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.