Worried that your organization isn't doing enough to promote inclusivity and diversity? If the answer is yes, you're not alone. This is one of the hottest topics in the modern age. Thankfully, the world of SaaS is waking up to the long-term benefits of diversity and inclusivity.
At the Women in SaaS Summit 2021, Rebecca Nerad, Vice President of Customer Success at E2open, led this riveting and timely discussion with two of the industry's leading female voices.
Rebecca spoke with:
- Rupal Nishar, AVP of Customer Success at Netomi
- Minna Vaisanen, Head of Customer Success at Growth Engineering
While the full, unfiltered panel discussion is available OnDemand for Future of SaaS members, we've picked out some of the best bits for you below. Enjoy!
Q: What do we mean by inclusivity? And why does it matter?
Rupal: For me, inclusivity matters now, more than ever. Exclusion in the workspace, besides creating a fragmented culture, can destroy confidence and lead to poor performance. There’s this general sentiment of unhappiness that eventually leads to a loss of talented workers.
The direct opposite of that is a happier environment. A culture where employees are involved and valued, and they feel compelled to have an impact on the overall vision of the organization.
The reason why this is more important right now is for two particular reasons. One, because of the COVID scenario. Now more than ever, we feel more disenfranchised from our organizations.
There are so many of us working remotely, so it's more important than ever to have a sense of belonging, and a sense of inclusion. We need to be able to permeate these virtual engagements. It's a much more difficult problem to solve than it has been before.
The second reason is that COVID has driven so many women out of the workforce, the pandemic has had a very disproportionate impact on women, and there's potentially a downstream impact of women not being in the workforce now.
We may not see it immediately, but I think it will significantly impact innovation, creativity, and the bottom line of growth for organizations and the GDP of countries.
Minna: Yeah, and if I can just add, I think the authenticity of how you're bringing these initiatives to life really matters, whether you're doing it for quota, or for profitability.
We were reading a McKinsey study on why diversity wins, and why it has a big impact on companies big and small. It shows how the gap is really widening between companies that are diversity-conscious and those that are not.
It’s predicted that companies who are diversity-conscious will increase profits by 25%. This will be achieved simply by increasing the diversity of the workforce in your company.
Q: Can we expand a bit on company-wide initiatives? Why have they gained traction lately? How do we measure them?
Minna: Well, I think there’s a clear lack of targets in a lot of different companies. And if you don’t have a goal to aim for, you are not going to get anywhere. The second point is, who is held accountable? Similarly, if you don't meet your sales targets, things are going to be very bad.
Companies are always putting improvement plans in place, but the question is, who's held accountable for the initiatives? What's actually been officially discussed and have you mapped out how you get there?
So, I think this is where the AI initiatives fail a lot because there's a lack of targets and a lack of accountability. But it’s not simple as saying we want more women in our company, because then that becomes a blanket approach. Why does it matter and how do we get there?
Rupal: Yeah, I have been part of initiatives across various organizations. And I think the fundamental thing that it boils down to is a lack of knowledge. And that stems all the way from leadership down. In one of my previous companies, the lack of diversity was so apparent, that it would stare you in the face on a daily basis.
There was a real lack of women of color in leadership, and it was just pretty non-diverse, in general. I spoke to a colleague and his response to me was, “Don't talk to me about diversity. I'm the Caucasian guy.” My response was, “You should be talking about this because you're the Caucasian guy. This doesn't make any sense.”
I think it just comes down to a lack of knowledge and lack of sponsorship from the leadership down. I think people look at it as something that they don't know how to solve; there isn't a predictable formula or recipe for success, right? There isn’t a tool you can use that you can plugin and play.
People are overly-sensitive about talking about it in a very healthy environment. But I think that can slowly change over a period of time if people are taught even at the executive level.
You need to think about how this is going to positively impact and benefit the organization, but I don't think they do that. I think we're seeing more organizations trying to move the needle rather than just artificially making these announcements, but then they don't really follow through. This happens all the time.
On a positive note, I am seeing a lot of self-reflection going on within certain organizations on how we can take responsibility for diversity. This generally happens when you have the right leaders at the top.
And I'm going to stumble my way through. You'll see me fall 100 different times, but I will do it. I think that's what's required of every one of us, right? Be persistent.
Q: How can companies address inclusivity in the recruitment process?
Minna: I think it depends on what level you're hiring at. The hiring process even starts with writing the job titles that are not ambiguous. I think being clear about, for example, whether the candidate needs to have a Ph.D., can broaden your talent pool.
We know, for example, that women are less likely than men to apply for jobs when they don’t meet all of the professional requirements, so making it clear that they don’t need to have these certain qualifications can really help to address that.
I think that recruiters are often pushed to go for a very specific list of candidates, rather than a diverse list of candidates. From a company perspective, it's also good to kind of keep at it. Even when you think you’ve got your shortlist selection right, just keep pushing it and see if you can develop a more diverse, more nuanced list.
Rupal: We really have to expand on these points of entry for how employees are hired within the company, right? There's some low-hanging fruit that we can reach for. This can encompass very simple things, such as very targeted hiring from universities. You can even reach out to the diversity associations within a university, or you can attend job fairs that are targeted toward a diverse audience.
Those are some really elementary things that you can do from a strategy perspective without having to spend a dime. But I've seen organizations become a little bit more sophisticated.
They have tools that eliminate the name of the people from resumes, for example. You just see the resume, or the work product, which helps you to have an unbiased opinion rather than trying to already put somebody in a certain box.
I've also seen tools that help with revising job descriptions that are out there. In a SaaS organization, I was a part of, we invested in a tool that would really look for the nuances within the job descriptions.
Are we proactively trying to get people to apply for the roles? Are we opening up the aperture? I think those are some of the things that organizations can do that are really low investments but can have a significant impact within the organization.
Minna: I think if we flip it on the other side if you are the candidates, it’s a good idea to look at the company lingo and think about how they are framing the job. What are the requirements that they're looking for? Are they looking for perfection, or are they looking for candidates that they can mold around what needs to be done? Are they hiring for now or are they hiring for future success?
If you're the candidate, have a look at that other side of things. It’s also important to look at the company structure. Can you see people of color being promoted there? What is the tone of the company when you read their material or read their website or read their posts? As the candidate, you can also make a big difference.
Q: How do we improve recruiting from within to create more female leadership roles?
Minna: I feel quite passionate about this topic of promoting within. Some companies have programs in place, especially for females. And let's speak the honest truth. Often enough, women have to take career breaks to have a family and so forth.
Technically speaking, you are sometimes going to fall behind the curve in terms of what your male colleagues are able to do. Male candidates are generally not encouraged to take as much time out for family.
But how do you make sure that you have programs that are not just equal, but that are also mindful of the kinds of needs that female candidates have?
Looking at this from the other side, paternity leave is often not encouraged enough. I think this is one of the key initiatives for getting men and women on the same track professionally. You can also have upskilling programs for women who have had to take time out for family. You can get them back on that promotion track faster.
Rupal: This also comes from the fact that, sadly, women don't empower themselves enough for the tough fight and for the tough conversation. They're not comfortable saying, “Hey, this is where I think I belong. And this is where I need to be.” There’s often this false sense of this imposter syndrome, right? I think even men go through that, but I think that women take it a lot harder.
We beat ourselves up more, we have a different bar of where we need to be. I think we should feel empowered enough to ask those difficult questions and feel like we belong? We can't just put the entire responsibility on an organization. You need to feel empowered enough to go out there and negotiate what you think you deserve. What’s the worst that can happen, they say no?
Q: Implementing diversity and inclusion can seem overwhelming. As an advocate or an ally, where do you start?
Minna: I think it's okay not to know. The important thing is to start educating yourself. Start reading about what are good things to do and what are the best initiatives to put in place to get everyone else on board. There is no plug-and-play model here. We've got to take steps and sometimes we stumble over the steps and fall.
Be relentless. The more you raise the topic with people and make sure it’s on people's plates, the more likely something’s going to get done about it. None of us know everything, but don’t rest on your laurels. Pick a time to speak to experts in the field and read more studies about it. Formulate an opinion and get moving on topics. I think how you open the conversation is key to this.
Rupal: I agree with that. It's okay not to have the answers. I think most of us haven't figured it out. But we are on this journey to understand and learn. So I think two things that you can do, besides empowering yourself with the right knowledge and learning about it, is to create a benchmark.
Look at where you are today and set a target for where you want to be. If you don't have the data, you don't necessarily know if you're moving the needle. If it’s an organization-wide initiative, obviously, you need a lot of sponsorship to get some of this stuff done.
If you are an individual contributor, or if you are in a space where you feel like you may not be able to move the needle, I think you can even start out by mentoring folks within your own network.
How many of us are intentional about opening up doors for other minorities? How can you be more intentional about some of those activities if you're not empowered to make bigger changes?
The results of that will speak volumes. You might end up being the most innovative team. There might be success that you can showcase to your leadership for a broader sort of initiative. There are so many things we can do to have an impact.