One CEO’s commitment to diversity in the tech industry – An Interview

Toby Martin, CEO of Extensis

This past Fall, when I was facilitating the National Diversity Council’s one day Unconscious Bias training in Portland, Oregon, I was pleasantly surprised that one attendee investing the full day with us was the CEO of a local Tech company. Since that time, I have stayed connected with Toby Martin, CEO of Extensis, and recently he announced Extensis’ commitment to a Portland-based initiative called the “TechTown Diversity Pledge.”

As a diversity and inclusion consultant and trainer, I often to write about various manifestations of under-representation of minorities in various industries or various levels of leadership. So I am very pleased when CEOs realize this strategic criticality of diversity. I decided to chat with Toby (virtually) to understand more of what was driving his focus on D&I.

STAN: Toby, first, can you tell me a little more about Extensis and your business?

TOBY: Extensis (link) is a 27-year old software firm headquartered in Portland, Oregon. When we broke ground in 1993, we set out on a mission to remove the barriers that impede creativity. Specifically, helping individual professionals and organizations working with digital media to control the chaos so they maximize the value of these assets, accelerate their workflows, and focus on inventing amazing. Today we are proud to be working with hundreds of thousands of creative professionals across the globe whose work inspires us every day.

Portland, Oregon …. Stumptown AND TechTown!

STAN: That is exciting news about Extensis taking the TechTown Diversity Pledge. What does this mean for your business?

TOBY: What it means is that we’re more assertively moving into the space occupied by fellow tech leaders in Portland who all care about the same thing – building diversity in our micro-technology community and in the macro-community of the great Pacific Northwest. Internally, the Pledge lays out a series of steps and actions we agree to, including training our whole team on issues of diversity. Best of all it gives us more people we can meet with and collaborate with on moving the needle. With 30 companies it also facilitates idea sharing and workshopping so we can all learn from each other in a smaller space (where often large membership events can be challenging).

STAN: As a CEO, I know you must have 1,000 things on your mind at any point in time. Why are you as the CEO so focused on diversity instead of just relegating it to your HR team?

TOBY: Interesting question and one that seems very common. I’ve heard it many times and I think this notion that it should be relegated to HR might be frustrating progress…let me explain. If this is an HR only initiative, then it becomes just that, HR; however, if coming from the CEO then it becomes a company-wide business objective. I strongly believe that we can only grow and expand our value to our customers, our employees, and our community if we are bringing in more diverse opinions and inclusivity, so it’s important that we are embracing this from all perspectives within the company.

STAN: Have you had any particular diversity experiences personally that has helped you become such a strong proponent of diversity?

TOBY: Absolutely. Having been in the tech industry for over 20 years and working with clients and teams in many states and countries, you see people from all cultures contributing with their unique perspective. What many people seem to overlook is that whomever your clients or ultimate end customer is, they are likely a diverse set so how would someone of a single age understand multiple generations, for example?

One of the fellow TechTown Diversity Pledge company members and I met, and we discussed several examples from his career which only led to violent agreement – diversity is a business imperative to improve and succeed.

Yes, the diverse talent pool within the technical industry certainly needs to be broadened.

STAN: What do you hope to see in Extensis’ future in terms of diversity? Do you have your own corporate goals?

TOBY: We do have big goals and plans, but not only numerical in nature. Again, starting with learning management and the plan to enlist the entire organization in support of DE&I; then moving toward manager training on deeper topics like micro-biases in hiring and performance management for 100% of managers; then naturally attracting talent where people have walked different journeys to come to the same place by looking at the applicant and employee pool with TechTown PDX to analyze the data; lastly one major goal is that every single employee supports this and is engaged at a high contributing level. This annual survey TechTown PDX puts out provides more solid benchmark data than we’re been able to find elsewhere and can be found here. (Link to TechTown Diversity Data Report.)

Outside of Extensis I’m looking to learn from notable organizations and thought leaders, hopefully connecting supporters and advocates from disparate groups and increase the impact!

STAN: Is there anything else you would like to share?

TOBY: To stop others from repeating the same mistakes, I would offer that you must be selective and strategic with your efforts or you can easily become overwhelmed by all the opportunities to get involved. What I looked to do was combine local groups with national while being careful in evaluating the missions of each; all while looking for supporters who I felt could lend diversity in my goal of learning and hearing from other allies. I can easily say that every webinar, phone call, event, or anything I read or attend teaches me something I can use, but there is also only 24 hours in a day, so spend them wisely!

STAN: Toby, thank you very much for your insights, and I wish you and Extensis the best of business success and your strategically focus on increased diversity and inclusion in your company and industry.

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Please do read my recent related blogs:

• After reading an article in the Triangle (NC) Business Journal that featured the CEOs of our area’s 50 fastest growing companies, with 88% being led by white men, I wrote “Huge Gaps in Diversity in Business Leadership – A Systemic Issue Needing a Systemic Approach, Part 1.”

• And in part 2, I share Five Tactics to Address the Systemic Issue of the Lack of Diverse Business Leaders.

• Guest blog “Competing in Business as an Underrepresented Entrepreneur” contributed by Marissa Perez of Business Pop continues the theme of underrepresented minorities in business senior leadership roles.

Competing in Business as an Underrepresented Entrepreneur

Image via Rawpixel

From time to time, I post guest-written blogs that are pertinent to my consulting areas of diversity and career development.  Within diversity, as a certified LGBT-Business Enterprise via the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, I am very interested in diversity within the small business realm, and want to promote larger companies doing business with diverse suppliers.

This blog has been contributed by Marissa Perez, co-founder and head marketing writer at Business Pop. She has spent the last 10 years honing her marketing skills, and now she wants to share her knowledge with those who have decided to take on entrepreneurship.

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Entrepreneurship is on the rise among underrepresented groups. There are more minority-, women-, and LGBT-owned businesses today than ever before, including women of color and non-white LGBT business owners. Diversity in entrepreneurship is a trend that thankfully shows no signs of slowing. However, the reasons for turning to entrepreneurship aren’t always positive.

Despite increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion, minority, female, and LGBT employees still face bias when it comes to hiring and career advancement. One recent study found that not only do managers tend to hire employees ethnically similar to themselves, but peers are also more likely to recognize the contributions of white men over women and people of color. Meanwhile, LGBT employees continue to face high rates of workplace discrimination with no legal recourse in 29 states. With these barriers, it’s no surprise that so many underrepresented groups are turning to entrepreneurship. Unlike employees, entrepreneurs are in charge of their own career advancement — an enticing prospect for people accustomed to glass ceilings. However, small business ownership isn’t without challenges of its own.

Not only do underrepresented groups have a harder time getting funding, but they also have less access to business networks and skill development. This makes it harder to gain footing in a business landscape where entrepreneurs are competing against everyone from the small business owner next door to major players like Amazon.

While there’s no easy solution to the challenges faced by minority, women, and LGBT business owners, there are a few things entrepreneurs can do to build a business that competes in today’s marketplace. This article will explore a few of them.

Don’t Rush Through Business Planning

The smartest thing entrepreneurs can do is develop a solid business plan. The planning phase is an opportunity to flesh out ideas, test prototypes, and ensure an idea is financially viable.

The planning stage is also when new entrepreneurs should learn as much as possible about running a business. Small business associations are a great place to learn about fundamentals like financing and hiring, but independent research may be necessary for industry-specific information. Luckily, there’s no shortage of info available online. E-commerce businesses, for example, can look to online wikis to learn about topics like warehousing and fulfillment, while entrepreneurs in other fields can search for resources from industry organizations.

Invest in the Customer Experience

The customer experience is one of the most important factors for today’s consumers. It’s also the biggest way that small businesses can stand out from major enterprises like Amazon and Target. While staff are an important part of the customer experience, entrepreneurs shouldn’t put customer satisfaction solely in the hands of employees.

Not only is labor expensive, but employees can’t do their jobs effectively without the right tools. That’s why it’s so important for new business owners to invest in software and technology that allows them to manage sales, inventory, email marketing, and other aspects of the customer experience. While there are a lot of software options out there, many small businesses find that a full-featured point of sale system offers the tools they need in a cost-effective package.

Build an Authentic Brand

Great customer experience is a key element of a strong brand, but it’s not enough to make a business memorable. That’s where branding comes in. A brand shows your customers who you are and what you stand for, and it’s one of the best tools that underrepresented business owners currently have at their disposal.

While minority status can be a hindrance in the corporate sector, it’s a point of leverage in the small business sphere. By highlighting their company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, business owners cane some entrepreneurs worry about alienating consumers, research shows that authenticity is appealing to the 72 percent of Americans who prefer to support brands that reflect their values. While the key to cultivating customer trust and loyalty.

Starting a small business is never easy, and women, minority, and LGBT business owners face more challenges when entering the entrepreneurial space. However, as the growing numbers of underrepresented business owners demonstrate, these challenges may be big, but they’re not insurmountable. By connecting with supportive organizations and taking these steps to build a strong business, entrepreneurs from all backgrounds can succeed in small business ownership.

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Please do check out my related two part series on the under-representation of minorties in senior business roles.

Part 1 – Huge Gaps in Diversity in Business Leadership – A Systemic Issue Needing a Systemic Approach

Part 2 – Five Tactics to Address the Systemic Issue of the Lack of Diverse Business Leaders

Stan Kimer is a diversity consultant and trainer who handles all areas of workplace diversity and with a deep expertise in LGBT diversity strategy and training and with a unique program for long term career development.  Please explore the rest of my website and never hesitate to contact me to discuss diversity training or career development for your organization, or pass my name onto your HR department.  [email protected]