CEO of NETAPP discusses his efforts to increase diversity in the company's leadership
George Kurian, CEO of NetApp, is one of the 2,000 CEOs who have signed on to the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion coalition. Out of the 10 roles on NetApp's leadership team, two are female. NetApp's pledge to improve recruitment and development practices for women and underrepresented groups.
Born in India and raised by a single mom, George Kurian’s path to leading a public tech company wasn’t an obvious one. He credits a lot of his success to some “wonderful sponsors,” including NetApp’s chairman of the board Mike Nevens, who “made me feel that I belonged at all the meetings I went to,” he told me.Kurian’s been the CEO of NetApp since 2015 and has been at the cloud and data management company since 2011.
(Fun fact: His brother Thomas Kurian is CEO of Google Cloud, making the two a veritable sibling power duo in the cloud computing world.)He’s also one of 2,000 CEOs who have signed on to the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion coalition, pledging to advance DEI in their workplaces. Big tech has long struggled to retain and promote executives that aren’t, well, white men. So I spoke with Kurian about how he, as a CEO of a public cloud-computing company, reckons with his own role and responsibility in closing that retention and promotion gap.The makeup of the NetApp leadership team is pretty representative of how most of Big Tech looks:
Out of the 10 roles on the team, two are women: Chief Legal Officer Elizabeth O'Callahan and Chief HR Officer Debra McCowan.Research shows that women in the C-suite often fill roles like this without any profit-generating or P&L responsibility, which is critical for getting on the CEO track.
I asked Kurian about how he reckons with that, and he explained that NetApp has typically only had one P&L at the company, at the CEO level.
One of the things that they’ve done to create more opportunities for high-achieving mid-level employees is to set up P&Ls at area levels and go-to-market.
“Our go-to-market team has done a good job at bringing in female leaders,” he said. “We’ve got more work to do on our product groups.”
NetApp excels at geographic diversity.
When Kurian took over as CEO, it was very much a “Silicon Valley company.” Since then, “the most important priority” for him has been to have a global leadership team. The company’s president is from Madrid, CFO is from Texas, CHRO is in Atlanta and the chief product officer is in Seattle. Meanwhile, the company’s India team has a lot more female engineering leadership. Having that geographic diversity helps make succession planning from a diversity standpoint easier, according to Kurian.
I asked Kurian to give some examples of programs and initiatives NetApp is trying out in service of the CEO Action pledge.
Recruit internally first before looking elsewhere. That’s an area that Kurian admits the company could improve on. He points to a workforce management tool called Mosaic that has been helpful in giving HR leaders visibility into the talent that exists in the company internally, “so that we don’t automatically look at someone external, but rather the employee population.” The program is still in “early phases,” according to Kurian. “This whole journey is one of winning hearts and minds.”
Get more women and underrepresented leaders into job candidate evaluation groups.
Kurian said these people would have a better shot at “challenging the established norms” and pointing out candidates who might be overlooked but high-potential. “We over-value experience and undervalue potential,” he said.
Create project-based talent development opportunities, as opposed to a solely vertical career ladder.
They’re currently trying out an “America’s Got Talent”-style project within engineering – 48 hours for innovation, with engineers getting together and coming up with concepts. A set of winners is picked, and they are given four weeks to work on their idea, from concept to prototype. This sort of experiment is helpful for encouraging high-potential employees to try new things and broaden their experiences, according to Kurian.