Episode 31: Promoting Diversity in the Tech Industry…By Design

There will soon be 1 million open jobs in tech but only 500,000 will be filled with the existing labor pool. At the same time, there is a marked gender and racial disparity. Fixing the latter may very well fix the former, according to Dell Chief Customer Officer Karen Quintos. In this episode, Quintos shares how businesses can work to eliminate bias, scale up their diversity efforts, and fill the pipeline for new tech talent.
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Listen In To Learn:

  • How to address the cultural issues that limit diversity in tech
  • How to broaden the labor pool for the next generation of tech workers
  • How technology can connect employees, help examine intrinsic bias, and create dialog
  • How data can drive a better employee—and ultimately, customer—experience

​Diversity and Gender Equality Could Solve Tech’s Talent Gap

By recent estimate, there will soon be roughly one million open jobs in the tech industry. The existing labor pool can only address about half that amount. It’s a looming crisis – and one that could potentially be resolved through driving inclusivity in the workplace. Not only are fair hiring practices the right thing to do, they just make the most business sense.

Karen Quintos is the Chief Customer Officer at Dell Technologies and the founder of Dell’s Women in Action Employee Resource Group. On this episode, she explains how Dell Technologies brings together technology and training to overcome bias, promote equal hiring and equal pay practices, and build a strong and diverse workforce.

Featured Luminary: Karen Quintos, Chief Customer Officer at Dell Technologies

Karen Quintos is Dell’s Chief Customer Officer (CCO), leading a global organization devoted to customer advocacy and experience. Under Karen’s leadership, the CCO organization deepens customer relationships through driving greater engagement, trust and loyalty.

Karen is also responsible for Dell Technologies’ social impact strategy and programs focused on sustainability, inclusion, and applying Dell Technologies’ innovations for good, which have become critical elements to both the employee and customer experiences. In addition, she is a passionate advocate for women, including the advancement of women in the technology industry. Karen was founder of Dell’s Women in Action Employee Resource Group and continues to serve as co-chair today.

Previously at Dell, Karen served as senior vice president and Chief Marketing Officer; vice president of Public Sector Marketing and North America Commercial; and she also held executive roles in services, support and supply chain management. Karen joined Dell in 2000 from Citigroup, where she was vice president of Global Operations and Technology. She spent 12 years with Merck in marketing, operations and supply chain leadership positions.

Karen was listed among the most influential CMOs in the world by Forbes, and named ‘Mother of the Year’ by Working Mother magazine. She resides in Austin, Texas, with her husband and three children.

My vision for technology is… that it will continue to drive progress in how we work and how we solve societal issues that threaten innovation. There is an increasing opportunity to leverage technology to drive an inclusive workplace equipped with the skills needed to meet digital transformation goals.

— Karen Quintos, Chief Customer Officer at Dell Technologies

Luminaries Hosts

  • Mark Schaefer Author, Consultant, College Educator. Mark is a leading authority on marketing strategy, consultant, blogger, podcaster, and the author of six best-selling books, including "KNOWN." He has two advanced degrees and studied under Peter Drucker in graduate school. Some of his clients include Microsoft, GE, Johnson & Johnson and the US Air Force
  • Douglas Karr Technologist, Author, Speaker. Pre-Internet, Douglas started his career as a Naval electrician before going to work for the newspaper industry. His ability to translate business needs into technology during the advent of the Internet paved the way for his digital career. Douglas owns an Indianapolis agency, runs a MarTech publication, is a book author, and speaks internationally on digital marketing, technology, and media.

NARRATOR: Luminaries- Talking to the Brightest Minds in Tech.
MAN: And my hope is that we come together to share more than technology and expertise and products, but that we share a vision of a future that is better than today, a vision of technology as the driver of human progress.
NARRATOR: Your hosts are Mark Schaefer and Douglas Karr.
MARK SCHAEFER: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Luminaries, where we talk to the brightest minds in tech. This is Mark Schaefer with my friend and co-host Douglas Karr. And Doug, finally we’ve got someone on the show I can really understand.
DOUGLAS KARR: I– well, we’ll see.
Oh. Whew.
MARK SCHAEFER: Nice one, Doug.
DOUGLAS KARR: That’s nice.
MARK SCHAEFER: Nice one, Doug. So we’ve been talking to all these amazing, amazing technology people, and I love it, and I’ve learned so much. But I’m a marketer. And today, we’re going to talk to a wonderful woman who is a marketer at heart. And I’m so excited because everybody– I’ve been bragging that I get to talk to Karen Quintos, and everybody said, she is so awesome, she is so awesome. And she’s here with us today.
Karen is Dell’s chief customer officer. She’s leading this global organization devoted to customer, advocacy, and experience. But she’s also responsible for Dell’s social impact strategy, applying Dell’s technology for social good. And we’re going to talk a lot about that today. She’s also the founder of Dell’s Women in Action Employee Resource Group, and continues to serve as co-chair today.
And I’d like to start with that, Karen. First of all, welcome to our program.
KAREN QUINTOS: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
MARK SCHAEFER: It’s just– it’s amazing to have you here. And you know, I think I’m so excited to talk to you, we could go on for hours. And we already had a great conversation even before we started to record. But I’d like to start with this idea of diversity in tech, specifically women in tech. This is an issue that’s everywhere.
We’re recording here at South by Southwest. You might hear some ambient noise here because it’s just electric. And we’re at the Dell installation here, so you might hear people talking all around us. But you know, women in tech, it’s a huge issue this year. What are some of the root causes for the lack of diversity in tech, lack of diversity in the tech industry?
KAREN QUINTOS: Well, we’ve done a lot of research in this area, Mark and Douglas, and while I think it’s quite simple, it’s a very complex problem. I think it comes down to the lack of role models. I think it comes down to a pipeline problem, especially in where some of these new and emerging jobs are going. I think it comes down to a cultural bias issue that technology and, candidly, lots of companies and organizations have been facing. And I think, you know, we have to go address these things both at a company level, as well as at a societal level.
So you and I were chatting earlier, I’m incredibly pumped with just the optimism and the momentum that came out of International Women’s Day. And I really love the fact that men and women combined are really understanding the critical business and economic imperative for why this really matters. And I think that– well, clearly we’re seeing some positive signs around the momentum. We can’t move fast enough. But I think those are really the biggest challenges that we’re facing.
DOUGLAS KARR: You know, a few months ago, we interviewed the pioneer, Dr. Orna Berry, which was just absolutely fascinating.
MARK SCHAEFER: So inspirational.
DOUGLAS KARR: Yeah, she’s great. She’s great.
MARK SCHAEFER: She’s amazing.
DOUGLAS KARR: And one of the things that Dr. Orna Berry was dismayed at was the slow progress that was happening with respect to this. What’s a source of optimism for you for the direction that we’re heading?
KAREN QUINTOS: Well, I think there’s a lot. There’s a lot of data points around it. I mean, I think you see– I was just reading last week, you know, the number of women that are on boards now over the last five years has gone from 11% to 15%. Again, too low, but you’re starting to see momentum there. We’re seeing significant increases in the number of women that are CIOs. I think they’ve gone from 16% to 20% over the last year.
You’re starting to see countries step up and put some real meat behind, whether it’s board representation or just kind of gender equality from a pay perspective. At Dell, you know, we have been addressing the gender pay issue for nearly a decade now. So it’s something that’s built into our HR practices and everything. So we’re fortunate to be working for a company that believes in this.
Internally at Dell, we have seen some really strong momentum also in terms of the number of women representation that we have at executive level, university relations hiring. So to be very honest with you, I’m kind of beyond the, oh my gosh, there’s not enough progress. I’m in the camp of, look, let’s get together, let’s celebrate the successes. I just rattled off a couple of data points where we’re seeing those. And let’s figure out how do we come together with some of our customers and partners in a larger, more scalable way so we can accelerate the momentum in a world that is finally recognizing the value that women bring to the business world and to technology.
MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah, I love that, that we’re finally at a point where we can start talking about things, you know, optimistically, and there’s a wave. And so that’s just great to hear. And really, there’s an economic imperative for this, too. I saw a study this week that showed where the greatest tech labor shortages is, and Austin is number one. So this is something that every tech company, whether you’re in Austin or anywhere in the world, it’s got to be addressed because it’s an economic imperative, isn’t it, Karen?
KAREN QUINTOS: Mark, I actually think this is what is getting CIOs to step up and take notice. So look, I think really great CEOs– and I work for one of them– have understood the societal reasons why you need more women and underrepresented minorities in your company. And we’ve been doing a lot of work with that, like I said, over the last decade.
I think what is now hitting home is the business imperative. So there are one million open jobs in technology over the next several years. 500,000 of those jobs can be filled by the existing labor pool. If we do not figure out how to broaden the labor pool, if we don’t figure out how to find women and underrepresented minorities in places where we haven’t traditionally recruited or found them, if we don’t figure out how to increase the pipeline– I was in Singapore last week, I was in London the week before. Everybody, every CIO is facing a war on talent. They can’t find enough of this talent to fill these unmet jobs.
And that is, ultimately, why we start to engage with them in these conversations around, well, Dell, what are you doing, how can you help us, how can we work together to broaden this labor pool. And in order to do that, you’re going to have to change and address some of the cultural paradigms that are out there around bias, around what roles in technology can really do and enable, and create a place where you can really be an employer for all and fill this critical, critical unmet need.
MARK SCHAEFER: You know, I hadn’t thought about it that way before, but really that’s an interesting role you play as chief customer officer, too, because it’s not just about your products and technology, it’s like raising the level for everyone to succeed by sharing best practices about some of these ideas.
KAREN QUINTOS: As well as partnering with our customers in areas of shared alignment and shared passion. So you know, I always like to think about the ultimate customer relationships. The top of that pyramid is when you can align around purpose and values. You know, the bottom of the pyramid are what I call the basic fundamentals. You’ve got to have great products, you’ve got to deliver them, you’ve got to do all those things that traditionally mattered. And then you just move up the stack. And at the top of the stack is, like I said, purpose and values.
So I mentioned I was in Singapore last week. I had a conversation with a top CIO in a top global company, and we spent 45 minutes out of the 60 talking about how we can come together and partner around the critical area of getting more women and underrepresented minorities in STEM. And then, for the last 15 minutes, we talked about our great cloud products and solutions and, you know, PCs and laptops and everything. But he wanted to talk to us about some of the things that were really top of mind for him when it comes to how, again, he addresses this unmet need.
DOUGLAS KARR: Well, working on that supply chain for talent, right, we enjoyed learning about Alice, which was a special Dell-led project to encourage female entrepreneurship. What are the programs that you’re most proud of that Dell uses to, you know, obviously promote inclusion and diversity?
KAREN QUINTOS: Well, Alice is the platform, you know, that we built for women entrepreneurs because we were constantly hearing this I can’t get the access to the resources that I need in order to grow and scale my business. And Alice, Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz who built that were great partners and everything with us.
About seven or eight years ago, we were the first technology company working with Catalyst, a nonprofit female business think tank organization around unconscious bias. At the end of just this past year, we have trained 100% of our executives. We are now setting a goal– we’ve set a goal that we’re going to get that to all people managers by the end of this year, and by the end of next year we’re going to get it to all employees.
And it’s just a open and honest place to have a dialogue around the biases that we all have. And we all have them, but it’s how you recognize them and how you manage through them. So I’m super positive about that program. I’m positive about the goals that we have set, again, at an executive level, at a pipeline level, at a university relations level. And we’re seeing some momentum there.
We have one of the strongest employee resource groups and affinity groups across Dell Technologies. We have 13 affinity groups. They range from wision– I’m sorry, wision– women to Asians to blacks to planet to the connected workforce, so our remote workers. This has been a great opportunity for us to bring like-minded individuals together, where they just have safe places where they can go and have open dialogues and conversations with individuals that are just like them.
MARK SCHAEFER: That’s cool. How do you use technology to bring those people together? Because it’s probably global in nature, right? You want encourage everyone who has that interest.
MARK SCHAEFER: Is there– how do you use Dell technology to kind of enable some of those like-minded groups?
KAREN QUINTOS: Well, when you think about the Conexus as one of our employee resource groups, I mean, these are individuals that all work remotely that come together. So technology plays a key role in enabling them to interact and, you know, get on video conferencing and those types of things. Social media, you know, leveraging a number of the social media channels that we have.
We also bring them together physically. So just this past year, we did four employee resource group events at a regional level. This year, we’re going to do a global one. We bring them all together, and they just talk about best practices. They talk about how they are leveraging their employee resource group to deliver business value to Dell.
We get a ton of innovative ideas. With one of our up-and-coming next-generation, which is our Gen Z and millennial employee resource group, we do an innovation contest where we have hundreds of teams around the world, they submit projects, we do a big crowdsourcing thing, we bring the top three teams in here to Austin, Texas, we do a competition, we pick the best team, and then we’ll utilize that idea and roll it back into our business. So there’s a lot of work that, you know, that we do around business value and networking and everything with them, and technology plays a key role.
MARK SCHAEFER: That’s so fascinating. I love that.
DOUGLAS KARR: I want to do that.
MARK SCHAEFER: I do, too. I’m sort of a student of that sort of dynamic in a company. I just– I love that Dell’s giving your employees the opportunity to do that. I do want to take this opportunity, though, because I am a marketing guy and I’m, you know, talking to this amazing resource in front of me here, and I’ve worked on a new book, I have a new book out that talks about how difficult it is to really maintain loyalty today. There’s been research from McKinsey and other places that shows there’s a decline in loyalty. We’re in a shop-around society.
And so you’re, like, working against that gale-force wind. So I’m just delighted to be able to talk to you about Dell has such a wonderful brand and such devoted customers. How do you maintain that loyalty in this world today? What are some of the key things that you’re excited about at Dell that is bringing those customers together?
KAREN QUINTOS: Well first, we have a huge advantage because we work for our founder and CEO that is customer-obsessed. Customer-centricity and customer-first is in our DNA. We do an annual Tell Dell survey, and greater than 95% of our employees all answered favorably to the question, my leader does what it takes to help customers. So it’s in our culture, and a huge amount of credit that goes to Michael Dell himself.
As a matter of fact, I’ll tell you a funny story. When I was in Singapore last week and I was meeting with a large mining company, their chief commercial officer swung by when I was talking to their CIO and her staff. And he said to me, you know, I’ll never forget when Michael Dell called me personally about a deal that we were doing with you. And he said it was a lot of– it was good money, but it wasn’t huge money. And he said, I couldn’t believe that the CEO called me to talk about how we could close the deal, other business that we could do for them, how else could we help you solve some of the big business challenges that you have.
And this gentleman said to me, he goes, I share that story all the time with my team because I’m like, if the CEO and founder of Dell Technologies can call me and really advocate on behalf of how he wants to help us, we should all be doing that. So we have a huge advantage when it comes to that. And look, our sales teams, we have a really, really strong direct sales team. We have a strong channel route to market program also. But these are the individuals that make the magic happen. And they’re the ones that are driving relationships, driving stickiness.
My team, as chief customer officer, is really here to serve them, because if we serve them, they will help serve our customers. So I’m a huge believer in enabling that. And again, it’s part of our culture and our DNA.
MARK SCHAEFER: I love that story because the key, the core concept behind my book is the customer is the marketer.
MARK SCHAEFER: And we just heard that, didn’t we?
KAREN QUINTOS: They’re calling the shots.
MARK SCHAEFER: Yeah. And all it takes is that human touch. A phone call–
MARK SCHAEFER: –can just turn everything around. And now that customer is your marketing department.
MARK SCHAEFER: What a wonderful story.
KAREN QUINTOS: Can I tell you another story? I also think when we fail our customers– and we fail our customers from time to time because we are not perfect, but it’s how we show up, it’s how we take accountability, it’s how we take responsibility, and how we do what’s right to help them. And I actually believe, in those situations, that customer being a marketer for us and an advocate of our brand is every bit as strong as ones where we’ve had periods of really, really strong ongoing success.
DOUGLAS KARR: Let’s talk about customers a little bit more. Obviously, time is a premium, and they’re not paying attention to brands. You talked about, Mark talked about the loyalty, you know, factor. You know, how do you, as a customer-centric leader within a company, how do you measure and how do you attain greater engagement with these people that are just getting interrupted and sidelined every second?
KAREN QUINTOS: Well, customer data plays a big role in how we do that, Douglas. I mean, it’s– one of the crown jewels that Dell has being a direct to business customer, again, in addition to our channel partner, is the fact that we have these rich customer data that we are at the early days of figuring out, you know, how do we mine that, how do we unlock the true customer value around that. That is a big responsibility for my team.
We’ve been spending the last two years in what I would call doing kind of the foundational work that needs to get done that a lot of companies fail to recognize, which is the data has to be governed, the data has to be clean, the data has to be connected. You have to bring it together across multiple silos. And we’ve done a lot of work in the last year or two around doing that. And when you do that, you can unlock the real sources of customer value across that entire customer experience. And that’s the work that we’ve done.
So we’ve built models and algorithms that tell us what combination of things, if we do them really well, create stickiness, you know, build those relationships with our customers. We do a lot of work in really understanding a customer’s environment. So who are those key decision makers? And that’s really complicated today, right, because the decision makers have gone beyond the CIO to the CMO, to the business unit leaders, to, you know, the folks that are in the business that are also responsible for IT. So we’ve done a lot of work in understanding kind of the intelligence, and then building advocacy programs and other mechanisms where we can touch them on a more frequent basis.
MARK SCHAEFER: Well, Karen, this has been such a wonderful conversation, and we could just go on for so long. But I would like to end our discussion on sort of a personal note. Doug and I are both fathers of daughters. Doug’s daughter’s working for a startup. My daughter is an entrepreneur. I just could not be more proud of her. And–
KAREN QUINTOS: Maybe they want to join our Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network.
DOUGLAS KARR: Absolutely.
MARK SCHAEFER: I think that’s a great–
KAREN QUINTOS: You should get them signed up.
MARK SCHAEFER: –that’s a great idea. And so I would just love to hear from you, I mean, you’re someone who has been such an inspiration, just creating such an amazing career in a male-dominated industry. What advice would you give to our daughters and the other women working out there today that, you know, want to make a dent in the world?
KAREN QUINTOS: Oh, you know, first of all I would say, as a mother of three children, two of which are daughters, I would give– I give them this advice all the time, and I give the same advice to my son, which is, look, believe in yourself, go for it, have the confidence in knowing and doing what is right. And I think the other beautiful thing about this next generation of employees is they are teaching the world to be grounded in purpose and values. And that is something the world needs more of today than anytime in the world. And nobody knows how to do that more than girls, than your daughters, my daughters. And I say go for it, and the world is open to any opportunity that you see in front of yourself.
MARK SCHAEFER: Karen, such a delight and honor to talk to you today.
MARK SCHAEFER: Thank you so much.
KAREN QUINTOS: Thank you, Doug. Thank you, Mark.
MARK SCHAEFER: We’ve just really enjoyed it. This is Mark Schaefer and Douglas Karr. We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Luminaries, where we talk to the brightest minds in tech. And we will see you next time.
NARRATOR: Luminaries- Talking to the Brightest Minds in Tech, a podcast series from Dell Technologies.