CEO Q&A: Harry Glaser shares his diversity and inclusion journey
Periscope Data founding CEO @harryglaser built a company to create beautiful analyses of your data across different sources — and raised $37 million in the process. He shares why he views diversity and inclusion as a huge self-propelled flywheel — even despite making mistakes during the ongoing journey. He is also a member of the first cohort of Startup Include. I interviewed him as second in our series on CEOs and diversity.
Why do you care about diversity and inclusion at Periscope Data?
Most importantly, there’s a moral reason. We’re privileged to be part of an industry and a community that is creating so much value and so much opportunity. With that privilege comes the responsibility to make sure that the opportunity we’re creating is as equally distributed as possible. We should be leaving this industry better than we found it.
There’s also a pragmatic reason: Often very successful businesses at some point implode. One area that CEOs often under-estimate, under-value, and under-invest is culture. As CEO, when I look 6–12–18 months out, I am always thinking about what’s the next thing we need to be worried about? What do I need to do this year and the year after? It’s my responsibility to make sure the culture is right so that we can scale effectively. If product has flaws, you can iterate. If the sales channel doesn’t work, you can fix it. Culture is one of the few things you have to get right from the beginning. And if you want the business to succeed, you have to focus on it.
What is the hardest part of diversity and inclusion for you? What have you learned?
Our first seven employees were white men. I could feel the culture at that point starting to drift towards a bad place. Luckily for me, those teammates agreed with me and we made hiring a diverse team a priority. Finding and hiring that eighth person from a different background was hard. I learned to sort through my network: I like top of funnel KPIs to see if you’re doing easy sourcing or important sourcing.
Am I looking at everyone or just the people who raised their hands? White men will disproportionately respond even if they’re not qualified. And the people you want to respond may not. I made a point to reach out to the part of my network that was not all white men.
It does get harder the more senior you are trying to hire. Recruiting firms and their processes for hiring senior people are geared a certain way and for a certain type of client. You need to be very direct with them that you expect to see a diverse candidate pool. The Board of Directors is hard to move in general. Investors often get board seats and they are not very diverse as a group of people. We’re still working on this, but I’m optimistic that focusing on pitching a diverse group of investors will help.
For people who are having a hard time with diversity and inclusion, what would you tell them?
It’s ok to start small. Where people go wrong is they look at companies that are doing ok from the outside, maybe like the Project Include cohort, and feel overwhelmed by the size of the challenge. Or from the outside their company looks like it’s all beer pong and video games, and changing that perception feels intimidating. It’s ok to set one goal at a time. You’ll be surprised how quickly it turns into a flywheel.
A second way is to just get up in front of the company and say it out loud in front of everyone: “We want to be welcoming to be inclusive and welcoming of everyone. People from all walks of life should walk into the office and feel like it welcomes them.” That means moving beyond the video games, and the ping pong table. It means behaving like adults and being intentional about what we put in the office and what happens in the office. This should explicitly be a goal and a value.
And if you’re running a bigger company, get your leadership team on board. Everyone from the CEO on down should be singing the same song about the importance of an inclusive culture.
Can you share some examples to show where you’ve seen diversity help in the startup world? And some of your own personal examples?
It certainly becomes a flywheel. If you hire well, it becomes easier to hire well over time. Getting the first 10–20 people right makes a huge difference. After that, it starts working on its own.
Diversity and inclusion also helps with marketing and customer acquisition: When our team is reviewing language on website, they are impacting the first critical moments in the product. A diverse team will catch really basic issues that a homogenous team will miss. Then you get a wider swath of customers, because your product is attractive to a much larger customer group.
Another example is our hiring site. Our first draft had language about how we liked Indian food and whiskey. We used a terrific product called Textio to make sure the language was as inclusive as it could be, and Textio flagged that language as a problem. We revised the description for culture and the language. And we got a more diverse set of applicants. That worked so well that we ran the whole website through the same process and revised the marketing copy and more, aiming to eliminate any of the unconscious bias.
What do you wish you knew about diversity and inclusion when you started?
I would have started with more senior hires earlier. In the beginning I focused too much on demographics instead of an inclusive culture. I’ve since learned that getting the values and the culture right lead to a more diverse team, and I think we would have had an easier time if we’d known that from the start.
Why did you join Project Include?
We wanted to improve. We felt a moral obligation. If you want to get better at anything, you have to be open with fact that you are on a journey, people will be ahead of you, and you have to have a growth mindset. We wanted access to the best mentorship, thought leadership, data and tracking so that we could improve as fast as possible.
What would you tell other CEOs about diversity and inclusion?
It feels weird to me to be talking about it as if we’ve solved the problems and as a role model. We still have a long way to go. But what I’ve learned is:
It’s ok to start small.
You don’t have to have a big plan to solve diversity and inclusion from day 1. It can seem really daunting and unachievable when you’re starting. It really does become a flywheel where it gets easier and easier if you focus on one culture change or one job rec. You prove to yourself and the company that you can do it. The whole company becomes proud of it. The first one is the hardest one and then it gets easier and easier.
What was the most impactful thing you’ve done for promoting diversity and inclusion?
Hiring a diverse leadership team. Having people feel like there will be role models for them when they join is the biggest needle mover. When folks are looking for a job, they are looking at who their role models will be, and who will be looking out for them. If they can look at the leadership team and see someone they can personally look up to, then they can get really excited about the company.
What else should people know?
It really does start with the culture. If you get the culture right, everything else gets easier. It’s a never-ending journey, and you should sign up for that. The flip side is you can start small, but be aware that it’s an endless climb. The issue is not when will you get there and be done: You’re constantly improving yourself and your company. You should aim to get better and better and better forever. You’re never done.
I also think if you can get the culture right, you’ll end up being really proud of the team. It’s more fun at work, and you’ll want to spend more and more time with your teammates. I wasn’t necessarily expecting that. And it’s been a huge positive.
We’re all somewhere on a journey. The only things you can do are (a) improve and (b) show people where you are and how you got there.