Support education. Education of how society has failed to address inequality and education of how to make the needed improvements. But beyond specific education around equality, we as a society need to fully embrace education as the great equalizer. The single most important investment a society can make is in educating its future generations. Shifting the spending priorities of this nation to support better equality in and access to education — from elementary through college — will pay for itself.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Gaurav Dhillon.
Gaurav Dhillon is the Chairman and CEO of SnapLogic, overseeing the company’s strategy, operations, financing, and partnerships. Dhillon is an experienced builder of technology companies with a compelling vision and value proposition that promises simpler, faster, and more cost-effective ways to integrate data and applications for improved decision-making and better business outcomes. He is the co-founder and former CEO of Informatica, which he guided from inception through a successful IPO and then global expansion to become a market leader.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up on an agriculture university campus in India, where my father was a professor and a scientist. This environment had a profound impact on my development. I’ve always been a builder; someone who wanted to explore and understand how things worked. I feel blessed, as I always knew that my path would lead to technology.
As a young person growing up before the internet brought the regions and cultures of the world together, reading a variety of books became my main form of education about the larger world. I sought out and read books with arguably little nutritional value, loving adventures and westerns.
My mother, however, made a deal with me. I could read anything I wanted to, but for every “fun” book I read, I had to read a classic as well. If I wanted to read a western, I also had to read Homer. In hindsight, this was a terrific experience for me. As a technologist from an early stage, I didn’t have the benefit of a classical education. Reading the classics helped me communicate. I’ve tried to get my own daughter to do something similar, but it turns out she’s a far better negotiator than I ever was!
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I just recently read this amazing book called “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” by Matthew B. Crawford. It harkened back to another excellent book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig, which was a life-changing book for me.
I read Pirsig right after I graduated college and was pondering work, life, and what path to take. I was actually riding a motorcycle through the Himalayas to go visit my family while reading it. The timing and the messages it delivered couldn’t have been more perfect.
I encourage people to read both of these books as they reflect on what is truly meaningful work and explore the nature of quality in our lives. Where they intersect brings us true happiness and fulfillment.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
I sure do — my favorite life lesson quote is: “If you want money, ask for advice. If you ask for money, you get advice.” This quote has rung true several times in my entrepreneurial career, especially as I was raising money for my first company, Informatica.
The lesson is that there are steps (and rightfully so) to building support for what you’re trying to do. You don’t start with the endgame. No one meets a potential partner and asks them to get married — you start with getting to know that person. The same goes for fundraising and building a team, and a company. Make connections. Get advice. Learn from others. Let the rest fall in line, especially in serving enterprise clients — with their experience they always give great advice.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
To me, leadership is about inspiring others to attain their goals, their dreams, with a deadline. Leaders coach and support on the way to reaching a shared, lofty goal.
Leadership is not barking orders or being intimidating — that’s taking the easy way out. Using pressure or fear to force someone to accomplish something is not durable. Nor does it inspire loyalty, especially with the abundant choices in technology today.
True leaders look at what their employee, colleague, or friend is trying to accomplish and ask themselves: “what can I do to help them get there?”
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
It’s critically important to find some time for yourself to relieve stress each week, each day, preferably through an activity that’s meaningful to you. Personally, I’m still a voracious reader — I’m not much for watching shows, but do enjoy a good movie or documentary. I swim/bike several days a week and I often find that meditative time in the pool or on the bike is when inspiration strikes.
I find that one of my favorite (and most successful) methods of stress relief and focus is to put on an album (I am a big fan of jazz — all the greats. I love researching who played with who’s band and who influenced who, and then discovering the new music it leads me to). For about 25 minutes I listen and enjoy the tactile simplicity of it — and jam at the task at hand. Some tasks take two sides or the whole album.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Yes, we truly are at a critical moment in the nation’s history. This self-reckoning has been a long time coming. Issues around race, diversity, and inclusion have been simmering under the surface for a long time, and it is important that we don’t let the newfound attention to and awareness of these issues slip away and grow quiet once again. It is up to us as leaders to keep attention on the problems and a focus on the potential solutions.
This crisis really reached a boiling point this year, I believe, through a “perfect storm” of factors coming together at the same time. There has always been unconscious bias at play in society, but we’ve had an increase of conscious bias as well, fanned by senseless violence against people of color and the growth of divisive politics by individuals whose goal is to gain politically from that divisiveness. On top of that, there’s a collective state of anxiety felt across the world due to the pandemic.
At the same time society began to recognize and reconcile that unconscious bias after seeing the graphic visuals of brutality being committed. This really was the last straw and the spark that lit the fuse. Although these issues have persisted for too long in America (and the world), the combination of anxiety, divisive politics, and social media enabling people to see these injustices happen in real-time came together and exploded.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
The need to work for diversity and inclusion in the workplace and in society — not just promote it — has been a later awakening for me, like many in the technology world.
I’ve worked in the software industry in California for 20+ years now, and have been blessed to enjoy success as a CEO who grew up in the engineering and innovation world. I learned business from mentors and colleagues in my David vs. Goliath journey to make something from nothing. I didn’t come from central casting with privilege and prestige. As a result, I didn’t have as much awareness of the issue in my earlier years as I should have or do now.
But the events of this year have really opened my eyes. It is time to make real, lasting changes. This summer, for the first time, I broke my policy of keeping a wall between my business life and my personal, political, and societal views. I felt that doing nothing or saying nothing would be acquiescence.
At SnapLogic, we have a diversity and inclusion initiative in place, but are always looking for ways to expand and improve upon its efforts. We pride ourselves on creating an environment where everyone feels welcome, accepted, and valued.
In fact, one of the areas that was an early focus for us was to help improve gender equality in the technology industry. More than 20% of our employees in engineering or technical roles are women, and the company continues to work hard to drive this number even higher by fostering a work environment that is focused on inclusiveness and continuous career development.
We’re committed to using our successes here as a guide for a renewed focus on racial diversity. One step we’ve taken this year is demanding that for any open positions there are diverse candidates recruited as a part of the search.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Beyond just being the right thing to do, diversity and inclusion builds a stronger, happier, more productive workforce and also creates a workforce that better reflects the diverse makeup of its customers. A diverse workforce helps to drive a more aligned product/service delivery process, and thus a better overall customer experience, resulting in stronger business results.
Put simply, diversity strengthens a company’s ability to innovate, deliver value, and succeed. When everyone is from the same background, you have the same blind spots.
Lastly, and most importantly, if you overlook differences you miss an opportunity to find some exceptional talent.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Reject the idea that there is any one group or type of people that are superior to another type. We as a society are made stronger by embracing our differences and listening to what someone from a different walk of life has to say. There should be no tolerance for people who don’t align with this way of thinking. Believing in the superiority of a specific race, gender, or sexual preference is not exercising free speech — it is exercising hate. We all need to know the difference.
- Understand bias in all its forms and find ways to move past it. Each one of us needs to understand where conscious and unconscious bias comes from, and where it still persists in society. How are our decisions affected by our biases? What can we do to overcome this? Only by recognizing and understanding the problem first, can we ever hope to stop it from persisting.
- Be committed to change. Mean it. We as community members, as business leaders, as people in positions of power and privilege need to stand strong and be committed to making needed changes. It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight. But if we forget the discussions that started this past summer and not look at the fight for diversity and inclusion as a constant struggle, then we run the risk of letting these problems be swept back under the rug. Making changes — important changes — is a full-time job.
- Take action. Not everyone is in a position to make a large impact, but that’s okay. Doing what you can — from speaking out, to giving your time to community programs, to changing a company’s hiring practices, to funding new diverse-led businesses — helps. Every individual you educate about inequality and how to improve it makes a difference. Every step doesn’t need to be a big one; it just needs to be in the right direction.
- Support education. Education of how society has failed to address inequality and education of how to make the needed improvements. But beyond specific education around equality, we as a society need to fully embrace education as the great equalizer. The single most important investment a society can make is in educating its future generations. Shifting the spending priorities of this nation to support better equality in and access to education — from elementary through college — will pay for itself.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I am optimistic about this. Look, I was fortunate to build my first business with a 75K dollars loan from the SBA from people I’d never met; and then was funded by people who initially neither knew how to spell or pronounce my name, but believed in me and my dream.
I believe in the idea of America and that Americans at heart are a kind people; a kind nation. A majority of people want to solve these issues and truly help each other, not hate or distrust each other. But there is work to be done. Problems just don’t magically disappear, especially ones that have taken root over such a long period of time. I remain optimistic that this year has been a real “teaching moment,” and that Americans will reject those fanning the flames of discord and come together to make real progress on these issues.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d love to meet Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. I’d really like to hear what her plan is for uniting and transforming the country. I think she’s a fascinating person with an amazing background.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!