Reinventing Diversity At Corning

Christine Pambianchi

Corning is a global specialty glass and materials science company that is over 160 years old. We invent and manufacture life-changing technologies in our chosen markets, and our people are the key to our success. We are passionate about the individuals who make up our company and believe it is incumbent on our leaders to create an environment where our employees can contribute to their potential. Valuing diversity and inclusion is key to this mindset.

More than 40 years ago, Corning formally committed to ensuring diversity within our workforce. What began as a U.S.-centric, compliance-focused effort, today has grown into a celebration of diversity and inclusion on a global scale. This philosophy starts at the top with our CEO, Wendell Weeks, who says, “innovation depends on a diversity of ideas, experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds. The more diverse the team, the better the output.” Quite simply, if you don’t have diverse talent, you probably won’t be inventing for long in today’s fast-paced technical marketplace.

My own journey: Where did all the women go?

My personal diversity journey began when I first entered the workforce. I graduated from the industrial labor relations program at Cornell University, where some of the best research in this area was conducted. I did not take a single course about women in work during my time there because I thought those issues were solved in the 1960s.

I realized I could not have been more wrong about that when I got a job in the beverage industry at 22 years old. My classes at Cornell were evenly mixed, with 50% men and 50% women, so I expected to see those numbers reflected when I entered the workforce. In reality, I was the first exempt-payroll female in all of the six locations that I covered. I couldn’t help but wonder, “where did all the women go?” I carried this question with me as I progressed through my own career journey.

When I joined Corning in 2000, I was attracted to its overall mission and vision and its legacy of being one of the greatest institutions in the world committed to research, science, and development. I was also attracted by the high value the company places on the individuals who make up the organization.

As I reflect on my time at Corning, I feel fortunate to have been part of the efforts to build up a generation of women who contribute to this purpose-driven organization. And, in my role as senior VP of HR, I have integrated into our HR and talent systems the ability to take risks on people earlier in their careers. I do this because we know from research that developmentally challenging assignments correlate with exponential growth later in individuals’ career journeys.

Using data to find root causes

We want Corning to be an inclusive workplace and an employer of choice, where all employees can reach their maximum potential and thrive, regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or disability. Using data to monitor hiring and promotion trends and formulate our diversity in leadership strategy has been key in building this kind of environment.

For instance, in 2003 we took a hard look at 25 years of previous diversity initiatives and recognized we still weren’t where we wanted to be with diversity in leadership. Our workforce was predominantly white and male, and lagging in standards such as those set by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the United States.

To change this, we used our wealth of internal HR information and U.S. Census data to identify opportunities for improvement. Then we deployed a strategy to close the gaps based on four focus areas. First, we set internal promotion goals and monitored them monthly. Next, we built our capability to hire available diverse talent; we also reduced attrition gaps. Finally, we implemented a promotions approvals process.

As a result, we were able to identify the source of problems, drill down to their root causes, and then take actions to remedy them. For instance, we found out that our attrition rate for women was two times that of men, and for minorities, it was about one-and-a-half times the rate of non-minorities.

Additionally, the data helped us discover why we didn’t have more women in certain job categories, such as general managers – a key leadership position at Corning. I was able to use 10 years of data to look at every woman who was identified with a high potential for a general manager position and find out how they progressed through the company. I could see what experiences they had versus their male counterparts and extrapolate the data to explore two or three differentiated outcomes. Perhaps these women didn’t get international assignments, or they didn’t have a senior officer as their corporate sponsor, or maybe they didn’t go to a top MBA school.

I knew all of this because of the data. And with this knowledge, we started doing things differently and increased the pipeline of women in our general manager pool. Since 2003, analyzing and using data strategically has enabled us to successfully double the number of women and African-Americans and triple the number of other ethnic minorities in senior leadership positions at Corning.

Building a future of diversity – and success 

As an innovation leader that relies on diverse talent as a strategic advantage, Corning wants to attract the best graduating engineers and scientists and move them quickly into our discovery programs. It’s been a challenge, because almost 70% of the professional people we employ have technical degrees in engineering or a hard science. Schools have consistently only graduated about 20% women and about five percent non-white minorities with these degrees.

Because of this, we’ve been aggressively pursuing STEM programs within school systems. We work to help increase the percentage of minorities in these programs at the college level, so we have a richer pipeline of diverse individuals coming into our company in the future.

This blog is part of our Defining Moment series. At SAP, our higher purpose is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. We are committed to diversity and inclusion in the workplace and moving #BusinessBeyondBias. To learn more about the future of diversity and inclusion, visit www.successfactors.com and watch this video to hear from Christine and other leaders on the topic. 


Christine Pambianchi

About Christine Pambianchi

Christine M. Pambianchi is Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Corning. In this role, she is responsible for leading the company's Global Human Resource and Global Security functions. Christine has led the HR function since January 2008 when she was named vice president.