How to keep company culture healthy when you’re growing 100% Y/Y

Martina, Margie, Judith, and Harry at #SaaStrAnnual

When CEO Harry Glaser and his co-founders started Periscope Data, they were so heads down building the company that it came as a shock when they looked up one day and realized “we were seven dudes.” So the team collectively agreed to do something about it. They changed both small things — rearranging the office layout to move video games away from the office entrance — and big things, demanding that the executive pipeline always include diverse candidates. Five years later, investing in a more inclusive culture paid off: Periscope’s high-performing team generated back-to-back years of 100% annual growth.

It’s easy to say that diversity and inclusion should be a business imperative, but how do you actually go about making it happen? Our #SaaStrAnnual panel shared the most essential nuggets on how to leverage D&I to reap better business performance at every company stage.

Early Stage: Mind the Small Stuff Early

  • Margie Mader-Clark, VP of People at Gladly, shared her experience when she interviewed at the customer success-focused startup. “There were photographs of smiling customers on the wall, and the panel interviewing me had an even gender split. These small actions made me feel like there was a space for anyone there.”
“Center on the individual.” -Margie Mader Clark
  • Margie explained how the CEO of Gladly was willing to keep the head of sales position open for a diversity candidate, even if that meant leaving the post unfilled for a few extra months. The decision ultimately resulted in a sales team with equal numbers of women and men, a key factor in Gladly’s sales success.
  • Harry talked about how important it was for founding teams to agree to make diversity and inclusion a priority and that everyone must be genuinely aligned. If not, have tough conversations with those who disagree or even make the hard decision to let them go.
  • Harry likewise encouraged being strong with recruiters as you build out the executive team. “Recruiters are motivated to put a butt in your seat as quickly as possible. You need to make it clear that you expect to see a diverse candidate pipeline. They probably won’t give you one, so ask to see the whole pipeline — including people who were disqualified — and discuss why and if they should be reconsidered.
  • On the board side, I added how important it was to be specific with with them, “Don’t be afraid to ask your board for exactly what you’re looking for. Instead of sayingWe’re looking for a head of product,’ the best CEOs say ‘I’m looking for a woman head of product, she can be a step-up candidate, and here’s what’s most important.’”
  • When thinking about leadership, it goes beyond the executive team and must include the board. “Don’t follow the standard Silicon Valley board formula. You want diversity of thinking and operational backgrounds,” which the standard blue-chip VC + blue-chip CEO mix doesn’t get you. “Look outside Silicon Valley for more diverse perspectives and examples of leadership.” Indra Nooyi had Pepsi at a 50/50 gender split 15 years ago and transformed the company.

Mid Stage: Data and Accountability Keep You Honest

“Data. Process. Accountability” -Judith Williams
  • Judith Williams, former head of Diversity & Inclusion at Dropbox told the crowd, “Data is where it starts. Process keeps you honest. Accountability defines whether you win or lose.” Process includes discussing D&I metrics the same way you do any other business metrics.
  • Jason M. Lemkin reinforced this in SaaStr’s opening session. He talked about how having a commitment to diversity didn’t shift their results as much as declaring an explicit goal and measuring it.
  • Accountability is everyone’s job but is modeled by leadership. “The small things matter. Don’t let jokes chip away at your culture. People are different,” cautioned Judith.
“CEOs and co-founders own Diversity & Inclusion.” -Harry Glaser
  • Harry recommended adjusting culture before focusing on people pipeline, and then make it clear when things cross the line, “Don’t be afraid to say,That’s not how we talk here.’ CEOs and co-founders own Diversity & Inclusion. The fish stinks at the head. You own correcting awkward moments like jokes and microaggressions. It is on you to give diverse perspectives the microphone.”
  • I told the crowd, “It’s incumbent on all of us to tie investments in D&I to business results. A bias exists that D&I is just the right thing to do, but study after study has proven that diverse companies outperform less diverse ones.” Board members should ask for D&I metrics and if companies track them, they should share them and tie them back to their business success.

The recurring takeaways from each panelist shared a theme: Decisions around diversity and inclusion absolutely impact your company’s business performance at every stage and at every level of leadership. So invest in it early — and start now.