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Gavriella Schuster to Focus on Enabling Diversity, Gender Equity in IT

After departing Microsoft, Schuster has plans to help partners, investors and prominent associations.

Jeffrey Schwartz

August 18, 2021

11 Min Read
Schuster plans

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Gavriella Schuster

Now that Gavriella Schuster has exited Microsoft after 25 years, she is revealing the next step in her career. Schuster is joining several boards and will advise various companies on bringing gender equity to their respective organizations and ecosystems.

(Editor’s Note: Schuster is a charter member of the Channel Futures DE&I 101 list.)

The former Microsoft channel chief, who stepped down in March, recently confirmed that she is leaving the company this month. Schuster has indicated that she would continue to focus on gender equality, but until now, has refrained from disclosing specifics. Schuster is making her plans official on Wednesday in a post on her website.

Schuster plans to become an adviser to various organizations, IT solution providers and other businesses. In her roles, Schuster will help organizations advance their respective efforts to achieve equity and inclusion and in their ecosystems.

Among the boards of several prominent associations Schuster is joining are Women in Cloud, Women in Technology Network (WIT), International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), the SHE community and the Women’s Business Collaborative.

Also, Schuster will sit on the board of Corent Technologies, a company that provides automation software for MSPs and ISVs. Schuster will also become chairman of the advisory board of Artificial Solutions, a provider of conversational AI software. And she is joining the advisory board and becoming a strategic adviser to private equity firm Berkshire Partners. At Berkshire, Schuster said she plans to focus on bringing more diversity, equity and inclusion into the tech industry.

“This is a big change for me to be able to do something that I am truly passionate about, and use my voice and you, my network, to drive change,” Schuster noted in her announcement. Schuster recalled the common experiences that she and many women leaders in the IT industry have faced when they “felt dismissed, disconnected, overlooked or invisible.”

Schuster described these incidents as “microaggressions” that individually were small. “But over time [collectively they] built up into insurmountable walls for many of these women to progress and succeed in their teams.” That’s when she determined that the best way to push back was to “become an ally and to act with greater intentionality.”

Power of ‘Allyship’

Schuster wants to make this the focus of her work moving forward. “I have decided that I want to spend all my time building momentum, educating people and raising their awareness to the power of allyship and the behaviors allies demonstrate,” she noted.

Feyzi Fatehi, Corent Technology’s chairman and CEO, has known Schuster for about a decade. Upon learning she was leaving Microsoft, he wanted her to help Corent have as diverse and equal a culture as possible. “I am a father of two daughters,” Fatehi told Channel Futures. “I want my daughters to live in a world that is more equal, and for them as human beings to have the same opportunities to be successful. Adding Gavriella Schuster with her unique capabilities, reputation and following will be a tremendous benefit to us.”

Per Ottosson, CEO of Sweden-based Artificial Solutions, also shares that view. At Artificial Solutions, which has a conversational AI solution designed to enhance Microsoft’s AI capabilities, 37% of the workforce is female. And Artificial Solutions is ahead of the industry average. According to a recent World Economic Forum report, only 22% women hold jobs in AI. In machine learning, it’s only 12%.

“The slanted gender demographic in AI is appalling, and we are determined to do something about that as it effects work results and the solutions,” Ottosson told Channel Futures.

In advance of revealing her plans, Schuster discussed them with Channel Futures earlier this week.

CF: So, what’s next?

GS: The primary thing that I’m focused on is driving for gender equity, both in terms of representation and pay in high tech. I’m hoping by being on the boards of multiple organizations that I have the opportunity to bridge and bring a lot of these organizations together so that we collectively have a more powerful voice in the market and can drive for what I see as two primary things that need to be done. One is much stronger allyship, enabling everybody to understand what it means to be an ally to diverse underrepresented groups, to create a more inclusive environment. The second…

…thing [I want to focus on] is driving for reporting transparency. Creating a stronger governance and consistent taxonomy for all organizations to report their diversity employment numbers, as well as their pay salary ranges, so that we can get to both pay equity and diverse representation.

CF: With Berkshire, are you hoping to get more diversity in terms of the companies that they’re investing in? Or the people those companies are employing?

GS: Both. And then helping them within their organization, also, make sure that they have stronger diverse representation and inclusion programs.

CF: How do you go about doing that?

GS: That’s why being part of the She Index [is important]. The She Index is an index supported by EY. And it is today implemented in Norway and Sweden. It is required for public organizations to report their diversity numbers. What we’re trying to do is expand that index to extend across Europe, Africa, and Asia. And I’m hoping through the Women’s Business Collaborative, to bridge into several of the other groups. The challenge is that there’s multiples. So, we’re not getting to a consistency in taxonomy. And we have no mandates in many countries for organizations to report. What we end up with is only those organizations that think they’re doing something good report, and then you have very skewed numbers, and you also don’t have a consistent taxonomy. Utilizing my connections through all of the other organizations that I’m engaged with, [can] help Berkshire identify the potential organizations that they could invest in and a set of requirements of those organizations in terms of getting to a diverse representation.

CF: Are you basically setting yourself up as being like a consultant?

GS: I’m setting myself up as a consultant. But my objective is more for the industry, rather than focused on me. The first 35 years of my career was about growing myself. This is more about making sure that I’m giving back and making real change.

CF: As you leave Microsoft, do you feel it is in a place where you think it should be when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion?

GS: I think it’s a work in progress. They think it’s something that is important. They are reporting, they are managing and measuring it. And they are trying to move the needle and create a more inclusive environment and build out inclusion programs within the organization. I think they’re definitely a leader within the industry and moving in the right direction.

CF: Do you think companies like Microsoft are doing it for the right reasons?

GS: I do think they’re doing it for the right reasons. The primary reason is — and there’s multiple research reports on this–that organizations that actually have not only diverse representation, but an inclusive environment, that encourages the individuals to speak up, to share their points of view, to share their ideas, generate greater innovation and higher profitability. And I do think that Microsoft is doing it for the right reasons.

CF: Do you get the sense that most companies want to get there or is there still a sizable portion of businesses that either don’t want to get there or just don’t see it as a priority?

GS: I think there’s a sizable set of organizations that don’t see it as a priority, and don’t really understand the business value that it would bring to their organizations. If you ask the majority of leaders: ‘are we trending up or trending down?’ I think many would think we’re trending up. The reality is, in terms of female representation in tech, we’re trending down. And we’ve been on a downward trajectory. The pandemic has really made that worse. Also, digital transformation is making that worse in terms of the fact that there’s a disproportional impact to women and people of color, as organizations adopt digital transformation and the jobs that they displace. I don’t think that most leaders understand the crisis that we’re facing, and the actions they should take to address that or need to take to address that.

CF: At a high level, what can these businesses do to offset the shift that has gone in the wrong direction?

GS: A number of things. As they turn to create these hybrid workspaces and flexible work arrangements, they need to think about how they’re accommodating for diverse populations. So, are you now…

… in a position with a hybrid work arrangement to hire people in parts of the world or parts of the country where there may be better diverse representation than the location that your headquarters is, or where you were formerly hiring? And do you have a requirement for diversity? How are you managing and measuring the diversity in your organization? Then, when you think about inclusion programs, what programs do you have? A recent report from Capgemini that said 90% of organizations don’t have inclusion programs. You’re not going to really be able to leverage any diversity that you have, if your organization itself isn’t inclusive and] isn’t letting people really express themselves.

CF: What about pay equity? Are we seeing any progress there at all?

GS: I know that the statistics and data that we have shows that women earn 70 cents on the dollar as men, that black women earn 60 cents on the dollar and that Hispanic women learn earn 50%. We’re not in a great state. I think the way that we get there is each organization should be looking at what their salary ranges are. Over time, organizations should be required to be more transparent by publishing the salary ranges. If organizations are required to publish the salary ranges of their jobs, then individuals know what they should be expecting when they come in, and they know what to negotiate for, if that’s required. And they know if they’re getting paid fairly to the market, on the jobs that they do.

CF: You mentioned that in the AI industry, it’s predominantly male. How does that compare to other segments of the tech industry?

GS: Generally, female representation is down in the mid 20% to 25% range, which is down from where it was, when I first started in the industry in 1991, where it was more like 36%. So, it’s generally not anyplace close to 50%, which is where you would expect, based on the overall gender, diversity of the, working population.

CF: And you would think something like AI, which is one of the hottest growth areas and one of the newer areas for that matter, wouldn’t be so low.

GS: Yes, it was shocking to me, and I felt that’s a great place to start. It’s a newer part of the industry. It’s something we can do something about through the Women in Technology network and an organization called Directions Training. They are offering scholarships to 1,000 women to learn Azure fundamentals and go on to learn more about AI. Programs like that geared towards women, [can] help them understand there’s opportunity in this sector of the market. We’re going to provide training, we’re going to give internships, we’re going to get [them] engaged.

CF: Do you plan to focus your efforts on the Microsoft ecosystem, per se?

GS: I will primarily focus my efforts on the Microsoft ecosystem. It’s the largest ecosystem, I know so many organizations, partners, people in the ecosystem and I have such profound respect for the businesses that they run. There was one thing that I feel like I didn’t do while I was at Microsoft that I just always wanted to, and we just didn’t make enough progress. That was peer-to-peer engagement — enabling partners to find other partners who either have complimentary services to their own, or complimentary geographic locations, and helping them build and expand their businesses. And I’m hoping now with and through the IAMCP, where that is a key part of their value proposition out to the ecosystem, I can help them build a lot of that foundational kind of systemic engagement. Just being able to connect the dots to help an organization find who has [a specific] capability, providing them with some templates so that they can more easily engage and set up contracts and do opportunity sharing and go to market together. There’s so much that already exists. We just have to put it together and package it to make that easy.

 

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email Jeffrey Schwartz or connect with him on LinkedIn.

 

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About the Author(s)

Jeffrey Schwartz

Jeffrey Schwartz has covered the IT industry for nearly three decades, most recently as editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner. Prior to that, he held various editing and writing roles at CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek and VARBusiness (now CRN) magazines, among other publications.

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