How can you build a diverse tech marketing team when the sector’s workforce is dominated by the same usual suspects? Malin Liden knows. The VP of SAP discusses the crucial connection between innovation and diversity, and where to find the right people. Molly Raycraft writes
If everyone wanted to play as the top hat piece in a board game of Monopoly, it would no doubt end in a chaotic flipping of the board, paper money flying everywhere and a disgruntled thimble, boot and racecar feeling somewhat neglected. A similarly one-dimensional martech team is sure to provoke comparable scenes of disarray.
Employing a variety of key players will ensure all bases are covered and bring an abundance of innovative ideas to go with it.
Innovation and diversity
Admittedly, the relationship between tech innovation and diversity – at face value – can be tenuous. But as Malin explains, the connection between the two is actually staring us right in the face. “We have diverse audiences, so in order to understand diverse audiences we need to be diverse ourselves.”
It all comes down to putting yourself into someone else’s shoes. Continuing our Monopoly metaphor, if you have a team full of top hats, it’s likely you’ll only establish common ground with fellow top hats. But, as Malin explains, minority groups are particularly suited to innovative roles, because they recognise and understand what it’s like to be outside the status quo in the industry – whether that be down to gender, race, sexuality or disability.
“It’s a difficult position to be in,” Malin confesses. “That’s why the exposed positions you‘d find yourself in as an innovator are exactly the same as a minority’s mindset every day.
“They’re always the different ones – but unlike the innovators, they didn’t have a choice.”
Although ‘becoming an innovator’ is a concerted decision, the actual practice itself is subject to wide-spread company pressure, as you’re constantly expected to think outside the box, delivering ingenious and cutting-edge concepts. “If you’re in a job that requires you to be innovative, you automatically put yourself in an exposed position,” Malin explains. “Because if you’re coming up with new ideas and thinking ahead of everybody else, people are going to think you’re a bit crazy.”
Malin stresses it all boils down to supporting creativity that encourages people to break traditional parameters, and that creating a diverse culture is the easiest way to achieve this.
“If you don’t have an inclusive culture, it’s always going to be an uphill battle,” she warns. “You’re always going to make it difficult for diversity candidates to come into key positions.”
Diversity and management
There’s no point striving for a hive of diversity in your company if all the queen bees in management wear the same stripes. Malin believes a diverse management team helps make your company a magnet for candidates from minority groups. “It becomes easier to attract people who represent diversity and it also becomes more natural to hire diversity candidates,” she says.
But of course, the real challenge is giving minority groups the opportunity to rise to management level in the first place, with full buy-in from the across the business. “If we only treat this as a box-ticking exercise, or only encourage the diversity candidates themselves to talk about diversity, then we haven’t gotten far enough,” warns Malin.
As a leader, you need to be championing those in your own team who strive to connect with colleagues, regardless of timezone or cultural barriers, as Malin explains. “You have to go out of your way to reward that behaviour and show everyone this is the type of behaviour you want in the organisation.”
In other words, the leader needs to be a translator for the team, communicating the value of minority workers in the business. “This [minority worker] could be someone who’s sitting on their own in Malaysia or some other part of the world where your headquarters aren’t,” Malin examples. “You have to help that person feel confident in sharing their story about what they’re doing.”
A culture of diversity
We‘re way past the archaic era of your big bad boss standing over your shoulder as you work. But with challenging KPIs and objectives to meet, marketers can often feel the pressure of delivering success and time constraints. Malin explains this can be the biggest hindrance to being different. “If people are afraid of thinking creatively in the first place, they’ll never have the courage to try something new because they’ll assume they’ll be punished for doing so.”
Hence, the answer doesn’t lie in punishment but actually in reward. “It’s not fun to fail, and no one is going to be proud of it,” Malin explains. “But if you see someone who did it the right way – they tried something new, they failed fast, they learned from it, they moved on to improve the idea or do something different – you have to shine a light on that and show this is the right thing to do, which will give other people the confidence to replicate.”
For Malin, this new working environment manifested itself through a member of her own team. “He said to me ‘I want a slot on the team meeting, and I want to share how I failed with one of my projects and how I learned and did something positive with it’,” she recalls.
“I thought it was brilliant. I made a fuss of it and recognised him in public because to me, that’s when you see the culture alive.”
Celebration really is the driving force behind a culture that embraces diversity and evokes innovative ideas. Malin stresses it’s imperative to make success tangible in order to recognise it. “This allows you to be able to celebrate success that doesn’t feel flabby; instead, it’s something that’s tangible and the team can be proud of.”
Ultimately, a sense of positivity is a breeding ground for diverse workers and ideas that break corporate boundaries. Malin merits this approach as fundamental to cementing otherwise siloed diverse teams together, whether that be by gender, culture or disability. “If you create an environment where people can have a laugh together, have fun together and enjoy each other’s company, they’re going to go the extra mile for each other and take a hit for each other as a group,” she explains, underlining that succeeding and failing together is what really supports innovation.
“If you read a job description and you don’t meet all of the criteria and then look at the company and everyone else is different to you, you lose confidence twice,” says Malin. It’s a double hurdle you need to vault. Be overconfident when you apply for the job.”
4 characteristics of a good innovator:
- Empathy: If you think about innovating, it’s really about solving the problem that someone else didn’t know they had. So it takes a certain level of empathy to understand your audience.
- Eccentricity: People who aren’t afraid to challenge the norms with unconventional and peculiar ideas are less limited. They have an easier time coming up with things that are completely new, that no one has ever thought of, and no one knew they needed.
- Confidence: Accepting that colleagues may think they’re crazy. That takes some courage and confidence to come up with these new things that people think are strange.
- Entrepreneurial thinking: You want people to feel safe to fail and take risks, but you want people that are smart. You don’t want people to take risks and fail for the sake of it. You have to teach people entrepreneurial thinking, to take smart risks where the risk is worth the potential outcome, and when to let go.
Mentoring a diverse team
Industry progress is evolving at a faster pace than ever before, so it’s vital to refuel often. Malin says it’s no longer possible to rest on your laurels. “If you’re really good at something today, it’s going to be outdated tomorrow,” she warns, “And this will happen faster than we ever thought possible.”
Mentoring, particularly in a diverse team, means a plethora of skills can be shared and perfected, creating a real thirst for knowledge. However, it’s not all plain sailing, especially when a diverse team comprises both experienced seniors and so-called ‘millennial’ members. “It can be difficult for the younger ones to come up with an idea that is genuinely new, without the experienced ones saying, ‘We’ve already tried something similar’ or ‘It won’t work based on our experience’,” explains Malin.
Identify the brave few who are courageous enough to challenge the marketing norms, and use them to mentor the old guard. After all, as Malin suggests, mentoring should be a two-way process between the new and old. “The experienced ones can learn a lot from the people who are just coming out of university: students and even children,” Malin explains. “We sometimes host events for children to see what we can learn from them, because they have no limits in the way they think and how they approach things.”
It’s this type of interconnectedness that galvanises the momentum behind team success, which emphasises the need for two-way mentoring. “If you create a culture where you can only win together and you depend on each other to win then you also create a culture where it’s essential to help one another.”
Malin emphasises the importance of your team getting to know each other’s skill sets. This was something that became evident when she encouraged her team to reveal skills they use outside of the work environment. From this, she discovered most of her team had hidden talents that could actually prove useful to innovation. “I think we assume we know people, but if we dig a little deeper with the team members to find out what they’re good at, there’s so much hidden talent.”
Want to hear from Malin up close and personal? Great! She will be speaking at Ignite 2019. Take the opportunity to see her and 80+ other speakers at the worlds largest B2B marketing, learning, and networking event.