Episode 145: Sharon Ehrlich on Supporting Authentic DE&I Efforts Through Enablement

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I am Shawnna Sumaoang. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so that they can be more effective in their jobs.

Today, I’m excited to have Sharon from Citrix join us. Sharon, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Sharon Ehrlich: Sure. Hi, my name is Sharon, and I am the senior director of readiness and enablement for Citrix. Citrix is an American company that’s based in Florida. I’m responsible for leading the sales preparedness for our sellers and our systems engineers across Europe, Middle East, and Africa. I’m a native New Yorker and I’ve been living in Europe for over 20 years now.

SS: Well, Sharon, I’m excited to have you join us. One of your areas of expertise is around promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. I’d love to hear from you, what are some of the common mistakes that organizations make when trying to implement impactful DE&I programs? And what are the potential impacts of those mistakes on organizational health?

SE: Well, I think one of the mistakes you see very often is organizations engage in what I would consider feel good, high-visibility diversity and inclusion activities, which is basically a one-off thing: let’s have a cultural food fair, or let’s have a film festival that is showing films from this underrepresented group or something like that. But they’re not part of a broader D&I strategic imperative and people feel when that’s happening as not being really authentic in any sort of way.

The other thing that can derail a D&I program is the actual lack of focus on the I part, which is the inclusion part of that equation. What that effectively means is that people feel like they are an insider or they’re not an insider. If they’re feeling inclusion, they feel like they’re being treated as an insider and that they’re allowed to retain their uniqueness as well, and that they’re able to express themselves authentically. The risk of getting that wrong is basically that you have issues with lower engagement, so effectively disengagement of employees, which impacts productivity and the real realization of any of your strategic imperatives.

SS: Absolutely. I think that’s a fantastic point. You also recently wrote in an article that diversity will not work as long as organizations do not ensure inclusion, to your point that you just made. How can enablement help organizations overcome this and drive that inclusiveness?

SE: Sure. I think one of the areas to start this sort of examination is just looking at your onboarding process. Our people are joining the organization throughout the year and one would and should look at, first off, who’s delivering your onboarding? Are those people representing a diverse group of whatever ethnic demographics or geographical demographics exist in your area?

The other thing is, how are the people who are leading your onboarding actually engaging with the group and interacting with the new hires? Are they allowing all of the voices in the room to be heard? Because this is really setting the stage for how the organization behaves culturally. Those new employees and new hires are going to take that back into the field with them.

Then the other point I’d like to raise here is just an examination of your training materials and the content that you’re using. Does it link actually to the geographical or cultural differences of the participants? Or is it very American-centric or European-centric, depending on where you’re located. This is of particular importance for those organizations that are training global sales forces. This is actually a point of concern when you get the post-onboarding surveys. Oftentimes, you hear that the examples have absolutely nothing to do or are completely divorced from the environment that the seller is working in.

SS: Absolutely. I think those are really good areas to focus because on in order to better incorporate inclusion. Now, you also mentioned in the article something about psychological safety and how critical that is to inclusion. What are some ways that enablement can help cultivate psychological safety among sales teams?

SE: Well, psychological safety is this idea that people feel like they can speak without repercussion. One of the things that I think has to be a focus is on how feedback is delivered and it needs to be delivered in a constructive way. It needs to remove any sort of personal angle to it. In addition to that, enablement can be very supportive in driving home this message that we can learn from our failures.

When you think about role-playing exercises that we often put our sellers through, when they don’t excel at that role-playing exercise, the way that you give the feedback is really important. Is it delivered in a constructive way? Are the participants instructed on how they should give feedback? Is the recipient instructed on how they should receive that feedback? And then more importantly, if the feedback is constructive, how can we learn from it? So, mistakes should really be framed as learning opportunities.

SS: I think that’s been a fantastic way to think about it. Now, you’re also passionate about mentorship and professional development, as am I. I’d love to hear from you, how can enablement help remove barriers to ensure that there’s equity in the opportunity for reps to succeed and advance their careers?

SE: Some organizations have very tight alignment with enablement and recruitment. Oftentimes, what we discover is a typical profile is being recruited for sales roles. If enablement has any way of influencing that, one of the areas where one can be particularly vocal is about looking outside of that stereotypical seller profile that the company or the organization has embraced for hiring. So that’s one area.

Then if you do happen to have a group of hires who are diverse, those who are falling outside of this stereotypical profile need to be included, they need to be brought in. That’s when you have an enablement facilitator or a trainer who can really make that happen, making sure that all of the voices are heard, and that people are assigned mentors. Again, depending on the kind of organization or structure you have up in how aligned the readiness team is with those kinds of activities. Who are the people who are getting mentors, is it the typical sales profile? Meaning, a certain gender, a certain age – who’s allowed to be a mentor?

The other thing is, I think we have to open our mind about the mentoring pool. One thing that I’ve read about recently is that at any single time in a larger organization, you may have five generations of people working there. If you have five generations of folks working under one corporate structure or one business, then how are we going to include them all in our development strategies? Are we making decisions that all of them are worth investing in those who are obviously motivated and who want to grow? Are we focusing our energies on those who fit a specific profile or fall into a very specific age category? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I believe that the professional development should be not limited to any particular group, but across the whole swath of employees that you have no matter which age group or demographic they’re falling into.

SS: I think that’s very important to call attention to. In a recent LinkedIn post, in a similar vein, you talked about the importance of compassion in the workplace. So, from your perspective, how can compassion help people be more effective and authentic leaders?

SE: If we think about compassion, we think about it as having positive or good intentions and genuine concern for others. When you’re able to listen and hear people without judgment, and then really show empathy in an authentic way, what happens is it eventually leads you to greater understanding of the people who you’re leading or the people on your team. What that then drives, and this is what the dividend is, it really invites sharing an openness from your team. This strengthening of the communication is absolutely valuable. Invariably what you end up getting is more creativity around problem-solving, increased engagement, and a lot of openness, not just in a single direction of employee to manager or leader, but also amongst the team and the employee group.

SS: I think that’s fantastic. Sharon, thank you so much for joining us today. I enjoyed our conversation.

SE: Thank you for having me

SS: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know.

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