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Gavriella Schuster Details Post-Microsoft Plans

‘My primary focus is around tackling one of the biggest challenges that we face in high tech, which is to really continue to drive that innovation curve, we need greater diversity,’ the former Microsoft channel chief says.

Former Microsoft channel chief Gavriella Schuster officially has left the company after more than 25 years with plans to devote her time to promoting and facilitating diversity, equity and inclusion in the technology industry.

Schuster, who served as corporate vice president of Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner program, will divide her time among multiple organizations in advisory and board member capacities.

“My primary focus is around tackling one of the biggest challenges that we face in high tech, which is to really continue to drive that innovation curve, we need greater diversity,” Schuster said. “We don’t have it, and we are not making fast enough progress. In fact, in a lot of ways, we are going backwards in the progress that we are making.”

The percentage of women entering the technology industry is lower today than it was 20 years ago, according to Schuster. The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on people dropping out of the workforce has significantly impacted women more than men, as well as people of color more than the majority white population, she said.

“When an organization goes through a digital transformation, the jobs that are impacted impact women and people of color at a much higher rate, because of the jobs that those individuals hold,” Schuster said. “All of those elements are the headwinds that we face in trying to drive for greater diversity in tech. We need to focus on how we reverse the trend and actually drive stronger forward momentum and accelerate that.”

Schuster formally handed her Microsoft channel chief reins to Rodney Clark in April and had stayed on to help him in the transition.

Among her new post-Microsoft roles, Schuster will work as a strategic advisory partner helping the tech arm of Boston private equity Berkshire Partners to evaluate portfolio companies. She’ll be a subject matter expert on operating technology businesses and provide guidance on diversity and inclusion practices.

“One of the reasons why they brought me on is to put together…ways that they assess diversity and inclusion within the organizations that they invest in,” Schuster told CRN. “I’ve started some work in helping them to think through that and to come up with the measuring system that they might use. That is on the business investment side of what I’m doing, so that I’m staying grounded in the reality of the business.”

Schuster also is a senior advisor to Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based Corent Technology and advisory board chairperson for Artificial Solutions, a conversational AI company based in Stockholm, Sweden.

Corent’s SurPaaS platform automates cloud migration, modernization and management tasks, including automated SaaS-enablement of software applications. Schuster will assist its CEO in building a diverse ecosystem around its solutions and investing in new female founders and organizations.

Schuster will help Artificial Solutions address concerns that 99 percent of conversational AI is developed by men, she said.

“In their own organization, the CEO has gotten to a place where he is 40 percent diverse within his organization, but doesn’t feel like that he’s doing enough,” Schuster said. “He is interested in building an ecosystem to really grow the platform, but wants to make sure that as he’s doing that, he’s also growing the diversity around it.”

Schuster also will address tech industry diversity, equity and inclusion as a founding member of Women in Cloud and an advisory board member for Women in Technology Network. Her other roles include chairperson of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners’ advisory board, director for the Oslo, Norway-based SHE Community and an advisory council member of the Women Business Collaborative.

She sees three key accelerators in bringing more women into technology and retaining them: amplifying the stories and career paths of successful female role models, allyship, and driving greater transparency and consistency in diversity reporting and pay equity issues.

Allyship is critical for retention, Schuster said.

“I know from my own experiences and from many of the conversations I’ve had with both the men and the women in the field that it just makes all the difference,” she said. “When you walk into a room, and you are the only woman in the room, if you have no allies, it can be crushing. When you have at least one ally in the room, it enables you to participate in a much higher level, to be heard and not to get those micro-aggressions that often happen around being dismissed, disconnected and disrespected.”

Rating Microsoft On Gender Equity And Inclusion

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has made gender equity and inclusion a high priority within the company, according to Schuster, who rates the efforts as “still very much a work in progress.”

“The company has come a long way in the overall inclusion for sure,” she said. “In the early days, that was not a practice. With the work that Satya is trying to incorporate within the organization, he’s trying to make it a more inclusive environment. I still think that there’s a lot of vestiges of individuals who don’t quite get what that really means. I don’t think Microsoft is alone on that. From all the organizations, people and communities that I’ve facilitated, Microsoft is probably ahead in that direction, but there is just still clear work to be done.”

Schuster doesn’t believe that her gender held her back at Microsoft, but she credits a “rude awakening” about five years ago for changing her perspective and prompting her to address such matters head on.

“I was listening to women and our non-binary community, our transgender community, talk about the micro-aggressions that they face as a result of their gender or non-gender, if you will,” she said. “A lot of these things were subtle, small, but over time, really eroded their confidence. And as I was listening to them, I realized that I had faced a lot of those same things. People did things every day that you would classify as these micro-aggressions, but I had learned how to respond to them and/or how to ignore them and move on, and not let it hold me back.”

But Schuster realized that ignoring the micro-aggressions was a disservice to those who looked to her as a role model.

“It was bad that I had become numb to them, because I was in a leadership position, and people looked to me to make it right,” she said. “I needed to actually… correct behavior, point it out, as a way of modeling the way that others can be more successful and not let these micro-aggressions hold them back, not let their gender or non-gender hold them back in their success.”

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