21Jan24 Roundup: We Need to Talk About the Elephant

We need to talk about the elephant at the door. Plus: More good news, content from Supportlandia, and Bad Job Bingo.
21Jan24 Roundup: We Need to Talk About the Elephant

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News from Around Supportlandia (and Beyond)

We Need to Talk About the Elephant[1]

I had originally planned for a wide range of irreverent and snarky news to open this edition of the Roundup, but events in the wider CX community changed my plans for the main story. So instead we’re talking about one topic that’s much less fun and much more awkward.

Because we need to talk about the elephant. And I don't mean the elephant in the room – I mean the elephant at the door, guarding the room.

Let’s say advancing through your career is like walking through a series of connected rooms. And let’s say you’re about to walk into your first room, for your first job, but there’s a baby elephant at the door. That’s strange, you think, but it’s okay! It’s a chill elephant and you, like most people, can get around it. You pat the elephant on its cute little head and walk confidently into the room.

Sometime later, it’s time to go into the next room. You’ve been working hard, leveling up in your job, and you’re ready for a promotion. And even though you know the elephant at this new door is a lot bigger, it’s fine! You had a great boss who taught you a lot, and you’ve attended some high-quality elephant-wrangling conferences. You have some solid talking points; a few people you met at the conference even promised to put in a good word for you with the elephant!

But when you get to the new door, there’s a bunch of people there. A very small few seem able to go right in, fist-bumping the elephant’s trunk like they’re old pals. The rest are kind of milling around, trying to persuade the elephant to let them in, asking each other, "Hey, isn't it weird that there's an elephant here? How do I get around it?"

So there you are, a newly-trained elephant wrangler, and you have two choices: grab onto as many people as you can and take them with you past the elephant and into the room, or ignore them and go in alone, hoping they figure it out for themselves.

Oh but actually, there’s a third choice, and it seems that a few of the CX folks inside that last room are picking it. They’ve decided to try to teach the elephant a new trick: keep everyone else outside. We say the room's full, so it's full.

On Thursday, Scott Tran, the founder and manager of Support Driven (a major Slack community for CX professionals, of which I am a member), announced that Support Driven was making changes to its annual Leadership Summit based on feedback from community members in senior leadership positions.

The Leadership Summit is billed as an event “where Heads of Support and Senior Support Leaders level up, together.” Since last year, attendance at the Summit has been limited to senior leaders who apply and are accepted to the conference (at the request of – you guessed it – community members in senior leadership positions).

This year, however, attendance at the Leadership Summit would be limited to 50 leaders total, with tickets available only to those who are already members of Support Driven’s invite-only Senior Leadership group.

Of course, this announcement prompted some questions:

  • There’s an invite-only senior leadership group? How does one get an invitation to this group?[2]
  • How is a “senior leader” defined?
  • What is the purpose of a conference if it has such a limited audience?
  • Who does a conference like this really serve?

To his credit, Scott answered our questions to the best of his ability, heard our concerns, and by Friday afternoon had announced that Support Driven was reconsidering the changes in attendance limits.

First, what’s good: this is how things are supposed to work in a healthy community. Someone proposes a change, and the community gives feedback on that change. If the community as a whole doesn’t like it, it doesn’t happen. The system worked.

However, and this is a big however: I’m really disappointed that there are folks in our CX community who looked around the room they managed to get into despite the elephant, saw an already small group of people who were mostly just like them, and thought, “Nah, this isn’t exclusive enough.”

How do I know that room was already pretty small and homogenous? There’s data!

The percentage of women occupying leadership positions shrinks the higher they go: from holding 48% of entry-level roles to 28% in the C-suite. Men of color occupy 18% of entry-level roles, but only 15% by the time they reach the C-suite level. And the figures aren’t particularly great for women of color at any level: women of color hold 18% of entry-level roles to just 6% in the C-suite.

And if you think it’s just because there’s no interest or women are just not working hard enough, it’s not:

For the ninth consecutive year, women face their biggest hurdle at the first critical step up to manager. This year [2023], for every 100 men promoted from entry level to manager, 87 women were promoted (Exhibit 2). And this gap is trending the wrong way for women of color: this year, 73 women of color were promoted to manager for every 100 men, down from 82 women of color last year. As a result of this “broken rung,” women fall behind and can’t catch up.

And do you know what’s among the top recommendations for fixing the broken rung? Investing in the careers of men and women of color and women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Leading companies can expand formal skills development beyond technical training, offering resources such as sessions on how to prioritize career development and how to be effective in promotion interviews; matching programs that pair women with sponsors (who can offer seniority, power, and influence to help those they are sponsoring meet their goals); networking groups; and a formalized professional-development process.

Now, granted, a lot of this investment needs to come from employers – particularly in regards to sponsorship, which I highly recommend digging into more if you’re making your way through corporate America.

But the unfortunate reality shown by all this data is that employers aren’t investing in our careers. A lot of us have to do it ourselves, a little at a time, however we can.

Participating in professional communities is one way we do that, but there’s often no substitute for the learning that takes place when a bunch of smart people gather with the intention of sharing knowledge. Nor is there a more effective networking strategy than talking with someone in person so they can put a name to our potential, particularly if that someone is a leader in our field, particularly in a field with as few senior leaders as we have in CX.

Look, I know it’s easy to vilify a nebulous, faceless group, and it’s not my intention to do that. Support Driven is one of the most open, welcoming, and diverse communities of which I’ve been privileged to be a part. That it sponsors a leadership conference, one of the few CX-specific leadership conferences to exist, is extraordinary. 

But the fact remains that there are enough senior CX leaders in the community who want even more restrictive attendance to warrant those changes being considered, so I gotta ask those folks: 

Why, as someone who’s made it into the room as a senior leader, is your instinct to have the elephant guard the door behind you?

Maybe your answer is that you just didn’t think asking for a smaller, more exclusive event was guarding the door behind you. In that case – and I truly mean this in the gentlest way possible – don’t you think that’s an indictment in and of itself? If you’re leading people and you’re not thinking about how facetime with industry leadership, how access to their knowledge and experience can help or hinder your CX employees’ careers, then that’s a problem, my friend.

Or maybe your answer is that you just want a space to talk to people with the same responsibilities and challenges as you. To which I have to say: those spaces exist already. In Support Driven (in the senior leadership group, given it’s invite-only), in other professional communities, and in your companies. So again, I have to wonder why you feel the need to replicate those insular spaces in what’s supposed to be a welcoming gathering place for CX professionals.[3]

Lastly, maybe your answer is that you think a more intimate space means leaders can be more candid. Okay, but what do you want to say to a group of senior leaders that you couldn’t say to a frontline team or junior managers? Also, going out for coffee is a thing you can do. Or hosting a Google Meet, whatever’s more your speed. There’s no reason to further restrict an already restricted event just so you can have those conversations – there are other ways to facilitate that without limiting the opportunities of others.

I mean, believe me, I get it. You didn’t put the elephant at the door, and maybe you can’t move it, but in a community, we all do what we can. If you’re a leader, then be a leader. Take the people you can past the elephant and into the room with you.

And if you don’t want to do that, well. Maybe find a different room to be in.[4]

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