In the crowded tech landscape that is San Francisco, UserTesting, a series C software platform that helps companies gain insights on how customers interact with their products, offers a refreshingly honest approach to diversity in senior leadership. Here’s why: UserTesting’s senior leadership team comprises of almost 50 percent women. According to UserTesting CEO Andy MacMillan, this representation was born from a desire to hire great people. It’s that simple.
If UserTesting stands out for its female leadership team, then Andy stands out for his no-nonsense approach to supporting them in their pursuits into the C-suite and the boardroom. In fact, Andy wrote an article that was shared in CNBC a few years ago about how to get more female board members. He believes large companies should support their senior executives in joining external company boards. Because it’s good for them, it’s good for the industry, and it’s good for business.
But Andy is not done yet. As one of Athena Alliance’s newest CEO Champions, he’s offering his top women leaders access to our exclusive community and he’s taking a leading role in driving real change. Andy and team, welcome to Athena.
Supporting female executives and building a diverse leadership team seems to come naturally to you.
I’d love to say I’ve been more thoughtful or explicit about it, but I don’t think that would be true. I think I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of really great female executives, so when I turn to my network and start hiring people, that’s a little bit of just what happens. I’ve been very fortunate.
I grew up in a house full of boys. I had an extremely strong mother who was an athlete and wasn’t really going to be told what girls could or couldn’t do or should or shouldn’t do. And that just seemed normal to me growing up, so I think it’s always seemed perfectly normal to me that when you put out a job post you’ll get a mix of people from all kinds of backgrounds to apply and that’s just what should happen. I don’t know that that’s any grand awakening I’ve had, it’s just never realizing it should be different.
What do you hope to achieve through your partnership with Athena?
I really appreciate what Coco’s trying to do and what the team at Athena Alliance is trying to do. It’s a smart way to think about addressing a problem that shouldn’t even be a problem in the first place. In my industry, one of the challenges is that so many of the venture capital firms are dominated by male partners, and those tend to make up most of your board.
So, there’s a challenge when you’re not a public company with a number of independent seats. You basically have seats that are tied to the firms you’re doing business with, which are male dominated. I’d like to see some institutional change. Maybe venture capital firms could at least think about having operators from large companies who are female executives sit on boards and hold their fiduciary interest at heart, but also be good board members.
As we build out our board over time, I’d like to see us add more diversity to our board. Right now we don’t have any female board members. We have several female investors and board observers who are vocal parts of the company, but we only have five board seats.
I also feel like part of solving this problem more broadly is making sure that as female executives rise throughout the company that they’re starting to think about being on boards. That they’re available to serve on boards. I think there’s kind of a flywheel that happens if you have a bunch of great executives serving on boards. They get a lot of visibility. That’s one of the risks that you must be willing to accept: as you put people on boards, at some point they’re going to get noticed by all these other board members and by those teams. There’s a potential that they might end up with a job offer somewhere, right? And that’s got to be an acceptable risk in terms of growing the ecosystem and fixing some of these structural problems.
What do you want your legacy to be?
UserTesting is a medium sized, high-growth company. When you’re this size, you’re in a unique position to impact the lives of your employees quite a bit. There’s the mission of the company, which is that we’re trying to help our customers build better and more empathetic digital customer experiences. I think that matters. I would love to see companies build better experiences and use our platform to do just that. And with more of our lives being digital, that feels like a good place to have an impact on the market at large.
But for employees, I think what’s special about a high growth, scale-up company is people can really advance their careers. I think about what that means for them and their families professionally over the next 20 years of their life. I hope we end up being the kind of company where people look back and say, “I got to do the best work of my career there, and it really put me into a position to be successful going forward.”
What do you think the value is for a leader to be board-savvy and board-confident? How does this affect your ability as a CEO to develop your bench strength?
I think of bench strength as being not just the folks you have on your team, but your ability to go hire great people as needed as well, which is a big part of being a scale-up company. I think part of being a company that can hire great talent is you have to be visible enough that you’re going to lose some people, too. And I hope that when I lose people, they’re going to even bigger and better jobs, and I can hold those folks up when I’m recruiting and say, “Look at so and so. They came here, spent three, four, five years with us, and look where they are now. This was a great place for them to have been.”
If I’m losing people to great jobs, that’s a very positive thing.
What do you want people to know about you or UserTesting that we haven’t covered yet?
Our company is really based on this idea of helping our customers find all kinds of different demographics of folks to give feedback on their product and that it’s about building empathy with those different audiences. In some ways, it is about people understanding diversity of perspective. So if you’re a bunch of middle-aged guys doing pricing analysis on a product that’s sold to newlyweds, you can use our platform to understand their buying process a little better. I like that what we’re trying to do fits into this message of building empathy with a more diverse group of people. And I think that’s helped us have a more diverse team.
Why do you trust Athena as your partner in senior executive development?
I appreciated the Coco approaches the diversity challenge without a sense of entitlement or shame. Rather, she approaches the problem through the lens of optimism. It’s as though she just knows that there are these incredible female executives at so many levels in so many companies, and if we could just shine a light on that and prepare those folks just a little bit to receive that spotlight, amazing things would happen.
It made me feel like there’s a set of positive steps we could make that would change the shape of the way boards are structured. And if we can change the way boards are structured, I believe that would change the way management teams are structured, which would change the way companies are structured.