Dave Sobel is host of the podcast The Business of Tech and co-host of the podcast Killing IT. In addition, he wrote Virtualization: Defined. Sobel is regarded as a leading expert in the delivery of technology services, with broad experience in both technology and business.
In this video, Sobel speaks with Jeffrey Bowman, co-founder and CEO of Reframe, a software and services platform for building inclusive employee and customer experiences. They discuss how organizations can transform their workplace cultures to foster diversity.
Transcript follows below. Minor edits have been made for brevity and clarity.
Dave Sobel: I've been publishing numbers related to the diversity of IT services companies' leadership teams for three previous quarters. And here we are, the fourth quarter I've looked at them, and [the numbers] are still not good. They're roughly the same they have been the entire time.
My data is backed up by Diversity in Tech data released in May. ['Sixty-five percent of women working in the tech industry reported that they have experienced a form of bias in the workplace, while an additional 65% of non-white tech workers say the same,' the Diversity in Tech report states.] Forty-five percent of tech workers say they've seen an increased focus on diversity and inclusion within their teams in the last year, but 55% believe their employers could be doing more. [The report further states: 'Just under a third of women (32%) say they do not believe they have the same advancement opportunities as their colleagues at the same level, while 38% of tech workers from underrepresented racial groups said they do not believe they have the same advancement opportunities. To put that into perspective, only 22% of white males said the same.']
So, rather than do a long readout of data that isn't changing, let's talk to an expert.
I'll start off here by saying I normally do these interviews knowing what I'm looking to get out of them and this is the first one I'm doing where it's more about the conversation and the exploration than anything else. I'm talking today with Jeffrey Bowman.
Jeffrey, do you want to give me a little bit about your background?
Jeffrey Bowman: Yeah, sure. Well, first of all, Dave, thanks for having me on your platform with your audience members.
So, I am co-founder and CEO of Reframe. Reframe helps organizations build more inclusive customer and employee experiences. I started my career pretty much on the brand side, and what I mean by that is Pepsi, [Procter & Gamble], Miller, Whirlpool, Dell and Sears. That was over the course of about 20 years, and then I made the transition to Ogilvy.
Along the way, if you think about the '90s [time period], there was this little invention called the internet that became somewhat popular. And so, at the time I was working, a lot of organizations were trying to figure out how to take advantage or how to modernize their organizations. And as I rose through the ranks at a lot of these large, multinational companies, one thing that they were doing was talking about the pipes, but not enough attention was being addressed as it relates to the changing demographics within the U.S.
For me, being a [member of] Gen X or Gen 3, post-civil rights, one of the things that seemed very extraordinary is that a lot of the companies we were working with, or I was working for, were not talking about [demographic changes] at a time when you were at the eclipse of the 2000s and obviously 2010 with the election of President Obama. And so, I became increasingly aware that companies were not really addressing what was happening from a macro standpoint.
And so, by the time I'd gotten to Ogilvy -- and keep in mind I worked across these different companies, helping them with their marketing and go-to-market approach and building their brand -- Ogilvy was working with a company called Ogilvy Consulting. So, now all the agencies for the most part have a transformation and consulting unit. Ogilvy was one of the first. I was helping companies transform from traditional marcom to digital. And then, once again, the use case or the data point was that companies were not paying attention to this macro event. So, we started this organization called Ogilvy Culture. It was the first of its kind that helped companies accelerate growth and addressed the needs of the changing demographics within the U.S., as well as globally.
How to begin to discuss diversity
Sobel: I think, for me, this is one of those areas where I'm learning a new language of talking about this. I think a lot of my listeners are and a lot of people are. I'm learning that different people are at different places on their journey. How do these conversations normally start with somebody that's waking up, saying, 'I need to think about this area of culture, of diversity, of the way that I've run my teams'? How does that initially start when they go from this realization of, 'Hey, I need to do something, because I'm probably highly confused'? How do you walk them through the initial bits of where you start?
Bowman: The interesting part is that a lot of what we do and what we talk about is almost like Marketing 101. It becomes foreign, because the people that you're now talking to are Black and Brown. And that's really the unconscious piece. 'So, wait a minute. The world is changing. As the world went from punch cards to transmissions over wire to digital bits and bytes to supercomputers and clouds, people made that change and continue to make that change. But for some reason, when it [is] about the people coming into my stores, my retail or visiting me through online e-commerce channels, it's just really hard for me to configure and get a grasp around it.' So, it's the people that you really have to focus on -- or the audience or the users, all the buzzwords that we use. They're different than typically [who is included in your customer base]. And so, that's typically the opening point that we begin to talk about and have the conversation.
And then the second piece is, 'Wait a minute. How do I capture my fair share of this new demographic?' No, it's not really a new demographic -- they've just grown. And the way that you typically would do that is through multicultural marketing or DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion]. Typically, that's when things get really confusing, because when you think about those practices, they were introduced to drive integration. So, 'How do I integrate what I'm currently doing and address these needs? How do I integrate these people into my organization so that they stay?' That's the second piece. And oftentimes, that's confusing because those practices were built or designed at a time when America was very monocultural. Whites were more than 80% of the U.S. population, whereas now it's about 60% and decreasing.
And so, when you think about now, 'What do I need to change, first of all? Once I figure out what I need to change, where is that gap, meaning if I have an environment built for folks that were not coming to my store, how do I get them to come to my store or my retail or whatever the case, or buy my product or service? What are those gaps, and then what do I need to do to close those gaps?'
And then once you do that, then it's just testing, learning, having conversations, focus groups, surveys, etc., that ultimately gets you to the right space that you need to be in, to where your product or service addresses those needs and you're getting your fair share, if not more.
Sobel: So, that sounds totally easy, but this is the one area where the danger feels a lot bigger. I'll speak to my own experience in this. Obviously, I'm a white guy. A perceived misstep here feels like it can be a whole lot more devastating than my traditional marketing snafu. If I screw up the things that I'm comfortable with, like I make a bad marketing campaign and it performs poorly or something along those lines, I don't run afoul of cultural issues that feel really scary. But if I screw up here, it has a backlash. It has a danger that's really different. How do you get people to wrestle with that and get comfortable with it -- or not?
Bowman: What's scarier? You have a competitor enter your space that has a better mousetrap, has a value proposition that addresses the needs of more people, and then within five, seven, 10 years, you go out of business. [Poof]. That's your investment. That's your retirement. Investors that have invested in your business -- they're gone. That's No. 1.
No. 2, the thing that I think becomes plausible is the idea of fear, of doing nothing. That can be OK, but, at the end of the day, you want your products and services to be a reflection of who you are. And so, as a company, if you employ [people with diverse backgrounds] and you have a diverse organization, then how can you not address the needs of the people that reflect your organization?
And the third piece, the scary piece: Sometimes people say, 'Well, that's probably because you haven't done your research. You haven't made the investment.' Some of the largest companies that you can imagine don't have data, or they already have the data, but they don't have a diverse team to understand and dissect the data. And so, they do nothing, and they just continue to focus on their core business. So, I think that becomes a challenge for you as a business owner as you talk about growth to your shareholders or to the people that have invested in your business.
The dynamic is shifting so aggressively that if you don't do anything, then you stand to lose market share and you stand to lose your business in terms of going out of business if you don't address those needs.
Guidance for small businesses
Sobel: You've used some language there that implies bigger businesses. But I'm a lover of small business. I like the small guy, particularly in my space. I talk about the IT services companies, of which 93% are less than $5 million in revenue.
How do you guide someone in that space who doesn't have the big company resources and who also might be thinking, 'We're a little company. We don't have a ton of resources. And, of course, we reflect our community. We reflect the people we've hired.' How do you guide those organizations on this exploration?
Bowman: Most businesses are small businesses. Let's just start there. I think it's close to 90% of all U.S. businesses. So, the thing is that it's actually easier, because those small businesses are typically closer to the customer, as we like to say, and those [customers] actually walk into the stores or walk into the places where those businesses exist if they're not purely online. It's actually not that much more difficult, meaning -- I know it sounds simple -- it's just understanding your customer base that exists within your footprint -- especially if you are a small business. Nine out of the top 10 cities are already minority-majority [cities]. The question is: If you have a footprint and you're looking at the people that walk into your store and they're all white, then there's this huge plethora of 40% of the market, at a minimum, that you're not even capturing.
So, imagine if you can increase your business 20%, 30%, 40%. Let's start there in terms of what the financial model looks like: You are not getting that share versus you actually are getting that share. That's a simple math equation. It's not rocket science. It's math. It's modeling. 'Wait a minute now. If I can increase my business another 20% to 30%, what does that look like?' Well, that's No. 1: sizing the opportunity. And that's simple census information that exists in your city, your town or state. Where are they at from a demographic standpoint?
And then sometimes we'll get the rebuttal, 'My product or service is for everybody. We don't see color. We see opportunities.' Well, that's great, too, but aren't people different in some ways? Not everybody is the same. Whether they're black, white, green or red, we all use the census information because that's a value that was placed on one of the largest databases in the world. So, one could argue, why would you ignore that amount of data? If you want to talk tech and modeling, wouldn't you want to start with one of the biggest sources? Just because you start there, it doesn't mean you're going to end there. So, [No. 1] is modeling. In your state, your city, your town, where do those opportunities exist from a targeting standpoint? That's No. 1.
No. 2, take a sample of those people that are demographically different and ask them, 'How am I doing? Do you like my product? For this, where do you go get your product? What are some of the other places or spaces that you shop for this product?' And again, that's a survey, that's a focus group. It's an investment, probably less than $8,000 to $10,000. And then you have a base. 'Well, here are my gaps. Here's what I'm not doing in terms of the overall experience. Here's where the channels are that they actually shop.' All you're simply doing is looking for those gaps. How do they receive communications? What are they looking for in terms of their wants and needs, versus your base? Once you understand your base versus the other [potential customers], then you've got a gap analysis, a simple gap analysis.
And then the last thing: How do you get them in your footprint? Do they come in store? Do they shop online? You are trying to address those gaps because, at the end of the day, you're not getting those people into your stores or your retail or your service environment. And it starts with that financial model. And so, you can ignore that and continue to make decent returns year over year, until something happens. And then once that something happens, you're going to be scrambling to now all of a sudden say, 'Oh, my goodness. Why didn't I do that?'
Framework for progress
Sobel: The other thing that piqued my curiosity and why I wanted to talk to you was [your methodology]. You've put together a methodology and a way of measuring maturity of companies along their journey. Tell me a little bit about [the methodology to] quantify this thing that feels very qualitative.
Bowman: I think what sometimes is viewed as qualitative is ... your value system. That's qualitative. That gets into how you were raised, what you see in terms of ethics, what you see in terms of truths. There are facts and there's one source of truth, and that's a fact. That's very qualitative.
We start with quantitative analysis in terms of understanding what the opportunity is for the total addressable audience. Either you're getting it or you're not. That's math. In most cases, we see companies are not getting it. So, then it becomes, 'Well, do I care?' That's qualitative. It gets back to your mission, your values. And most companies will see the opportunity, but do they care about it? Let's just be honest. That's something totally different that we don't address.
Now, what we started doing was thinking about this: If companies need more rigor [in] the process of change, what is it that is missing? And so, that's why we don't do DEI, we don't do multicultural marketing. And part of it is that most of these organizations need change management practices, not integration practices. And so, with change management, you have a maturity model. Think Six Sigma that measures quality. Think of a digital transformation roadmap that has a maturity model. Its company goes from analog to digital.
And so, what was missing out of this conversation was a maturity model as it relates to culture. So, we went back and looked at social science. Within social science, you have a mono-, multi-, cross-, poly- and transcultural. Those are the five stages of culture. We developed an assessment tool that measures how culturally mature an organization is based on those principles as it relates to social science. And then we test and learn our way into operationalizing that assessment tool. Then in 2019, we developed an algorithm, and then that algorithm [was] basically embedded in a piece of technology that allows for continuous improvement as it relates to culture and helping companies culturally transform from a monocultural organization to a cross- and polycultural organization.
Measuring cultural maturity
Sobel: So, I hope my listeners would be going, 'Oh, this sounds like what we do in technology with operational maturity level models.' Particularly in my space, Service Leadership has a well-known one for the operations of managed services providers. And what piqued my interest is you have a way [that] someone can walk themselves through some assessments on their own and then get engaged with you.
Bowman: Yeah. So, that's coming Q4 [or] Q1 of next year. People say, 'Well, Jeffrey, who helped you do this?' Or, 'How did you do it?' Well, think about my background in terms of marketing, research, both [quantitative] and [qualitative], a lot of the things that we brought over to the space people use multiple times in terms of marketing. We brought it over to the workplace side because we didn't see the rigor. And part of the reason for the workplace piece was because of the addressable data that we were able to capture -- people's attitudes and behaviors. So, it was a necessary innovation.
For people that are familiar with the maturity model, I think it helps see people where they're at because that's the fear we talked about earlier, Dave. It's one thing to say, 'Hey, you need to get X percent of your women on the board, and minorities.' That's great, but once you get them there, how do you keep them there, and how do you make them feel included and in an equitable partnership? Well, you have to change the people that are already there and that have been that source of truth, that have been that source of power from an equity standpoint. And so, we had to have that [maturity model] so that people knew where they [stood] and then give them tools over the course of time that help that organization become more culturally inclusive.
Sobel: So, in a way -- and I don't want to put words in your mouth -- this is [like] digital transformation, just cultural transformation. It's the same methodology, right?
Bowman: That's why I was like, 'Why is it so hard to understand when you've done it through quality [transformation], now digitalization?' Now you need to do it for your workplace, as well as a cultural transformation.
Sobel: That was the 'aha' moment in prepping for this, when I thought about this, saying, 'Wait a second. If I think about it in that view and if I use a maturity model, this can make a lot more sense.' I don't want to belittle the perceived fear, because dealing with people is always harder than dealing with, for example, technology or process or something like that. But it's the same skill set.
Bowman: Yeah, it's the same skill set, but I would say that it's even more critically important to get it right. Because even though you're making those things, whether it be through code, through quality in terms of products, you're making them for people. So, as the people change, this is only going to make what you've designed and made that much more exponentially better. And that's where we get excited.
It's an unfortunate failure as it relates to America and certain parts of the world, but, for the first time in human history, minorities are becoming the majority and already are the majority in some cases. So, it's not something to continue to ignore. It's like, 'Am I going to do it on my own, or am I going to be forced to do it?' And 'forced' meaning competitors are going to do it and then you're going to be forced to respond to the market dynamics.
Sobel: Right. I mean, I keep looking at it from the same [perspective]: I take market data. The market is changing. I must understand the demographics of the market. I must perform with it. Oh, and I've always been in the business of finding opportunity, and all of the data says, You want to outperform by 20%? Be a diverse organization.' The data says that, so learn this skill. I freely admit I don't know this. I've not spent my time thinking about this skill, but now I am. I have new data, and now it's time to go do that.
So, [as concluding] guidance to people that are listening here, how do they get started? What's the first thing they need to be inventorying, thinking about or prepping? If they were to call you up, what's the first set of questions you're going to ask them to deliver on?
Bowman: We did this the old-fashioned way, and what I mean by that is we were not in a dorm room thinking about the problem that people were looking to solve for, wrote a piece of code and just built it in real time. We did it through forming a thesis, and, in the formation of that thesis, we went out and convinced people to test it, then got people to pay us for it, and then eventually built a product that was scalable. So, it was a little bit the old-fashioned way.
So, in the process of doing that, we developed some resources [and] thought leadership. You can buy the book, Reframe the Marketplace. You can use some of our free resources on the website, getreframe.io, and then have a conversation about the questions that you may or may not have as a result of that. Then, if it's something that you want to go deeper on, we are offering a change summit and an accelerator at the back half of this year. And then, should you want to move forward with your organization, and it can be 10 [employees] or less, there's an opportunity to engage from there.
But what we do advocate for is to first do your research on the topic, understand our thesis. Then, for some organizations that may have 50 employees to 500, if you believe in that thesis, you've done the research, you have questions, then feel free to contact us at getreframe.io and we'll help you from there.
Sobel: This seems like a great place to give everyone something to do. There are some free resources in there, the book or ways to engage. So, I really appreciate your time and chatting with me today.
Bowman: Dave, I really appreciate the time. If you have any questions, I would be happy to jump back on as well.
About the author
Dave Sobel is host of the podcast The Business of Tech, co-host of the podcast Killing IT and authored the book Virtualization: Defined. Sobel is regarded as a leading expert in the delivery of technology services, with broad experience in both technology and business. He owned and operated an IT solution provider and MSP for more than a decade, and has worked for vendors such as Level Platforms, GFI, LOGICnow and SolarWinds, leading community, event, marketing and product strategies, as well as M&A activities. Sobel has received multiple industry recognitions, including CRN Channel Chief, CRN UK A-List, Channel Futures Circle of Excellence winner, Channel Pro's 20/20 Visionaries and MSPmentor 250.