December 23, 2021

What CMOs Need to Know About DEI

The road to true Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is not a destination, it’s a journey. It’s one that many B2B marketers have embarked on in the last year, and for the CMOs of CMO Huddles, it’s a priority. To help CMOs navigate that journey, we hosted a Bonus Huddle (re: a private panel and Q&A) on the topic with DEI experts Cassandra Blackburn of Sprout Social, Cory Haynes of Salesforce (at Talkdesk at the time of the huddle), and Elisa Vincent of Skillsoft.

The conversation was incredibly illuminating and insightful, so illuminating and insightful that we just had to turn it into an episode of Renegade Marketers Unite. In this episode, learn how 3 B2B organizations are making DEI real, where and how to recruit diverse talent, and how marketing leaders are advancing such initiatives with true allyship. Don’t miss it!

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • How 3 B2B organizations are driving DEI initiatives
  • How to recruit and where to find diverse talent
  • How to be a DEI ally

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 272 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned

Additional Resources

Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:00] Cold Open: Airing the CMO Huddles Bonus Huddle
  • [1:47] DEI at Sprout Social
  • [12:06] DEI at Talkdesk
  • [21:42] DEI at Skillsoft
  • [30:05] How to DEI-ify Your Recruiting Efforts
  • [38:15] On Being Deliberate and Honest During the Hiring Process
  • [46:19] A B2B Brand’s Role in DEI
  • [49:09] Practical Ways to Be a DEI Ally as CMO

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Cassandra Blackburn, Cory Haynes, and Elisa Vincent

[0:00] Cold Open: Airing the CMO Huddles Bonus Huddle

Hello, Renegade Marketers! We’ve got a super special show for you today, and that’s because it comes from a CMO Huddles Bonus Huddle we held a few months ago about driving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at B2B organizations. What’s a CMO Huddles Bonus Huddle, you ask?

It’s a specially curated huddle we hold once a month, with experts sharing their insights into the topics that are most important to our huddlers. With DE&I being among one of the most pressing topics of our time, we were delighted to bring in three DEI experts whose CMOs are a part of Huddles: Cassandra Blackburn of Sprout Social, Cory Haynes of Salesforce (he was at Talkdesk at the time of the huddle), and Elisa Vincent of Skillsoft.

We just had to bring this conversation into the public sphere. Tune in to hear how three B2B organizations are working to bring about real change, and how marketers can play an integral role as an ally committed to a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive world. I really hope you enjoy this episode.

[1:47] DEI at Sprout Social

“DEI is critical to our values, to the way that we operate and we work as a company in its entirety. It's really what makes people successful at Sprout.” —Cassandra Blackburn @SproutSocial Share on X

Drew Neisser: Ever since we started CMO Huddles back in April and May, certainly June of 2020… A year ago, literally a year ago yesterday, this became a very important topic in terms of what role does the CMO play in this effort to diversify?

I want to give you a couple of interesting factoids. Right now, Caucasian kids are a minority in the US for the first time in our history. And if you look at that diversity, and then you look at the diversity in the executive ranks at US companies, it’s definitely not there. And then if you dig deeper Latinx and African Americans are particularly underrepresented in B2B marketing departments as a whole, and particularly at the VP and CMO level.

The good news is this is a problem that can be fixed with deliberate actions by all of us. And, you know, I don’t think we need to focus on why this is so important. I think this conversation is really about how. But if anybody ever asks you why, having a diverse marketing department will make your team stronger, and it sends a clear message to the rest of the organization. I think that’s part of this.

Marketing is a leadership department. It sets the tone for culture and message both externally and internally. What the conversation today is really going to focus on is what are the deliberate actions that CMOs can take to build more diverse marketing departments, most likely more diverse than what your company as a whole could be doing.

And to guide us through this, I’m excited to introduce our special guests. Cassandra Blackburn, who is the Director of DE&I at Sprout Social; Cory Haynes, who is the Financial Services Strategy VP and Executive Sponsor to Talkdesk DE&I initiatives; and Elisa Vincent, who is the VP Global Talent Enablement at Skillsoft.

Let’s start with Cassandra. Can you just set the tone for what your overall goals with DE&I are at Sprout in general? And we’ll talk about marketing.

Cassandra Blackburn: Totally. So, let me just set the context by giving a little bit of color into who I am. I have been in the work of DEI for roughly about the last 10 years largely within the tech space. Prior to that, though, I did spend the bulk of my career across a variety of different elements of HR, so I have been people-centric throughout all of my career for that matter.

But fast forward to my time at Sprout. I’ve been with Sprout just under six months, so I’m still a newbie here, and definitely learning a lot about the company culture, learning how to onboard in a very new environment. A lot of that, though, has shaped some of the initial perspective and some of the things that I’ll share with you all today.

We recently just shared our strategic objectives, our mission, and the roadmap that we are going to be going down over the next five years here at Sprout. And over the, I’d say, probably the first four-ish months of my tenure, we spent a lot of time digging into data, a lot of time understanding what is the sentiment of our team members, what is our workforce composition, where are our biggest areas of opportunity.

And through all of that, it really landed us on two primary goals—which I’ll talk about—and three key objectives that we’re going after. Through all of that feedback, we found, like most companies within the industry, that our biggest opportunity overall was in shaping and informing our workforce demographics. Just by way of high level, we have some really big opportunity when it comes to diversifying our workforce with our BIPOC talent. BIPOC being black, indigenous, and people of color. And that is specific within the US.

When we pull the layers back, we also have some opportunity, again, in further balancing our gender diversity around the world. And so, when we think about goals, we are right now working on concrete goals to really inform those two key demographics, both globally and in the US. But equally as important to that—and I think, critical to that formula—is also understanding not just what our workforce demographic looks like, but what the engagement of those communities is.

For me, you know, when I think about shifting workforce demographics, it is, yes, the adds to the company through our hiring efforts. It is absolutely the growth and development. But really important is the retention of that talent, right? You can’t have lots of great people coming into the organization when there’s a leaky bucket.

We’re really focusing in on the engagement of those communities to make sure that not only do they feel like they can show up and belong, but that they want to stay for the long term. That’s kind of the math equation, if you will, that we’re looking at.

But in order for us to really fulfill those objectives, we’re looking at three key areas to support that through our strategic objectives. Which is, one, to inspire empathy and human connection. The second is investing in our underrepresented talent. And the third is really around building systems of accountability.

We felt strongly at Sprout, specifically on this inspiring empathy and human connection, a lot of that being informed, quite frankly, over the last year. And so, Jamie had alluded to the question around the role of marketing in overall culture, and even the responsibility that we have to respond when crises come up.

A lot of that, and conversations that we’re having, is around inspiring empathy for the experiences that many communities are having, but also really amplifying the desire of every person—not just me, not just Jamie, not just our leadership team—to react and respond and take action in those pivotal moments.

By creating empathy moving beyond just this intellectual conversation around equity, that we are actually taking action and that our team members are feeling that urgency to respond within their spans of control. Investing in talent is everything from our recruitment efforts, our development and growth efforts, our culture initiatives, how we’re shaping—how we’re centering, I should say, our underrepresented communities. And then lastly, the systems of accountability—how are we really embedding that within our talent processes, our people processes, the expectations that we have of folks coming in the door.

DEI is critical to our values, to the way that we operate and we work as a company in its entirety. It’s really what makes people successful at Sprout. It’s one of our core pillars, so we are working actively to really embed that into everything that we do, so that we are all held accountable to that same standard, and really moving those two objectives that I mentioned previously forward. I’d say big, big, big agenda but that, to answer your question, Drew, around our goals, that’s the sum of what we’re working towards at Sprout.

Drew Neisser: Got it. And so, as marketers, what you heard is almost, okay, we need to do an audit. We’ve got to assess the situation, we’re gonna do a plan, and then we’re gonna execute and measure. Those are very much marketing—totally get that.

I think the interesting thing, and the question that I have for you as a follow up is, can a department, a marketing department, do this on their own as well? And do they create their own micro audit, plan, engagement? And then look at those three things of empathy, invest, and systems of accountability? And is there a departmental version of what you’re talking about?

Cassandra Blackburn: So, my view is absolutely yes. The objectives that I had shared are really company-wide, and that’s the North Star that all of the teams, all the departments are working toward, but when you peel back the layers, I think there are really independent nuances that need to be taken into consideration.

The needs, the talent availability, the experiences that marketers and the marketing team have is going to be totally different than that of our engineering community or that of our people function. I think it’s important that departments have the opportunity to synthesize what are our overall company objectives, and how can I play a role in pushing that forward, and it’s gonna look different.

I think it’s important—and as we continue to mature at Sprout—I think it’s important that we are synthesizing what that means at the department level. And me particularly working with Jamie, on what does that mean, how does that apply, how do we really integrate to drive accountability for her team specifically?

And naturally, right, when we think about things down to recruitment… Recruitment efforts are going to look very different. How do we communicate with each other and our standard processes for engaging are going to look very different. I would go so far as to say that aligning to the company’s North Star in our instance is going to be important, but it’s also important that we take into consideration the nuances and the specific opportunity areas that are within the department. It’s not a one-size-fits-all.

[12:06] DEI at Talkdesk

“If your tire is stuck in the mud or the snow, you have to make a sharp turn.” —@corylhaynes Share on X

Drew Neisser: Cory, let’s talk about Talkdesk. You’re a company that is growing incredibly fast. I remember Kathie saying she had a huge number of openings in her department alone. How do you address that at Talkdesk? And maybe in the context of what Cassandra just shared?

Cory Haynes: Sure. Yeah, thanks for having me. Yeah, I took a different route. I’ve been in finance the last 20 plus years, so I’ve just tried to break glass. But now I’ve really taken the role of like, “Look, I have to really structure something together.”

So, I came in to Talkdesk as the first black executive, male or female, to be honest with you. We took it in a real concerted effort—Kathie was an ally, right, and said, “Let’s figure out a way to move this forward. We know our reasons. We don’t need to go to the stats. It’s very clear. You’re one of 40 executives on the team, it’s pretty clear when you look at the Zoom, what we need to do.”

So, we took it kind of in a three-pronged approach, right? And we said, “Let’s look at, number one, building a mechanism in which to gather feedback and funnel feedback and get activity.” So that’s the ERG, right? So, we built up an ERG, around diversity, equity, inclusion. Part of that method was also putting a Slack channel together to get people to kind of talk etc., etc., and then put together a formal team and leadership team and build people in.

Second was, as marketing—because that’s kind of internal—started an internal discussion, privatization, what we would do, how we were going to do it, and get funding, and make things happen from an execution standpoint. So not just talk about it, but be about it.

The second thing was actually then, outwardly, how are you going to present ourselves, right? And marketing owns that. The branding, the message. So we said, let’s put together a talk group, a webinar that we will produce that goes out externally, and says, “We’re going to speak to executives, throughout various industries about how they overcome their challenges, and get a diverse group of people.

Put faces with ours and logos to say, “Here are people at DoorDash who have been successful. Here are people at State Street who have been successful. Here are people at—I think we’re doing one in June—the Hispanic Scholarship Foundation and HBCUs like Morehouse.” We’re putting these people on public stage to talk about their stories, so that’s the second piece of the external messaging.

I think the third piece is really getting executive alignment. We know that none of this is going to be of any consequence if you do not have people at the top from your VCs to your executive leadership team.

Quickly getting them to sponsor, support, be a part of it—and also trying to push in measuring, you know, are we getting a new VC at our level that is a minority or a woman or a different gender. Because if the people writing the checks aren’t pushing the agenda, the agenda will not get pushed. That is another effort underway that, of course, takes a little bit longer, but it’s a beat in a drum that we’re continuing to play the rhythm on.

Drew Neisser: You used an acronym—I want to make sure… ERG?

Cory Haynes: Sorry, Employee Resource Group. Employee Resource Group. Thank you for saying that. So, these are your traditional teams, where you get team members across the organization to volunteer to be a part of it and they put together a priority list and kind of do different activities. Some of them are events, internships, sponsoring different groups. It’s kind of a way for employees to give back in a very structured manner.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. Knowing that you aren’t as diverse as you would like to be, it must have taken some courage to go public in and actually host—I mean, it’s interesting you mentioned State Street because, you know, they’ve been a great champion for women and then they discovered after they did Fearless Girl, they discovered that they weren’t as diverse as they wanted to be. Talk a little bit about that and how do you manage that sort of, “Okay, we’re going to participate in this conversation, even if we’re not where we want to be”?

Cory Haynes: Yeah. Well, that’s the point of it, right? The point of it is to, if you’re stuck… it’s the analogy, right? If your tire is stuck in the mud or the snow, you have to make a sharp turn. There’s no way to gradual your way out of it. You have to do the sharp turn.

I think we got alignment and, like I said, allyship to say, “Let’s make those sharp turns. Let’s talk about it, let’s put it out there, and let’s put our name to it, and start being accountable and forcing the conversation.” And being very bold with it.

We have the Slack channel, and it’s amazing what comes in the Slack channel. What other companies are doing, what they should be doing. There was a recent one, and they were just doing their promotion network, their promotion leadership, and everybody looked the same. All white males. And they were like, “I thought we were changing this. Why are we going backwards 10 years?”

So, you know, people are pushing that and promoting it and starting that conversation. I think it works to our brand, as was said earlier, Cassandra said earlier, if your mission is to be open and talk—Talk Desk: To open a conversation,” we should be talking about it, right? It perfectly aligns to that.

And someone asks how we measure it. I think one thing I just want to say—measurement has been tough because we’re a global company and half or more than half—60% of our population—is in AMEA, where you cannot measure diversity, right? There are laws in place, GDPR laws and privacy laws, whereas here we have the EEOC or, you know, equal opportunity, and you can measure that. It’s been very tough.

We have a baseline for The States, but not necessarily for AMEA and not necessarily Asia-Pac, which has its own diversity issues. But what we’re trying to do is just look at numbers. Like, clearly, do we have more Corys or Cassandras coming on board? Are we seeing retention at a higher pace? So, we do the employee surveys like everyone else, but it’s incomplete at best.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s interesting. As you were talking about that—I want to get back to this question of, you can’t use the word “quota.” Nobody wants to use the word “quota.” But I’m wondering within employee surveys, for example… Because a lot of the conversation that came up at our Super Huddle was, it’s not just about hiring a more diverse audience—it’s building a culture and supporting these folks.

It would seem that if you made progress on your employee surveys and you could segment at least in the US, you could see if there was a differential, right? Employee surveys could be actually very powerful. But let’s talk about quotas and not quotas. What do you do? I mean, you know, particularly you said—well, okay, you’re 1 of 40. Alright, well, 2 of 40 would be more. As an organization—I guess you could say you’re making progress, but…

Cory Haynes: What are we doing? Yeah. Let’s be concrete. So, number one, we went directly into our HR recruiting and said, “Let’s start sourcing. Be deliberate.” So, we are doing a Rooney Rule-like thing, which is the football analogy.

Rooney was the Pittsburgh Steelers owner and they forced this thing, like, you have to interview at least one head black coach, when you’re looking for a coaching job. You may never give it to him. It may just be all window dressing, but you have to do it because you don’t know what you’re going to get. I think you have to be deliberate in that manner.

Because here’s what happens—and this is just—it’s not a racist thing, per se. You go in your own circles. We’re in our own bubbles. And our bubbles are people usually have like backgrounds, whether it be collegiate, whether it be race, whether it be economic, which usually is the driver. I live in a neighborhood that doesn’t look like me, right? It’s very hard for my kids to acclimate. I have to force things to make sure there are opportunities for them to acclimate around people that look like them.

That is a forcing mechanism. I think the same thing goes with recruiting, that you have to be deliberative force the issue. And what we found through that is going outside of our networks like the Thurgood Marshall Fund, which sources young minority talent, especially in HBCUs, qualifies them that they’re all A-students, top tier engineer talent.

And it’s amazing what you find because no one in the company went to Alcorn State or Tennessee State and can source from there. We’re forcing it to go to them. Tell us about the students. These students come in, they do exceptionally well.

Then the cycle goes, “I know so-and-so.” So, then you start to get that cycle continuing that was already working for the kids who went to Stanford, Yale, UCLA, Berkeley, right? So I think that’s the forcing mechanism that we’re seeing, and we’re seeing some success from it.

[21:42] DEI at Skillsoft

“The very first thing for all of us as leaders is to look at this not as a destination, but as a journey.” —@ElisaVincent @Skillsoft Share on X

Drew Neisser: Very cool. All right, well, let’s bring Elisa into the conversation. Let’s talk about your approach to DE&I at Skillsoft, what’s going on there, and what are you doing to get executive alignment, etc.

Elisa Vincent: Pleasure to be here. Thanks so much. I don’t want to repeat what Cassandra and Cory said because I think most organizations, many organizations in this space are choosing those strategic goals and objectives.

A little bit on me—I also had a non-traditional path to where I am now. I started my career in international education and study abroad, working in a non-for-profit, moved into talent, and have spent a good portion of my career focused on women’s leadership and development, and leading HR and talent organizations. DEI has fit naturally into this work.

I’ve been at Skillsoft for a year and a half, but I’ve been a Skillsoft customer for 10 years. And the beauty—and this really speaks to the alignment between marketing and the HR organization and what we do, and all leaders in the organization—the beauty and benefit of working at Skillsoft is that we sell what it is that I try to enable in our organization every day.

That alignment works in my benefit in the sense that we are creating diversity, equity, and inclusion learning and training solutions that I need to make sure that I can enable so that the employee experience reflects and extends outward into the customer experience.

When we started this journey at Skillsoft—and it is exactly that. I mean, I think the very first thing for all of us as leaders is to look at this not as a destination, but as a journey. Not as there being a perfect formula or a perfect number, but that each individual, each leader in the organization, and each organization, if we want to personify it, is in a specific place in their journey. That’s not good or bad, but the first step is us assessing where we are.

At Skillsoft, I only could do this with the support of the executive leadership team. It was me having visibility, me having a seat at the table, Michelle BB working—who we lovingly call Michelle BB, but Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek in the organization—helping bring visibility to this because this is something that was important to her and she knew was a value of your in the organization.

We had to sit down and say, “Okay. As an executive leadership team, we don’t have all of the answers.” We decided to have a three-pronged approach. The first was, we need to democratize this experience and democratize the conversation. The second was, we need to socialize it. And then the third was, we need to commit to iterating on all that we discussed. Because a big piece of this is, are we diverse and not inclusive? Are we inclusive and not diverse? Are we inclusive and diverse and not equitable?

In any given organization and any given team, you have to assess, where are my strengths, and where are my major weaknesses and gaps? And only when you do that, can you think about and build the strategy and the way forward.

When we did that assessment across our organization, we very quickly realized that we needed to focus as everyone here has mentioned, in the diversity space. Recruiting talent, diverse talent, into our organization. Considering the intersectionality of diversity. And partnering with associations, colleges, building an emerging leaders pipeline, internships, all of that.

We wanted to be a place where marginalized groups, underrepresented groups, wanted to work.

We formed an Inclusion Council—and this goes back to the democratizing it—and each executive leader was part of that process, ensuring that they had regional representation and representation from each of their functions in the Inclusion Council. So that there were people on their teams who could report back to them: What’s the Inclusion Council talking about? What are some pressing areas that need an executive in the organization that I can commit to, that I can help drive, that I can support you, person on my team, and the Inclusion Council, to be able to do?

We also formed employee resource groups, as Cory said, we refer to them as employee advisory groups. That slight acronym shift was a big deal for us because we wanted to position these groups and these people leading these groups that are also employees in a place where they serve as an advisory capacity to each other and also senior leaders in the organization. We just nominated and selected executive sponsors for each of the employee advisory groups similar to the role that, Cory, you play.

And as part of that, we also started having conversations with our employees. Employee engagement surveys are important, but we need to be asking the right questions. Because it’s one thing for me to know that you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s another thing for me to know that you feel that you can be your authentic self at work every day.

If these things are not happening in your organization, invite them. Yes, on your teams, but also as part of the broader global movement. Through that, we came up with a plan for things that we needed to work on specifically this year. We built that into our annual operating plan and our strategic planning for the year to make sure that we are resourcing it.

The last thing I’ll say is this. Leadership development for all of us in this room today, and for all of the people that we’re empowering to do this work, is a top priority. At Skillsoft, in terms of what we sell, and for all of us. None of us here are perfect. None of us have all of the information. All of us carry our own biases. And, in speaking to our employees, one of the things that was really a hot moment for me this year was that there’s a very fine line between empowerment and tokenism.

It’s one thing for us to be able to say, “Hey, we’re going to create all of these groups and empower you to do this work.” And then we’re going to say to you, “Hey, you know all of the problems that are challenging your particular group? Now go find solutions for them.”

That’s not the way it works. We’ve made sure very strategically in the way we’re allocating our budget for this work that there is enough money in a corporate pot, so that we are holding the corporate entity accountable for being able to resource and provide support to these groups and these inclusion council members, even the executive sponsors, and all of the co-chairs for these EAGs. We are bringing in facilitators, executive coaches, to help them build their confidence and comfort with leading these initiatives, right?

So, key to democratizing it is being able to enable and help develop leaders in this space in your organizations. That’s something that all of you, in addition to the recruitment piece, is how do I make sure that I’m building an organization where people want to come?

That’s a big difference between when you’re speaking externally, being performative, versus really intentional and transformative about this work. It’s one thing to change your logo during Pride month. It’s another thing to say, “Hey, we’re doing these things. We’re investing in these people. And letting these leaders of this work and participants in these groups tell their stories.”

Drew Neisser: Wow. Okay, that was a lot to unpack and there are so many different thoughts that you brought together here.

Elisa Vincent: Sorry!

Drew Neisser: No, it’s great!

Elisa Vincent: Sorry not sorry! [Laughter]

Drew Neisser: No, exactly. I mean, let’s face it, this is not an easy, just go to the HBCUs and start recruiting. That’s so interesting to me because that is the typical first response: “Well, we just need to recruit more.” And that’s true, but it feels like hand-in-glove with this program. You also have to think about, what are you recruiting to and are you creating this inclusive environment? And inclusive as in, a structure with advocates. Not just supporters. That came up at the Super Huddle.

[30:05] How to DEI-ify Your Recruiting Efforts

“Now with the whole remote work-from-home opportunity, we can start going to communities of color that are pockets of great talent.” —@corylhaynes Share on X

Drew Neisser: Let’s go back to recruiting now, though, for a second. And I know, Cassandra, you have started something with Howard, could you talk a little bit about what you and HubSpot are doing there and how that’s supposed to work?

Cassandra Blackburn: Yeah, so I want to just separate the two for a moment because I think… Really important to this whole system, if you will… And I actually want to just say two quick things. One is, I think often there is an assumption or there’s an association with DEI being a program. It’s a trigger for a lot of us working in this effort that it’s less of a program, but more of a way of being right. And when we talk about the performative versus transformative, I think it’s really important to view this hand-in-hand with organizational culture.

There are efforts within and I think a lot of the things that Elisa, you said, I’m like, yes, girl, you are getting it! Like, so many awesome, awesome things that you have underway. But I did want to make that distinction.

And the other piece is, you know, talking about one of the relationships that we are starting to form. We’re looking at it really from a community enablement standpoint. We’re also in the process of building out our social impact work, and really thinking about what are the core competencies that Sprout has as an organization that we can support the mission of other community partners or other organizations hand in hand.

One of those was Howard University. And again, we are just formulating this relationship, really, from a social impact standpoint to support some of their marketing desires. Again, this is really, really early in the making, but our intention here is to support what they need, what they want, and we know that in turn that will help yield some of the recruitment efforts. But we’re not really looking at it neck and neck. I want to clarify that piece.

That said, from a recruitment standpoint, HBCUs—I think the world of them. Their mission, their objectives, the work that they are driving forward. Amazing. And I will also say that there are a lot of companies who are going after them right now. I think it’s important to, you know, when we’re thinking about partnering with these institutions, that we are really supporting their missions, supporting their work, and really their needs.

As we are approaching HBCUs or HSIs—Hispanic-serving institutions—or women-serving institutions, that we are working with them in a way that speaks to their needs and their culture in alignment with whatever the objectives are of that company.

The only piece that I was going to say is, again, we’re fairly early in the conversation around how we’re gonna continue to double down in those relationships. One thing though that I am pretty keen on—and this was shared by a mentor of mine—was, there are diverse students across all institutions and universities. And again, while right now HBCUs are the hot topic of the hour, I think it’s also important for us to expand our horizon and our partnerships not only with HBCUs, which are really, really important, but to also explore other institutions and other universities and even other partnerships for that matter on what needs they have and how we can tap into their diverse student population.

Most likely, every institution that you go after will have a CDO, a chief diversity officer, or representation from this department. They are excellent resources to plug into to say, “How can I get connected? How can I tap into your business students? How can I tap into your marketing students? How can I formulate trusting relationships with those folks?” Just want to toss that out there.

Cory Haynes: Hey, Drew, can I add to what Cassandra is saying?

Drew Neisser: Please.

Cory Haynes: I think there’s another aspect as well. Entry hires from the HBCUs are great. But we’re also looking for experienced talent. And I think this is an unprecedented time, that now with the whole remote work-from-home opportunity, we can start going to communities of color that are pockets of great talent.

We’re traditionally on the coasts, traditionally in metropolitan areas where we recruit that skew at least professionally to non-minority candidates. But if you go into areas like Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas, Texas; areas that have large minority populations that are very well entrenched in some of the—especially from a tech sector—non-tech areas. The consumer-packaged goods industry, the retail industry. There’s immense talent that you can now recruit who desire to live in those areas because there’s a big problem of moving to the Bay Area or moving to New York or moving to these hubs that don’t reflect your community.

You’ve got to remember, you’re not just hiring the person, you’re hiring their family. The infrastructure that comes around with that is a tough sell. They’d rather stay in the communities that they know. The infrastructure is there as far as support and family and schools.

Now we have an opportunity if you are using a hybrid organizational structure to go into these areas and hire talent and look into Atlanta, look into Columbus, Ohio, and Austin, Texas, and so forth, and so on. I think we’re at a unique opportunity that we should take advantage of from a recruiting standpoint, especially for experienced hires, to look into these cities that have the talent, but have been overlooked in the past.

Drew Neisser: I love that. That’s great.

Elisa Vincent: Drew, can I add to that? Cory, I love what you said, and you bring up for me the fact that right now, we have a huge boom in the gig economy, right? Within that exists an opportunity for leaders when you have strategic projects and initiatives and you may not be thinking about bringing in full-time talent. How can you work with organizations that have temps, contractors?

There are so many legal and HR considerations there, but there’s so much diversity and experience that exists where people are not committing to full-time work or can’t commit to full-time work. That’s a way to get people in the door to have your organization invest in their success and their livelihoods. And then maybe they transition to full-time work. Maybe you help them create this new addition to their resume. Whatever it is, there’s some real opportunities there.

When we think about talent, and how we can both invest in the success of the organization and be thoughtful about what talents we bring in, there’s a lot of opportunity there as well.

The last thing I’ll say that Cory and Cassandra made me think about are transferable skills. Our systemic advantages don’t necessarily correlate to our potential and our ability to be successful. I think of a story of one of my organizational leaders who went to a Black Lives Matter rally last year, and there was a woman there presenting who was absolutely phenomenal, who spoke with passion and purpose.

She went up and started a conversation. She was in college, at a community college locally, and looking to major in communications and marketing. And this executive provided her with an internship. Now she’s a full-time employee who is doing a lot of work for our organization. We can simplify this as well by saying, who you’re interacting with, who you’re observing, look for these transferable skills and this leadership potential, and invest in it, and have the conversation.

Drew Neisser: Great point.

[38:15] On Being Deliberate and Honest During the Hiring Process

“We need to be able to equip our talent acquisition partners, our recruiters, and leaders to be able to have those conversations. To be able to be honest.” —@ElisaVincent @Skillsoft Share on X

Drew Neisser:  What do you tell the candidate who doesn’t see anyone like themselves in the marketing department today?

Cory Haynes: Let me jump on that one, Drew.

Drew Neisser: Please! Thank you.

Cory Haynes: This was a great conversation I had with Kathie. We were very clear that—I was very clear that I’m willing to be that catalyst, and someone has to be that frontrunner. You need to be honest that you are going to be, if you’re recruiting this candidate, they are going to be, a quote-unquote “pariah” or something that is new and different.

And are they also willing to be able to take on the opportunities and challenges that come with that? Which is exhausting. It’s exhausting. Every time there’s a Black History Month, “Can you say something, Cory? There’s an event, can you say something, Cory?” And that is exhausting, but at the same token, I understand the road that needs to be paved.

I think you have to be very clear and forthright and have those frank discussions and say, “Are you willing to do that? Understanding that you are bearing this load that should not need to be borne by you, but it’s the fact.”

That is one of the things, I think, if you can have that forthright conversation, especially with more experienced leaders coming into the organization—I think with junior associates and so forth, that should not be expected or required or even asked of them.

But as people get more experienced, they have to be willing to make that turning point. And honestly, if you asked me to do this five years ago, I would not have. But there have been points in my life, things that have happened, especially last year, that have really catalyzed me to say that someone has to stand up and say something.

I think you’re also, again, at a pivotal point where people are actually finally being able to say, “Look, I’m willing to take that risk and take that stand because I feel that there are allies around me and I’m also willing to bear the consequences of it because it’s something I believe in.” I did want to share that from a personal point of view because I’ve experienced that. But I think for everyone out there, it’s having those honest conversations.

Anonymous Huddler: Can I ask a question, too? When we’re going to hire, I think the people that we’re talking to, or some of the team, they don’t want to be hired because of their skin color or their race or whatever—they want to be hired because they’re qualified candidates. But we also realize that there’s a disparity. How do we balance the two?

Cory Haynes: Yeah. So first, let’s be honest about the myth of meritocracy. It is just a myth. We hire people we like. Let’s just be clear about it.

Anonymous Huddler: To your point, in your circles, right?

Cory Haynes: Exactly. Let’s demystify that, because I think that’s one of the things that we always use as a crutch. Oh, you know, at the end of the day, most people are talented, they’re qualified, but do you want to work with him? Because there’s a lot of bright people that we all pass on, because we can’t stand working with them, right? But you’re willing to sacrifice knowledge, skillset, experience, because you like working with a person. So, let’s just first cement that.

And I think if we could agree to that, then it goes to, okay, now, can you find talent that meets your criteria, maybe not all the boxes, but you’re willing to push forward and you’re willing to advocate for. All of us read the stories, right?

I’ll just leave us with this. That’s the number one thing—that you have to be honest with this person. Say, “Yes, you’re top talent, you’re gonna make it, I believe in you. But I want to make a move. I’m gonna be honest with you, I want to put you in this position, because it’s an opportunity for you to grow and for us to grow.”

So, let’s be honest with that. But let’s all be clear that we see the stories and we’ve read the stories and been a part of the stories where you look at everyone who’s next in line for the CEO. They’re all qualified. But who gets picked? It’s the one you like. And then who doesn’t get picked? They leave. It’s not a meritocracy very clearly and that happens at the upper echelons and bottom echelons.

We have to make deliberate actions to hire, to get that circle started, like I said, make that right turn, get people in. But let the person know they’re qualified. We should never sacrifice quality. But most of the time, it’s very even, or there’s a little spot here, a little spot there.

For the most part, we’re not hiring egregious felons or whatever. They just may not fit the role perfectly, but we’re willing to make that effort, we’re willing to stand by them and advocate for them. And 9 times out of 10, if you’re sponsoring somebody, not just mentoring but sponsoring somebody, putting the time and effort into them, they’re gonna produce something that you never thought would be possible.

Elisa Vincent: I just want to add to that, Cory, you make a powerful statement. It’s a moment of pause, right? We need to be able to equip our talent acquisition partners, our recruiters, and leaders to be able to have those conversations. To be able to be honest.

Because when we think about recruiting, we think about selling. We think this is an opportunity for you to sell your organization and we don’t necessarily think about honesty and transparency. I think that if, one, we are honest, if a candidate says pass, then we have to be okay with that. Because we’ve had that honest conversation.

But if you’re not honest, and then the person comes into their organization and they become a token, or we’re taxing them, and this is not what they signed up for, it’s 10 times worse for this person and for the organization. That’s one piece.

Another piece is that we have to think about the entire candidate experience from the moment a person is in touch with your organization. Yes, we need to be able to have frank conversations with people. But how much are we advocating for people and advocating for diversity and acknowledging that likeability varies? And likability is full of our own biases that we carry with us also, right?

I mean, there are significant studies that show that women’s likability factor is lower than men throughout an interview process. How are we having compensation conversations with people? How are our jobs posted? What language are we using? We say Master’s degree preferred; could we switch it to Bachelor’s degree required? We know that men and women look at job descriptions and view them and view their capacity to fill them differently. I think the entire candidate experience is something that we have to think about as people who are recruiting for our teams.

I had an awesome story a friend told me. She’s a woman of color, she went for a job, they had a really awesome conversation with her. She really enjoyed the candidate experience more than she’s enjoyed with any other organization. As a result, she was so enthusiastic. There was no one like her on her team or in the organization at her level. She was a senior leader.

When they asked her how much she wanted to be making for this role, she gave them a price. “I want to be making this much.” They offered her $30,000 more than she was asking. What that said to her was, I really lowered my own bar. They are being respectful of equity.”

And that for her was enough to say, “I’m willing to go in there and do this because this organization cares about my equity.” In a very real way—yes, the conversation. Yes, being open and honest. But also demonstrating that we are trying to be equitable and considerate, and that we are trying to promote you even through the candidate experience before you’re even here.

Drew Neisser: There are just so many things that were said earlier. As I think about this, and going back to… This is a journey, which I love that. This is a journey that starts with will. We’re going to make sure that our candidate pool is more diverse, we’re going to make sure that our culture is more inclusive, and we’re going to make sure that our ecosystem around us is aware and supports all of this. It’s a lot. It’s a lot.

[46:19] A B2B Brand’s Role in DEI

“The power is in the hands of the recruit now, and they need to see, feel, hear that you are serious about what you do.” —@corylhaynes Share on X

Drew Neisser: But what’s so interesting to me is—and this comes back to the question that was asked at the very beginning—was the CMO’s role on this. To me, this is brand. This is very much about brand and a modern brand and how values inform brand. And so I wonder—Elisa, Cassandra, Cory—as you think about this and the reflection on where you are in this journey and how this reflects on the company that you work for. Nice, easy question.

Cory Haynes: I’ll just jump in real quick. I mean, absolutely brand. This is all about brand. I think someone said earlier, I can’t remember, it’s not about whitewashing and sticking a rainbow logo or black logo on your social media site for the day—or a quote—but it is really taking a grassroots effort in making sure that you’re representative, right?

I mean, from our website to having the simple things like people that represent the targets you want. You should have African American, Asian American, LGBTQ as much as you can in your imagery. You want to show that you have a DEI effort going on in your company. You want to demonstrate to the public that you’re doing things, like I said, with our webinars that we’re out there saying and doing things with that. And then of course, you know, the other things that happened along with that. The volunteering and all that.

I think it absolutely is indicative of the brand. And it’s business. Good business. I mean, literally, we sell. We have software, and some of our companies are asking, what is your DEI initiative? There’s a top-down business push as well when you’re putting out RFPs. What is your DEI initiative? How much diversity do you have? I think this has gotten to the point now where there’s economics behind it. And economics will drive everything.

If you want to know how things move, follow the money. I think there is an effort underway to make that happen. It’s absolutely imperative. Now it’s almost required. And I think from a firm standpoint, if companies don’t embrace that from a brand, they’re going to suffer because people can choose. As we see in this tight labor market—it’s incredibly tight labor market. No one can get their recs and that’s from service level on up.

Right after the pandemic, we thought everybody was burning for jobs… you’re going to restaurants, they can’t hire anybody. You just read about a $25 increase for the base salary at some of these retailers. The power is in the hands of the recruit now, and they need to see, feel, hear that you are serious about what you do. So, I think that’s an incredible point. And I want to emphasize that brand is important, and it relates to dollars and economics.

[49:09] Practical Ways to Be a DEI Ally as CMO

“We need to put our own oxygen masks on first as leaders.” —@ElisaVincent @Skillsoft Share on X

Drew Neisser: So anyway, last licks, last thoughts?

Cassandra Blackburn: Just a couple of quick, quick tidbits. I think it’s really important to acknowledge that this is a journey, and it will take a lot of time. Or it takes time. With that, I think the acknowledgment that even for those eight roles that you’ve got, being okay with the fact that if you’ve got a profile of someone or you have an idea of what you’re looking to do—and we’re always looking for the best and the brightest—it might take a little bit longer to get the best and the brightest.

As you’re influencing other hiring managers or other people who are in the decision-making seat, if your belief is that you want to prioritize diversity in these hires, you want to push this forward, saying to them and setting that expectation, “We’re going to pump the brakes to make sure that we are widening our candidate pool as much as possible, that we are all taking an active role in the sourcing of these candidates.” I think that’s huge.

The other thing that I wanted to encourage, and I can’t remember the gentleman’s name, but he’d asked for just some simple tips around things that you can do. I have found, one, I have a great appreciation for one of the campaigns that LinkedIn had run a while back. It was really around dedicating 30 minutes of employees’ time to just opening up their calendar publicly and saying, “Hey, if you want to learn more about my company, if you want to learn more about my role, here are some time slots that are being made available publicly to just get coffee.” Virtually, here, but just get coffee or just get to know…

And to the point that Cory had made, it’s those connection points that will really yield the return on how we’re increasing our network. And then ultimately, the trust that we’re building and the people that we’re going to be advocating for.

I would encourage this group—granted small now, but I would encourage this group that small steps like opening up your calendar, like making yourself available publicly, like wanting to just get to know someone or engaging in a conversation at a march… Those little moves will make a big difference.

There are people that are hungry who might not even know that the world of marketing exists. There are people who are hungry who might not even think it’s possible to get in said companies. I think that small behavior change and pumping the brakes to allow for that pool to fill up, those are two fairly simple ways that we can start to drive change around hiring.

Jamie Gilpin: I can share with you something we did at Sprout on the marketing team. We actually had a full initiative across the team to network, open up LinkedIn, start networking with marketers. We may not have roles right now, but starting to build those connections. And even if it’s, “Hey, happy to be a resource,” especially at our director level, I think we have probably about, oh, gosh, 150 people that we now can reach out for I have eight open positions as well and another six or so coming by end of year.

To Cassandra’s point, it is taking us longer. We’re in about 90-day fills right now, but it’s because we’re prioritizing this. It was something to kind of democratize—I love that word, Alyssa—the recruitment effort, not putting it all on our recruiting and sourcing team, but us across leadership and even our manager layers taking ownership and building their own networks of diverse talent.

Elisa Vincent: The last thing I’ll say, and Jamie and Cassandra, those are awesome points about democratizing it. And having everyone be part of that is that for you as the leader, your own LinkedIn profile, what you’re sharing, your visibility, the way you talk about diversity, equity, inclusion, and it’s important to you—that matters. Even just doing a bit of a LinkedIn audit and encouraging all of our team members to do that as well to see—just pull your roster, who are your connections, and what do they look like?

I have to say that my partnership with Michelle—I couldn’t do this work, I couldn’t lead this work, facilitate this work, without executives like Michelle who partner with me, support that, and who are visible advocates and allies for this work. If Michelle were to post an opening, I know she would have a lot of diverse people saying, “I want to come and work for you because she has that visible presence.”

It’s the organization’s brand, and it’s also our brand that we can continue to build in some thoughtful ways there. I was just thinking about a communications role that took us a while. You know, when you say 90 days, Jamie, to a recruiter, they’re like, “Ah-la-la! That’s terrible.” But we have to be okay with those metrics because it does take a while.

Traditionally, communications and HR were industries where women historically were able to make it to the C-Suite, to executive roles. What we know about the women’s movement and women in DEI is that for the past 10 years, it has favored mostly white women.

Drew Neisser: I just am curious, what does it mean to, when you say, “On your LinkedIn profile, look at it from a diversity standpoint”?

Elisa Vincent: I think it’s, what conferences are you going to? What articles are you reading that resonate with you? What nuggets are you taking away from those articles? Sharing your learning journey—not, “Hey, I’m doing this, look at me, I’m an ally.” But sharing, “This is what I’m learning. This is what I’m doing. And this is how I’m evolving myself.”

That vulnerability is, to me, core to being an ally and also using your platform as a way to amplify the voices of other people. Tagging people, resharing a post from someone junior in the organization that you think has potential. Helping to amplify other people’s careers through your platform. People notice and that makes a big difference.

I have to say, the greatest feedback that we’ve received from our employees is how Michelle has single-handedly changed the feeling in the organization because she amplifies the voices of employees and represents them externally.

Yes, she holds that space, she takes up, she’s in that space, but she holds that space for other people and does that. If you look at her LinkedIn posts, she’ll tag all of these different members of her own team, across the organization. That’s what I mean there, Drew, that’s that type of public-facing persona that people appreciate. And it’s not congratulatory, it’s doing that work.

I can’t emphasize enough that there is no destination and there isn’t perfection. This is hard work, and we’re going to get it wrong a lot. And we have to be okay with that and learn from that. Sometimes our intentions don’t match our impact, and that’s okay, too. The point we didn’t make, Drew, was we need to put our own oxygen masks on first as leaders.

Drew Neisser: Elisa, Cassandra, Cory, thank you so much for joining us and taking the time to talk about this.