"How can I bring my authentic self to work and still be seen as professional?"
This is a question that Mo Moran, Director of Sales Development at hiring software company Greenhouse, gets from her team on a regular basis. And with professional norms evolving constantly, it's not an easy one to answer.
"Being your authentic self doesn't mean saying or doing anything that crosses your mind. It's about finding a balance between how you present yourself in a professional setting without compromising what makes you unique. " she explains.
Understanding that some professional "norms" privilege certain groups and disadvantage others is an essential part of Mo's strategy for building a more diverse and inclusive culture. The answers aren't always straightforward, but when her team asks tough questions, Mo says she's primed to be "explicit about the fact that there are groups of people who have been [historically] excluded from the conversation."
That means advocating for underrepresented groups, investing in Greenhouse's core value of belonging, and above all, constantly exploring new ways to be a resource for her team.
We sat down with Mo to talk about building inclusive cultures on sales teams and throughout Greenhouse as a company. Here are five of her top tips:
1. Champion the Voices on Your Team
Mo relies heavily on input from her team to understand their needs and how she can best serve them. "There's not one right way to build an inclusive or diverse sales team," Mo explains. "It has to be created by the individuals on the team, and particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds."
Mo explains that Greenhouse empowers employees to take the lead. For example, Greenhouse's Sales Team has a culture committee made up of individuals of all levels who get together to talk about what's going well and what could be improved in the organization, including topics related to diversity. "It's up to them to say, 'Hey, here's something that we want to turn into an initiative and run with' or 'Hey, leadership team, this is something we'd like for you to consider,'" says Mo.
The company has a series of employee resource groups (ERGs), including Women Grow: a networking and equality group for women at the company, Blackhouse: a space for the empowerment of employees of African descent, Rainbow House: a safe space for our dedicated LBGTQ group and Shades of Green: which serves as the inclusive community for people of color.
Many of these groups include members who intersect and ultimately determine what the purpose of the group should be (e.g. the extent to which it should function as a community vs. provide feedback on company initiatives and strategies).
That level of thoughtfulness around inclusion applies to team-building events, too, says Mo. "Events where the main [activity] is beer pong aren't going to be for everyone," she explains, noting that she polls her group to make sure events focus on activities the whole team wants to spend time doing, like volunteering in their community.
2. Embrace Objectivity
Championing underrepresented groups at work also requires knowing where their pain points are and working to solve them. Mo highlights a common issue—career paths being unwieldy, hard-to-navigate routes that require lots of interpersonal relationships that might introduce extra bias—and what Greenhouse has done to solve it: creating standardized career ladders.
Knowing what's required to move to the next level and what that next level looks like "removes the need to have to lobby for anything or rely on personal relationships to be promoted," explains Mo. "The intention is to set people up to be successful in their careers, which I think is really meaningful."
3. Make Diversity a Real Business Goal
In our 2020 What Women Want report, we found that only 28% of women are satisfied with the level of diversity and sense of inclusion and belonging at their company. A McKinsey report from the same year found that while 87% of companies said they were "highly committed" to gender diversity, only half of employees believe that their company actually valued it. There's clearly a big disconnect between diversity used as a buzzword and diversity showing up, over and over again, as a real business goal—and Mo notes how important it is for a company to pursue the latter.
She explains that just ten years ago, diversity and inclusion felt like a "line item" where companies "maybe had a title of 'head of diversity & inclusion' that was a cool nice-to-have at the company." But now, diversity goals are "an integral part of a company's roadmap," says Mo. That doesn't mean the roadmap has to be direct with no pit stops; Mo explains, "Greenhouse's approach is to realize it's better to talk about things badly or awkwardly than it is to not talk about them at all."
For Mo and Greenhouse's leadership team, taking diversity seriously means measuring and communicating timely, accurate metrics around diversity and inclusion, including which groups are represented in Greenhouse's workplace and which aren't. "When you're talking about data, you don't get to make up how you think you're doing. You have to capture the data and let that sort of tell your own narrative," she says.
4. Call People In, Not Out
It's important to recognize that people with different experiences and perspectives won't all naturally be on the same page when it comes to understanding inclusion, whether that's in how comfortable they are asking for preferred pronouns or what their allyhood looks like.
"Diversity and inclusion best practices are evolving quickly, which is an excellent state to be in, but it does mean that nobody is exempt from trying to understand better," says Mo. Learning together means asking questions, recognizing one's own inexperience or ignorance on certain topics, and being open to feedback.
Mo notes that Greenhouse's executive team has adopted a particularly useful version of "calling people in" instead of "calling people out." The team points out when somebody says something in a way that could be articulated more thoughtfully or when they make an assumption about somebody that shows bias. "It encourages everyone to take a step back and ask, 'What might I be missing here when I say something in this way?' As a leader of anything, you have a lot of responsibility and it's important to be speaking to people very intentionally and with a lot of awareness," says Mo.
5. Build Self-Awareness and Understanding
"A huge core of being a salesperson is the ability to communicate with anyone effectively," says Mo. "That means you identify and meet your prospects where they are. You're asking questions to better understand their current state so that you can identify the best way to partner together and the best way to add value to whatever their function is. And all of that exists completely outside of your own identity and ego."
The same applies to being an ally, or someone with privilege who takes action to support underrepresented groups.
"For an ally, there's a part of understanding that someone's experience is likely different than your own. Especially if you're white and especially if you're a white male," says Mo.
Since salespeople have the opportunity to interact with a diverse group of individuals on a daily basis this gives them a leg up on building awareness around their own identities and working to understand others."Starting at a place of awareness is really important to build inclusivity," she explains.
Non-sales teams can take the salespeople's approach too, of course. "It's about being aware of the space you take up and embracing what you do and don't know. It's okay to admit fault and apologize, but use every interaction as a learning opportunity to increase your level of social awareness" summarizes Mo.
At the End of the Day, Culture Comes from the People
Mo admits that she's been lucky to work at great companies for most of her career. "I've always had a lot of strong female leadership to look up to," she says.
But it hasn't all been down to luck. She's also been very intentional about the companies she's chosen to work for, and she encourages others to do the same: "When you're evaluating an opportunity, you want to understand how an organization thinks, talks, and takes action about things like diversity and inclusion."
This starts in the first few touchpoints with a company. As a candidate, ask yourself how a company represents the diversity of their employees on their website. Consider how they treat you as a potential employee interviewing with them. The hiring process is a great tool to uncover how a company truly approaches diversity, equity and inclusion.
She knows firsthand the difference it makes to work at a company that celebrates everyone's voice. "Early on I saw some really strong, powerful queer female leaders, which spoke to me and kind of gave me something to aspire to," she explains. "And hopefully in my position now, even if it's in some small way, I can be that for someone else, too."
If Greenhouse's culture sounds like a good fit for you, be sure to check out their company page or leave a comment for Mo!