Passing the Torch to a New Diversity Champion

REDMOND, Wash. — July 29, 2008 — Microsoft has appointed Gwen Houston to replace Claudette Whiting as general manager of the Global Diversity and Inclusion Team. Whiting, who has held the position since 2001, will retire at the beginning of September, concluding a career in corporate diversity management that spanned nearly three decades.

Incoming general manager of global diversity and inclusion, Gwen Houston.

“Gwen has distinguished herself as a leader in the diversity and inclusion field,” said Whiting. “I’ve known and admired her for many years, and I’m confident that she will take Microsoft to the next level, building on the great leadership support and momentum already in place.”

Houston, who will officially start her new assignment on Sept. 15, has been leading corporate diversity initiatives for the past 16 years, most recently at the Campbell Soup Company, where she was vice president of diversity. She has also held similar posts at Aetna and Nike.

In an interview last March with “New Jersey Business Magazine”, Houston noted that diversity “is not just a moral imperative. It’s a business reality.”

PressPass asked Houston to further explain her approach to diversity management and discuss her perceptions of Microsoft.

PressPass: Why did you choose to come to Microsoft at this point in your career?

Gwen Houston: Microsoft was an easy choice for me. Having been in the diversity practice for many years, the chance to continue this work on a larger, global platform is the growth opportunity I’m looking for at this point in my life. Like many companies of its size and scope, Microsoft sees tremendous opportunities in emerging global markets. That also happens to be where the newest and most exciting inclusion opportunities exist today. Microsoft has a best-in-class reputation for its external outreach programs in communities all around the world, and its technological innovations give it the ability to truly change the world. That’s highly compelling for someone like me.

PressPass: What accomplishment are you proudest of in your last position at Campbell Soup?

Houston: When I joined Campbell almost five years ago, it was in a newly created role: vice president of diversity. As such, I had the opportunity to build the company’s diversity and inclusion operations from the bottom up. Reflecting back over those years, I am most proud of the fact that I was able to broaden the scope of diversity programs there from what was once a rather narrow perspective to what is now a global one, focused on both the workplace and the marketplace. I am also extremely proud of how the CEO and members of his senior executive team committed themselves to leading diversity and inclusion in a powerful and visible way. Each of them now has his or her o wn diversity development plan, which they revise on an annual basis. I feel I’m leaving them on a trajectory that should be sustainable for years to come.

PressPass: How would you describe your approach to corporate diversity management?

Houston: I believe that unless we work to build inclusive environments — organizational cultures where all are truly valued and encouraged to fully contribute their talents — diversity gains will not be sustained. I place at least as much emphasis on the qualitative aspects of diversity as I do on the quantitative. Building an inclusive organization is not just about the diversity scorecard data we track to measure our progress. It is as much about our attitude and behaviors as leaders and having a sense of empathy for the different experiences that people go through. The ability to effectively engage and work with others who are different from us is not necessarily an innate skill; it must be learned.

PressPass: What has been your own experience in trying to build a career in the corporate world? Have you experienced any obstacles? How did you overcome them?

Houston: Microsoft will be the fifth corporation I will have worked for over the span of my career. Experience has taught me that talent, hard work and humility triumph over everything. As a woman of color, I have learned to not let other people’s limited thinking be a barrier to my success. My philosophy is to try to be the best I can be every day. When confronted with temporary challenges, I’ve learned to simply work harder and smarter. If I didn’t like my job or my manager, I didn’t wait for things to change; I tried to change them myself, even if it meant switching jobs. And over the years, I’ve learned to be flexible about my personal definition of success.

PressPass: At this point, what do you believe will be your biggest opportunities or challenges in ensuring that Microsoft is a leader in diversity within in the IT industry?

Houston: Integrating diversity and inclusion principles into the business in a way that enhances innovation and drives marketplace penetration and growth is both a challenge and an opportunity.


Microsoft’s Diversity Awards

  • 2008: Best Diversity Companies list, Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology

  • 2008: Best Companies for Diverse Graduates list, Diversity Edge Magazine

  • 2008: Chairman’s Award, Black Data Processing Associates

  • 2008 Diversity & Inclusion award, “Tampa Bay Business Journal”

  • 2007: Number 1 Employer of Choice, National Society of Black Engineers

  • 2007: Best Companies for GLBT Equality, Human Rights Campaign Foundation

  • 2007: Best 100 Companies for Working Mothers, “Working Mother” magazine

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