Ellen Jackowski was named chief sustainability and social impact officer for HP Inc. a year ago and was included on the Weinreb Group 2021 CSO List. She has been at HP for over 13 years.
One finding in our most recent CSO research was that the percentage of women holding the CSO title increased from 28 percent in 2011 to 54 percent in 2021. I thought it would be interesting to sit down with Ellen to hear her take on women in this role and this profession broadly. Here’s a transcript of our interview, conducted over email.
Ellen Weinreb: Tell me about your role now and the path you followed to become CSO at HP.
Ellen Jackowski: I became a management consultant after college, and one of our clients was HP. As I learned more about the company, I became increasingly drawn to its values, which is something I look for in all the companies I’ve ever worked for — my first job in high school was scooping ice cream for Ben & Jerry’s, another company with founders known for their leading social and environmental values.
When HP offered me the opportunity to join the company to help develop their sustainability strategy, I was all in. Fast forward to today. I remain proud of HP’s values and its evolution to become an even more purpose-driven brand than before. We recently launched the 20th Sustainable Impact Report, which marks two decades of accountability and transparency. We also recently announced our 2030 goals spanning across climate action, human rights and digital equity, designed to help us become the world’s most sustainable and just technology company.
Weinreb: How has gender influenced your experience in past jobs and/or in your current role as a leader in your company? Either in terms of how you approach leadership or how you are treated and/or perceived at your company.
Jackowski: Growing up, I’ve always looked up to female leaders in my family, community and globally. I understand the challenges that women face in the workplace. Being a supportive leader who contributes to a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a priority to me. And it’s not just important to me but across the company; HP has pledged to reach gender equality in HP leadership by 2030 and is the first Fortune 100 tech company to commit to this.
Weinreb: Why do you think more women are taking on the CSO role? What do you think is behind that trend over the past 10 years?
Jackowski: It’s incredibly empowering to see more women on the frontline of sustainability. I think one of the reasons is that we have a lot to lose if we don’t actively combat the climate crisis. Malala Fund’s research shows this year’s climate-related events will prevent at least 4 million girls in low- and lower-middle-income countries from completing their education. That’s why we’re partnering with organizations like Girl Rising to support individuals who are working on environmental justice initiatives that impact women and girls across the globe.
It’s incredibly empowering to see more women on the frontline of sustainability. I think one of the reasons is that we have a lot to lose if we don’t actively combat the climate crisis.
Also, when you look at the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women in which nearly 3 million of them in the U.S. have exited the workforce, which sets back the progress women have made in the workplace, you can’t help but think: How will climate change affect me, my family and my career? Preliminary research from the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago also indicates that women have greater concerns over sustainability and corporate social responsibility issues.
When our work is led by passion and the urgent need to lift our communities, we are driven to pursue leadership opportunities that can drive greater change.
Weinreb: In addition to women rising in sustainability leadership roles, our research revealed that the sustainability field is still largely white. I’m curious to get your thoughts on issues related to systemic racism and racial bias in the sustainability field, and what’s needed to cultivate diversity, inclusion and belonging in this field?
Jackowski: When you look at the impact of climate change, it’s often communities of color who get hit first and the hardest. That’s why it’s increasingly important to drive diversity in the sustainability field. We all need to look harder and look in the right places to ensure all voices are heard and given the opportunity to lead, but especially those that have the most at risk. Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace where mentors and sponsors are readily accessible is key. HP has a sponsorship program for women called Catalyst@HP, which has helped almost 40 percent of participants get promoted or moved to a new role. We also have a similar program for Black and African American employees.
Ultimately, creating opportunity for diverse leadership is critical because people know they can become future leaders when they have role models who are similar to them.
We know that diversity improves business performance, but diverse leaders also influence the organization to become more intentional about upholding a strong DEI culture. At HP, we have one of the most diverse board of directors in technology, and our executive leadership team is made up of 61 percent total minorities. Together, we’re all committed to embed DEI strategies across our organization to bring our values to life.