“We believe diversity and equity matter everywhere, not just for ourselves but in the companies we work for, lead, and invest in.” —Shaan Hatharamani, Flockjay Founder & CEO
Sales roles have the power to catapult coachable folks into a life-changing, lasting career in tech. We know this at Flockjay because our diverse graduates have proven it to us. Traits like grit, curiosity, and a growth mindset can be some of the greatest indicators of success for sales candidates. None of those things have to do with a fancy piece of paper or pile of college debt.
Sales is an onramp with limitless potential for anyone who wants to build a career in our industry, regardless of a lack of “traditional” experience. So, why does this onramp seem so hidden? Why are there so many secret rules baked into breaking in the tech industry?
To explore questions like this and discuss effective solutions, we gathered the following tech leaders and hosted a panel discussion on Building Diversity Through Sales Roles:
- Ebony Beckwith | CEO at Salesforce Foundation, Chief Philanthropy Officer at Salesforce
- Frederik Groce | Co-founder at BLCK VC, Principal at Storm Ventures
- Jacob Mullins | Founding Member at LatinxVC, Partner at Shasta Ventures
- Kelly Schuur | Head of Sales Training at Flockjay
- Shaan Hatharamani | Founder & CEO at Flockjay
Each of our panelists brought incredible heart and perspectives to this energizing discussion. It’s time to rethink our approach to recruiting and referrals, reassess diversity data, and focus on attributes like coachability to get the right candidates in the door. It won’t be easy, but it’s vital to increase the accessibility of sales roles and strengthen the future of our global industry.
As Ebony put it, “Have the courage to make suggestions, push back, have tough discussions, and really become comfortable being uncomfortable.”
The panel made one thing clear: Driving the needle forward on building diversity is going to take all of us, and it starts today with these actionable tips.
Miss this discussion in real-time? Watch here.
1. Hiring Managers Need to Take on More Responsibility
In the words of Kelly, Head of Sales Training at Flockjay, who excels at keeping it real:
“Hiring managers need to take on more responsibility. We are quickly coming to a time when, if you’re a hiring manager and you don’t have a pretty diverse team, that is not going to be a great look for you.”
If your team isn’t diverse, pointing the finger at your recruiting team isn’t going to fix the problem. Dishing out blame isn’t effective. All stakeholders have to work together to build diversity that lasts and allows your business to operate more effectively. If you’re a hiring manager growing your sales team and focusing on DEI, lean into discomfort. Make it your responsibility to become and act as a partner with the recruiting team.
Frederik, Co-founder at BLCK VC, said:
“In the hiring process, you should feel uncomfortable. Because if you don’t feel uncomfortable, that means you’re falling back onto what you’ve done already, the things you’ve been anchoring to. And this has to feel different. You should have a pit in your stomach. Lean into that discomfort, that is okay. That is how we drive change.”
2. Understand That Your Customers are Increasingly Diverse
This might feel like a no-brainer, but it’s an important takeaway. Because your customers are diverse. You’re competing in a global market. Diverse sales teams can better support a diverse customer base.
After all, sales teams are the front lines with your customers and represent the face of your company. What face do you want to show the world? What will your increasingly diverse customers see? Hire wisely when growing your sales team. In Kelly’s words:
“The reality of it is most of us are building products for a diverse set of consumers, and so how do you expect to build and sell and do all the things necessary to be successful without inviting in all these different perspectives to the conversation?”
Our founder Shaan echoed this:
"It’s not just about providing pathways into sales organizations. It is rooting future leaders at companies, so that, when you're making decisions with your technology that impacts millions of users, you have a different perspective in the room that actually can move the needle and create a better economic outcome.”
He added, “Sales teams are the front lines with your customers, that’s where you're getting the feedback loop on your product and what you're building. If you aren't reflecting that diversity of customer base that's growing with your sales team, then you have lost the most fundamental opportunity to improve what you're doing as a product.”
3. Expand Beyond the Traditional Employee Referral Cycle
Take a moment to stop and think about your current sourcing process. If you operate like most companies, your sourcing process is largely made up of employee referrals. And, when it comes to who our employees refer, it's largely people from their network - which tends to be largely homogenous. Put simply, employee referrals disproportionately benefit white men.
Jacob, Founding Member at LatinxVC and Partner at Shasta Ventures, mentioned that while familiar tech recruiting and onboarding processes can be effective, they’re “absolutely a double-edged sword.” Why? Because, well, you’ll get more of the same.
Jacob said, “As companies grow past the founding group, we need to be opening up networks drastically, and part of that is structure.”
Unsure where to begin? You’re not alone. We all have to start somewhere. At Flockjay, we don't want our referral program to be the enemy of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Because of this, we openly share this important data to consider with all referring employees prior to submitting:
- Referral programs disproportionately benefited white men ⮕ white women were 12% less likely to receive a referral, men of color were 26% less likely and women of color were 35% less likely
- Referrals from a close friend/family member were most common, but had lowest level of engagement outcomes
- Targeted referrals (such as cold messaging someone at target company) were least common, but had highest level of engagement outcomes
At Flockjay, as we look to grow our team, we know that our networks are an important source of referrals. But we also know we need to look beyond our networks. And, the data shows that when we do, we see high levels of engagement with these candidates.
Jacob added a proactive example of expanding beyond your traditional network: discouraging warm intros. In his own experience he has found that “When everyone fills out the same standardized information and it’s sent and filtered through recruiters who are external to the first round, they can bring together the best candidates for that role from a larger pool.”
For recruiters and hiring managers looking to balance out the employee referral cycle, restructure incentives to minimize systemic bias. Consider throwing out traditional network-based hiring processes and replacing them with employee referral programs that lead to a diverse slate of candidates. Encourage your employees to engage with your job postings and share them with underserved groups and networks.
Fun Fact: When an employee referral joins our team at Flockjay and hits their 90-day anniversary, the first reward the referring employee receives is a $250 donation Flockjay will make in their name to a non-profit organization of their choice. To me, that carries more impact, because it reinforces company alignment to our mission and speaks to our greater purpose.
4. Drop Secret Barriers to Entry with Increased Transparency
As the old adage goes, “Secrets, secrets, are no fun, secrets, secrets, hurt someone!” And in this case, the “secret rules” that have long been implied in tech hiring are actually hurting your company, in addition to the candidates you’re leaving out.
Kelly, our Head of Sales Training, brought up a couple common “secret rules,” like only considering candidates with 1-page resumes and active LinkedIn profiles. Many companies employ these secret rules without really questioning why, but Kelly urges you to start assessing your own barriers for hires today.
As we move forward, the onus to break these barriers down does not fall on one team, it requires collective acknowledgment. It is the companies’ responsibility to demystify the process and make sales more accessible, and it starts with removing barriers to entry for candidates.
5. Align Attributes with Sales Success (a College Degree Doesn’t = Grit)
Piggybacking off the last tip, one of the most critical barriers that need to be reassessed is requiring a college degree for an entry-level sales role. In reality, a fancy degree doesn’t actually tell you much about a person’s ability to find success in a sales role, but it does tell you they had access to opportunities.
So really think about it, hiring managers: What skills are you looking for that you're using a 4-year degree as a proxy for? Reevaluate requirements to focus on attributes.
Sales is teachable, and traditionally diverse candidates do well in sales because they possess several of the inherent skills and attributes that align with that success. Hire based on traits we know are predictors for being a top sales rep: grit, hustle, strong communication, tenacity, emotional intelligence (EQ), perseverance, curiosity, optimism, gratitude, and self-control.
Jacob nodded to the importance of grit and brought up an excellent point about some of the best CROs he knows being immigrants. He said:
"They [immigrants] have found tremendous success in leveraging the multi-faceted skillset that it takes to be an outsider in the United States in order to build social connections, networks, and be able to exert influence to an outcome. And it's a tremendously difficult, high EQ skill that I think a lot of people don’t even notice for people that aren’t from the U.S., or look different than what we think a person from the U.S. looks like.”
The most impactful thing you can do is hire diverse coachable individuals with a growth mindset. There are so many diverse candidates who have the potential to excel in sales roles but don’t even realize it yet due to misconceptions about the profession. None of this can happen without aligning stakeholders on hiring from the top down. It's our job to push management teams to lean in more aggressively and understand it will take all of us to effect changes.
“I encourage everyone to take an honest inventory of all of our blind spots and be flexible enough to be willing to try new solutions. Have that courage to make suggestions, to push back, have tough discussions, and really become comfortable being uncomfortable.”
6. Build Support Systems from Within to Retain Diverse Sales Hires
Building lasting diversity in tech doesn’t stop with the hiring process. If you’re looking around the room at a sales team with a diversity of talents, backgrounds, and ethnicities, that’s one piece of the puzzle. But if you want those people to stay with your company and reduce common turnover, building support systems from within to nurture lasting inclusion is essential. Sales is a highly consultative role focused on supporting and guiding customers. And without support, sales can be a lonely place. Ebony said:
“Sales is like a game of tag, even though you’re on a team of people who are supposed to be friendly, it’s still a competition. And this can make people feel even more lonely sometimes in their roles.”
So how can we start improving the support we provide today? Kelly said:
“People think it’s so much more complex than it is, but check on your team. A ‘hey how are you doing? or’ I know you’re part of this community that was really affected by police brutality, are you ok?’ or ‘Can I support you right now?’ goes a long way. Asking questions, being human, getting more resources behind them, and connecting folks with mentors on your team are all places where you can start.”
She added, “A big part of the reason we started Flockjay is we know that diverse candidates need support to be successful in tech in the long term. If you try to go at it alone, you will not be successful. I know from my own experience.”
Ebony, CEO at Salesforce Foundation and Chief Philanthropy Officer at Salesforce, said:
"We have to start programs and support organizations within our own companies that will give people the access to social capital, give them the skills, give them the networks and experiences. If you’re not able to do that within your company, companies like Flockjay that have programs where people can go and get those networks are so vitally important.”
At Flockjay, we have built support systems from within in a few different ways. Our students begin fostering a sense of community from day one. Our Alumni Network focuses on providing additional support to Tech Fellows going through the stressful and exciting hiring process.
We have established various Flockjay Identity Groups (FIGs) with internal leaders and students that serve as a place for different groups to connect. And, we check in our team (their whole selves).
6. Evaluate Diversity Data as You Would a NPS Score
Transparency around where you are now and where you're going matters. Ebony said, “I wish there was a way to have a metric on bulk inclusion - like a Net Promoter Score, for example - that your team could rate you on anonymously so that we as executives in our companies could really assess who is doing well with this, not just for the team that looks the most diverse, but is also feeling included.”
A Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a tool that, “measures customer experience and predicts business growth. This proven metric transformed the business world and now provides the core measurement for customer experience management programs.”
It is a simple way to get a pulse on how your business is doing, which is why NPS is so widely accepted as a metric in our industry. We’re at a point where it’s time to start evaluating your diversity data in a similar, routined way. Normalize collecting, analyzing, and sharing your diversity data in a fully transparent way. Analyze your attrition/promotion rates.
“Did all of the ‘diverse’ people on your team leave after 6 months? Were you able to actually hire, retain, support, and promote diverse candidates? That would be something that’s interesting to know.”
Look for opportunities to improve DEI within your findings. Then, improve. Don’t shy away from the findings that reveal you have more work to do. Ebony said, “Companies always talk about where they’re succeeding, rarely do you hear companies be really transparent about where they failed. I think it’s important and it’s something we’ve started implementing in our reviews.”
When Ebony sends notes around to her executive leadership team, she says she includes a win in addition to some opportunities for improvement. She wants her team to share the lessons they’ve learned and evaluate the aha moments they’ve had. She said, “If we start opening ourselves up publicly around this, it’ll be okay for companies to struggle, but they can get ideas for how to move forward.”
“Companies need to know that, not only are your current and future employees going to demand it [diversity], but it also is going to show up in your customer base. Customers are going to be looking at you, at your leadership board, your executive leadership team, at your data and numbers around diversity, and they’re going to make a business decision whether they want to be working with you or not.”
8. Consider Top Level Sponsorship vs Mentorship
Mentorship is an incredible tool, but Frederik says that layering on mentors to help new sales hires tactically understand how to be successful in the role can only go so far. Enter: sponsors.
"Sales is this front door into an organization and it’s not just a pathway up a sales ladder. I think if we can really move toward getting more senior managers to be sponsors to those folks that are coming into the organization, that’ll help.”
Sponsorship extends beyond mentorship by acknowledging that entry-level sales hires are at the beginning of a journey, and being transparent with those people right away about all of the pathways they could go within the organization.
Sponsors are true advocates who want to make opportunities clear beyond being promoted from an SDR to an AE. They can do so much to provide a mirror for new hires that lets them see what opportunities around the corner look like.
Shaan said that “From my experience in running Flockjay, the most successful sales orgs are the ones where there is a high level of sponsorship for investing in support and the continuous reskilling and upskilling of your sales team.”
Partner with Flockjay to Start Building Diversity through Sales Roles
If you missed the panel in real-time, you can watch the recording on-demand here for more tips. This work matters. At Flockjay, we’re passionate about helping people from historically excluded backgrounds break into tech sales, where they can seize opportunities to grow professionally and personally. We’re also passionate about shaking up the tech industry, for the better.
As Frederik put it, “Diversity isn’t just about doing the right thing because it feels good, it’s about building organizations that can perform and operate more effectively.”