Perhaps I’m naïve living in the tech bubble, or just an idealistic, but I believe there’s great energy today from many people who want to see more professionals from nontraditional backgrounds succeed.
But there’s an internal blocker – many people (myself included) aren’t always sure what to do. We don’t want to say the wrong thing. We don’t want to tip over the apple cart. We want to help, but we don’t know how, and we’re scared to try and fail.
So, we don’t do enough.
How do you solve a situation like this? The same way you solve all situations like this – you ask for help.
Recently, I interviewed three sales leaders from nontraditional backgrounds – Cherilynn Castleman, Donald C. Kelly, and Shaan Hathiramani – and asked them to share a story. A story of a time where someone, from a traditional background, did something to make them feel included.
Their responses were both inspiring and instructive. I’ll share a story from each – as each has an actionable tactic anyone can do, to help foster a more inclusive environment at work.
Not only is it the right thing to do – a new study by Forrester found it’s the best for the business, too.
If you are a leader, sponsor great people – regardless of their background.
Castleman has spent her entire career in sales. Often, she was the only black woman on her team, except for the black women she herself hired.
She dealt with many organizations and leaders that made her feel like the outcast. Like she didn’t quite belong.
But not all of them. She cited three mentors who didn’t make her just feel included. They inspired her and brought out the absolute best in her.
One example – Dr. James Crapo, Chief of Medicine for a large hospital Castleman worked for. Castleman had success in her sales role, turning a division within the hospital from a cost-center to a revenue-generator.
Crapo took notice and pulled Castleman aside. And shared the vision he had for her.
“He told me, I see you in leadership,” Castleman said. “I see you doing great things for this hospital.”
Crapo also put his money where his mouth was. He gave Castleman a bigger team, invested in her development, and pushed her to take on more and more.
In response, Castleman delivered, as she did indeed do great things for the hospital. Just as Crapo predicted.
“He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Castleman said. “That meant the world to me.”
Two other leaders – William Green and James Burgess – did the same, Castleman said. Their belief, their sponsorship changed her career and helped take her from a sales manager to an organizational leader.
“If you want to help black and brown people, see them, sponsor them, mentor them, have a vision for them. Those are the leaders who make a difference.”
If you’re a colleague, see who might be left out and bring them in.
One of Kelly’s first jobs was in sales in southern Florida. He was the only black man on the team and he, like any new salesperson, was still learning the job.
It would’ve been easy to feel alone. Except one person made him feel just the opposite – a seasoned sales engineer, Jared Easley.
“He invited me to go to breakfast, and he had more corporate experience than I did,” Kelly said. “He took it on himself to pour into me, to give me guidance and direction.”
They continued hanging out, regularly going to lunch together at a local diner. Easley helped Kelly better understand the company culture, selling, and even invigorated a new passion for him – podcasting.
“He was already in the podcasting world, and got me into it,” Kelly said.
Today, that’s a big part Kelly’s life, as he hosts The Sales Evangelist podcast heard in 155 different countries worldwide. While that’s largely because of Kelly’s own talent and ambition, it began with one guy reaching out to another guy to show him the ropes.
“Most people confine to their own space. But he saw something in me, took the time to invest in me, and wanted to see me succeed. I’m grateful for that.”
Design your product, solution, and culture so all can thrive within it, not just a specific demographic.
Hathiramani’s story comes from someone he was pitching his company too. And gives insight into how to think about inclusive solutions and inclusive cultures.
For context, Hathiramani is the CEO of Flockjay, which helps people from nontraditional backgrounds land and onboard into sales jobs. Onboarding is particularly challenging these days for inexperienced salespeople, as most must now do it remotely.
Hathiramani was pitching the onboarding service Flockjay provides to a few stakeholders within a large account. During his pitch, one of the stakeholders understood Flockjay’s mission and agreed it would be of value for salespeople from nontraditional backgrounds.
But then, another stakeholder weighed in, and said something profound.
She argued that the goal wasn’t to create one onboarding process for people of nontraditional backgrounds and another for people with traditional backgrounds. Instead, she said her company should have one onboarding program that supports all professionals, regardless of who they are or where they came from.
“It might seem like a very small thing, but it wasn’t,” Hathiramani said. “Her point was it’s not for a specific portion of people, it’s a solution that makes everyone feel included.”
The bigger point?
When designing solutions, it’s not as though you should have one solution for people who meet a certain demographic, and then fill the gaps for everyone else. Instead, it’s about creating environments and solutions where all can succeed.
“It takes it from a ‘them’ challenge to an ‘us’ challenge. It’s not for a specific portion of people, the goal should be a solution that makes everyone feel included.”
Seems simple, right? But those were the stories that stuck out to Castleman, Kelly, and Hathiramani.
If you are committed to seeing more people from more backgrounds succeed professionally, perhaps you can do something similar as well.