EPISODE 597: What Men Can Be Doing to Facilitate Gender Equality in Tech Sales with Eva Helen

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Find Eva on LinkedIn. She’s the author of “Women in Tech: A Book for Guys.”

This interview was conducted by Gina Stracuzzi.

EVA’S TIP:  “Making sure in meetings that women’s voices are heard, because the thing is that when a man promotes himself as that kind of leader, all inclusive, I want everybody to be heard, I want everybody’s opinion to be seen and heard, then that starts to spread.”


Gina Stracuzzi: Eva, it’s so nice to have you with us. I met Eva Helen at the Outreach Summit in September of 2022 in California. She is an author, speaker, CEO at EQ Inspiration, and board director at Vasion. Her book I really liked is Women in Tech, a Book for Men, and that’s how Eva and I got talking. Before we get into the book, welcome, and please tell the audience a little bit about yourself.

Eva Helen: Well, from the beginning, I didn’t really know that sales would be so exciting as it actually is, but I started my sales career pretty early. Not my first jobs that I had back in Sweden where I grew up, but as soon as I applied for my first real job right after high school, it’s not uncommon in Sweden that you take a gap year and you go and either travel the world, or you get a job, or something like that. I actually got my first job in sales, and it was a great experience and it was really that hands-on type of work. We would go and knock on doors and work with particular clients that my manager or my boss had around Stockholm. He taught me everything that I needed to know about that face-to-face interaction with sales, like we used to do it in the good old days.

Then a few years later when I was done with university in Stockholm, I actually came over to Silicon Valley, and once again, I got a little bit of a surprise. I knew that sales would be a good avenue to take, but I didn’t know anything about tech. I knocked on doors there the way that this older gentleman had taught me to do, and I found my first job in sales. I guess that was my first selling experience, selling myself into getting a job in international sales. It was still old school, but because I was doing international sales, I did the majority of the communication over the phone. Obviously we did use email for follow up and stuff like that, but it was really beating the phone, getting into the office super early and calling, calling, calling, and not calling on end users as much as some partners because I was helping to develop the partner network in Europe, and it was fantastic. Same thing there, my manager was a man who really taught me everything that he knew. I just grew so much during that first period.

Then my next challenge was as I partnered up with one of our distributors, so one of the companies that I had been selling to and talking with who was also building out a software practice. That guy said to me, “Do you want to come over and run sales?” I said, “Sure.” I moved to the East Coast and got my first job as a co-founder and really building a software company together with him and learned even more about technology. But the whole selling thing, getting in touch with people, and understanding what they need, and getting into their heads, it really was so amazing for me.

Then fast forward 20 years, and we had by then exited our second company, which was also an enterprise software company that we ran for 15 years, and I found myself without anything to sell. It was like I lost a big piece of my personality. I was like, “What am I going to do now when I don’t have anything to sell, or I don’t have people to manage who are selling, and I don’t have all these wonderful channel partners to talk to? Who am I? What matters?” That is when I started on this journey. That’s about five years ago now. That’s when I started on this whole journey of trying to discover how could I actually give back to the community of women in sales and women in tech and started the whole exploration of allyship.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s one of the topics that you and I got on quite a bit during that conference, is allyship, and it’s really such a necessary part of the journey for women as they climb the leadership track. You can’t do it without allies. Talk to us a little bit about the changes you’ve seen in that mentality, that mindset in companies over the last 10 years, let’s say. Is that what led you to write your book?

Eva Helen: When I worked as a woman in tech and a woman in sales for those 20 years, I of course had some bizarre encounters, and some unpleasant things happen. But really the majority of the men who were around me, and as any of the women who are listening know, in most rooms you enter, you tend to be the only one or one of you or whatever. There are a lot of guys out there. Up until 10 years ago, I never felt that it was a problem. I’m sure there were people who were not as pleasant as the people who were around me, but I always felt supported. I always got the help. I always, when I asked for help or support, or when I asked to learn something new, or I wanted to understand the technology better, I could walk in anywhere and just ask. Nobody ever said, “No, I’m sorry, I’m not going to help you.”

Then with the revival of the Me Too Movement, which was a really healthy shakeup, don’t get me wrong, which happened about five, six years ago now. It was necessary to bring a lot of stories to the surface and allow women who had not been able to speak up to speak up, but that also damaged a lot of the good relationships that were already established. It instilled a fear in a lot of men who had been previously supporting women, without even thinking about it so much. They were either direct reports or they worked in a parallel organization, or they were somebody that they had come across, or a woman who had come in and who had said, “This is my interest and I know you’re an expert, can you support me and help me out and teach me more?” “Absolutely, no problem.” I’m not trying to ignore the fact that there was probably a lot of sleazy stuff going on as well, as there is everywhere, but all of those good guys that were already doing the right things, we lost a lot of them.

When I started on this journey that I’m on right now, and I started talking to a lot of women, I understood that there was still a ton of women who didn’t feel supported, who were feeling like they were being talked over, or stomped on, or not being promoted, and not given the same opportunities as the men in their organizations, and all of the things that I had heard 25 years earlier when I had written a paper on it in university. I understood that all of that was still there, but I still didn’t want to highlight that because there was so much talk and so much negativity. I wanted to find the good stories. I wanted the women who had been supported as I had been to share their stories on stage with a mixed audience across all genders.

I wanted men who were still comfortable or that understood how they were supporting women to talk about it publicly, to share those highlights and those stories. That’s how I started EQ Inspiration, because I was going to women’s events, we’re not going to get enough guys coming to those events. Why don’t I just start something called women in tech events for guys and invite all men I know in Silicon Valley to come to these events and invite women as well. But they had to bring a man along into the room so we got more men in the room than women. The connections, my aim was really to bridge the gap between genders, generations, and business roles so that new connections would come about that in a normal, or in a daily work setting, would not come about.

Gina Stracuzzi: I even spoke with a very senior level person at Intel, a man, about a year ago. He’s like, “I’m terrified to be alone in a room with a woman, and I want to mentor women who are coming up, but it’s too scary”. That doesn’t serve anybody. I love this idea that you bring a man, and I might use it for our upcoming conference next year, because it doesn’t help either side when we speak in a vacuum and the other side isn’t hearing the raw reality of what we’re saying. Women need to hear it from men as much as we need to say it. I love what you did there, and the intergenerational piece of it too is magnificent, because there’s never been a time in history when there’s been so many generations in the workplace, and discounting the knowledge of the older generations is a disservice to the company as well as the people. Talk to us, from all that came your book, is that correct?

Eva Helen: I felt that all of those stories needed to be heard. Everything that was talked about on stage as I was moderating these panels, I would also do all men’s panels at all women’s events, which was always a big show, and a lot of preparation went into it so that there wouldn’t be any eggs flying in either direction. But really, really great opportunity, and this is all pre-COVID, obviously.

Then I was like, “Okay. How can I find more stories like this?” I reached out to random men who I’ve come across throughout my 20-year career, and very quickly actually, I had 60 interviews lined up. I did hour-long interviews with men in tech, from CEOs, and board members, and VCs, down to individual contributors, engineers, sales reps, and so on. That’s a pretty broad spectrum. The majority of them were in the age range between 35 to 55. I don’t remember the data exactly, it’s in the book, 35 to 55. About half of them were first generation Americans, so had come across for tech jobs. Others had been born and raised here.

Then I asked them about their upbringing, where they went to school, their relationships with their parents, if their mother was working, their current family, if they have kids, boys, girls, whatever. I asked about their awareness around equality. Is there inequality or is there not? Pretty much everybody says that there was inequality at work, but that something could be done about it. I asked them about their willingness to support women and people from underrepresented groups at work and what actions they were already taking.

So many fascinating things came out, but a lot of them were not even aware of the support that they were already offering and providing. They’d never really even paid attention to it. Many of them were willing and wanted to do something but didn’t know what to do. I think just a step back there on when you have the women’s conferences and you’re inviting men to them, the men are afraid that they’re going to be bashed, or judged, or criticized for not supporting or helping in the right way. What they typically want is actual tangible advice on what they can do at the end of that session, at the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of the month.

Then all of this material, it was a lot, and I had never written a book before, of course, but I kept rereading it and I found seven character prototypes. I created a matrix, and on that matrix, I have seven character prototypes. The idea is that we, as experts or people who talk to men about how they can support women and people from underrepresented groups at work, we have to meet them where they are. We can’t just throw one message at all of them, or assume that they are receptive to one message, or assume that they even care. But if we can find the right motivators, we can make them care, and we can also give them the space to do just what they’re ready for.

One guy, he might not be aware of how he can support somebody at work, but he does have a sister or his wife who’s at work, or his daughters that he’s supporting at home. They’re just giving him the idea that bringing those actions of support from his home into the workplace, that’s what he’s ready for. No more, no less. That’s okay. Then you have somebody who’s maybe an organizational leader who already has 50/50 women on his team, and he’s thinking, “I’ve done it all. I have created this organization and it’s really, really good.” Then he says, “Well, what can I do?” Well, you can let the world know what you have done and be a role model and set an example so that other men in your company can do the same in their organizations.

It varies, and because there’s seven different steps, first a man can identify, and really, I say men and women, because I have simplified it that way. If you’re a woman listening to this, you can think of it as, if I’m a person in power and I have more power than other people, then I can enable others. First you identify as one of the character prototypes. Once you’ve done that, you ask yourself the question, “Would I like to do a little bit more?” If the answer is yes, you simply read what the character prototype above yours is already doing. Nobody’s going to tell you what to do, just read what’s possible, what other people are already doing, and then you start imitating those actions. When you’ve imitated them for a while, you’ve mastered that level and you’re ready to read about what the next level is doing.

Gina Stracuzzi: Perhaps you could take it and share it with the Taliban.

Eva Helen: Yeah, Gina, I know. We’re recording on this very sad day when they have barred women from going to university in Afghanistan. When I was reading the articles, I was really thinking about how no group of people can do what they want and need to do unless they’re supported by the greater society. If the greater society is run by, in that particular case, men, they have all the power and the women have no power. It’s extremely disturbing to me. It’s just, once again, showing us that if we don’t have the support and we don’t have the allies, it doesn’t even matter if the individual, in this case, fathers in the families of daughters and things like that, they can’t even do anything because there’s a greater power. It’s appalling.

Gina Stracuzzi: It is. So that we don’t get too far off track, to your point that you’ve made several times along the way, most companies and most men are well-meaning. They don’t necessarily appreciate the culture that is non-visible, that’s just there and it supports things happening in a certain way. It takes people stepping outside of that paradigm and going at it a little bit differently as your seven steps seems to lay out. But it’s scary if you don’t have a roadmap and if you are one person trying to make a change. In that respect, let’s say that you are a man who’s working in a corporation and wants to be a leader in this area, really wants to be a true ally, what advice would you give them?

Eva Helen: If it is somebody who is already at the level where they’re aspiring to make a difference in their organization or on their team, they are comfortable with the concept, they’re happy to talk about it, they have probably supported lots of individual women. They’re probably already mentoring women. Mentorship is a whole, it’s a long discussion and we can come back to that if you like, but it can be hard to go out solo if the rest of the management team or the rest of the leadership team is not on board. Then if there is a resistance because the culture inside the organization is not inviting for this change or efforts, and you’re as a man going out solo trying to figure out, “What can I do?” Then I think talking to your team about it, if you have women on your team, sending them out to women in sales events, women in tech events, and when they come back, ask them to share their experiences. Ask what not just they experienced, but what the talk of the town was at that specific event, what was going on? Ask them to share it.

Making sure in meetings that women’s voices are heard, because the thing is that when a man promotes himself as that kind of leader, all inclusive, I want everybody to be heard, I want everybody’s opinion to be seen and heard, then that starts to spread. Other women will be like, “Wow, that guy is such a great leader and he really thinks the right way, and that is so awesome.” That spreads throughout the whole company. Everybody will know about that sooner or later, and then he will be asked to speak at events on this topic and so on. Then the other guys will go, “Whoa, this guy’s team, they stick together, and they seem to have something that’s really going for them”, but they are also successful as that part of the business, whatever it is that they’re driving, if it’s product development, or if it’s a sales organization, or whatever it is.

If the other team leaders are seeing that there’s success on that team, and it doesn’t matter if the other team leaders are men or women, but if they’re seeing the success there, they will want to start imitating. They’ll call the guy or ask the guy and say, “Hey, I see that things are going really well on your team. You haven’t lost anybody in such a long time. You haven’t had to lay anybody off because you’re so successful. What are you doing?” Then it becomes organic, and it’s from the ground up.

If it’s the other scenario where the leadership team are interested or curious in what they can do as a whole company, but they point to this guy and say, “Well, it looks like he is willing to take the initiative. What can we learn from him?” Then I suggest it might be a good idea to get some outside help. Read my book, get a consultant to come in, or do something. But it’s really important to train the leadership team first so that they are very comfortable with the whole concept of allyship, and mentorship, and sponsorship of women and underrepresented groups, when those conversations begin. You don’t want to put a leadership team who are new to this on the spot by not educating them first and foremost.

Gina Stracuzzi: A lot of what IES does is works to promote companies who are doing all of those things to really build inclusive environments and work to retain people by making sure that their needs are met and that it’s equal playing ground. I love everything you’re saying here, and I loved in your book just the almost intimacy of your profiles. Because all those topics that you asked them about, it was evident that you really wanted to drill down on what makes people tick. You’re absolutely right that so much of how we talk about diversity and inclusion, and men versus women, which is really not where we want to be, but how it comes off, it’s always so adversarial and so generalized that it doesn’t serve anyone.

Your book is really a fascinating read in that it really helped me to see how different people are. You don’t stop and think, I mean, you do about yourself, how you were raised, and what you got from your mother and your father, and all of that. I come from a strong Sicilian immigrant background, so there’s a lot of that in me, but I don’t necessarily stop and think about a guy I’m talking to, “Why does he come off that way?” That’s really what we need to really appreciate how we got to where we are and how we’re going to keep dismantling pieces of it so that we’re speaking the same language.

Eva Helen: It’s tricky because there’s a balance. It’s very important for all of us to understand that this is not women’s work. Even if we have to be smart about stopping for a second before judging a man or slamming him with some complaint about the way that things went down, we can take a step back and ask ourselves, “Where is this coming from?” Yes. But it’s also up to the other allies to protect us there and to support us and to help us in a scenario like that. Like I said, the biggest problem is that men don’t know what’s okay to do. If you’re being talked over in a meeting and you are thinking, “Okay. Well, this guy, he’s a complete idiot who’s telling me these things during this meeting,” and then giving myself a chance to say, “Well, where is this coming from? Okay. Maybe he’s just like that, or maybe he doesn’t understand that he’s hurting me, or maybe he’s just having a terrible day, or whatever it is.”

But if there’s nobody else speaking up on my behalf during that meeting, and I want that, because I’m uncomfortable speaking up on my own, then if we haven’t trained the allies around us, we can’t expect anything to happen. If we’ve trained them and we have invited them to say, “Hey, I noticed that that was going on during the meeting, how did that make you feel? Is there anything I can do next time that happens, if it happens?” But if we’re not there yet as a culture, then you probably need to say to somebody who you trust, like the other guy who was in the meeting, who’s a peer, or somebody you worked with for a long time, and say, “Did you notice what happened in there? That made me feel so uncomfortable.” The guy was like, “I’m so sorry.”

Unfortunately, you have to say, “I need your help next time”. That sucks that we have to take charge and we have to do it, but because there’s so many cultures out there that are still unfamiliar with the, like, “How can I help you? How can I support you?” It’s just not part of the culture yet. Then we have to take those first steps and say those things. If we’re women and we’re watching another woman or somebody who doesn’t look or talk or act like us, being talked over in a meeting, it is our job to say, “Hey, that was not okay.” We don’t have to say any more than that. We don’t have to drill into it. We just say, “Dude, that was not okay. You can’t talk like that.” That’s the whole point. We have to de-dramatize the whole thing. We have to make it easier, accessible to say, “Stop. Hey, what’s going on? That wasn’t right.” There is nothing wrong with those comments. It’s part of normal communication. I tell you, men want that feedback. They’re like, “Okay. I’m so sorry. That was not my intention at all.”

Gina Stracuzzi: This comes up in the forum a lot, that there’s always this guy that speaks over me or other women. Well, take him aside. You don’t have to shoot him down in the meeting, but just take him aside and say, “Hey, do you know you do this?” If he’s still being a jerk, then you say to Tom, “Tom, you see what Bob does. You see what he does, he speaks over everybody, mostly the women. Just call him on it.” Most guys will help you if you ask them, but people are in their own worlds and sometimes if that’s just how meetings go in your company and nobody has ever said anything, it’s not likely to change. You’re absolutely right, it’s up to us, unfortunately, to bring it up, to use our voice to say, “Please don’t do that.” Or ask somebody’s help if you’re a little bit concerned about that, about using the words yourself.

I can’t recommend your book enough. I hope everyone will go out and get a copy of Women in Tech, a Book for Men. Eva, we’re at this point where we like to ask our guests for a piece of advice or an action item that they can put into place today that will help their career or help their company, or in this case, help the allyship world. What do you have for us?

Eva Helen: There’s something that I’m thinking about a lot lately, and it is a cause of a number of books I’ve just read, observations, conversations, trying to find more companies where people thrive and people are happy. I think that the biggest challenge that we have in front of us right now, which is already a rolling and growing snowball of enormous magnitude, and we’re causing it to ourselves, and it’s isolation. I’m extremely concerned about not just teenagers and young generation people. The after-effects of COVID are brutal. The mental illness is at an all-time high, depression, anxiety, concern, worries. With the current economic climate, it makes it even more scary.

My only piece of advice is really to break yourself out of isolation. It is so important for your next career step, for the next person who’s going to be supporting you, for the next person that you are helping and supporting. We have to reconnect. We have to reconnect in meaningful ways. We have to have conversations, be it over the phone if we can’t get together in person, be it at events that we’re now starting to go to but carving out a little bit of extra time for that person that you think could benefit from a longer chat.

When I sell, just as you’re talking about how I did the interviews for my book, that’s how I used to sell clustered file systems. I would get into the heads of the people that I wanted to sell to. I don’t mean that in a negative way. I wanted to understand what was interesting to them, what did they do in their free time? What was their family like? What were their worries? Because when you get to know people and you build those close relationships, those ties will never go away. They will stay with you throughout your entire career. Should you decide to return to a place where you were 10 years earlier, physically, or virtually, or mentally, those connections will always live. Whatever we do in 2023, we have to break ourselves out of isolation in any possible way we can. It’s always fine to ask for help.

Gina Stracuzzi: That is the best advice in the world, is asking for help, because we can have another interview all together on how to break out of that and how to re-socialize. I swear that’s really where we’re at right now. Eva, this has been a pleasure and you and I talked like crazy at the conference and on another call, and I’m a big fan and I look forward to speaking to you again. Thank you everyone for listening and we will see you next time. Take care for now.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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