There’s no silver bullet when it comes to diversity in the workplace and ensuring that women have equal opportunities to advance.
Recently, Business Insider spoke with Karen Quintos, the CMO of Dell, about the changing work environment and what it takes to drive real change at all levels.
Quintos joined Dell in 2000 and spent her first 10 years in various executive roles. She was named Dell’s CMO in 2010.
“The world today needs more inclusive thinking, and women naturally bring traits to the table that … help companies succeed,” Quintos says.
“As the most senior woman at Dell I owe it to other women, either women here or those who aspire to work here, to create a culture that will make them successful,” she says. “I have two daughters, and I really believe that a lot of the barriers and obstacles that women in my generation had to address will be removed when they enter the private or public sector.”
Quintos discusses what it will take to ensure diverse voices are represented and the important role that men play in women’s advancement.
Business Insider: How does Dell create an inclusive and welcoming culture for female employees?
Karen Quintos: We have focused on diversity for years. We have performed training programs, led employee-resource groups, and we put a strong lens on diversity for our annual succession planning. There are also goals and objectives at the leader level for interviews we conduct both internally and externally. We also implement scorecards at senior levels to gauge progress.
Recently, we joined a program called MARC, which stands for Men Advocating For Real Change. MARC is based around training at all levels of the company, and focuses on the natural biases that we all have. It is as much about training men as it is about training women. The program features half- and full-day training courses you conduct with your peers. We’ve all done it — even Michael Dell has completed the training program with his direct reports.
We sit around a room, and they take you through a number of exercises to make you aware of the societal and cultural things that impact your natural biases. It sensitizes you to other people who have been raised in certain ways or think in a different way. You end up saying, “I didn’t know they had this in their life. I didn’t realise how lonely that must be.”
What changes do you see when a company begins developing more female leadership?
The biggest thing I see is that you bring a broader point of view, and then a more inclusive dialogue and conversation starts taking place. I joined the Linux board in Dallas, and the CEO has been very committed to having a much more diverse board for several years now. He wasn’t interested in me because of my gender. He wanted me on his team because of my marketing operations and diversity background.
When I joined the Linux team there was also an African-American woman who was brought into the mix. The company now has a broader vetting of experiences and insights. That diversity isn’t just about women — it’s about age, it’s about gender, and it’s about experiences.
What needs to be done to bring more women into STEM programs and tech?
We need more role models, and they have to be present in homeschool, high school, college, and graduate school. There is also a need for role models to be more visible for women where all possibilities in the workforce exist.
Companies also need to play a significant role. There are certainly cultural and societal barriers that have been in existence for a long time. Businesses must address barriers at every turn and create opportunities for women as they enter the field postgraduation.
There are also things inherently natural to women that need to be addressed in asking for the job. For example, being much more proactive in declaring that they want to move into certain roles. Women must choose to become more visible and vocal.
What’s the No. 1 trait women need to succeed in the workforce?
Confidence. It’s confidence in yourself and it’s confidence in taking the experiences you have garnered and turning those experiences into points of view that can really help to deliver business value. Confidence is one of those attributes that not a lot of women are taught early on in their lives and careers.
One of the conversations we’re having at Dell is how do you better arm these girls at 15 to 18 years old to be confident and assertive and know what it is that they want. Equally important is that if they don’t get it, don’t be afraid to circle back and ask again.
How important is sponsorship for women looking to advance their careers?
Sponsorship or advocacy is huge. I kind of knew who my sponsors or mentors were, but I didn’t realise how strong they were advocating for me when I moved into the CMO role five years ago. Advocacy and sponsorship really do matter, sometimes more than mentorship. Mentors can also be a sponsor, but don’t confuse the two, because sometimes a sponsor might not be a mentor, but they still campaign on your behalf.
You need to have an advocate that is in a position of influence so when jobs are being discussed, key roles are being negotiated, and key individuals are being put on a list to be considered for future roles, they are in those discussions and advocating on your behalf.
If you are not on a list for promotion your sponsor needs to be honest enough with you to explain why you are not on that list. If there is a misalignment of your expectations and what the feedback is, they must be willing to play a proactive role to help you in addressing where those gaps exist.
What can men do in their roles to bring more diversity to the table?
Culture matters a ton. Men need to play a significant role in creating a culture where women think they can succeed. They need to be brave to call out bad behaviour and have the courage to point to those things that just don’t make sense.
If you are consistently sitting in a meeting and everyone in the meeting is a man, and that has been the case for multiple years, there is something more going on than a simple pipeline issue or the fact that women are not putting their hands up and asking for certain jobs. That is where culture matters.
When men really care about changing the trajectory of women in positions of power, they need to get it in their heart and their head that you will get to a better business outcome. That’s how you move the needle.
Men need to have courage and be brave. Guys have to be willing to call out the bad behaviour and not accept no for an answer. They have to ignore the argument that “we can’t find the women.” Ultimately, it’s about courage and leadership.
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