Firstly, the data shows that companies with above-average diversity on their management teams make more money. A study from the Boston Consulting Group showed that these companies reported 19% higher innovation revenue — 45% of total revenue versus just 26%. Additionally, Forbes noted how firms high in diversity makeup are 35% more likely to have financial returns above the national industry means. A more diverse company isn’t just an ideal — it’s a practical solution.

As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rahim Fazal.

Rahim is an entrepreneur and an ardent follower of Emerson’s dictum to “always go where there is no path and blaze a trail”. He’s been named one of the Top 30 Entrepreneurs Under 30 by Inc Magazine, one of the Top 40 Under 40 by SF Business Times, as well as one of the Top 25 Digital Thought Leaders by iMedia. He was the youngest student ever accepted into his MBA program without an undergraduate degree, and was invited to The White House to receive an Empact Award from Startup America and the Kauffman Foundation.

After graduating from business school, Rahim moved to Silicon Valley to start Involver, a social media company that brought the first marketing applications into Facebook for Fortune 500 brands like Nike, Best Buy, Target and MTV. In the summer of 2012, Rahim and his team sold Involver to Oracle. Now, he leads SV Academy, the first tuition-free, online vocational school transitioning non-coders into high-growth sales careers.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

My life changed the day I got fired from McDonald’s. It was the worst. It was my first job and I didn’t know what I was doing, but I needed that paycheck. My manager let me go because he didn’t think I was working hard enough. I might have given a few free McFlurries away to my friends. If you get fired from McDonald’s, it’s hard to get a job somewhere else. So, my best-friend and I started thinking of businesses we could start that require any help from anyone. Those conversations turned into an online company that helped small businesses setup websites. We sold that before graduating highschool and made a good amount of money for a few teenagers. Crazy.

After that, I somehow managed to persuade the dean of Western University’s Ivey Business School to let me into the program, meaning I was the only student ever to get my MBA without having an undergrad degree. After completing the degree, I moved to Silicon Valley and started Involver, one of the first enterprise social media management platforms. After six years and millions of users, Involver was acquired by Oracle in 2012, and I joined the company as part of the Global Leadership Team. With all the hands on experience I’d gained in SaaS, I launched SV Academy, with my co-founder Joel Scott, to teach people with no tech background how to sell technology. Rather than focusing on the level of education or years of experience, we wanted to focus on the students we believed would work the hardest, and give them the opportunities they deserved.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

Oh, man. I was CEO of Involver at the time, and we’d begun planning to expand internationally. I had been in contact with the CEO of a large company we were doing a major partnership with for months, and he eventually came to our San Francisco office to meet in person. When he arrived, I went out to meet him in the lobby. He was with his translator, and we’d begun having a pretty interesting conversation. After some time had passed, he told me he needed to get going. I was a bit confused by the abrupt ending, so I asked him where he was headed. He replied, “I’m waiting to meet the CEO.”

I still have some laughs remembering his expression when I re-introduced myself, but honestly, that conversation became pretty symbolic to me of the bigger problem with Silicon Valley and the lack of diversity that we have. Most interactions are saturated with bias. There are constant expectations people have of what a CEO looks like, what someone who works in tech looks like. Whether conscious or unconscious, he didn’t recognize me as his peer, his equal. I believe that talent is broadly distributed, but opportunity systemically isn’t. People who come from underrepresented backgrounds and differ from the expected mold have to work several times harder than everyone else just to be taken seriously.

There are young people trying to break into the industry seen as not having experience; there are older people raising their children and returning to their career or people returning from military service and being seen as not able to keep up with younger talent. Too many times, people are seen as not enough because of their background and/or age, and what SV Academy is trying to do is prove them wrong — that you can be enough. Silicon Valley isn’t a restrictive mold, it’s an endless, open canvas.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Here at SV Academy, we offer a tuition-free, fully online, skill-building and mentorship program that trains and transitions job seekers into full-time technology sales roles. We give individuals in underrepresented groups a way into the tech industry without making them learn to code or pay tens of thousands of dollars in tuition for a degree or certificate. By actively recruiting, training and placing non-traditional talent in positions who would not have entry points otherwise, we’re really working to solve tech’s diversity gap, which ultimately improves tech companies’ diversity and sales performance.

For example, there’s this amazing woman, Sasha Green. Phenomenal student and an extremely hard worker. In the middle of her studies for her MBA, she and her family became homeless, yet against all odds, she completed the program with flying colors and got her Masters. But that wasn’t enough; in spite of her grit and determination, she faced rejection after rejection. The reality is, it’s hard for a woman of color to break into the tech world. Even when compared to the private sector, the scale of underrepresentation of women and minorities is staggering, and it only gets worse when you look at managerial positions.

The sad truth is, a lot of these companies just don’t see women of color as leadership material. It was during this struggle that Sasha found out about SV Academy, and of course, she excelled throughout our rigorous fellowship program. We helped her cultivate the foundational skills she already possessed and showed the companies in our employer network what we already saw in Sasha: that here was an immensely talented and capable individual with a lot of potential.

After graduating from the program, Sasha connected with our network and found a sales role with an IT healthcare firm and was promoted within a year. Having cut her teeth in the fast-paced sales world, Sasha has now come full circle and now helps run the Admissions and Community Success team at SV Academy. Her first-hand experience working in the industry drives her to be a catalyst for change. Sasha shows that underrepresented communities not only belong in the tech industry but can thrive when given the proper resources.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We recently launched our new Collegiate Program with Arizona State University and Florida International University to help more people jumpstart careers in technology without having to learn how to code. Through this program, SV Academy can now connect ASU and FIU graduates with full-time offers at top tech companies like SurveyMonkey, Palo Alto Networks upon completion of our fellowship. The program will also offer 12 months of on-the-job training, mentorship, and access to our extensive career networks.

These universities were the perfect inaugural partners; ASU is a leader in online education and one of the largest public universities by enrollment in the US, and has shown a significant commitment to increasing access to learning through online courses, while FIU has a hugely diverse student body and graduates more Hispanics than any other university in the continental U.S. Both universities believe in our unique approach to helping underrepresented talent transition into the tech industry and stand behind our value-add, and we’re excited to expand our reach to even more hardworking graduates across the country.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

It’s important to understand that individuals are all unique, with their own history, background, experiences, aspirations. We all operate as a system, but this system shouldn’t be something that wears people down into homogeneous cogs. Everyone works best in a work culture that appreciates the distinctive gifts they bring to the table and appreciates them on a very human level. That’s what I think all CEOs and founders need to realize to help their employees thrive.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders about how to manage a large team?

Surrounding yourself with the right people is the most important factor when you manage a large team. Create a circle of leaders and peers that represent the same values and expectations that you have for yourself and your company. As a CEO and/or Founder you can’t be everywhere, so you need to trust that you have someone that represents your vision and will help execute that vision. Finding the right people that can embody your company’s mission is invaluable. Being able to collaborate with one another, and supplement each persons’ unique skill sets is key to the continued success of your business.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Firstly, the data shows that companies with above-average diversity on their management teams make more money. A study from the Boston Consulting Group showed that these companies reported 19% higher innovation revenue — 45% of total revenue versus just 26%. Additionally, Forbes noted how firms high in diversity makeup are 35% more likely to have financial returns above the national industry means. A more diverse company isn’t just an ideal — it’s a practical solution.

You’ve also got to factor the connections you make with consumers. Diversity isn’t some fantastical concept. It’s reality, and people want these companies to reflect their life experiences. If companies show that they can understand and reflect what everyone — and not just a part of that population — goes through, it really builds trust.

Diversity increases productivity in the workplace, too. Fostering that environment of inclusion really boosts workplace morale, and employees feel more committed to the company and work harder knowing that the people they work for care about these issues.

Additionally, with diversity in the workplace comes fresh ideas. You’ve got people from all walks of life bringing fresh material to the table, drawing on unique experiences to breathe fresh life into the company. Diversity helps to stave off that creative stagnation.

Similarly, a company that’s accepting of all people is obviously going to attract a larger pool of talent. Glassdoor found that over two thirds of jobseekers care about workplace diversity when looking at potential employers. If you neglect diversity, you neglect an immense number of talented and qualified potential employees. And that’s something we’re really trying to show here at SV Academy.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

That’s our mission at SV Academy. To leverage the resources and the connections we’ve built to shed a light on these amazing students, to make it impossible for tech companies to ignore them simply because of their name or how they look. To give these students a way to achieve a stellar education regardless of their background or financial situation, and to help them find a way to really play to their strengths and show the world just what they can do.

Everybody, regardless of their nationality or background, deserves a fair shot at the American Dream, and where they come from shouldn’t revoke their right to that opportunity, and I think that’s something that’s always worth fighting for.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

Adam Grant said, “Don’t just follow people because you agree with what they think. Follow them because you’re intrigued by how they think — and how they make you think.” It never helps to surround yourself with an echo chamber. There’s one way to build your company: do what’s easy, hire the people in your network, and focus on nothing more than achieving transactional revenue targets and keeping people expendable. Or, you can be different: take a risk on unknowns and open yourself up to a diverse spread of individuals who think differently, and approach problems and ideas from different angles. The more we acknowledge diversity of thought and opinion, even if it’s at odds with your own, the more we can really foster and develop creativity, innovation and intellectual honesty.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

From age 18–23 it was a journalist who wrote a story about me when I was in high school and sold my first startup. His name was Tony Wanless. He was the same age as my parents, but I was able to develop a relationship — as peers in addition to a mentor/mentee relationship — and not just the authority structure that was usually in place for me at the time with “adults.”

In my mid 20s, it was Carol Stephenson, from the board of General Motors, who accepted me to the Ivey School of Business without a college degree.

During Involver it was Steve Walske. He believed in me when no one else did.

Most recently, it was Reggie Bradford. He was the Senior Vice President of Oracle Cloud and the initial backer of SV Academy. He was also a competitor of Involver, my last business, for 5 years before we were both acquired by Oracle and ended up on the same team after acquisition. Sadly he passed last year; he will always be a great role model to me and my family.

How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line, With Rahim Fazal was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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