Episode 290: The Role of the CHRO and Gender Equality

Today’s podcast is part of a series on the Workology Podcast focused on the role and responsibilities of the Chief Human Resources Officer, or CHRO. The CHRO (sometimes called SVP of HR or Chief People Officer) is an executive-level role that deals with managing human resources, as well as with organizational development and implementing policies of change to improve the overall efficiency of the company. I want aspiring CHRO’s to know what type of skills and experiences they need to grow into a future CHRO role along with hearing from senior HR leadership how they are partnering and collaborating with their executive peers. 

Episode 290: The Role of the CHRO and Gender Equality with Nickle LaMoreaux (@NickleLaMoreaux)

I spoke to Nickle LaMoreaux, SVP and CHRO for IBM. Nickle leads IBM’s people strategy, skills, employee experience and services, and global HR team supporting more than 350,000 IBMers across 170 countries. In her 20 years at IBM, she has led HR across organizations from services to software to sales in major and emerging markets. Nickle’s responsibilities drove the company’s business growth through leadership development, talent acquisition, performance management, and skill building.

Nickle said that she has gotten to work in various areas across HR disciplines and has gotten to be an HR generalist in various places around the world, including Asia. “Why did I get my start in HR? Like many of us, I kind of stumbled into it. But once I was here, because it touches every part of an organization with people at the center, it just totally gets you captivated about the impact you can make. I took the job to pay for law school, but once I got a view of being an intern in talent acquisition, I never looked back.”

“Practicing human resources is really about ensuring that you have deep business acumen.” - @NickleLaMoreaux #IBM #CHRO #WorkologyPodcast Click To Tweet

“Last March, 95% of our 350,000 person workforce around the globe shifted into remote working almost overnight. We did it in a matter of a couple of days and I can say that we were almost in crisis mode, making sure everyone was connected and that we could still support our clients. The biggest challenge was how we would go from crisis to really thriving. How do we not lose the company culture? We realized that the normal crisis interventions wouldn’t be enough. We’ve all been on this point of culture: How do we keep culture going in a very dispersed virtual environment? What we found at IBM was that we actually saw our culture advance, a flattening of the hierarchy through virtual tools and connections, it hastened the pace of our decision making and allowed us to move quickly. We also saw inclusion increase during this virtual time, with 88% of IBMers saying they felt they could be their authentic selves at work. And finally, my biggest point of pride, it also really accelerated authentic, empathetic leadership. This is something HR professionals have been talking about for a long time. The pandemic made it so that we had no choice; every day we were guests in our colleague’s homes, over video chat, got to know their families, friends, pets and home lives and we saw empathy enter the workforce in a very real way.”

“The CHRO leads by example, and really getting deep into the business, the rest of the HR organization follows.” - @NickleLaMoreaux #IBM #CHRO #WorkologyPodcast Click To Tweet

“Some of this was through just leaning into the environment we were in, but we also gave our managers a significant amount of training about empathy and how to communicate in a virtual environment. And we asked our employees what they wanted through surveys, virtual meetings, all hands meetings, and we just started listening with empathy. I hope the lessons we learned here continue on.” 

The ‘Pink Collar Recession’ and HR Leadership

The Pink Collar Recession caused by the pandemic has been a hot topic for HR professionals. 

Nickle said that “there have been significant challenges during the pandemic – health, wellness, mental health, but this pink collar recession is collateral damage and it’s incumbent upon all HR professionals to ensure they have a strategy to address it. The pandemic has had a devastating impact on women around the globe, in every labor force. The IBM Institute for Business Value reported that, in 2020 alone, five million women were pushed from their jobs and the female participation rate in the workforce is the lowest it has been since 1988. If this isn’t a wake up call for every business and particularly HR professionals, I don’t know what is.”

“It’s important for companies to think about solving this in three ways: through benefits, programs and culture. Organizations immediately gravitate towards benefits. What can you do to keep women in the workforce, give them the flexibility they need when they’re taking on an undue share of the burden of household responsibilities. It’s important to put things into place like leave, flex time, job share, emergency backup care, paid care leave…some of these have existed for a long time, others are benefits we doubled down on during the pandemic to ensure that all IBMers, and particularly women, were getting the support they need. But benefits alone are not enough.”

“We also need to make sure we’re focused on programs that can support, keep and bring more women into your workforce. At IBM, 50% of our U.S. job openings don’t require a college degree. This allows us to open the aperture to candidates who can come into the workforce from all walks of life. This is important, particularly for women who might be thinking about changing careers or want to move into roles that have higher wage opportunities in the tech sector. We started apprenticeship programs so we can offer paid on the job training, and one of my favorite programs is our returnship program.”

IBM has a Tech Re-Entry Program, a six-month paid returnship for technical professionals who have been out of the workforce for 12 months or longer. So far, 99% of participants have been women. I asked Nickle about how IBM is creating pathways for women to re-enter the workforce with this program.

“At IBM we saw almost a point and a half of growth in 2020 in the representation of women in our tech roles, and the re-entry program was key to that success. For 2021, we’ll have twice the number of returners participating in the program than we did last year. This is the right thing to do as an employer, but it also has a positive impact on the business bottom line.”

It’s really interesting to delve into how a role like CHRO whose experience more closely connects them to the strategy and operations of the overall business works with the rest of a company leadership team, especially around people management and diversity in a global, high-growth environment. I appreciate Nickle taking the time to share her knowledge with us on today’s podcast.

Listen to the full podcast for more, including how Nickle and her team at IBM rose to the challenge of creating culture remotely during the pandemic, and how companies that don’t have an IBM-sized budget can create programs like a returnship to support DEIA. 

Connect with Nickle LaMoreaux


– Nickle LaMoreaux on LinkedIn

– Nickle LaMoreaux on Twitter

– IBM’s Global Corporate D&I Report 

– COVID Leads To A Pink Collar Recession

– CHRO Job Description

– Episode 287: The Role of the CHRO and Business Acumen

– Episode 285: The Role of the CHRO and DEI With Whitney Bennett

– Episode Transcript

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.


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