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July 18, 2023
The ever-changing nature of technology means that partner ecosystems are evolving constantly — and while business strategy is an important aspect of our everyday jobs, facilitating connection and bringing diverse groups of people together is the backbone of the industry.
Promoting inclusivity among teams and partner ecosystems at large has never been more important than it is today — from the individual people you hire on your team, to the companies you partner with. Unfortunately, there is systemic inequity throughout the industry and underrepresented groups often continue to be overlooked. The downfall? Companies and teams may be missing opportunities to create stronger relationships and learn from diverse, new perspectives that can create a brighter, more inclusive future.
To overcome this, here are three key strategies for creating a culture of inclusivity in your teams and across the partner ecosystem.
Tip 1: Encourage open communication.
At its heart, inclusive leadership must drive tangible outcomes. Your main goal should focus on ensuring that your colleagues and teammates feel that their contributions are invaluable to the group, and that their ideas and perspectives are represented well. To inspire this sentiment, it’s important to encourage open dialogue among your teammates and take action to make sure that everyone feels heard. Ideally, every person should feel their contributions are important, and they’re safe to come forward with their ideas.
To that point, creating an emotionally safe environment is critical to enabling successful communication. In fact, Harvard Business Review recently published an article supporting the notion that the most important factor in team effectiveness is psychological safety. While there are multiple pillars to psychological safety, intentionally creating a space where people feel safe to contribute, learn and challenge the status quo is vital. For example, failure doesn’t need to be a point of fear, or a concept to shy away from, it should be an opportunity for people to continue to learn and evolve. By actively making psychological safety an integral part of your company and giving people a safe environment to learn from their mistakes, you will support new growth, innovation and evolution within your team.
Tip 2: Mentor and foster growth opportunities among team members.
Recognizing the skills and expertise from under-represented communities is vital — there’s much potential and many opportunities to learn from the groups that are often overlooked. To overcome inequality in our workplaces, it’s important to recognize the skills of the individuals of all backgrounds on your team. Fostering growth opportunities, particularly for those who may not have those opportunities otherwise, by offering mentorship and sponsorship, and access to new growth opportunities, can be extremely beneficial in supporting the diversity of ideas and creating an environment for stronger collaboration.
I once heard that “People often say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. But actually, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.” This inspired me to ensure my relationships were available and accessible to others, especially for those who wouldn’t otherwise have access to the people they need to fill in gaps and receive mentorship and sponsorship opportunities. As a leader, it’s important to take action to support talented individuals from different communities who are looking to grow within the company — support can include introducing them to people who can help them achieve their goals, offering guidance on challenges or removing roadblocks.
Tip 3: Seize the opportunities, both large and small, to make change.
I am a person that believes in the concept of Kaizen — a concept that embodies continuous improvement. Through this concept, there is no pinnacle for change, and everything, no matter how small or how large, can be improved. In our own teams, and across the partner ecosystem, there are always opportunities to support each other and encourage more diversity.
Several small ways of achieving this can include ensuring there is diversity at the table during every meeting, encouraging everyone to speak and share their opinions during brainstorming sessions and cultivating a safe work environment by taking the time to listen and support others. Additionally, during your next hiring cycle, make sure to not only include candidates of all demographics, but also ensure people from diverse backgrounds are in the hiring committee interviewing them. Beyond our own teams, there’s a huge opportunity to support diversity within the partner ecosystem through supplier diversity and partnering with minority-owned companies in the channel.
Across the industry and within our own organizations, we can do a better job of expanding representation and supporting diversity in the talent we hire, the organizations we partner with and the cultures we create. There’s so much opportunity, particularly in the partner and ecosystem world, to do better. If you’re struggling with how to approach inclusivity, ask yourself: How do we get marginalized groups into the company? How can we provide access to economic opportunities that some may not have otherwise had? How do we provide leadership opportunities to a broader set of talent?
Fostering a culture of inclusivity doesn’t happen overnight, it takes intentional action and collaboration between leaders and teams to create it. The most important — and often the hardest step — is to get started. By asking yourself these key questions, you can start your journey into creating an inclusive culture across your ecosystem.
Prem Iyer is the senior vice president, global ecosystems, at Palo Alto Networks, leading business development with global systems integrator and cloud service provider partners. He has held a DOD security clearance, was a CISSP and PMP and studied information systems at the University of Maryland. He also holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. You may follow him on LinkedIn or @PaloAltoNtwks on Twitter.
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