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What Leaders Are Missing On Diversity And Inclusion With Sara Jones, CEO InclusionPro - Ep. 72

How do we bring people together in the workforce to increase diversity and increase inclusion? Sara Jones shares her 20+ years of experience.

Episode Table of Contents

  • [00:22] Women in Technology Fighting for Diversity and Inclusion
  • [06:23] The Grassroots Approach on Diversity and Inclusion
  • [11:34] Your Voice on Diversity and Inclusion Matters
  • [18:55] Where Diversity and Inclusion Actually Happens
  • [24:27] Women in Industry Setting Examples on Diversity and Inclusion
  • About Our Guest

Women in Technology Fighting for Diversity and Inclusion

Arika: Hi and welcome back to To The Point Cybersecurity Podcast. This is one of your hosts, Arika Pierce and joined of course by Eric Trexler.

Arika: Our guest this week is Sarah Jones, who is a CEO of InclusionPro. It is a company that is focused on HR recruiting tools but from a technology platform. It’s focused on making the workforce a little bit stronger as far as women and diversity and more inclusive.

Arika: This is an important topic in terms of diversity, inclusion, women in technology and cybersecurity. One of the things that I think we've done a really good job about is that we've had a lot of women on our podcast.

Arika: When you check out some other cybersecurity podcasts out there, their guests are primarily men. Because this is definitely a male-dominated field. So I always love it when we hear from different types of people.

Arika: So we're excited to talk to you today about the work that you're doing. In terms of trying to make technology and the cyber world, workforce more inclusive.

Sara: Well thank you. I love that you have a wide range of people that you host because it's important. All voices matter. And there's definitely different perspectives that different people can bring and inform how we go about creating our teams, addressing the cybersecurity issues.

Sara: In fact, one fantastic person that I know has been an FBI forensic data scientist. She’s done this type of work and she happens to be a woman. So we know that women have deep capacity and deep talent in these areas. I love that you highlight that on your show.

The Diversity Component

Eric: The diversity component, we need it. There are so many jobs open right now, Sarah. Not only is it the right thing to do. The industry needs help in walking away from or shunning part of the workforce is almost ridiculous in my mind.

Sara: Yes, if you want to dive right into it, I think everybody does agree that we're missing out on talent. However, historically cybersecurity being one of those industries, has grown into a male-dominated field.

Sara: So there's a lot of work to be done to transition some of the narratives that have occupied that space. So that when we broaden up the talent pool, it's seen the right way versus some other ways that it can be perceived by people within the industry.

Sara: I'll explain further and just illustrate a couple of examples of that. If we as leaders, if we're leading in the cybersecurity space, or in tech, or wherever, if we can get ahead of it, then we can anticipate it and understand how to address this.

Sara: So oftentimes when organizations kind of go down this road of diversification, there's a few things that happen. One, if you're let's say a white man in the space or whatever the predominant characteristics are, you often don't perceive those programs to be relevant to you.

Sara: You see them as a separate thing that the leaders or HRS are doing, but you're actually really not connecting with them. You don't feel actually, why does that matter to me. So that relevance piece is often missing.

The Ways We’re Approaching Diversity and Inclusion

Sara: What happens then is, they're often not included in those conversations and it becomes this kind of interesting. Almost exclusionary thing that happens within organizations. I'm going to state the obvious.

Sara: If you leave out the rest of the company in these important conversations, it's really hard to change the culture and get everybody to move in the same direction which is why I started InclusionPro.

Sara: Because I realized that some of the ways that we're approaching diversity inclusion are actually leaving out really important voices where they're not actually able to learn and understand as rapidly as the rest of the organization that is getting involved in these programs and coming to TV's to learn and understand. That's one dynamic that's happening. Another dynamic that happens is oftentimes leaders will get these sort of behind the scenes like backchannel questions.

Sara: Somebody, a long-timer there sees these programs coming along. They'll find that moment with the executive or the HR executive and just say, "Okay, so basically you're telling me I can only hire women and minorities now."

Sara: Never has that ever been said once, but it's the perception. It's sort of the conclusion that everybody jumps to. Even though nobody has ever said that at all. This is why when organizations are going down this road of diversification, it's really important to set a solid foundation around inclusion. What does that look like? What does it mean? How do we bring everybody into this conversation where white men are absolutely a critical part of that conversation. And we actually don't want them to be outside of these conversations.

The Grassroots Approach on Diversity and Inclusion

Sara: We want them to be embraced in these conversations. So the historical way that we've done it has sort of always kept them out. What I'm encouraging is a new approach to make sure they're in and to make sure that you're having these really healthy conversations across the entire organization.

Eric: What you're saying is, when you're looking at your diversity initiatives, you're almost excluding a bulk of the workforce. By saying, this doesn't apply to you, this is a special effort we're going down. So the bulk of your workforce isn't working on inclusion efforts. Is that fair?

Sara: Yes, that's totally fair. There's a couple of things happening there. Oftentimes women and ethnic minorities and LGBTQ have often felt like they've had to do it alone. So it's been, in many organizations, kind of a grassroots approach.

Sara: They really are not feeling supported by the executive team. But it's kind of their signal to the executive team to say, "Hey, we need to really care about this."

Sara: So it's often those groups that have sort of felt like they've had to do it on their own and kind of start this within an organization. It's sort of naturally created exclusion in the way that it's organically developed.

Arika: Are you seeing companies embrace this paradigm shift? Especially in spaces like technology and cybersecurity where we do know is primarily dominated by one segment of the workforce but we want to diversify it.

Arika: So are they embracing this whole notion of let's have very inclusionary where everyone's sort of at the table trying to figure out how we go about doing that?

A Really Cool and Phenomenal Shift Taking Place

Sara: Yes, there's really been a really cool shift that's been happening. I apologize, I don't know this question, I know you're a national podcast and it goes everywhere but are you physically based in a certain location? I'm in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Eric: Arika and I both live in the DC Metro area. That's where we physically live. But we'll have guests from all over the world. DC might be the best answer there.

Sara: That's great to know. I have built my career in the Salt Lake City area, greater Salt Lake Area. I have lots of touchpoints with Silicon Valley and the Western Rocky Mount region, although I love DC.

Sara: Been there many times and one of my colleagues has spent a significant portion of her career in DC. Very different from Salt Lake City, Utah. But I've been in this space for over 20 years, and the shift that we've seen has been phenomenal.

Sara: When I started my career as a patent attorney years ago. I was in an industry with an engineering and a law degree. You can imagine with very, very few women, possibly less than cybersecurity and engineering even.

Sara: I've been in those cultures and environments where you are literally the only woman in the room. If I think back 20 years ago to when I started doing tech and then now, along the way I've been able to find an organization called Women Tech Council, about 13 years ago.

The Real Need to Get Hyper Around Diversity and Inclusion

Sara: A group of leaders in the Salt Lake area that were in tech decided to start that organization. That's now grown to over 10,000 women and men who are supporting women in technology.

Sara: There's been a massive effort around us and it's been super cool to see. But in recent years, I've been seeing this real need to get very hyper-focused around inclusion. Because white men, they get to choose.

Sara: They get to choose whether or not they are part of this conversation. They can opt to not be part of the conversation. Nobody's going to force them to do it.

Sara: So I decided, there's a way that we can encourage them to be part of this conversation. That's by reminding them that they are valued in this conversation.

Sara: I know that feels very backwards to think they shouldn't be doing this work. The reality is that for example, in the Salt Lake City area, white men are still 95% of our tech leaders.

Sara: If you want to make movement, the answer is not to go to the 5% of women in tech. By the way, most of them don't want to have to be the one holding the banner all the time.

Sara: The answer is to spread out the work among everybody as much as possible. To whoever will possibly get involved in it. Also recognizing that for those white men who historically have not really been part of this conversation, there's a learning curve that sits there.

Your Voice on Diversity and Inclusion Matters

Sara: We've got to be patient and give them safe learning spaces where they can come up to speed on this conversation. Because they've been out of the conversation for so long. So if you think we cannot have an expectation that they're completely woke, that they know.

Sara: So who are going to be those to create those bridges to help them along the way so they can sort of catch up with everybody else and then be very useful in helping spread out the work.

Eric: It's interesting you say that. I happen to be a Caucasian male and I never know when I'm pushing too hard or not. When I should engage or not. When I'm stepping over boundaries.

Eric: I've been the executive sponsor of women in security engineering. I'm a member of women in technology. Not to read my resume, but it's always a question to me, how much do I engage or not? What's my appropriate role in this equation? As an outsider, it's difficult. You don't know.

Sara: Eric, even you just saying that and helping people understand where the worry sits, why you're concerned about getting involved in these conversations, and that you want to be, that is what I'm saying when I say, your voice matters.

Sara: Because if we assume you don't care, or that you think you know at all or whatever, we can have all sorts of assumptions of what we think you think.

Sara: But if we provide a safe learning space for you to actually voice out and say, "Sometimes I try and then I'm pushed out." I don't know if this happened to you, Eric, but I hope not.

Making a Difference

Sara: Just simply you letting people know how you feel about it and that there are uncertainties there and that I, as an ethnic minority female, I can be your ally in that. And say, "Oh my gosh, thank you for sharing that with me." I love that you are a part of this conversation.

Eric: Now that you mention it, it did happen at another organization. I was the executive sponsor for women in security. I did have a woman in a group setting, she had some concerns and complaints. She asked why a white male was the executive sponsor.

Eric: Now that I reflect back on that, I did and it made me think. It probably made me think about, "Am I the right person for this role?" I wanted to make a difference. I've made a difference through my hiring and management practices but that did make me think quite a bit.

Eric: You mentioned something a few minutes ago about many oftentimes you found yourself being the only woman in the room. Would you talk about what that feels like? I don't know that a lot of people, especially males, really even understand at the heart of the issue what that means.

Eric: What does that feel like? How does that change the way you behave, the way you act, what you do? I'd love to hear more there.

Sara: I'll just go back early into my career, and now I will tell you that I don't feel that much anymore. But I've also had 20 years and I have a massive network. 

Times Have Changed

Sara: So usually now when I go into a room, I know I usually don't feel as alone as I did. I'm going to take you back about 20 years.

Eric: Times have changed and we have made not enough.

Sara: I think in certain areas that are very male-dominated or very white-dominated, it still very much feels this way. So I think it's good for people to understand what that feels like.

Sara: I think when you're that person, you question if you belong there. It's not that you don't believe that you've earned a right to be there. But you wonder "What is everybody else thinking about my right to be here?"

Sara: Then what you are sort of testing for is, "Okay, what do these interactions tell me about the way you think about me?" So for example, I'd go into one business space, be one of the only woman in the room. I'd sit down at a luncheon table.  There's all white men around the table, and none of them introduce themselves to me.

Sara: You're in that awkward moment of, "Oh, I guess I got to be the one to introduce myself to them." There's sort of a lack of empathy with them understanding you might feel awkward being the only woman or minority at that table or in that room.

Sara: The second thing that sometimes happens, I call it when I do my executive training. We think we're being awesome but we aren't being awesome. That's where those awkward moments happen where you see people adjust their behavior for you. Because they aren't sure what to do with you, but they don't treat you like the other people around the room.

Initial Snap Judgment Visually

Sara: So you see them slightly adjust their behavior because they don't quite know how to interact with you. That's simply saying they have had a lack of professional experience working with a lot of women or people of color or anything like that. So they make an initial snap judgment visually. Then you notice their behavior will alter because they are uncomfortable with you.

Sara: But they are trying so hard to be awesome. Another awkward moment is where you know they're trying. They're not doing it well, and yet you're not in a position as that one of only in the room to pull them aside and say, "Hey, I know you are trying to be awesome, I know you're trying so hard, but just treat me like everyone else." Those are really hard and that's why you keep having it happen over and over again.

Sara: Because who's the person that's going to pull that person aside? When my black friend goes into the room and he goes to shake hands. And they try to give him a bro handshake and he's like, "huh."

Eric: I know what you mean. How does that change the way you act then? Because there's a cascading effect here I can imagine.

Sara: It's a signal. It's like, "Oh, you haven't worked with a lot of people that are different than you." The real truth is, actually we all just want to be treated the same and that's sort of the ultimate irony of this whole conversation.

Sara: Women, people of color, LGBTQ, they actually don't want anything different. They want a great job, great opportunities, equal pay.

Eric: Because we're people who came to work to do a job.

Where Diversity and Inclusion Actually Happens

Sara: Exactly. In the work setting, we actually don't want our characteristics to be the focus. When I'm in a work setting, I happen to be Korean, but I was raised by white people. I'm adopted. So in the work setting, it's incredibly weird for me to have people come up. They find out I'm adopted from Korea and they'll be like, "Oh my gosh, I love Kimchi."

Sara: I'll be like, "that's weird," because they haven't gotten to know me at a level where that kind of conversation makes sense. Well, it can make sense if I choose to make that part of the conversation.

Sara: But in most business decisions, which is where inclusion actually happens it usually has nothing to do with your race, gender, or sexual orientation or any other characteristic. It has to do with bringing your best ideas to solve the business decision. That's actually where inclusion lies.

Sara: When I am working with leaders, what I'm teaching them is that the behavior set changes from a hyper-focused on diversity, or a hyper-focused on same like-minded thinking, to a totally different set of behaviors.

Sara: What we haven't really understood very well is that when you have both inclusion and diversity happening really well within an organization. You're actually not focusing on somebody's diversity characteristics.

Eric: You're more focusing on their diverse background, their experience, their education, their capabilities, what they bring to the table to work essentially to solve those problems, do whatever that work project or effort is.

How the Culture of Diversity and Inclusion Is Made

Sara: To be clear, when it becomes highly relevant, it should be discussed in a spirit of authenticity. For example, if there are ways that the culture is being created because culture is made by the way we decide to make decisions. A lot of times there's bias baked into those processes. When we are taking a look at that and saying, "wait a minute, our candidate pool appears to be very narrow."

Sara: Then all of those characteristics can be very relevant in saying, "Hey, we'd love to make sure we understand what's going on. And if you have perspectives around what we're doing that are accidentally narrowing the talent pool, I'd love to hear them. So that we can understand what we need to change."

Sara: At that point, my gender might matter where I say, "Oh well let me just give you a woman's perspective of what's turning them off from even applying at our company.” Or people of color or people with disabilities. Anything like that becomes very relevant, and you want to provide safety for those types of conversations to authentically happen.

Eric: I want to switch slightly. Are we getting better? I know you do a lot of work with millennials and it's kind of your area of focus. Are we getting better?

Arika: Sarah, that's one of the things I wanted to ask you about. Especially with the work that you're doing with the Women Tech Council. A lot of the things we're talking about, myself also being an African American woman, I've experienced a lot of the things that you've talked about.

Helping the Generation of Future Leaders

Arika: But what are we doing to help the younger generations that are now coming up that are our leaders of today and tomorrow to encourage them to both think about inclusion from how they interact with others as well as how they respond to it.

Arika: Especially in the tech world and the cybersecurity world, it's a very intimidating space. I don't know if that's something that you guys are having conversations about especially with the organizations that you're involved in terms of this next generation so we do see a meaningful change happen.

Sara: We're doing more than having conversations. That's one of the most exciting things that's happened through Women Tech Council and through our partnerships with industry.

Sara: Over the last seven years, Women Tech Council has grown a program called SheTech. It's about exposing girls to careers in S.T.E.M. S.T.E.M. broadly is Science Technology Engineering and Math. Cybersecurity being one of those important fields in engineering.

Sara: We tend to focus on those disciplines that have low representation of women. For example, life sciences has plenty of representation of women. We're not as concerned about those fields. It's really the ones that tend to get low percentage of women.

Sara: We've been able to build a program over the last seven years to bridge that belief system of do I belong in these fields, bridging for these high school girls their belief systems.

Sara: We do that in a couple of ways. We have a program called SheTech Explore Day. SheTech is actually a year-long program. Throughout the year, the girls will interact with people in the industry and come to events where they're constantly interacting with industry.

Women in Industry Setting Examples on Diversity and Inclusion

Sara: That's the big key to it. It is having them actually see lots of examples of women in industry. Not just one, but literally hundreds of examples. Then we have what's called SheTech Explorer Day.

Sara: SheTech Explorer Day is a one day, very large event that goes from 09:30 to 14:30. It brings together all these girls from across the entire state of Utah.

Sara: So I want you to envision 3000 high school girls together on a single day with 500 industry mentors that come spend the day with them. I think you have not seen a lot of women in tech.

Eric: We call it ethical hacking.

Sara: It is both art inspiring and just amazing to see that many girls who are excited to be there and to learn about STEM. They'll do workshops. Then we have this huge sort of trade show floor where the girls will go and explore around all these different booths and different examples of STEM projects. It's all hands-on learning. We don't want to do the boring lecture thing. We really insist that our industry mentors that come and teach these girls do hands-on STEM projects.

Sara: It's our way of really getting these girls to be inspired with this idea that STEM is actually everywhere. If you think about ninth grade through 12th-grade girls, their heads aren't really in a space where they can completely grasp what cybersecurity is.

Sara: But if we can give them a fun hands-on project that illustrates, "Oh, let me teach you how to hack a cell phone.” Good hacking I mean. Ethical.

Cementing the Belief System

Sara: If we can inspire them and show them simple ways that they can connect in the world where their head is at right now, then they start to see, "Oh, it's not as far of a stretch."

Sara: The other thing we do for them during the summer is we do an internship program where we take them to different tech companies through the summer. If by the time you've done with an internship program through Women Tech Council, these girls have visited 10 to 15 different companies.

Sara: So that belief system is cemented more and more. The other thing we tell them is, "We don't expect you all to get Computer Science degrees."

Sara: A lot of times we're so focused on telling girls what degree they should get. What we've shifted to is more of an understanding of you are probably going to find something you are passionate about, and STEM will be there in some form.

Sara: If it's fashion, dance, music, sports, theater, whatever it is, STEM is there. It's revolutionizing every single industry. You can still be passionate about something that you want to do and then find a way for tech and STEM to just innovate around that in your field of practice.

Arika: That's fantastic. I mean the work that you're doing, Sarah, it's really important. I'll say too, you're going beyond conversations. I also think you are sparking conversations that are not always easy to have and can seem uncomfortable. But I think it's important to be uncomfortable sometimes and have those conversations so thank you so much for what you've shared with us today.

The SheTech Program Making an Impact

Sara: Oh thanks. I did want to mention that SheTech program, which is super cool, it's actually amazing to see impact. I was talking to the University of Utah engineering department and they said over the last three years, their percentage of female engineering graduates has increased by over 30%.

Sara: So we start to see this massive impact across our region when you have all these industry people come in and support these girls' dreams. We also have a SheTech version in Idaho in Boise, in Denver, Colorado, and Tucson, Arizona.

Arika: I know other States across the country are doing similar things. I would certainly encourage all of our listeners to reach out and to learn more. To continue this important dialogue.

Arika: Well thank you Sara. Again, we appreciate your time today and we appreciate your insight.

Sara: Thanks for having me.

About Our Guest

Sara Jones

Sara Jones is CEO of InclusionPro®, where she consults thoughtful leaders on building inclusive cultures, with a particular focus on team performance and team innovation.

As a consultant, she has keynoted or trained over 80 groups on inclusive leadership, high performing teams, talent strategies, and career skills. Her clients range in industries such as technology, engineering, manufacturing, financial services, legal services, e-commerce, and non-profit organizations.

Sara was recently honored as Utah Business Magazine’s CEO of the Year, a Distinguished Alumna from the University of Utah College of Engineering, and a Utah Innovation Awardee.

She was adopted from South Korea and found her birth family after 42 years of separation. She spoke at TEDxSaltLakeCity about transracial adoption: https://youtu.be/RMM9FhZiP80.

Sara has 20 years of experience within companies leading vision, diversity and inclusion, talent, workforce, operations, partnerships, content/product, fundraising and legal strategies.

More About Sara Jones

Sara is also co-founder and COO of Women Tech Council (WTC). A national organization focused on the economic impact of women in driving high growth for the technology sector. Sara currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Intermountain Healthcare Salt Lake Valley Hospitals.

And as a D&I Advisory Board member for global company Dyno Nobel. She is also a Board member on the Utah State Workforce Development Board.

Sara was CEO of ApplicantPro, an HR technology company providing recruiting tools with a strong female workforce. She was VP of Strategic Development at Patent Law Works, an IP firm based in Silicon Valley that has received several diversity awards.

She was head of business development at School Improvement Network, an educational technology company, where she led product development and business development. There, she developed professional development content on educational best practices delivered through on-demand video.

She started her career as a patent attorney, leading diversity efforts and became a partner at Workman Nydegger. Sara has a J.D. law from Brigham Young University and a B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Utah.

Twitter - @saradansiejones