• Carolina MIlanesi

A Diverse & Inclusive Workplace To Inspire Innovation: A Conversation With Vicki Mealer-Burke

For my last article in the series of diversity and inclusion (D&I) leaders, I sat down with Qualcomm’s Chief Diversity Officer Vicki Mealer-Burke to talk about the importance of diversity for a company that has been at the forefront of innovation for years.

Before we get to the root of our discussion about D&I at Qualcomm, however, Mealer-Burke tells me about her engineering background and the initiatives she has led over her 25 years at Qualcomm. The passion I hear in her voice is as strong when she talks about technology as when she talks diversity. We go down the geek memory lane talking about BREW and MediaFLO before she leaps into talking about her role as a diversity and inclusion leader and how it came about. “Someone sent me the job post on LinkedIn,” she tells me, “and I read through it and started making an Excel spreadsheet with the job requirements, my skillsets and what could be achieved. I approached the position like a project manager would and decided I would apply.” Mealer-Burke had her doubts, but she also knew that the teams she had been on over the years had been some of the most diverse teams she had ever worked on and their success, she was sure, had a lot to do with the cognitive diversity that could be found in them. How hard could it be to replicate that for every team in the company so that everybody has a voice and can help shape the next innovation age?


Data and Problem Solving


As an analyst covering tech for the past twenty years, I have grown used to being the exception in a room full of men. I must admit the semiconductor sector is where, despite some improvements over the years, I still feel a little more out of place. As a woman, it is still somewhat challenging to find role models in technical roles and positions of power.

The number of women employed at Qualcomm as a percentage of the overall workforce lags slightly behind the 26.5% found at Intel and the 24% of AMD. Still, Mealer-Burke explains this is one of the areas Qualcomm is focusing on, across countries, through innovative hiring and retention best practices. 2019 saw the launch of a Diversity Task Force of senior vice presidents that have been tasked to review strategic programs and advice on best practices for hiring and retaining a diverse workforce through collective data analysis. 

“ Data is something we understand and we can act on with purpose,” says Mealer-Burke adding “ you can’t present an engineer with a solution, you have to present them with a problem and let them figure out how to solve it. Diversity is no different.” D&I is also not the responsibility of a few. Everybody within the organization should feel accountable. This is the main reason why Mealer-Burke did not want to build a big team under her. She wants to rely on the effort or every single Qualcomm employee. To encourage this sense of responsibility, Qualcomm introduced an Inclusion Awards program that recognizes employees who are embodying the company’s diversity and inclusion values. Honorees are nominated by their coworkers and presented their award by a senior leader in their organization. The awards are hosted twice a year in San Diego, California, with three to four employees recognized out of hundreds of nominations that come in from around the world. 


Partnerships


As a business, Qualcomm has been focused, from the get-go, on working to build ecosystems through collaboration. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, the approach is not that different. They engage with organizations that work with diverse communities to drive their success at increasing female and minority representation. An example is their partnership with AnitaB.org to benchmark their progress and identify promising practices for recruiting, retaining and advancing women technologists. Qualcomm also supports AnitaB.org’s BRAID initiative, which conducts research related to attracting and retaining women and underrepresented minority students in computing majors. 

In 2019, Qualcomm joined Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company started by Melinda Gates, alongside other top tech companies to form the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition. The coalition aims to double the number of Black, Latinx and Native American women receiving computing degrees by 2025. 

“This is part of that problem-solving mentality; we might not have all the answers, but we know someone out there does. A little bit of curiosity is all an engineer needs to go off and figure out a solution,” says Mealer-Burke.


A Yes Mentality


I ask Mealer-Burke about her many roles within Qualcomm where she is the Chief Diversity Officer as well as chairperson of Qualcomm’s Women’s Leadership Council, co-creator of Qualcomm’s Executive Women’s Leadership Development program and is the executive sponsor of eQuality, Qualcomm’s LGBTQ employee network. She is also the senior representative for Qualcomm’s partnership participation in the USBLN Going for Gold Campaign, and the company’s representative on The Conference Board, Global D&I Executives Council. “It must just be the Qualcomm’s ethos. When someone asks you to do something, you say yes. When someone offers you an opportunity, you take it. You don’t really think about whether it will be good for your career or where you will be in two years. You just do it; you jump in and you figure it out.” tells me Mealer-Burke with a smile and excitement in her voice. When Mealer-Burke became Chief Diversity Officer, she was the first one of her kind at Qualcomm. She had the advantage of knowing the company very well and the advantage of making her role what she wanted it to be. The goal in her mind was clear. She knew the company needed someone to champion diversity and inclusion, she knew she had the right skill set, but she also had more questions than answers. She told her leaders this: “The only way I can do this is if I think about diversity and inclusion like a product. Like a product, you cannot just work on something forever to get the best product. You must show your customers you have something, your beta version, that might not be perfect but shows your vision. Then from there, you work on your refinements.” 

I must admit, I never thought of diversity and inclusion as a product, but I could not agree more with Mealer-Burke that there is no overnight success, but rather a long road that must have motivated people all along the way. I also believe that being able to relate to your audience is absolutely what will get you to be successful, so if talking about diversity and inclusion as a product and planning your efforts the same way you would develop a concept for a new technology is something your audience will understand and embrace why not? The techniques to drive diversity and inclusion need innovation too! 


This article was originally published on Forbes.com

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