Culture Spotlight: Building Inclusive Teams with Varun Sharma, Manager of Customer Success

Our first interview in a series on building diverse and inclusive teams.

Inside Amplitude
July 27, 2018
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Culture Spotlight: Building Inclusive Teams with Varun Sharma, Manager of Customer Success

As manager of Strategic Customer Success, Varun leads our Customer Success Managers in both the San Francisco and New York offices. We recently sat down with Varun to learn more about how he thinks about diversity and inclusion as he builds and leads his team.

What does diversity and inclusion (D&I) mean to you?

My perspective on D&I has changed a lot over the past few years. When I joined Amplitude we were about 15 employees and I remember when we started our diversity initiative. It seemed like an unnecessary thing to be honest. I was like, “Why is this needed?”

But over time there are two things that have happened. First, I have seen the positive impact the D&I team has had on Amplitude’s culture, and I’ve come to understand that a strong foundation of diversity and inclusion is how strong cultures can scale over time as a company grows from 15 to 150 to 1500 people. The second thing I realized was how having a diverse team has made the Customer Success team stronger over time.

I manage nine people right now: five women and four men. And what diversity means to me is not only gender, or people’s ethnic backgrounds, or what country they’re from. There are so many factors that impact each person’s way of thinking and how they approach work. For example, I never quite appreciated what having a kid means until seeing some of our teammates become new parents. Like how hard it is to make the effort to be really good at your job while also raising a baby at home and surviving on very few hours of sleep. I respect that a lot now. I think that is an element of diversity as well — there are so many elements of diversity.

So those are some of the things I’ve realized. Thinking about diversity from the get go when you’re building a company is so important. It is never too early to think about it.

Do you think about diversity & inclusion when you’re recruiting for your team?

Yeah, absolutely. One example is we’re hiring for a second manager of Customer Success. And we realized that on the North American Success team, so far we’re all first time managers and all male. So looking at what perspectives we’re missing right now after we triangulate our knowledge, we’re making a conscious effort to talk to women who also have previous management experience. It’s not just the demographics, we’re also looking for someone with previous management experience so that we can learn from her.

Is there anything in particular you look for in candidates that demonstrates they can provide a diverse point of view?

I don’t have a specific thing that I’m looking for, but when I talk to candidates I am always digging to see if there’s something they mention where I think, “oh, that experience or perspective is actually missing on my team right now.” Then I know this person will contribute to making the team stronger.

So I don’t have in mind that I need exactly X, Y or Z trait. I’m just open to all the possibilities and am constantly evaluating every response: can this person bring a new perspective to the team based on their background and experiences? So that’s how I think about it. I don’t know if that’s the right approach, but that’s currently what I am following.

What do you do to make sure your team is inclusive?

I currently probably think more about inclusion on my team because I feel fortunate to have inherited a very diverse team. All credit goes to Alan, our Director of Customer Success, who hired all these amazing people. Now my job is to make sure the team is inclusive and people are supported.

The foundation, in my opinion, is vulnerability. If everyone on the team can allow themselves to be vulnerable, that leads to trust. Trust leads to shared experiences and people being open with how they’re feeling. And shared experiences is what inclusion is. That’s how I think about it.

It’s something that I think about a lot. Can we create an environment where it’s safe enough for people to be vulnerable? I try to lead by example.

What are some areas of opportunity you see for making Amplitude a more diverse and inclusive place moving forward?

I think we need to focus more on diversity now. I feel like we’ve made improvements on being an inclusive workplace for the most part.

On the diversity front, I think there are a few concrete things that we can do to improve the sourcing and interview process. For example, there are softwares that can help with “blind hiring” that screen out a lot of information that may lead to either conscious or unconscious bias, and that’s one thing we could try.

There was also a study done by Harvard Business Review which said that if there’s only one minority candidate in the final interview pool, their chance of getting hired is pretty much negligible. But if there are two minority candidates that chance is 194 times greater.

So we really need to have a pool of candidates that is diverse, and it needs to be a more ambitious goal than just something like the Rooney Rule. Let’s say whatever aspect you want to improve diversity in initially, let’s say it’s gender, maybe we need to hold ourselves accountable that in the final interview pool we need to get at least two women to the on-site interview stage. We should not be paying lip service like “Oh yeah, I phone screened a couple of women and it didn’t work out.”

I think things will really start improving when we set actionable recruiting goals. If it’s something that we really want to improve, we need to make it just as important as our quarterly revenue goals and talk about it just as much, in all hands every week. Let’s set some challenging goals for ourselves and hold all hiring managers and the recruiting team accountable.

What about inclusion?

I do feel we have done a good job around inclusion. I really like the different events that we do, making sure that people can learn from other cultural experiences. I know there are Women at Amplitude events that have happened. I was very pleased when we had a Diwali event for the Hindu festival, and I had the chance to teach people about that. And we’ve done a good job of scaling the culture so far as the company has grown. It is the diversity part that I think we can improve the most right now.

This is the first post in a series of interviews about building diverse and inclusive teams at Amplitude. You’ll be able to find all the posts here.

We’re hiring!

If you’re interested in joining the team and helping us continue to make Amplitude a more diverse & inclusive company, check out our open positions.

About the Author
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Data Monster
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Datamonster spends most of its time nom nomming data and fulfilling duties as a cultural icon and brand ambassador for Amplitude. Datamonster wants everyone to know that there's a little data monster in all of us.
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