EPISODE 504: How Companies Can Embrace DEI&B to Open Opportunities for Women in Sales with Hang Black and Mary Shea

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Attend the Women in Sales Leadership Elevation Conference on May 13, 2022. Register here. Hang and Mary will lead the “DEI&B Panel Discussion: What Does Equity & Inclusion Look Like Post Exodus.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Women in Sales virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on April 21, 2022. It featured an interview with Hang Black, author of Embrace Your Edge, and Sales Futurist Mary Shea from Outreach.io.]

Find Hang on LinkedIn. Find Mary on LinkedIn.

HANG’S TIP: “Give that inner imposter a hug, appreciate them. They are bold. They are brave. They are courageous. But take accountability, because whining will only get you down to the next glass of wine. For allies, we need to do more than care. Take on a sponsor, take on two sponsors, encourage your people to become sponsors. Lastly, this is not about privilege shaming or victim blaming. Just because we’re elevating some people does not diminish the fact that it was hard for everyone. We’re just saying it’s harder for others, and let’s help them up the ladder. Because at the end of the day, it’s going to help all of our businesses as we increase representation throughout.”

MARY’S TIP: “Take responsibility for your own career growth. Don’t expect you’re going to get what you want because you work hard and put your head down. Take on difficult projects. Invest in yourself, invest in your career, hold yourself accountable for overcoming some of these challenges, and then similarly, organizations like yours and others.”


Gina Stracuzzi: What’s first and foremost on our minds right now is the May 13th Conference. I happen to have as my guests two women who are going to make the day even more special. I have Hang Black from Juniper and Mary Shea from Outreach. Ladies, welcome very much. Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Mary Shea: I’ll just give you a really quick snapshot of my background. Over the course of my 20-year business career, I was a classical musician before I joined the business world. I have been a sales rep manager, CRO, university professor, and Forrester analyst. About a year and a half ago, I just joined Outreach as their Global Innovation Evangelist. It’s sort of a lengthy title, but really what it is, it’s very much like being an in-house analyst. I do all the same kinds of things I did at Forrester, just not under the green umbrella.

I’m conducting primary research, quantitative and qualitative research. I’m doing shows like this. I have my own podcast, it’s called Revenue Innovators. I really focus on a platform that has three legs to the stool. One is I look at the future of buying and selling in the business world. I am a little bit futurist, on the sales side at least. I look at the rapidly-evolving sales technology landscape, consolidation, and platformization is happening right now. Then the third piece of the stool is what we’re here to talk about today, which is diversity, equity, and inclusion in B2B sales. As part of my role at Outreach, I am the executive sponsor of our Rainbow ERG, and I’m really proud of that group and everything that we do at Outreach to make everyone feel like they can come to work as their authentic selves and belong in this wonderful company.

Gina Stracuzzi: Hang, you know I’m a big fan and you have been on the podcast a year and a half ago, I guess, already. Time does fly. Welcome back. Please tell the audience a little bit about yourself.

Hang Black: My name is Hang Black. I am the Vice President of Revenue Enablement at Juniper Networks. Before that, I have spent a decade in engineering, a decade in marketing. I’m now the author of Embrace Your Edge: Pave Your Own Path as an Immigrant Woman in the Workplace. My passion around this space is that I’m not just a DEI leader that cares about the business. I’m a business leader with a PNL that cares about DEI. I’m very proud to mention we’ll be announced as the Wall Street Journal best seller in the next few weeks. It’s specifically because, and I want to celebrate that with Gina, Mary, and Fred when we’re live in DC, it will be the formal announcement on May 14th. It’s just going to show how important this messaging is. Not just as humans, but also as sales and business leaders, because as Mary knows, 80% of people want to buy from diverse communities and 80% of sellers are not. How do we change that model so that we represent the people we are selling to?

Gina Stracuzzi: That is just an amazing lead-in to our discussion today. We’re going to be talking primarily about diversity, equity, and inclusion and how it affects women in sales and the companies that employ them. We need more diversity. We need more women in sales roles and sales leadership roles. We know it pays off for everyone, and yet we’re still not there, and it’s not for lack of trying. We have to figure out why we’re not there.

We’re not going to solve anything today, but we are going to talk a little bit about it. This is a little bit of a teaser for the conference. We held a number of round table discussions with DEI&B leaders in the corporate sector, sales sector, with companies in the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond. We’re going to be releasing a report at the conference with the findings, and it’s really open, honest discussion about what companies are facing, and what they need, and what women need, and how are we going to make it all work. That’s really where I’d like to take our conversation today, is what do you see, what do you think should be happening in this space, and how can women help each other, and help themselves, and help employers elevate them? Mary, would you like to jump in first?

Mary Shea: Yeah, I’d love to. Just because I spend a lot of time doing my research and Hang teed me up so nicely, I will talk about some new research that we just acquired from Forrester. Outreach partnered with Forrester Consulting to really look at what was happening on the buy side. I also last year did some research on the sell side. What the research showed is that about 73% of buyers – and these are buyers across 20 different industries buying any kind of product or service in the range of 50,000 to a million plus, so up to seven figures and more – aren’t going to buy from a company that doesn’t share the values of their organization. Then it upticks even a little bit more when they say, “I’m not going to buy from a company that doesn’t share my values.”

The other thing the research showed was that 74% of buyers said selling organizations need to reflect the world around us. We know from all the research that we read, and the conversations that we have, and the networking that we do, that only a third of B2B sellers are women. As Hang said earlier, 80% of sellers are white. I think the first step in this journey is having conversations like we’re having today, shining the light of day on some of the things that we want to correct.

The other thing is having great allies who can help with mentorship and provide these types of platforms. I’ve done a couple of podcasts over the last two weeks that were hosted by allies, and it was just absolutely fantastic and inspiring. The other thing is technology, using technology to, again, shine the light of day on pay inequity, so getting more transparency. Then if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.

One of the things I’m super proud about Outreach is that our board, about half of the board is women. We have people of color on the board as well. On our executive team, I think it’s about 50/50 between men, women, people of color, and our CEO, as Hang knows really well, is an immigrant. As if I were a woman seller or a manager going on an upward trajectory in my sales career, the first thing I would do is start to do some research and understand, “Where do I want to work? Do I want to work at a company that is already putting a stake in the ground and saying, ‘This is important culturally to us,’ and sets up programs and policies and procedures to foster a more equitable environment? Or am I just going to take my chances and spin the wheel?”

Hang and I talk a lot about intentionality on the employer’s side, but I think on the employee’s side, you can also have some intentionality, be really thoughtful around where you want to align yourself. Because right now, women in sales, whether they’re at the VP level, C-suite, or coming up the chain, you can write your own ticket. I don’t know if your audience knows that right now, but companies of all shapes and sizes want to and feel compelled to hire top-tier female talent. You’re pretty empowered as a female seller.

Gina Stracuzzi: It’s something that we talk about quite a bit. This is an extraordinary moment in time. We need to ask for what we want and need, and we’ll get it. One of the things that I’d like to discuss a little bit is how companies can go about getting more women of color to apply for sales positions, because it is something that comes up again and again that nobody is applying. Do you have any thoughts on that, Mary?

Mary Shea: Yeah, absolutely. I know that Hang’s company, Juniper Networks, does an amazing job of this. We all want to do the right thing, I believe. In my CRO study, I saw 70%, 80% of CROs wanted to hire a diverse salesforce. But then when the rubber meets the road, I’m not sure folks actually know how to do it. What Juniper does is applies a lot of intentionality to the process. They have a policy where they want 20% of their candidates to be diverse candidates, and they want 20% of their interviewers to be diverse interviewers. With metrics and policies in place, you can start to track progress and be more intentional about it.

The other thing that Juniper Networks does is they actually go out to meet folks where they reside. I’m sure your audience knows, and it’s really exciting to me, there are many professional sales programs at the undergraduate and graduate level across North America now, much more than when I was teaching. What Juniper does is actually go out to areas where there’s multicultural attendees at different colleges and meets folks where they are and inspires and engages them and gets them educated about the possibilities at Juniper. I don’t think you can necessarily expect people to show up at your doorstep. You’re going to have to be intentional and do a little bit of extra work if that means going to different areas of the country to get the word out.

The other thing that I think there’s been quite a lot of discourse on is now that we’re in a hyper hybrid world and the toothpaste is out of the tube, so to speak, Jamie Dimon and everyone else can mandate that people go back into the office, but I think we all know that’s probably not happening in any meaningful way. Maybe some industries here and there. But with the ability to hire remote candidates, then you’re not necessarily stuck with cities that might be very historically white or upwardly mobile, or what have you, and you start to be able to bring in people that are more reflective of the country and the world in which we live. There’s a number of dynamics that are going on, but my big piece of advice is you’ve got to be really intentional about it.

Gina Stracuzzi: That makes perfect sense, and helping candidates to see themselves inside of your company, which is hard to do if you’re not there yet.

Mary Shea: Yeah, it’s really true. I don’t know if you know Cate Gutowski, she was someone we worked with very closely when I was at Forrester and we were at GE, and she subsequently went to Amazon and some other organizations. Very, very senior and polished female commercial executive. She launched a program, If You Can See It, You Can Be It. I hear those words around me all the time. Visibility and representation is so important. I do it day in and day out. I’m part of the queer community. I integrate that into my professional LinkedIn profile and where it makes sense I make it known. I think you just have to really lean into representation and that’s something I think that is critically important.

Gina Stracuzzi: Hang, I would love to have your thoughts on some of what we just talked about a little bit. Tell us what Juniper is doing to reach out to communities that aren’t represented in your sales industry right now.

Hang Black: I think there’s two things. There’s intentionality and representation. One of the things that we’ve been doing is reaching out to communities that have consistently been overlooked, and therefore they’ve been underestimated. Going to universities that are highly populated, great caliber that have been passed over because they need their number considered number three or number two. When I look out in the audiences at the universities that we speak to, highly diverse, very female, a lot of people of color, and other dimensions of cognitive diversity that are not even physical. How do we reach out to them and welcome them into the table? Because once we get to the table, as Mary and I talk about it all the time, is how do we pull more chairs up for everyone behind us?

Mary Shea: I couldn’t agree more with Hang. We launched a program at Outreach this year called The Rise Program, which is Anna Baird, who’s our CRO, is the executive sponsor. I’m involved in it. Our head of HR is involved in it. We’ve actually identified a group of female sales leaders who are fairly early in their tenure in terms of sales leadership, but we believe they have high potential. This program, they have the opportunity to interact with in a very safe space, several executives to get coaching. They’re taking on high visibility projects across the organization. Anna and myself and others are coaching them. We have partnered with BoostUp, Prince Harry’s company. We’re providing coaching for the members of this Rise group. We’ve actually invested in external coaching as well.

One of the things that you’re going to find as a consistent stumbling block for female sellers once they’re in the organization, is when they want to go to a director, or VP, or being in the C-suite. Maybe they don’t have the confidence to put themselves and their ideas out there. We’re trying to help instill that confidence that it takes to apply for a job, even if you have 60% of the qualifications, because a man would certainly do it. They’re not going to think twice. What’s the worst thing could happen? Someone tells me no. But as women, that’s not how we’re wired, folks that identify as women. How do you build more confidence? How do you have a tighter pitch? How do you take on tough, gnarly projects so you get visibly so that when you want to get that VP promotion, there isn’t anybody who can say you’re not strategic enough? Because there’s all kinds of unconscious bias that pops up at these various stages of a woman’s executive career.

Hang Black: If you look at Harvey Coleman’s thesis of the PIE theory, 10% performance as you move up, 30% image, 60% exposure. We have a very similar program to you, Mary, where when people pass the individual contributor levels, and we’re not just looking at making leaders, but we’re looking at making leaders of leaders, how do we get them more exposure? We have a very select group of people, five out of 2,000 people that are selected, they’re mid-career, we highly curate them. We give them vice president sponsors that are outside of their direct line of command. Why? Because it gives them increased exposure. We also invite them to these exclusive events with vice presidents.

The likelihood is these people, even though we want to accelerate them in their career, we’re not giving them an advantage. We’re catching them up. They’ve probably been overlooked for years. That’s one of the misnomers and the misdirections I want to correct with people. It’s not that we’re doing anyone a favor. We’re simply catching people up to get that representation, to get the role models so that we can build allies and everyone has someone to look up to that looks like them.

Mary Shea: I really love the way you describe that, Hang. Because I know sometimes there is a little bit of friction around like we’re getting this coaching, but it’s just for a certain group of people. I like that concept of catching up because it’s absolutely what we’re doing.

Gina Stracuzzi: I couldn’t agree more because also if a group is moving into positions or trying to go for positions they haven’t been in before, they don’t have that same level of confidence, Mary, that you were referring to earlier, because they don’t have anything to base it on. The bravado comes from someplace. It comes from a history of those opportunities. You don’t have that bravado if you’ve never been there.

Mary Shea: The confidence piece in the research that I did, I did some very deep academic research about a year and a half ago when I was at Forrester for the Journal of Selling in University of Northern Illinois with Rob Peterson. I found that confidence issues plague women at every stage of their sales career. When I got up to surveying the C-suite, CROs, it was just as relevant, and I was completely shocked. I was really surprised. Having programs that can help or provide the opportunity for confidence building is really key.

The other thing that I think is important programmatically that I found from my research is that the women who’ve been uber successful have something that’s called a personal board. The most successful women started building this board even when they were in university or MBA programs. There were other women that they could turn to usually, and I’m not minimizing the impact of male mentors. There’s super important allies and great mentors. But these women would build a personal board of women who were pretty much at their same level or higher on a fast trajectory at a range of different companies and were able to, over a 20-year period, continue to go back to those women for advice.

Hang and I do that. I don’t necessarily think, “Hang’s my board member,” but we’ve both given and received advice from each other. That kind of interaction is absolutely invaluable. Again, you have to be intentional. “Who’s my personal board? Who’s going to tell me, ‘What for?’ when I don’t really want to listen to it? Who’s that person who’s really going to tell me the truth?” I find that that can really be very helpful as well.

Gina Stracuzzi: Everything that you’ve talked about, Mary and Hang, are the things that we try to address in the forum, which is an independent program, but it’s very similar to what you all are trying to achieve within your own companies. That is to help women overcome those moments when they listen too hard to that little voice that tells them they can’t, or they shouldn’t, or whatever the case is. It is unfortunately there at every level. We have found ourselves, even outside of regular research. It blows you away when you see these women who are otherwise incredibly capable and have already achieved so much, and yet they still have this nagging doubt. What is that about? It has to be that it’s just the feeling around them is still not as inclusive as it ought to be. It seems like your companies are chipping away at it.

Mary Shea: We are definitely chipping away at it. I have an executive coach and I spent some time talking with her about this and some of the challenges around confidence that you’re referring to, Gina, that we’ve talked about. Those get embedded in women from a very early age before they’re even in junior high. It’s embedded in their psyches. Then all of a sudden they get into the business world and they see male colleagues as being in the club. They’re not quite in that same place. Others are getting promoted, they’re not getting promoted. There’s societal challenges, which are happening that we have to deal with and find ways to overcome as we want to get more and more successful in the sales world.

Gina Stracuzzi: Hang, you’ve been incredibly successful, and I’m sure there’s a lot more you want to do. Talk to of us a little bit about the challenges that you have felt along the way, and how you handled them.

Hang Black: Well, I have to say what was difficult for me is everything in my DNA was to suppress my voice. I’m the youngest of eight children in an Asian …

Mary Shea: I think this is a great segue to say you got to buy Hang’s book because it’s really amazing. What she’s really referring to is some of the cultural dynamics that she grew up being the youngest child in a large Asian family, and some of the expectations for culturally how you interact. There’s cacophony between the culture that she’s describing and how to succeed in the business world. I think you have to understand where the barriers are that you are facing, whether it’s you’re not strategic enough, you’re not confident enough, or you’re dealing with some societal cultural types of things and find ways to push yourself to overcome them.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, at the end of our program, which we are getting to closely, we ask our guests for one piece of advice that they would give listeners, and those listeners are card-carrying salespeople, both men and women, and VPs of sales, so employers. What piece of advice would you give them, Mary, around the conversation that we’ve had today?

Mary Shea: I think there’s a lot of systemic and societal and a number of different challenges that we all face. But I would say take responsibility for your own career growth and take it really seriously. Don’t expect you’re going to get what you want because you work hard and put your head down. You’re going to get what you want because you deliver great results, you take on difficult projects. You have amazing relationships across, above, and below in your organization. When someone says, “Should Hang get promoted?” Everyone’s raising their hand because you’ve done that work intentionally.

Go get an executive coach. I’ve worked with an executive coach here and there for much of my career, particularly when I went into the C-suite and the politics were just something I’d never seen before, it wasn’t what I was interested in. I had an ally who could strategize with me and help me figure out how to influence and engage folks that were blockers to some of the things that I wanted to move forward with. Invest in yourself, invest in your career, hold yourself accountable for overcoming some of these challenges, and then similarly, organizations like yours and others, hopefully we continue to have the dialogue and shine the light on these inequities and do everything that we need to do to continue to make more positive progress as we move forward.

Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely. Hang?

Hang Black: For those who are marginalized, I would say, give that inner imposter a hug, appreciate them. They are bold. They are brave. They are courageous. But take accountability, because whining will only get you down to the next glass of wine. For allies, we need to do more than care. We cannot just be performative. Take on a sponsor, take on two sponsors, encourage your people to become sponsors. Lastly, this is not about privilege shaming or victim blaming. Just because we’re elevating some people does not diminish the fact that it was hard for everyone. We’re just saying it’s harder for others, and let’s help them up the ladder. Because at the end of the day, it’s going to help all of our businesses as we increase representation throughout.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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