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  • Writer's pictureCarolina MIlanesi

Cultural Diversity Is Lenovo’s Strong Foundation: A Conversation With Yolanda Lee Conyers

When Yolanda Lee Conyers joined Lenovo, she was the first African American Vice President ever hired by the company and she has become the first Chief Diversity Officer for the global Chinese-heritage company. Being first has been a constant in both her professional and personal life. Before joining Lenovo, she was the first African American Engineer at Dell. Her father's advice "embrace the unfamiliar" became her motto and a great starting point to understand how she fosters diversity and inclusion at Lenovo.

Diversity and Inclusion Should Be Seen Like a Successful Merger

When Conyers joined Lenovo in 2007, just over a year after the acquisition of IBM’s PC business, she was asked to help with the process of bringing the two companies together from an operations perspective as well as a people perspective. When she walked into her first executive meeting in Beijing she had never seen such a diverse C-suite. While it was challenging times for Lenovo, because of the complexities of bringing not just two companies together but two cultures, leaders were prioritizing learning by immersing themselves in those cultures. As part of that process, Conyers spent three years in Beijing, where she learned to understand the Lenovo culture not from her western viewpoint but from seeing things through their lens. 

As Conyers shares that early days experience, I cannot help but think that it is precisely that willingness to see things through someone else's eyes that allows to drive inclusion within a company and more broadly within society. Empathy along with the realization that diverse viewpoints and experiences help you reach better results both in business and in life. The concept of diversity might be different in the US compared to China, but the appreciation of what unique experiences bring to the table has always been at the core of Lenovo. "Without first embracing cultural diversity, Lenovo could not have become the company it is today and go down in history as the first Chinese company to acquire an American one then go on and become the leading PC brand in the world," Conyers tells me. 

Companies look for mergers when they see talent and skill that, if acquired, will bring their business to the next level. If you are struggling, grasping why diversity and inclusion should be a business priority, but you are someone who is driven by business outcomes, view diversity and inclusion like a merger. Hiring a diverse set of employees and fostering an inclusive workplace means you are maximizing your skill and talent opportunity.

Growing From A Strong Base

With cultural diversity at its core, 97% of local business managers at Lenovo are native to the markets they live and work in, and 66 unique nationalities were hired across 61 markets in 2019. Women represent 36% of the total workforce.  Within that base, Lenovo aims to reach 20% women leaders globally and 28% executives from underrepresented groups in the US by the end of 2020. To achieve those goals, Lenovo has put in place two specific initiatives, explains Conyers. The first is the Women Leadership Development Program (WLDP) and the second is the Mosaic Leadership Development Program (MLDP). Both are result-led programs with clear milestones that ultimately will see participants in the program being promoted into senior roles. Since 2017, 48% of the WLDP participants were promoted to executive positions. 

Conyers is anything but complacent, though. She wants to continue to push forward as she tells me she will be sitting down in May to discuss the 2025 company goals. "Diverse hiring will remain a focus which is why we set up clear practices like having at least one woman on 65% of all candidate slates globally and in the US having at least one candidate who identifies as a race other than white in 80% of candidate slates for open jobs."

When it comes to inclusion, Conyers turns to data. Through annual surveys, part of the "Lenovo Listens" program, she makes sure she takes the pulse of the company down to individual managers so she can problem solve, educate and leverage best practices. "We do not take a cookie-cutter approach to foster diversity and inclusion across geographies. We meet people where they are and make them grow mindful of their own cultural circumstances," Conyers says.

Beyond The Workplace

In 2018, Lenovo launched the Lenovo Foundation, and Conyers took on the role of President.  In 2019 this philanthropic organization focused on supporting and empowering marginalized individuals and communities and on providing Science, Engineering, Technology and Math (STEM) access and education to under-resourced communities, which impacted one million people. By the end of the fiscal year, the Lenovo Foundation aims to engage, through volunteering, one in three Lenovo employees in its efforts. 

As my conversation with Conyers comes to a close, I ask her to reflect on her long career in tech, what she has accomplished and what she still wants to do. "Now that I am a leader and have influence, I can provide opportunities to people like me. I am now living a purpose-driven life where I want to make a difference", she says. Lenovo and the communities that the Lenovo Foundation impacts will continue to benefit from Conyers’ perseverance and dedication to making a difference. Her goal should also be a reminder that we all can be more purposeful in our efforts to be inclusive and use any privilege we have to open doors for others.

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