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High-Tech Leaders Highlight the Value of Diversity at IS Accelerate ‘15

Christopher Tuttle

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What’s the difference between men and women in the SaaS industry?

Their shoes.

“I realized that was the only difference while sitting in my CEO’s office thinking, ‘My feet are killing me!’” said Lindsey Armstrong, senior vice president of international strategy at XANT.

Armstrong led a panel of industry veterans who shared their insights on workplace diversity in a Women in Technology keynote at IS Accelerate ’15.

Joining Armstrong on the stage were:

  • Betsy Sutter, corporate senior vice president and chief people officer at VMware
  • Eric Berridge, co-founder and CEO at Bluewolf

The powerhouse panel shared secrets to achieving maximum productivity and the business benefits of diversity in the workplace.

Panelists examined four key topics:

  1. Trumping bias
  2. Quotas
  3. Execution
  4. Advantages

1. Trumping bias

“It would be crazy if we only hired A through M of the alphabet,” Armstrong explained to the audience that filled the ballroom of the Grand America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City.

Sutter commented on gender bias and how it is, unfortunately, alive and well.

“Diversity is now a huge part of the strategy,” she said. “You have to build it into the business. Without it, you’re not going to win in the new world.”

A Gallup study shows that diversity in the workplace greatly increases productivity. Units that are diverse and engaged enjoy a 46 percent boost in comparable revenue, the study found.

“I’ve seen many instances that when we get sexes to work well together, we see incredible things happen,” Berridge said. “If your company has some unknown fear of hiring women, you’re gonna be out of business.”

2. Quotas

Sutter emphasized the importance of rejecting the idea that quotas are a good way to ensure a diverse work environment.

“The war for talent is fiercer than it’s ever been in my 30 years in the industry,” she said. “I don’t believe in quotas; I believe in results.”

Researchers from the Rotterdam School of Management found that both women and men are less attracted to businesses with gender quotas.

“We’re constantly trying to get the best of the best,” Berridge said, “and leadership teams need to use this knowledge to their advantage.”

3. Execution

To achieve the real benefits that diversity can bring to your business, managers must look carefully at the gender balance in specific business units when implementing strategies to increase diversity.

Berridge urged the audience to remember that empathy has a huge impact on employee culture and productivity.

“If my managers know what’s going on in their personal lives, if we can be sympathetic and flexible, we can create an environment they can survive in,” he said. “There are ways to be involved in the lives of your people without violating any HR rule.”

4. Advantages

Making gender diversity a business priority can lead to financial benefits and help a company realize its full potential.

“And it’s a lot more fun!” Sutter said. “Diversity is a lot more interesting. Nine different heads are better than one. It makes for richer dialogue.”

In a recent Journal of Economics and Management Strategy study, researchers found that by balancing the number of men and women in an office, revenue could increase by 41 percent.

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Photo credit: Image found on Twitter