Female Majority: 5 Ways Saba Creates Culture of Gender Equity
At a time when observers decry that the lack of parity of women in leadership is not a pipeline problem, but a systems problem, it appears that Saba Software has effective solutions.
The 22-year-old California-based company with 1,400 employees in 26 countries, has a leadership ratio of 55 percent females at the top, says Debbie Shotwell, chief people officer at the talent management solutions provider.
That is because they hire the best person for each job, she says.
“I believe our strategy is we have an open CEO and leadership team looking to find the best person for the job with the best culture fit. We find individuals who are going to shine,” says Shotwell, recipient of the National Association of Professional Women's Humanitarian Award, who is responsible for human resources, learning and development, employee communications, and community relations at Saba.
With more than two and half years at Saba, Shotwell brings to the company 25 years of experience building high performing teams and workplace cultures at Pacific Pulmonary Services, Taleo, PeopleSoft, and AvalonBay. Most recently, she was the Senior VP of People and Culture at BigCommerce.
“The leadership team walks the talk,” Shotwell says, who is part of the team at Saba offering solutions including workplace learning, performance, succession, recruiting, and planning technology for a wide range of industries such as healthcare, finance, retail, hospitality, manufacturing, and technology.
While gender parity is a goal of Take The Lead to reach in leadership across sectors by 2025, the rate of change has been slow.
According to the Washington Post, “The House Financial Services Committee held a hearing last month about gender and racial diversity on boards. After being stuck at 16 percent for several years, the percentage of women-held board seats in the S&P 500 now reaches nearly 27 percent, according to data from ISS Analytics, the data arm of the proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services.”
In startups and entrepreneurship, the move to parity is very slow. According to Fast Company, “This year, Silicon Valley Bank researchers found that 63% of startups have no women on their board of directors, and 47% have no women in leadership positions at all. These are not great statistics, and research shows that female-founded companies generate more revenue than startups that only have men on their founding teams.”
Saba is obviously bucking the trend and embracing parity, perhaps because they work intentionally on developing a welcoming, inclusive culture, where work is fun and meaningful.
“A great culture is where people come to work and make a difference, and their experiences are fulfilling,” says Shotwell.
So how does that happen? Shotwell and her colleague, Connie Costigan, vice president of communication at Saba, offer these insights.
Be transparent, collaborative and friendly. While you can’t mandate personality types, you can find out in interviews before hiring if a leader is personable and can collaborate well with others.
Listen. Shotwell suggests forums in person, online and virtually to offer feedback. “Everyone has their opinion and needs to know their voice is heard,” Shotwell says. “Employee pulse” checks are anonymous and ask questions regularly about the company culture, what employees loike and what needs to be improved. “We’re able to measure these things and keep in tact what works and know how can we can instrumentally improve,” Shotwell says.
Understand individual office cultures. Geography, industry and even different offices have distinct cultures. “In Canada it looks different from California than in India and Germany,” Shotwell says. “We fit for team and see if people will resonate with their teams to find the right culture in the regional area. “ Making the right hires also involves employees interviewing their potential managers.
Beyond lip service. Hiring not just for numbers, quotas or to look diverse on paper, means a culture that is genuinely diverse by design and one that reflects different perspectives. “It’s not just saying diversity and all opinions are heard, but you have to see levels of representation and that everyone has equal air time,” says Costigan
Overhire. While many mid-career and C-level women often hear they are “overqualified,” as it is code for age or gender bias, Shotwell says hiring someone overqualified is a good thing. You need individuals who are already ready for the position’s growth. “You are hiring for attitude, so you need to hire positive-minded people.”
Creating and maintaining a welcoming and equitable company culture is optimal, but how do you check if you are walking into a good culture or if you should run the other way?
“Ask behavioral outcomes questions,” Costigan says. “Ask them to tell you about an employee who is successful and why. That gives you insight into what might be their values and whether that is reflective of your values.”
Shotwell has many suggestions on what to look for, but a simple one can be a red flag. “If the office is a mess, that tells you something about the environment, could you work there?”