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Diversity In Action

Pearson restructures digital and diversity initiatives

Pearson has launched a variety of new initiatives to increase the number of women in IT and incorporate diversity and inclusion across the company

Pearson PLC is a multinational education technology and publication company. Its curriculum materials, multimedia learning tools and assessment programs run the gamut from preschool to professional. Pearson also owns the Financial Times Group, a business information company. World headquarters are in London, U.K.

In May, Pearson announced a new organization structure and leadership team designed to accelerate the company’s push into digital learning, education services and emerging markets. “Our move from paper to digital is driving an increased need for technology professionals,” says Robbi Cowley, vice president of talent acquisition for North America, who is based in San Antonio, TX. “Right now, we are on target to hire more than five hundred employees with various IT skill sets, and I project that during the next three to five years we will see a significant increase in technology hiring globally.”

The company needs software architects, project managers, mobile engineers, quality assurance engineers and application developers, Cowley says. “Our hiring ranges from new college graduates to senior-level IT talent with five to seven years of experience.”

Bridging diversity and talent gaps
Because there is a shortage of potential employees with IT skills, many U.S. companies are competing for the same talent, Cowley points out. “Oftentimes, we conduct direct sourcing via social media outlets, including LinkedIn,” she says. Pearson also finds new hires through employee referrals. The majority of positions are at mid to senior level, although “we are continuing to build our college recruiting program,” she reports.

For college recruiting, Pearson has established solid relationships with a number of U.S. universities. “We find interns there, and we hire new grads right from those campuses,” Cowley says. “We participate in on-campus diversity and inclusion activities, providing speakers and sponsoring events. We recruit at the University of Texas, the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota, Columbia University, the University of Wisconsin and many others.”

There is a fair amount of ethnic diversity in Pearson’s technology group, Cowley says, but not as much diversity with regard to gender. “The lack of women in technology is a global problem, so we also focus on recruiting women during our college campus activities,” she says. “So far, we’ve been quite successful hiring women into entry-level positions, and we hope they will be leaders in our organization someday.”

Strengthening the foundation
Pearson launched a diversity awareness and harassment-prevention learning initiative last year, says Boston, MA-based Kendra Thomas, U.S. diversity and inclusion manager. “So far, about 1,700 U.S. managers and supervisors have participated in the ninety-minute training,” Thomas reports. “The sessions have been welcomed by our managers, and will serve as a launch pad for providing all employees with diversity e-learning, which we will begin in 2018.”

During the year Thomas has been in her position, diversity initiatives at Pearson have undergone an overhaul. “As our organization is transforming, we’re also transforming our diversity and inclusion program,” she notes. “One example is our diversity advocates program, made up of twenty-five individuals from various locations and Pearson business units in the U.S.,” Thomas says. “Their role is to implement the corporate D&I; strategy in their own businesses and embed diversity into the heart of everything we do.”

Advocates were chosen from more than eighty applicants during a competitive review process. They assist with diversity and inclusion training programs and recruitment efforts, and foster employee engagement through events like heritage month activities. “We are also continuing to make diversity and inclusion part of all our processes. Our new CEO John Fallon is leading the execution of a robust diversity strategy from the top down and from the ground up,” Thomas says.

As Pearson’s diversity program evolved, two employee resource groups, women in leadership and women in technology, decided to merge. “They found there was an overlapping focus on education, professional development, outreach and recruitment of women,” Thomas notes. “Their resolve to concentrate efforts on women in technology roles will align nicely with the company’s overall efforts to compete globally for technology talent.”

Additional efforts to evolve and assist
In addition to its increased focus on digital media, Pearson is making additional changes under Fallon’s leadership, says Thomas. “We want our organization to be learner-centered. As part of that effort, we are working to ensure that all our diversity and inclusion strategies support the organization’s mission to improve lives through learning.” This includes consistent assessment and monitoring of what’s working, and a willingness to change course when necessary.

Work/life effectiveness is supported by company programs that include flex time, flexible benefits, child care, elder care, adoption assistance, and tuition reimbursement. “We try to foster a workplace that allows people to bring their full and best selves to work while still enjoying their home lives,” says Thomas. “I think Pearson does the best job in that area of any organization I’ve ever been involved with.”


Pearson PLC

Headquarters: Upper Saddle River, NJ
Employees: 40,000 worldwide
Revenues: $9.51 billion (2012)
Business: Education technology: curriculum materials, multimedia learning tools and assessment programs

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