dell TechKnow. We are committed to providing opportunities to low-income and underserved communities to gain access to digital tools and training. We partner with community organizations and local companies to take their old systems that they’re planning on discarding and refurbishing them to give to local school districts for the TechKnow program. The program is targeted at 8th grade kids. We go in and teach the teachers how to run an after-school program where these kids are taught to take computers apart, put them together and hang new software on it. It’s a 40-hour after school program. We provide the parts and we are in partnership with Microsoft in this program so they provide the software. At the end of the day the kids get to take the computers home as theirs. The computer that they built themselves.

Q: The company’s 20 percent growth rate – what is driving that?

A: Being able to offer a great service and product and growing our market share. Market share growth across the board; storage; servers; desktops; laptops; big screen TVs; hand helds; etc.

Q: The $180 million in contracts, what category of services do they fall under?

A: We produce technology – we manufacture and deliver technology. When it comes to installation of technology, when it comes to offering services on sit, to help companies support what it is that they are doing, we would tend to do interactive business partnerships because those are not areas that we ourselves invest in. So that to the extent that minority owned and women owned companies are growing and developing that kind of expertise, there are great opportunities for them to be partners with us. More and more we are seeing that we have some extremely capable organizations. World Wide Technologies, and African American-owned company in St. Louis, is one of them. They are one of the Black Enterprise top companies.

Any organization that wants to take advantage of our supplier diversity initiative should visit and click on supplier diversity and fill out the application.

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