Successful marketing is fueled by the ability to step into prospects’ shoes and the ability to generate fresh ideas to engage. Both of those things can be hard to do if you’re operating from your own perspective. Being intentional about seeking other perspectives can really help. I’m thrilled to bring Catherine Dummit on the show today to talk about diversity and inclusion. Catherine is the VP of Marketing at Narvar, and she’s sharing the story that brought her to value diversity and some practical tips on how leadership teams and individual team members can promote diversity and create inclusion.
(1:58) If your customer base is diverse, but your workforce isn’t, how can you relate to those customers?
I was in customer marketing, which, in the nature of the role itself, you’re already engaging with so many different types of people. All of your customers are in different parts of the world from different walks of life.
(7:26) Diversity is multi-faceted, and often our own lack of experience holds us back from understanding what it really means. But growth is possible.
There had been so much written about female oppression and sales and in technology, and so that was my lens when thinking about diversity, which is incredibly incorrect. It’s one piece of the pie, but it’s definitely not the whole pie.
(11:33) Most of us want to do the right thing, but when it comes to big business decisions, it’s all about the bottom line. So it’s important to understand that bringing together diverse people — with their diverse thoughts, ideas, and creative potential — keeps businesses from stagnating.
Diversity can really be a growth lever for an organization, if you let it be one. Ultimately, if you are a business trying to grow, trying to be cutting-edge, beat out the competition, you need the best minds, the best brains in your organization. And if you do not have a diverse management team, that is not going to attract the best people in the industry.
(16:24) A diverse team can challenge each other to come up with ideas and solutions that they never could otherwise — and help prevent tone-deaf mistakes.
I could keep churning my wheels, but I’m probably going to come back to the same three ideas I always have, which isn’t productive. By having diverse groups around me, they encourage me to think beyond my own little bubble and pull away from my past experiences as success metrics or success signals. And it’s just a really awesome thing to be able to do on a day-to-day basis.
(20:30) Sometimes companies, intentionally or not, reduce diversity, equity, and inclusion to a checkbox. To prevent this, you must be intentional, prioritize education, be willing to have open conversation, and embed these practices in your company culture.
We can talk about being intentional, we can talk about education, but a lot of times people — because it may be unfamiliar to them — get uncomfortable talking about diversity and inclusion. We need to start creating that conversation where people are comfortable. They need to know that it’s okay that they may not get it right the first time, but it’s a journey.
(25:27) It’s perfectly okay to start small. Expand your network on LinkedIn and start getting to know people from diverse backgrounds. Talk to your boss or HR and make suggestions that could open up conversations.
We all have to start somewhere. And it’s better to start today than two weeks from today. The days are gonna go by, it’s just whether you use them or not to start learning. Just starting the conversation could lead to something, or maybe something already exists, but you’re also raising your hand saying, “Hey, I’m showing interest,” which I think is really important.
(Laura 1:34) Catherine, I’m so glad we were able to connect, and I am really excited about our topic today.
(Catherine 1:43) Thanks, Laura. I am so excited to be here and talk about the topic as well.
(Laura 1:48) Awesome! I always like to start with just a little bit of background, so people can get to know you and also your role as VP of Marketing at Narvar.
(Catherine 1:58) Yeah, definitely, Laura. So I started my career as an SDR, making 100 cold calls a day, before moving into a sales manager role. And while it taught me a ton, it definitely was not the right fit for me. You know, I quickly learned the value of perseverance and not letting a “no” get in the way of your “yes,” and ultimately how to deal with rejection — which, honestly, I feel like we all could probably get a life lesson in.
But this is also really when I encountered working with zero diversity. There was never any diversity in the room. And I was the only woman — and that’s typically how I thought about diversity in my early career, was male versus female, which is a very naive way of thinking about it. From that point, I moved into a customer marketing role, which was really when my career kicked off. I was in customer marketing, which, in the nature of the role itself, you’re already engaging with so many different types of people. All of your customers are in different parts of the world from different walks of life.
And it was so weird, because I was looking around my own company, and being like, “What the heck is going on here? Because we all look exactly the same. Our customers do not look like this. How can we really relate with them?” And then I spent the bulk of my career, a decade, growing up in martech and adtech, taking on different marketing roles. Technology in and of itself is known for the lack of diversity. And so that was a hard pill to swallow, really seeing that stereotype day in and day out. Like, we’re in the 21st century, and I was so tired of being surrounded by people that looked exactly like me. And it’s so terrible, because ultimately, we want to be able to collaborate with different folks and think differently and share our unique experiences, so that we can show up and challenge each other and create unique ways of solving problems and finding new ways to innovate.
And so ultimately, in my last role, I just, I was sick and tired of it. And I know we’ll talk a little bit around performative inclusivity later on, but that was my breaking point. I was tired of talking the talk, but not walking the walk. And so fast forward to today, where I am the VP of Marketing at Narvar, which Narvar is hands-down the best company that I have ever worked for. We don’t necessarily talk about diversity a ton, because we live it and we breathe it day in and day out. It’s a natural part of the organization, and it has been since day one. Our CEO and founder Ahmed Sharma was born in India and raised there before moving to the States. If you look at our executive team, it’s majority female, which is crazy and unheard of for a company born out of Silicon Valley, but really just goes to show how much of a cheerleader Ahmed is for diversity and women in the workforce.
So a little bit about my role as VP of Marketing here at Narvar. For those that are not familiar with Narvar, I guarantee you’ve actually encountered us. We actually have touched I think 80% of the adults in the US. We are a post-purchase platform, enabling brands to deliver the best customer experiences beyond the buy button online. So we work with companies like DSW and Sephora, Gap, and so many others to create these incredible experiences. So it may be setting clear delivery dates before you actually purchase your item online. Or it might be creating branded tracking pages, so instead of searching for, “Where is my Gap pair of jeans?” and being sent to, let’s say, a FedEx tracking page, it’s a Gap page, and it feels like a seamless part of the whole experience.
And then we also are doing something really cool where we’re offering our brands the most convenient return methods possible. So for those of you that aren’t involved with e-commerce — and to be honest, like, I didn’t know this before coming into Narvar — returns are a huge pain point for brands. They’re expensive. They take up a ton of time and resources. And so we ultimately are offering our brands the most convenient ways to get merchandise back into their hands faster. So it could be as a consumer, like, “Hey, I want to schedule a pickup at my house, instead of letting my items sit at my door for two months.” Or being able to drop off my return at my local Walgreens. We’re ultimately meeting consumers where they are. So it’s just becoming a really easy part of their day-to-day lives. So you don’t have those returns stuck in your house for months and maybe even years, like I’ve been guilty of
(Laura 7:11) So your story brings up another question: Why do you think you’re so passionate about diversity? Is it just, you know, your observations of what was happening? What is really driving the fire behind your interest in it?
(Catherin 7:26) Yeah, I think — that’s a great question. I grew up in the South in the suburbs, which virtually had zero diversity. And, this is going to sound incredibly naive, but as a kid, like, I didn’t know that, out there, there was a whole world of beautiful, different types of people that I just hadn’t met yet. And it wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles as a child, and started interacting with different types of people — and it’s not like a new, like, all of a sudden, there was this giant shift. It was just like, oh, I have new friends and new experiences. But now as I like, reflect back, I’m like, wow, that was a really pivotal point in my life, where I started interacting with different types of people.
But what really sparked the interest was when my family moved back to Atlanta from LA. And it was right in high school. And I’m going to talk about Barack Obama’s first-term election, and this is not a political conversation by any means, but I happened to be in Atlanta during that election. And unfortunately, I witnessed firsthand the amount of hate and fear that just kind of surrounded the city and some of the suburbs. And I got to, like, questioning that, like, why is all of this happening just because he looks different than all of the other men coming before him? And I started having that mindset, like I just couldn’t understand it. And maybe because, you know, I wasn’t raised in that type of household and whatnot. But I just, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
And so that was an interesting experience. And I made my way to college and ultimately into the workforce. And while that was something that always maintained, you know, mindshare in my mind, I entered the workforce thinking more about diversity in the male versus female arena. And I think that was because I started out in tech sales. There had been so much written about female oppression and sales and in technology, and so that was my lens when thinking about diversity, which is incredibly incorrect. It’s one piece of the pie, but it’s definitely not the whole pie. And I was really young. I had a lot of learning that I still had to do and go through. But that was what I defaulted on. And that’s what I compared all my experiences to, like, “Why are there no other women in the room with me? Why are we not hiring any other women? Like, this is weird.”
And then, as that theme, those themes, started to become more and more prominent and consistent in my mind, I started taking a step back and thinking like, “Well, why are there no black people in the room? Why are there no Hispanic people? Why is there no LGBQTIA+ representation?” And that’s when my mind started opening up to: diversity is much broader than just male versus female. And unfortunately, but fortunately, I had to go through this experience to really uncover what that meant. And I had that “come to Jesus” moment, and was able to finally recognize that, yeah, the tech sector has done such a horrible job when it comes to recruiting diverse groups of people, but then also including them. That inclusion piece is really hard.
(Laura 11:07) Yep. I would love to hear your perspective on, from a business perspective, how can building diverse teams really drive company growth? Because I know that, you know, everybody wants to do the right thing. But at the end of the day, it’s the business outcomes that really, you know, create action. So from that standpoint, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
(Catherine 11:33) Yeah, I think that’s such a great question, because to your point, we all want to do the right thing at our core. But when you enter the board room, you enter the workforce on a day-to-day basis, ultimately, the executive team cares most about what is going to add to the bottom line. And I think — it’s interesting, over the last decade, there’s been lots and lots of research done. And I think back to this one Boston Consulting Group Study that essentially cited that management teams with diverse talent saw 20%, higher revenues than those that did not.
And ultimately, you know, you then get your gears turning, and you’re like, “Why is that?” And it’s because we have different backgrounds, we have different ways in which we think, and ultimately, that means we’re bringing different POVs to the table. We’re able to creatively come together, encourage unique ways of thinking, because we all are different, it’s celebrated, it’s very clear. And that leads to innovation, which is really exciting, I think. Like, if I were to enter a room and have six other Catherines, let me tell you, there would not be much innovation coming out of that. Like, I know how I think. And I really lean on some of my other colleagues to help encourage that critical thinking and that creativity, and vice versa. You know, it’s all about how we come to the table and push one another. And ultimately, without the differences in mindsets, you just get this stale way of thinking, which is horrible for creativity and innovation.
And so in that capacity, diversity can really be a growth lever for an organization, if you let it be one. You have these different views, you have these different ideas, these different people, and when you bring it all together, it really creates like such a magical thing. And I also think about recruitment, too, right? Like we’re in the great resignation — or I don’t know if that moment happened, and it’s past, but it still feels like it’s happening. And recruitment is tougher than it has ever been. And I was doing some research, I think a couple of weeks ago, and I was reading a survey that Glassdoor had put out in 2020. And they were saying that more than three out of four job seekers and employees report that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. Which I thought, that is such a great stat, right? Like, ultimately, if you are a business trying to grow, trying to be cutting-edge, beat out the competition, you need the best minds, the best brains in your organization. And if you do not have a diverse management team, that is not going to attract the best people in the industry. So like from a recruitment standpoint, too, it’s like, it’s a no brainer.
And then if you pair kind of those things together — you have diverse management, you have diverse workforce — you’re creating a healthy environment, too, because you’re not only talking the talk, you’re walking the walk. You’re putting the money where your mouth is, saying, “Hey, we actually are investing in diversity. We actually celebrate different ways of thinking, different backgrounds, and so that you can show up as your most authentic self, day in and day out, and contribute, and think creatively, and throw ideas out without judgment.” And ultimately, like that, that’s just like the trifecta of an awesome company, is like the innovation, the great talent, and then also the culture — like, I want to work there. I do work there.
(Laura 15:21) Yeah, that’s awesome. And it’s a good point too, because for innovation to happen, people do have to feel free to express their ideas, and brainstorm, and, you know, if they don’t feel comfortable from a personal standpoint, or valued, they’re not going to do that, and you’re not going to have that.
(Catherine 15:37) Exactly. And then also, kind of to your point, if they’re not comfortable, they’re not going to feel safe showing up and really contributing, which decreases productivity. So also on that, like, executive level mindset, like diversity ultimately equates to increased productivity, too. And like, isn’t that the thing we all are trying to figure out on a day-to-day basis, like how we can get more out of our existing employees?
(Laura 16:04) Right. That’s a great point. So I would love to hear some examples of, you know, how you have seen diversity really benefiting your marketing team and how your team has been able to accomplish what you’re accomplishing through diversity and inclusion?
(Catherine 16:24) Yeah, I think, kind of same thing as the corporate level, right? Like it fosters innovation and creative thinking, which are so core to marketing. But I think about Narvar. We’re a global organization, which means there are a ton of different types of people that are our targeted audiences. And we have to be able to talk to them in a respectful and in a way that resonates. By having a culturally diverse team, ultimately, we’re able to relate to them in a way that we wouldn’t be able to if I had six Catherines around me. Like, it does not foster that sort of environment for our customers and prospects to ultimately convert and add to the bottom line.
So I think about the fact that every day I show up alongside my team, who — they all have incredibly unique backgrounds. They all don’t come from e-commerce. They’re not all from Atlanta, Georgia. They’re not even all from the States. And we are able to come together. And out of that… that safeness that Narva has created, we’re able to come together and throw new ideas out and challenge one another and say, “Hey, this campaign didn’t necessarily work, which is totally fine. It’s really important to test new things, you know, fail fast. But let’s challenge why it didn’t work. Let’s figure out new ways to evolve the campaign, to target new audiences.”
And ultimately, like I could keep churning my wheels, but I’m probably going to come back to like the same three ideas I always have. Which isn’t productive. So like, by having these diverse groups around me, they encourage me to think beyond my own little bubble, and pull away from my past experiences as success metrics or success signals. And it’s just a really awesome thing to be able to do on a day-to-day basis.
(Laura 18:36) Yeah, the fact that you brought up mindset, I think that is a really key component, because with marketing, by definition, you are trying to put yourself in the shoes of, you know, the people that you are marketing to. And just the ability to step out of your own perspective and think from other perspectives is super valuable. So if you’re used to doing that every day, as you’re interacting with your team, it’s, I would imagine, easier to, you know, translate that into, you know, everything that you’re doing.
(Catherine 19:09) Yeah, absolutely. And you know what example I was thinking about prior to getting on this call? I was thinking about the television advertisement that Kendall Jenner did years ago with Pepsi. And where it was — it was so tone deaf, right? And ultimately, that was born out of a room where there were creatives who had to have all been the same type of person who didn’t recognize how incredibly tone deaf that commercial is. Was. And that is the prime example of why you should have diversity in marketing rooms, marketing teams. We need to challenge each other’s thinking. Not every idea is a great idea. And they could have some help.
(Laura 20:01) Yep, I remember that one for sure. Hard to forget, unfortunately.
(Catherine 20:06) I know.
(Laura) So you mentioned a few times, you know, performative inclusion. It’s a real problem, you know, even people that are well-intentioned. So I would love to hear, you know, what tips you have for companies that are seeking true equity and inclusion, not just, you know, posting on social media, changing the profile photo, and all of that.
(Catherine 20:30)Yeah, unfortunately, I’ve lived through this at a couple of companies, and whether it’s intentional or not, it’s icky. And I feel like that is like the only way to describe it. I think we, as an industry — technology industry — we talk so much about diversity, equity, and inclusion, that some companies ultimately default to it being a checkbox. And it’s so much more to that.
When I think about performative inclusion, also, and some of the things that I’ve lived through and witnessed, it gets to a point where it just weighs on you so heavily, and in your soul, you’re like, I cannot do this anymore with good conscience. But you know, thinking about the ways that companies can really seek out true inclusion, I always think first and foremost, there’s the need to be intentional with anything and everything that you’re doing. If you want to, you know, start that narrative around diversity at your company, it’s imperative that you make that a part of your recruiting efforts. It’s a part of just the HR DNA. You train people on how to, you know, go through interviewing, so that we’re eliminating unconscious biases. There is the need to be intentional at every single point if you’re talking and wanting to really be a diverse organization.
I think the next point is around education. And I think oftentimes, this is so often overlooked, because it seems very static. Like, oh, you know, I either will just send out all of these articles, and people can read about it in their own time. But you know, you need to have that intention behind the education. And it doesn’t need to be this full-blown program where you’re bringing in someone to educate your staff on a monthly basis, and it’s going to cost $200,000 this year; it can be something as simple as maybe creating a Slack channel where you’re sharing resources. And it can be those articles, but maybe have a few videos, maybe have a couple podcasts, and then follow it up with maybe a 15-20 minute discussion.
Because I think the next point, conversation, is so, so key to inclusion. Like, we can talk about being intentional, we can talk about education, but a lot of times people, because it may be unfamiliar to them, get uncomfortable talking about diversity and inclusion. And so we need to start creating that conversation where people are comfortable. They know that it’s okay that they may not get it right the first time, but it’s a journey. Like, we do not live in a static world; things are constantly changing. And so we need to be able to be agile with our education and with our conversation. You don’t get like a diploma when you’re like, “Okay, I’ve learned everything there is about diversity, equity and inclusion!” It’s a never-ending journey. And so I think it’s really important to open up that conversation when thinking about education.
And then, you know, if you want to have some element of measurement — which I tend to shy away from, but like it doesn’t hurt to throw in, in your annual employee engagement survey, a question as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion. It can be one of the core questions. I actually think that would be a better way, because it shows it’s core to the company, rather than a one-off survey, which just feels like a one-off program. It’s not embedded. It’s not being taken seriously. It’s not a part of the go-forward culture. So I think those four things would be my suggestion: the intent, the education, the conversation, and then if you want to have measurement, make sure it’s embedded in culture.
(Laura 24:36) Yeah, I love that. You know, a lot of the listeners are not necessarily in leadership. They might be marketing managers, you know, directors, and, you know, mid-levels, so they might not have access to a lot of these options for people in leadership, CMOs, VPs of marketing, etc. What are your tips for individuals who really are trying to make change in their organization? You know, maybe their organization is not anti-diversity, but it’s just they’re not thinking about it. And even, you know, in your own career, how can we connect with people different from ourselves and really be intentional about growing our own network in a diverse manner?
(Catherine 25:27) Yeah, that’s a great question. Tactically, I think LinkedIn is the best place to start. It’s where you get unfiltered access to tons of different types of people. Yes, you have to be intentional with who you’re seeking out. But it’s really easy to learn from folks on LinkedIn. I use that Follow button like it is my best friend. And as a result, like, I’m able to see things that people are sharing that I may not be able to see on a day-to-day basis if I hadn’t followed them. And yeah, I may not necessarily know them today, but if I keep reading their content, see what they’re sharing, comment, like, who’s to say that tomorrow, they won’t reach out, and we’ll form that connection?
I’ve had that happen a couple of times, and ultimately, I’m connecting with executives or ICs that don’t necessarily run in my circle of marketing technology. And I think that’s awesome. Like, access is so important, especially when we’re thinking about diversity. And LinkedIn really enables you to do that. You just need to — you need to feel empowered to take it on yourself to go out and search. And yeah, you may not find the best voices today or tomorrow on LinkedIn, but it’s a start. We all have to start somewhere. And it’s better to start today than two weeks from today. Like, every — the days are gonna go by, it’s just whether you use them or not to start learning.
And then the second piece there, like, if I were, let’s say, a marketing manager who didn’t necessarily sit on a senior leadership or executive team today, what could I do? What would I do? I think there’s a lot of power in ourselves. And sometimes we don’t necessarily recognize that. We get caught up in corporate politics or corporate structure. But it never hurts to go to your HR leader, or perhaps your boss, and suggest, like, “Hey, have we thought, maybe, about having an inclusion committee?” And just starting the conversation that way. It could lead to something, maybe something already exists, but you’re also raising your hand saying, “Hey, I’m showing interest,” which I think is really important.
(Laura 27:52) Yeah, I love that. So basically, just taking ownership and then, you know, owning your ability to use your voice. Yeah, I love that.
(Catherine 28:01) Yeah, I think it’s our responsibility as, honestly, just human beings to look out for one another. And diversity, equity, inclusion is a key piece of that to our narrative today. And so we as humans need to be on the lookout for one another. And so yeah, take ownership. We’re all in this together. And I think that’s really exciting and actually really empowering when you think about it that way.
(Laura 28:28) Yes. Yep. Awesome. Well, I have really enjoyed this conversation! Is there anything else that, you know, maybe I should have asked that’s on your mind that you would like to share?
(Catherine 28:42) No, I think that’s it, Laura. I’ve enjoyed the conversation as well. I have had so much fun. I think just reiterating the key pieces around being intentional, continuously educating, and then encouraging conversation would be my last, my last takeaways for the audience.
(Laura 29:02) Awesome. Well, thanks again! I know the audience is really going to appreciate this. So thanks so much for sharing,
(Catherine 29:10) Of course. Thank you, Laura. I appreciate it.