EPISODE 560: Being an Ally to Women in Sales with Rob Stein (Salesforce) and Darrell Gehrt (Cvent)

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast was sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, and featured an interview with Rob Stein from Salesforce and Darrell Gehrt from Cvent. It was hosted by Gina Stracuzzi.]

Find Rob on LinkedIn. Find Darrell on LinkedIn.

ROB’S TIP: “Equality is a principle that we can never give up on. We have a great opportunity in our professional lives to make a big difference. My call to action for allies out there is, make someone feel supported. Give them a safe place to go and critically assure them that you have their back.”

DARRELL’S TIP: “Engage. If you’re a female and you’re looking for that advocacy, that allyship, be engaged. If you’re a man looking to help the women in your organization, engage. We have something we say, “Hey, meet the market where the market wants to be.” I think that’s equally true for employees. You have to meet employees where employees want to be. But you can’t take action unless you’re listening first, if you’re engaging first. If you do that, then you’re going to make progress.”


Gina Stracuzzi: Gentlemen, you are my first male guests on the Women in Sales Program. One of the things that comes up in the forum very often is, how do we find allies, and mentors, and sponsors? Allies really can be something informal, but incredibly valuable. I know that you two, you have both sent so many women through the forum. You were a logical place to start because I applaud the work you’re doing and I love the women that you send through. Let’s give our audience a little bit of background on you.

Rob Stein: I’m Rob Stein. I’m the Senior Vice President at Salesforce and lead a pretty large public sector team here as well.

Darrell Gehrt: My name’s Darrell Gehrt, Senior Vice President at Cvent. We are a company based here in Northern Virginia, Tysons Corner. I’ve been in software sales for a while. I guess I’ll leave it at that, but I think it’s been really exciting to see how the overall profession has changed. What I’m really excited about today is talking about how women are playing an increasingly important role in our field.

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s just jump right into the topic at hand, allyship. It’s incredibly important, as we discussed there briefly. Let’s talk about your role as an ally. Do you consider yourself an ally to the women on your team, and why do you think it’s so important?

Darrell Gehrt: Well, first of all, I hope I’m viewed as a trusted ally to the women. Our sales team today is about 40% women. I think it’s a pretty high concentration, which I love. One of the things that you had mentioned earlier is that a lot of times allyship, it does exist informally. I think for Cvent, one of the things that we’ve done, and I’ve played a very active role because I’m passionate about it, is formalizing that a little bit more. In order to be that trusted ally to this group in particular, to the female population, you really have to be in context with their style. I think one of the things that was an important lesson that I learned going, just evolving over the last few years, is that women have different styles. They’re motivated differently. You really have to consider that in your leadership style if you want to create the right culture of success. I hope that that’s helped lead me to be a trusted ally, because we’re in there and we’re listening and we’re taking action.

Gina Stracuzzi: Good, I’m glad to hear that. Rob?

Rob Stein: In terms of being viewed as a trusted ally, I would say yes and no to that. I would say I’ve made a lot of progress by putting in the work and really taking the time and making the investment to become an ally. But as much as I’m trying to lean forward, and we are making progress, I think there rightfully still is some hesitancy to fully trust allies. I think allies need more of a track record over time to gain the full trust, and it really is about actions. It’s not just about words. I feel like I need to continue to earn that trust to be known as a trusted ally.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love your candor, Rob, and I can imagine, there’s a difference between the hierarchy and just structure of an organization like Salesforce and an organization like Cvent. You can be a little more hands-on in an organization like Cvent and just get down in there and let people see you every day. But in a larger organization, it does take time and it does take trust and you have to build it. I really applaud you for recognizing that. Because one thing that I hear a lot in the forum is the women will feel like, “I don’t know, they say we can come into their office anytime and talk to them, but I don’t know if I can really trust them.” It is a road that has to be paved carefully, which really brings me to another question of, how do you present yourself as an ally in your organization? You alluded to it a little bit, Rob, do you have anything else you want to add to that before I move to Darrell?

Rob Stein: I look at the role of an ally across the entire employee life cycle, from hiring, to being an impactful employee, to promotion and development. I try to show up in all aspects of that life cycle. For example, I’m very intentional on hiring, and I do things like I look at the candidate pool before we make a selection to ensure that we have a diverse candidate pool. I’m always looking at how my organization looks compared to society or compared to how my customer looks. That’s one area.

Another main focus is around professional development. This is where I think I can have a big impact. I’m particularly focused on women who can be put in leadership roles. Women leaders hire more women, they retain more women. Allyship can have a real snowball effect on increasing the diversity of your team.

Darrell Gehrt: I love where you’re going with that, Rob. I think to me I look at it as, first and foremost, we have to listen as leaders, and it has to be a genuine interest, because people can tell if you’re just faking it. But if you’re really listening, to me, being a good ally is really listening. Then you also mentioned, Rob, taking action. I love some of the things that you’re doing. To me, that’s such a big part of it. You can’t really build advocacy, you can’t really build a culture unless you have the right volume of numbers. Women hire women, A players hire A players. We’re looking to do a lot of the same things where you’re getting the right set of applicants and then growing them through the organization. But you have to have people that are like them. People like Rob and I can be great advocates, we can help open up the conversation, but we need more people that are like them to really create true allyship.

Gina Stracuzzi: One of the things that comes up in the forum is that women feel they get talked over in meetings, and you can look right at another guy like, “Why aren’t you saying something?” Let’s get down into the nitty-gritty here a little bit. Do you all see that in your meetings? Do you recognize that sometimes? Do you do something about it in the moment? What advice would you have for women who are enduring this or witnessing it?

Darrell Gehrt: I’d love to start because I feel really passionate about this one. Let me answer your first question. Do we see it? Yes, way too much. Especially as we move to a virtual environment and you’re on a Zoom. We have a pretty aggressive culture here in terms of loud voices. What we find is that the best voices aren’t always loud. I can tell you what I do, and other leaders on my team do, is you can tell when somebody’s trying to get a word in, but maybe they’re just not quite as sharp with their elbows or taking over the conversation. But I’ll literally pause the meeting and say, “Hold on for a second. I think Lauren has something to share here.” Then you let them talk. It is amazing. We have some incredible female leaders here, and when you slow it down and really give them the floor, and tell everybody to stop interrupting, what you hear is generally amazing and much better than what we had to say in the first place.

Gina Stracuzzi: [Laughs] I like that honesty, Darrell. Rob?

Rob Stein: I fully agree with Darrell. I see it regularly, particularly in the virtual world and when there’s a large crowd of folks. I’m very deliberate about giving folks who have something to say, I’m watching, whether it’s on Zoom or in the room, who wants to speak up. You could tell, most people will make an attempt, so I feel like it’s on me to follow through on that attempt to acknowledge it, to recognize it, and call on that person to speak up in the room. I’ve also frequently, even after the meetings, or behind the scenes, encouraged other women to speak up, tried to come up with some words or some more confidence where a woman should feel like they’re in a safe place where they can speak up in the room, that they have the right to speak up. That’s usually the line I use the most, is you have the right because you can provide leadership to us, you can provide great ideas. We want to hear that.

Gina Stracuzzi: I think a lot of women do, they just don’t want to be shut down. What I have advised in the past is, look, if you don’t want to take Rob or Darrell aside in the meeting, go down to their office after the call or after the meeting and just say, “Look, it’s really hard for me to get a word in when Bob is always cutting me off.” Because sometimes people just, they’re so in their own world, all of us, male and female, we don’t sometimes see something that has just become habitual. It’s just how it is. We don’t think necessarily like, “This is actually stopping someone from talking.” It’s an awareness that is critical.

Darrell Gehrt: This is slightly off to a tangent, we’re talking about meetings that are happening in the moment. I’ll tell you the other thing that I’ve found very interesting, is that a lot of times I feel like some women, they just don’t really like the spotlight, or they just don’t enjoy the spotlight, or more likely they enjoy the spotlight, but they don’t enjoy fighting to get the spotlight. Often I will have women in my sales organization, or in other parts of the company, that will come in to speak at my meetings and they’re like, “Yeah, I can do that.” Then you give them the mic, the topic, and I try not to curate the conversation too much, we’ll have a topic, but I’m like, “The content’s yours to own.” Again, they almost always kill it. They come in, they deliver a great message.

I had one of my sales reps, Lindsay, who did a session on something, and there’s all this chatter going on in the chat room and people genuinely appreciating it. But this is somebody that doesn’t fight for the mic, and we all win when you give people like that a chance to get to the mic, because we would’ve never heard it otherwise. I think part of it is opening up those channels of conversation, like Rob said, in the meeting. It’s also about giving them the mic proactively so they can share.

Gina Stracuzzi: What advice would you give other men who would like to be allies to women, or other diverse employees, but they’re not really sure how to start? How would you go about that?

Rob Stein: First thing I’d say is show up where it matters. If you’re a peer of someone you want to be an ally to, if you’re in a sales role, for example, offer to engage in a situation that you’ve been in. As a salesperson, maybe you just closed a deal that was really, really rough, and you hear somebody that you’d like to be an ally to going through the same situation. As a peer, offer advice, provide inputs, become a sounding board, engage. The aspect that we all have responsibility for, we just talked about speak up if you see a woman or another employee that’s being treated differently. That’s really important. If you’re in a leadership role, be intentional. Seek out women and other underrepresented groups of employees for professional development. Provide these people opportunity to get exposure to learn cross-functional skills, or simply show that they’re valued. I think that can be a really impactful thing we can do in leadership roles.

Gina Stracuzzi: Besides women, statistically it’s been proven that Latinas, and Asian women, and the LBTQ community, people with disabilities, they need allies more than anyone, and they don’t always get it. It really goes to your point, Darrell, earlier, that sometimes people won’t seek the attention. If you’re really different in any respect, you might be much less likely to seek attention, or ask for allyship, or ask for someone to support you. Is this issue showing up in your company at all and how are you addressing it?

Darrell Gehrt: It 100% happens. We have six employee advocacy groups at Cvent. One of them is called The Culture, it’s our black advocacy group. I have several black people that work for me and they told me straight up that, “We’re in this meeting and we don’t see a lot of people like me.” That really is a big population today. When you’re getting into the Latino community and some of the others that you specified, I think there’s two things if you’re going to solve the problem. One is, Rob and I both mentioned it earlier, you’ve got to hire for that diversity. You got to have a volume of numbers. You can’t have just one candidate and then say, “Do I hire this person versus the other four or five?” You’ve got to have five, and almost always one will rise to the top. That would be the first thing.

The second thing is, if you just don’t have the numbers, I mean, Salesforce is a much bigger company than Cvent. We’re 5,000 people. But then what if you’re a company of 100 or 50? You got to tap into external resources, plug into other companies that may have that. I think an important part of allyship is actually opening doors so they can go get what they need, even if it’s not within your four walls. I will tell you that also leads to being a trusted advisor because you’re willing to open up those avenues.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love that, that if a company is actually willing to say, “You know what? We don’t have everything you might need right at this moment, but let’s go find it.” But just the sense of belonging, that is a huge obstacle for a lot of people, because as teams grow more and more diverse, and you begin to see you have maybe two Latinas on your sales team, and two African American women, and one woman with disability, they might not see themselves yet, but feeling welcome.

We had an African American woman who came through the forum and she said, “Yeah, I feel really included as long as I don’t wear my hair too black, or I don’t sound too black, and then I don’t feel so inclusive.” A protective device is that people who are different in any respect are going to pretend like it doesn’t matter, or it doesn’t hurt their feelings, or whatever. But then that’s when the retention issue becomes a big issue. Rob, do you have anything you’d like to add to that, or you want to talk about how Salesforce is handling that?

Rob Stein: I think this issue of intersectionality needs to really be top of mind. At Salesforce, we are a big company, but similar, Darrell, to what Cvent’s doing, we have these, we call them employee resource groups, for all different employee groups. These employee resource groups provide a safe forum for women, for example, and all of our diverse employees, to get together, talk about the important issues, and just as critical to have a critical mass to take issues and problems to executive leadership.

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a panel that was part of employee resource group Open House. The panel included the executive sponsor for Salesforce Women’s Network, executive sponsor for what we call BOLDforce, our black employees’ network, and also for our Asia Pacific employee resource group. It’s interesting how in those conversations a lot of the issues were the same. A lot of the high visibility priorities were the same. There we were at this open house in front of 100 plus people, either in person or over Zoom talking about some of these common issues. I think that type of communication is really important and it really naturally brought together this intersectionality.

Gina Stracuzzi: The one thing that I’ve always wondered about employee resource groups, they’re invaluable really, but they also set up more ‘us and them’ in some respects. Because if you have to go to a group that is different, that is set aside from the rest of your team, you are inherently reinforcing that difference. They are valuable, but also I think highlight how there isn’t this cohesive, inclusive environment. This is a reflection of society, not your companies, but it is that, that we have to seek out our own in order to get the support we need, versus feeling that support in general. Does that make sense?

Rob Stein: Well, I think one of the differences at Salesforce, Gina, is equality is one of our five core values. The company was founded on that as well. We give the floor to our underrepresented minority groups during all hands, during very important events where the CEOs are on the stage as well. We establish companywide initiatives. For example, while we’re talking about intersectionality, we established an initiative called the Black Women’s Experience. I think it does expand where I think the trap that you said we can all fall into, well, everybody meets in these groups and they’re the same and they don’t really have a voice outside that, we’re very deliberate on how we do that. That’s part of how we live the core value of equality every day.

Darrell Gehrt: I want to come back to something that Rob said earlier, which is that integration of the groups. Your question of, “Hey, if you create this group, does it even call it out more and is that uncomfortable?” I’ll tell you, one of the things that we’ve done is we have that cross-functional. For example, I mentioned The Culture, which is our black advocacy group, but a lot of white people are heavily involved in that group. We’re getting ready to do a picnic and people are going to bring in Jamaican food and from different cultures, Sudan, and stuff like that. I said, “Hey, are white people able to enjoy this?” He’s like, “Of course.” You really have to bring those groups together.

Our LGBTQ group, which Nathan Chin leads, and you guys both know Nathan, but our CTO is really the executive sponsor of that. Now, he’s a straight guy, but again, it’s important that you have different people involved because we all have to listen and we all have to understand that’s really what these employee advocacy groups are. They aren’t to individualize people out. It’s to help bring their stories to life. That’s really what creates that culture in my opinion.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s good. I like to see that, because there are corporations where, at least from what I’ve heard from women that I work with, that it’s, “They just give us our room and we all talk to each other about things we don’t like and that’s it.” There is no intersectionality, as you say, Rob. This is one of the reasons why I invited you two, because I know you both personally and as a company really walk the walk and not just talk the talk, so to speak, which is why I wanted you as my first guests in this series of allyship. Because the women that come in, they feel supported and heard, and that is critical. That still doesn’t mean Bob is not talking over them in meetings, but at least they know they can walk down the hall to Rob or to whomever they report to and say, “Hey, I really had something I wanted to say.” That is critical.

This has been just an absolutely wonderful conversation. It gives me heart because I know that allyship is absolutely crucial to women really making those quantum leaps into leadership. If they’re not supported, they’re going to keep moving. When people move just because they feel frustrated, nobody grows. Nobody benefits from that. Finding the right environments where they can feel supported and they do see a path to leadership is so critical.

On that note, let’s talk about your last thoughts you’d like to share. If you have any parting pieces of advice for women, or even other men who may be listening on how they can be a great ally, or seek an ally, or whatever your last thoughts would like to be.

Darrell Gehrt: Well, first of all, thanks for having us on, Gina. This is a great conversation. It needs to be talked about more. This is exciting. What I would say is, if I had to put a tag word to all this, it would be engage. If you’re a female and you’re looking for that advocacy, that allyship, be engaged. If you’re a man looking to help the women in your organization, engage. We have something we say, “Hey, meet the market where the market wants to be.” I think that’s equally true for employees. You have to meet employees where employees want to be. Really, when it boils down, it’s really quite simple, have the conversation. Then you’ve got leaders like Rob, myself, others that can then take the action. But you can’t take action unless you’re listening first, if you’re engaging first. If you do that, then you’re going to make progress.

Rob Stein: First, Gina, I really want to thank you for providing this really important forum. You’ve created a lot of space for a lot of conversation that I think is how we make progress. Thanks so much to you and to Fred for supporting you in this initiative. First thing I’ll say is, to women that are looking for allies, don’t be afraid to ask. Let’s talk about sales again, because a lot of us are in sales. We know how to read the room, we know how to read people. You will know when you can mesh with somebody’s personality. Also, reach high. Reach for someone who’s in a position you want to get to and make sure they’re open and honest, and as Darrell said, they’re good listeners. Allies don’t always have the answers, but sometimes just being able to share your experiences is valuable. That’s the first thing I’d say to women that are thinking about, “How do I find allyship?”

Then just to close on something, equality is a principle that we can never give up on. We have a great opportunity in our professional lives to make a big difference. My call to action for allies out there is, make someone feel supported. Give them a safe place to go and critically assure them that you have their back.

Gina Stracuzzi: Something you just said there, Rob, made me thinking this will be another conversation, and we talk about this in the forum too, is the importance of having sponsors. A really good ally, if they are elevated in the organization, could end up being a great sponsor. Someone that will pull you up in the organization and make sure you get those opportunities even when you’re not in the room to put forth yourself. I love that thinking. I’m a big fan of both of you and thank you so very much for coming on the program and sharing your thoughts. Hopefully, women will be listening and take some advice. Thank you so much.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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