Customer Success is really diverse, right? Right?

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This post has it all: a very important problem that affects us all; a path forward to addressing the problem; a list of notable quotes; and book recommendations! Bonus: It also has a link to a video recording of the event. Finally, if you’re a father, or brother, or partner to a woman currently in or thinking of joining the high tech workforce, this article may make you furious. You may get so angry, you may be forced to act. I hope so!

Have you ever thought: Are Customer Success teams more diverse than other teams in high tech? What do we do if we see discrimination at work? How do we skillfully affect positive change without getting fired? The monthly Customer Success Meetup varied it’s agenda last month and talked about an important topic that affects all working professionals, not just CSMs: Diversity and Inclusion in CS and High Tech. Moderated by Irene Lefton, the panel included industry veterans with years of experience: Isaac Vaughn, Sr. VP Operations at Zenefits; Emilia D’Anzica, Partner, CS and Account Management at Winning By Design; and Maranda Ann Dziekonski, VP Customer Success at Swiftly.

A quick word about the monthly CS Meetup in SF. If you haven’t attended ever or recently, you should! It’s great for networking (finding talent or a prospective employer), and for learning. It’s the longest running CS meetup in existence. Started by a vendor in 2012 and now organized by Junan Pang, John Gleeson, Emilie Davis, it’s supported by great companies like Heap that donate space and snacks. In this event, Veronica Dasovich, Account Management & Customer Success at Heap explained the significant impact their CS team has had by improving customer satisfaction and contributing hugely to revenue growth. You can enjoy a recording of this event here.

Diversity improves the Bottom Line

Irene started with some great research conducted by McKinsey highlighting the benefits to a business for being more representative of society, its workforce, and its customers. Diverse companies:

  • Have 21% better performance
  • Create 27% more value

In short, it pays to be diverse.

But Diversity is in Danger

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In spite of the documented benefits of intentionally being diverse, high tech companies in the US are lagging significantly in hiring women and people of color. Women, in particular, are under-represented on management teams. As this Entelo report highlights, the higher in the org chart you go, the worse it gets with only 10 percent of executive roles in tech being held by women.

The Pipeline and Pay Problems

In 2017 for 53% of the jobs sampled, no women applied. In 2018 this improved to 46%, an increase of 7% but still for almost half of the high tech jobs available, no women applied.

This isn’t the only type of disparity. Pay inequity is also significant. According to Hired, the talent marketplace, in its wage inequality report “60% of the time men are offered more for the same role, at the same company…” As a father of a daughter who may consider joining the high tech workforce in a few years, this infuriates me.

Surely Startups are More Diverse…Right?

No. According to Statista, the trend is unclear. From 2018 to 2016, the percentage of teams with NO (that’s a zero) women on the leadership team in a startup increased from 46% to 57%, an 11% increase. In 2019, it dipped to 47% but this is still less than it was in 2016 when only 46% of the high tech startups had no women in executive roles.

Surely Customer Success is Better and More Diverse, Right?

Well, yes, it is a bit better. There are twice as many women CS executives in high tech companies, 26%, compared to just 10% of all high tech companies in the study. Still, it’s a strange disparity given that 54% of CSMs are women. Several companies did studies and unsurprisingly, results were similar.

Where do all the women go as they don’t advance in their careers?

Those Are Just Numbers. No One I know Has Experienced Discrimination

Said no one ever who paid attention to facts. The panelists shared their own experiences about being the only woman, or man of color, on an executive team and how they’ve managed to positively influence these teams to become more diverse. Watch and hear their inspirational stories, and enjoy the entire event here.

Maranda shared her experiences of being one of the only women on a leadership or management team. She started her professional journey in Michigan and was frequently the only young woman on a team of men working in the auto industry. She came to Silicon Valley thinking things would be better for women and was truly disappointed to learn otherwise. She also shared her experiences with discrimination as a single mother of a mixed race child and continuously getting questions like, “Your baby is so cute. Where did you adopt him?”

Emilia shared her experiences being a non-native speaker, an immigrant, and the only woman on management and leadership teams. Frequently, she has experienced having her voice suppressed and her opinions being unappreciated as a default condition–until she worked to improve the situation. As a mother of two daughters, she has committed herself to ensure things are better for her children when they enter the workplace.

Isaac shared his journey from law school to becoming a partner in a prestigious Silicon Valley law firm and frequently being the only person of color at his level. He noted the similarities in this experience to his experience as he transitioned into operations leadership for high tech companies.

So How Do We Make Things Better?

“Be comfortable being uncomfortable. Many times I was the only guy in the room that looked like me…You have to be intentional about the kinds of experiences you want to have. You can’t let other’s aversions, biases, prejudices, get in the way of what you are trying to achieve. It’s not easy but it’s possible. “

–Isaac Vaughn

The panelists shared their extensive history in trying to affect positive change. Below are the major recommendations.

What you can do:

Intentionally Lead by Example

Have or promote conversations about diversity and inclusion (like share this post to relevant colleagues). Diversity doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t just happen. While it should be a top-down priority, sometimes you need a grassroots approach. If you think your company has challenges in this area, talk to HR to learn about its diversity and inclusion strategy. Isaac recounted an experience in a previous company that required executives that sought promotion to have a track record of promoting and developing a diverse talent pool.

Be intentional about your career and the careers of others. Don’t let yourself be marginalized. Tell your manager where you want to go and how you want to grow. If you manage, take time and make a commitment to understanding where each team member wants to go and support their development, if they want this type of help.

Take risks. Emilia recounted an experience where the team supporting a conference was asked to wear a T-shirt that was viewed as offensive by herself and other members of the team. Leadership disagreed but Emilia and others didn’t wear the T-shirt.

To engage an executive/leader who doesn’t get it, enlist an executive who does get it. If you can’t find one, prepare to engage in a positive manner. Don’t make the conversation about the person. Rather, focus on the culture or shared values. Avoid emotion or confrontation. Try to empathize as you share your perspective and be genuinely curious as you learn about someone else’s perspective.

Offer to coach and mentor others on having diversity conversations that’ll help them on their journey. Not only will it help others, but it will help you by reinforcing and maturing your own beliefs. You may even learn something.

Be honest about your own blind spots. Bias naturally exists. The challenge is identifying your own biases, bringing it to the conscious level and understanding it. When you are aware of your own bias, you can take action to counter, or grow beyond it.

Be Customer-centric

Being diverse isn’t just an internal policy for hiring. Recognize that your customers may be different. Understand that they may represent a spectrum of cultures, values, ages and that you need team members who can fully understand, appreciate, and build relationships with your customers.

Avoid Exclusionary Practices, Language

Emilia recounted a very recent example where a company leader in a meeting was requesting feedback from managers in the room by saying, “What do you guys think?” Her first thought was, “ I’m not a guy.” When you use this type of language you’re suppressing the women or people who don’t identify as a guy.

On a personal note, I had a colleague point this out to me that I was using “hey guys” and I was shocked and embarrassed but appreciative. “How many of those rough edges do I have and no one is telling me about?” I shared. My colleague agreed to point out privately every rough edge she noticed.

Intentionally Building the Pipeline

The panelists shared similar management beliefs to working in companies that value diversity, promote diversity in their companies, and developing direct reports. And then being personally accountable. It’s easy to not promote women if you don’t have any on your team. Work with your HR team to ensure a richer, more diverse pipeline exists for candidates and employees.

Notable Quotes

There were many quotable moments in the event, some original and a few classics that punctuated the ideas being shared:

  • “It’s not just about gender but just really being customer-centric and really making sure that you embody your customers. So if you have a varied customer population, make sure you’re able to understand their voice and as a result, you should have customer success managers who can understand them.” Emilia D’Anzica
  • “If you stand for nothing, you fall for anything.” Isaac mentioned this famous quote when encouraging folks to take risks and be a champion for diversity.
  • “Meet the person where they are.” Irene Lefton shared this when providing guidance on how to engage an executive/leader who doesn’t “get it”. She suggested you find out why the person has their perspective. Be open to hearing about their perspective and have an emotion-free conversation about diversity and inclusion.
  • “Men, thank you for supporting diversity…you have more power than you know. Be champions!” –Emilia D’Anzica
  • “People don’t care what you have to say, until they know you care.” An excellent piece of wisdom commonly taught to managers. Isaac Vaughn reminded us of this important fact when encouraging folks to lead by example and investing in the development of direct reports and team members.

Book Recommendations

During the event, panelists recommended the following books:

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