Obed Louissaint

SVP, Transformation and Culture

International Business Machines Corporation (IBM)

Information Technology Services

Obed Louissaint, SVP, Transformation and Culture at IBM, looks to camera wearing a snazzy tan jacket.

“Our connection to social justice is jobs,” wrote IBM’s SVP of Transformation and Culture Obed Louissaint in a recent LinkedIn post. He’s repeating a sentiment that IBM’s executives have voiced for several years, including in this magazine. The new economy requires, as Louissaint put it, “driving a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce with the right skills, and the right leadership pushing boundaries for growth.” In its hiring, community outreach, and policy advocacy, IBM is pushing hard towards that new world.

That vision of flexible, “new collar” jobs is one of the reasons that IBM created Louissaint’s position late last year. In his role, he’s pulling “all of the talent levers that can drive cultural change.” That means he’s approaching diversity and inclusion by re-examining how the organization thinks about talent in the first place. “Where do we have requirements that we don’t need? That’s around degrees, but also around travel. You exclude individuals when you put requirements that are not necessary.”

IBM has been pushing to reframe hiring around skills rather than degrees, especially bachelor’s degrees, for several years. “One of our key initiatives is stepping away from the traditional view that we only hire individuals who have bachelor’s degrees,” says Louissaint. “Only a third of the workforce in the United States actually has a degree. We were cutting ourselves off from 67% of the population, and that 67% was highly diverse.”

In addition to removing degree requirements from half of all job postings over the last five years, IBM has also pushed a variety of efforts to get new collar skills to students who will be tomorrow’s workers. The company’s groundbreaking P-TECH program, which has been in operation for ten years, is a six-year high school to early college program that takes students into an associate’s degree with curricula, mentorship, internships with partner organizations, and wraparound services to arm students with the skills for careers in the new economy.

IBM has complemented its internal work and external outreach via P-TECH with policy advocacy about apprenticeships, student loans, and college credits. Although IBM has a long-standing stance on staying out of electoral politics, and does not make donations to candidates or have a PAC, the company nevertheless makes its voice heard. “We like to engage on issues,” says Louissaint. “It’s about policy, not politics. That allows us to work with any government or individuals, because we’re talking about the issues. You have to engage. Hopefully, that serves us well.”