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Amplify: A Series Elevating BIPOC Executives in the Tech Arena

Alexcia Lewis

This month, I had the opportunity to sit down with Marcus Knight, the co-founder of Cultured Perspective, a revenue growth consultancy assisting start-up founders and revenue leaders to plan, execute, and scale their companies. Over a span of 20 years, Knight has served the industry as a leader in the great push to create truly inclusive cultures for some of the biggest tech companies by amplifying the concerns of their Black & brown employees. 

Marcus Knight currently serves as the VP of Go-to-Market for Shipium, a software company that’s helping revolutionize the global e-commerce industry, and Chief Growth Officer at Black With No Chaser. Formerly a sales lead for global, multi-billion-dollar technology companies such as Groupon and Textio, Marcus Knight is a sales tour-de-force and serial entrepreneur who’s founded, among others, the groundbreaking revenue growth consultancy Cultured Perspective… [continued]

Alexcia Lewis: “I would love to just kick us off by telling our readers more about just who you are and segway into your experience as a Black male in this industry.”

Marcus Knight: “So I’m Marcus Knight (He/Him), originally from Chicago, but living in Seattle, Washington. My background is in go-to-market strategy helping organizations scale their revenue efforts. I’ve been doing that for quite some time and along the way I’ve helped teach sales orgs how to be more inclusive to underrepresented talent that include black and brown folks, LGBTQ+, etc. 

My experiences in the industry have all been either one of the only or one of a few Black folks in tech organizations. It becomes most isolated in leadership positions because I would typically only see myself in these rooms. Whenever I’m asking questions [to executives] on why there aren’t any Black people, it’s met with excuses and not any tangible approaches. Oftentimes, we just keep passing the buck on the issue and then try to put it on employees’ plates like they are the ones to solve this issue and they’re not the ones that created the company.”

Alexcia Lewis: “Would you say there is a hard line between crafting an inclusive culture and being performative? “

Marcus Knight: Yeah! So I feel that a lot of organizations are performative with their work and not really doing the work that’s needed to be inclusive. I can’t tell you how many black squares I saw on LinkedIn from all these tech companies. It all falls short to me when we’re a year later, and we don’t see any of that same kind of backing when it comes to financial, progressing careers or hiring Black talent. So for me, it is very performative. 

Alexcia Lewis: “Yes, I certainly feel that! That being said, in your own words, how would you define a truly inclusive culture and how it’s expressed?”

Marcus Knight: An inclusive culture is one that acknowledges the different backgrounds of people. Understanding that we do not think the same way, we do not act or talk the same and being cognizant and aware that different dialogues & different opinions do matter. To me, being inclusive in an organization means being able to empathize with the communities that we serve. For instance, it’s difficult to worry about any kind measurements or metrics that we have to do when we’re watching people being gunned down in the street. Right now, we’re thinking more about our community than we are about some KPI metric. And honestly, the true leaders are the ones that address those issues firsthand with the organization at large and allow space for people of color to take the time they need in order to be whole.

Alexcia Lewis: I agree. founded a consultancy firm where part of its work addresses this topic. Would you like to tell us a little bit about that?

Marcus Knight: “Yeah! Cultured Perspective is a revenue go-to-market consultancy that focuses on organizations that want to scale out their revenue efforts all while building inclusive teams and practices. So say you’re [a company] wanting to hit revenue targets or you’re raising some kind of capital to scale your efforts. Before you bring on a revenue leader, oftentimes you can get by with just putting the right structure in place and even just individual contributors to start. 

We help the process with what goes into the framing of the sales org and how to execute with sales.Then we teach how to start building inclusive teams from the get go as opposed to trying to hit your revenue targets and then trying to solve backwards. Oftentimes, we see those efforts fall short.”

Alexcia Lewis: “There are more Black and Brown people looking to enter the tech industry and feeling out where they best fit in. In minority cultures we have been conditioned to operate in ways that tone it down and keep the peace; a long-held survival skill to grow in the company or dilute tension with the majority culture. What pieces of encouragement would you offer these current and prospective employees to show up strong and bring their full selves to work?” 

Marcus Knight: “It starts with the interview process. Being more authentic in the interview process, I’d ask the questions: What does inclusivity look like in the organization today? What are your goals? What does diversity in leadership,middle management and among individual contributors look like? How do you foster a workplace of inclusive cultures?  I typically wear a hoodie and sneakers into work pretty much every day and if I can’t be that person then I’m not going to be the right fit for your organization. Nor will anyone else in my circles or community be a good fit. Understanding that you can challenge the organization at large in the interview process, because while the company is interviewing you, you are 100% interviewing the company. The other piece of that is when you’re already inside of a company, being yourself is very important, showing up to be creative and get the work done.”

Alexcia Lewis: “Is it the weight of the Black and Brown employees to lead the change in the industry or does it come from the top down? What does it look like when Cultured Perspective is tasked with leading that? 

Marcus Knight: “Trying to get the employees to do the work [for issues] that they didn’t create is a little problematic, in my opinion. If they’re doing all the work but it’s an initiative that executives have not bought in on, then it will never work out. The executives need to come up with what their challenges are, what they’re striving to be. Then it needs to be a company-wide approach. If it’s a toxic environment to start with, why would I want to bring some of my friends into it? Let’s address the toxicity of this environment and clean that up first and then maybe we can come up with ways to reach different demographics of people, all while being vulnerable with where we’re at in this process as a company.”

It’s time companies take a step back and look into what it means to be fully inclusive. It’s time to ask the hard questions, like “am I creating a safe and open space for Black and Brown employees to feel nurtured?” The points that Marcus highlighted are only the beginning in this series of change. If you’d like to keep up with the conversation or see more perspectives on the topic, view our Insights or follow us on LinkedIn.