Customer Success is really diverse, right? Right?
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
But Diversity is in Danger
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?
Surely Customer Success is Better and More Diverse, Right?
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
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?
The panelists shared their extensive history in trying to affect positive change. Below are the major recommendations.
What you can do:
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.
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.
- “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.