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Access Granted: commercetools Part 2

Ablr's Mike Iannelli talks to Marc, Stephanie and Nicole of commercetools on the Access Granted podcast.

Access Granted: commercetools Part 2 Transcript. Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts.

Mike Iannelli: [00:00:00] Welcome back to Access Granted, everyone. I’m Mike Iannelli, your host. Today, we’re continuing our exploration of accessibility in eCommerce and the global impact of prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion with our friends from commercetools. Get ready to hear more from Stephanie Forbes, Nicole Hayworth, and Marc Stracuzza as they share their invaluable insights into commercetools dedication and commitment to accessibility on a company-wide scale. 

Stephanie Forbes: I think you hit the nail on the head earlier: get to know people that are different from you. We’ve just recently did an unconscious bias training where we did an exercise called, the trusted 10. And you just write down your top 10 people that you work with or you… 

Nicole Hayworth: That you trust. 

Stephanie Forbes: That you trust. And, uh the sheet is blank. And then once we open up the sheet, they have these, all these categories. And then you start rating each person. I know you aren’t supposed to do that, but the point is, is that to show you how diverse or not diverse or how not inclusive you are. And it gives you the opportunity to say, okay, I need to talk to more people that are different from me. Talk to more people that have a disability. Talk to more people that are from a different culture or whatever. Um, so I think that’s important that we all should do on our own, not because of a job or anything, but to get to know different people so we can have those unique people around the table to end world hunger, to go to the moon, whatever it is that we need them to do, so.

Marc Stracuzza: I think one of the cool things at commercetools that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of now for multiple years is we have this, uh, every four weeks, we have this group that gets together and we, it’s an open, we call it open conversations. And essentially we pick a topic that is diversity adjacent. And I say that word because sometimes it is directly, uh, you know, gender bias or cultural bias or things like that. Or sometimes it’s just, it’s just related. But the idea is, uh, we all get together and on company time, by the way, which is one of the coolest things ever is this let us, they pay us to do this, uh, which essentially is we sit together and we just talk for an hour about, we all bring our own perspectives and in open, open forums.

And we just talk about this topic and, and, and it’s a very flowing conversation. We all tend to ramble a little bit because none of us have really, you know, you know, come to it with a pre described thought process. We’re just kind of letting it go.

Mike Iannelli: No judgment.

Marc Stracuzza: No judgment. And you’ll say something and somebody else will say something and that will spark something in my brain. And we’re all sharing a little piece of ourselves. And we talk about empathy, proximity builds empathy. And I love that way that was said, cause I’ve had a similar thought in my head, but never that’s concise, which is that, you know, in order to really change and to really like to really try and affect somebody positively, you have to be empathetic towards that group. And the only way to do that is through. close conversation. I think hate spreads very quickly and very rapidly, widely. Um, but empathy and love or something that, that it really is a personal relationship, a personal connection, and it takes smaller engagements to do that. Um, and I think that anytime you have an opportunity to do that, and I love that these little conversations we have every four weeks help foster that, uh, a sense of community within the company, a sense of understanding within the company. Um, it’s really one of my favorite part about my jobs. 

Mike Iannelli: I’m interested because, you know I did a, you know, a, post the other day and it sparked a conversation about ROI, which, um, and, and people say, well, 20 percent of the workforce, you know, if, if, if a company is diverse, it’s probably 20 percent more… people throwing numbers out, right? And I’m sure there’s, there’s not a ton of amazing data, but there is data that proves it, lots of, Gardner Group’s done some data, but, um, what are you all seeing? Cause one, I can tell from the outside looking in that you’re this group, you’ve got three diverse people in this group and you guys work like you’ve been where I mean, it’s really remarkable and in terms of like a case study, I’d say this just being in this room, the three of you is enough to prove the case study. But have you guys have seen like obviously other than the feeling, but this four week thing you guys are doing and talking and it’s judgment free, it’s got to help in every capacity of what you guys do. Truthfully, are you seeing things that are impacting the business and impacting your relationships with each other and impacting ultimately the end user and the customer? Are you guys seeing some of that? 

Stephanie Forbes: Absolutely. 

Marc Stracuzza: Yeah. I mean, the short answer is yes. We talked about quantifiable and I think that’s hard to describe because you can never, you don’t have two parallel tracks that you can view in isolation and say, if we had done this and not done this, what would the difference be? Uh, you know, one of my favorite expressions, you don’t, you only get one path through life, right? You don’t get to see it if you did something different. But I will say this. Um, I think what we do foster and what I have definitely seen tangibly is the sense of, people feel enabled to speak, to be themselves and to speak their own thoughts out loud. And I’ve seen that tangibly, uh, both as when I was in my first role as a product manager, where I’m working directly with development individuals, uh, your group of diverse people. And when people are comfortable speaking their minds, they feel safe. They feel able to speak out loud. Then you’re getting their thoughts.

Mike Iannelli: They feel like they belong. 

Marc Stracuzza: They feel like they belong, or a sense of belonging, exactly. Um, then you’re seeing tangible output , both in their direct output from a functional perspective, from a delivery perspective. But of course, the thoughts when one person speaks their mind, it sparks somebody else’s brain. And then you start to have more innovative thought because you’re starting to get more inclusive thought. You’re getting more innovative thought. I have seen, I’ve seen that directly tangible in the output of different functionalities and that we’re approaching delivery of certain features within our own roadmap.

So how that has affected the bottom line, it’s hard to know because I don’t know what it would have been different, but I can definitely say that there’s been improvement, there’s been visible improvement from the people that I’ve worked with, from the people, the community within the company and fostering that type of inclusivity.

Mike Iannelli: Yeah, I would say culture, but you guys don’t look at that. I was going to say it must make the culture. 

Uh, we talked about top down. And that’s such a big thing. I mean, it really, really is. And I do think that some leaders frankly need to go truthfully at larger organizations that are not thinking this way, how was the leadership there at commercetools and how do they embrace this? Cause it’s, this sounds amazing. Like I’m being serious. This is, you guys are amazing. This sounds so good. And I hope when you go back to the office, you guys are like, let’s go. But how was it embraced? 

Stephanie Forbes: DEI didn’t start as just DEI. It started actually after the George Floyd murder. We had a group called Engage to Change and we had a leader that was very supportive about helping the employees to affect change, to go out and make a difference, to be inclusive, to help others and do everything. Of course, you know, in the timeframe that we can, we can’t solve everything. We would love to help and do everything for everybody, but a group of people got together, a group of employees got together and called Engaged to Change and developed this group to go out and put their money where, where it counts in, in different organizations, put action to volunteer at different places. I think Marc was probably one of the original people that started the Engage to Change. And then with Engage to Change, that’s when DEI started, but you want to tell a little bit more about Engage to Change. 

Marc Stracuzza: I’ll tell a little bit of the story, yeah, so right after the murder of George Floyd, the president of the Americas at commercetools at that point in time called a U.S. all hands.

Uh, I had just started a commercetools. I think I’d been there a couple of months, and basically he just, he just kind of spoke for a few minutes, his own thoughts, how he heard he was that we were all kind of, uh, a little bit lost, right? We were all a little bit confused and he said, I don’t know what to do, but we’re going to try something. And what he basically challenged us is he’s like, I want you all to just bring forth what ideas you have. And we weren’t trying to change the world. He said, we’re not, you know, we’re not going to change the world, but if we can make commercetools more reflective of the community around us, then that would be a great first step.

Um, and, and he, and again, he backed it up with this. It wasn’t just words. He backed it up with both in hours time. I wasn’t having to do this after hours. And with money, literally, like we’ve said, “Hey, I have an idea. I want to do this.” I think we came up with a list of like 20 ideas and some of them were good. Some of them were bad. All of them that needed to be, were funded. Um, and, and it went on that way for a while. And then again, Stephanie was part of that original movement. And then Stephanie was, was brought into this formalized position. Uh, because, because at that point in time, we didn’t have someone like Stephanie who was watching over DEI. 

Nicole Hayworth: Yeah, I think that’s key to learn about Stephanie’s career path, because I think that’s really exemplary of. 

Stephanie Forbes: In my last life, I’ve always done, uh, administrative roles, whether executive, administrative, administrative assistant, I’ve always been in the boardrooms with all of the executives, hearing all of the conversations and, and figuring out what can I do to help out. Anyway so I was able to, come and join commercetools, through actually, Nicole had reached out to me and told me about an open role. And I started as an executive assistant.

Mike Iannelli: One of the most underrated jobs on the planet, by the way. 

Stephanie Forbes: Oh my gosh. Tell me about it. 

Mike Iannelli: Anyway, that’s just, that’s a, such a difficult job. 

Stephanie Forbes: Right. And so the president of the Americas at that time, he was like, “Hey, I want to do something with DEI. Can you help me do some research?” Sure. I only have only 10, 000 other things to do. Oh, sure. I can jump on that. 

Mike Iannelli: Whatever it takes. 

Stephanie Forbes: Exactly. Um so I, you know, I went and did some research and, and talked to another organization that they gave me some training and studies and data and all that stuff. And I helped him work on a strategy, but I couldn’t have done that role without starting with Engage to Change, who actually was the catapult that put me into this role, that created this role for me, to do this DEI role from what they originally started. And I just took that and just, you know, massaged it a little bit and was able to present that to our C suite executives, and they were on board and they put money towards it. So that’s how DEI came to be at commercetools. And it is very important to have leadership, a tie to it, or backing it and pushing it because we can’t do what we need to do without their support. And then most companies, if the leadership is not, uh, you know, you know, supporting it, the employees are not going to support it. Yeah. So that’s where it, it kind of went.

Nicole Hayworth: And I think the through line of what you both said too is, I think the key is money. Like you can say, I really want diversity. I really want everyone to feel inclusive, but like, if you’re not willing to put money out there to help support this, then it’s not going to go anywhere. 

Mike Iannelli: That’s right. 

Nicole Hayworth: If you’re not willing to invest your resources into what’s important to you, then it must not be that important to you.

Mike Iannelli: Yeah. And that’s one of the challenges with accessibility. You know, when you sort of, to drum into that, it’s like, well, and everything in that matter, it’s like, well, we haven’t done this before. So what do we do now? And knowing that it takes effort, it takes time and it takes commitment. You know, cause to your point, you can say it all day long, but, and I, and I work in this every day. I mean, I talk to people every day and in the conversations you hear, you know, that we don’t have buy in. This isn’t a priority. Uh, we’ve got some other things to do and I keep, and I’m on the line in the very beginning when we started the company, I was a little bit more, uh, a little bit crazier. I would say things, “well, that’s kind of odd, you don’t have time or money to include people,” you know, and I was, but now I’m not so much like that anymore, but I’m on the edge of saying that still, cause it’s still, you know one thing is cool about not, not to talk about Ablr too much, but what we do as a company, which I think is great other than being a nonprofit mission driven, is that you don’t have to have all the money. You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to have all the resources. We can start really small and we can work towards something amazing. And that may take a year or two or three, but it’s when an organization that recognizes, we have some today that I just, I just love. That’s why I’m doing this podcast because of our clients, truthfully. It’s like, we don’t have anything, but we want to do something. What can we do? And we start with just a webinar. 

Marc Stracuzza: Yeah. 

Mike Iannelli: And all of a sudden two or three people hear it and it turns into, wow, I didn’t realize this. And it, it, it takes people like you and, and you’re frankly, your leaders of support, which I am blown away by that. I really am. That’s amazing. So shout out to them. It takes difficult conversations. It takes people saying things that are uncomfortable. It takes courage, a lot of courage to do what we do around this table. It takes action. You know, you have to do something. And I think taking one single step, there’s something as simple as a webinar or something as simple as going on YouTube or something as simple as what does an experience look like for somebody that’s not like me? And that’s, that’s incredibly rewarding to see. I think when you talk about accessibility, I’m interested because now that you’re working towards that as an organization, inclusion, accessibility, how does that impact the rest of the organization? I’m just really interested because everything from the outside is amazing. I mean, I’m, I’m really sincerely blown away. I mean, I can’t believe this conversation we’re having because a lot of times it’s always the top down isn’t on board. You know, and to hear that an organization like you and, and the connections and relations you have with so many people are leading a top down, that has to be touching. I mean, we always talk about how one person, you touch one person and that person touches three more and those three touch nine more. And all of a sudden you’re talking about spreading the love, the joy, the compassion, the kindness, all that is spreading out because of that one action.

Stephanie Forbes: Yeah, I can say, first it came with education again and bringing awareness, but we have really opened up the opportunity for our managers to be able to talk to their employees one on one, having those, um, psychologically safe discussions on what your employee needs uh we have the opportunity for the employees to come to HR or to their direct manager or their team lead, to open up those conversations and provide, you know, say, “Hey, I need this in order to do X, Y, and Z, in order to do my job.”

We have really taught the managers and I think what Talent has really done has empowered the managers even more with them pushing back on certain things. So, “why do you need this?” “Why can’t, you know, why can’t this person do this and that,” uh, really challenging their thoughts. And I think with all the training that we’re doing and bringing the awareness is giving the managers more authority to be able to say, “Hey, what do you need in order to make your life easier.” “What do you need in order for you to complete your job?” “What is it that we can do?” So it’s very open.

Mike Iannelli: Have you had conflict? Have you had people say, well, wait a minute, no, no, I disagree. Or I’m not gonna do that or I don’t. Have you had any issues along the way? 

Stephanie Forbes: Um, I’m sure there have been issues, they haven’t been brought up to me though, but we do have, we do have business partners where each employee can go and talk to a business partner about particular needs. If they run into a particular challenge with their manager, um, and then they bring that business partner in and have that discussion. So that’s, that’s one way that people are, are being able to address those challenges. And it’s also, again, and I hate to keep repeating myself, it’s about constantly staying before the people and making sure that they are aware of what people need, you know, that there are needs.

Mike Iannelli: The repetitive nature of consistency. 

Stephanie Forbes: Yes. You have to stay on top of people. You have to stay before them all the time. So they won’t forget. 

Mike Iannelli: And that’s a commitment. 

Stephanie Forbes: Exactly. 

Mike Iannelli: That’s hard for all of us to stay consistent. So what I think you’re saying is, hey, if you’re going to have an accessibility program, it has to be a commitment. It has to be from the top down. It has to be financially supported and it has to be not just, Hey, we’re going to give this a shot for a couple of months. This is a commitment to our DNA. This is who we are as an organization moving forward today. 

Marc Stracuzza: And I think it takes understanding that it’s not an instant fix. Right. It’s a, it’s a process. It’s a journey. You know, self improvement is a journey. Cultural improvement is a journey. Can we say culture, Nicole? You know, it’s, it’s not a, it’s not something that today is fixed, you know, because we did one thing. It’s something that you’re constantly evaluating and identifying and trying to improve. And sometimes you’re going to succeed and sometimes you’re going to fail. And I think it takes understanding and perseverance in that regard to say, we’re going to keep trying to move the needle forward. We’re going to keep trying to make this better for as many people as possible from an internal company perspective, from an external product perspective,

Mike Iannelli: But having that space to fail, see that’s. 

Marc Stracuzza: Space to fail is important. 

Mike Iannelli: That is so important. 

Stephanie Forbes: Oh yeah. 

Marc Stracuzza: And I think. You know, again, I’ll bring it back just to a real quick personal story. Um, you know, again, when I was leading a team from a product perspective and I took one of the inclusivity and implicit bias trainings that was given here at commercetools. I immediately was like, I realized that I had been doing something over and over again in every call that I’ve ever done in my entire life that was non-inclusive and the next call I went on I got on the call and I said I and my team was diverse and I went and I said I want to apologize to all you all I realized I’ve been saying “hey guys” on every call I’ve ever done. 

Mike Iannelli: God, I’ve been saying that the whole time.

Marc Stracuzza: Every person. And then I stopped for a second and I said, I’d like to try and correct that, but I’m probably going to fail. And I was like, I want to say, hey, like here in the South, we can say y’all, super inclusive. I remember going on that call and I remember the look. I remember very vividly of, of the, uh, of the team, especially the female members of my team who were just like, wow, like I could see like that just that little change made such an impact to their sense of belonging. And it’s such a small thing. Right. But it’s also, I failed. I failed so many times. I, every time I mean, I even like the other day I got on a call and I remember because of Stephanie, you were on the call. And I said, I said, “hey guys, thanks for the call.” And I went, I caught myself like, Come on. And I was like, I can’t believe I just said that. I was like, sorry, everybody. Right. 

Mike Iannelli: Can we make guys inclusive for everyone in the, in the, in Latin culture? 

Nicole Hayworth: Is it hard for you? Yes. Yes. But I, I’m a, Hey y’all person now.

Marc Stracuzza: But I think it’s just, it’s these little things that maybe to most people, some people don’t matter, but to the people that matters to, it matters greatly.

Mike Iannelli: Well, that’s it. So if I, I think I’m saying, Hey guys, like when you walked in. 

Nicole Hayworth: It doesn’t bother me personally, but. 

Mike Iannelli: But do you think about it? Does it actually, is it, is it unconscious? Like, is it, is it a thought? It is. 

Stephanie Forbes: It’s an unconscious thing that you do. Cause it’s something that if you heard all your life, right.

It’s something that’s always been saying, “Hey guys. Hey guys. Hey guys. Hey guys.” “What’s up guys.” 

Mike Iannelli: If you walked into a room full of females, you might say, “Hey guys,” you wouldn’t say, “Hey gals.”

Stephanie Forbes: No, I wouldn’t say, “Hey gals.” No. 

Marc Stracuzza: Definitely not that I guess. 

Mike Iannelli: “Hey y’all!” 

Stephanie Forbes: “Hey everybody!” 

Nicole Hayworth: But I think with Marc’s story, and this is what Stephanie and I talk about a lot is like, in order to have these conversations, because some of the conversations and Marc leads that open minds commerce, is it open minds?

Marc Stracuzza: Open Conversations, ERG.

Nicole Hayworth: And some of those conversations have been the most impactful conversations I’ve had in my career commercetools, because people just put their guards down and they say, “Hey, I might say this incorrectly. I might mess something up, call me on it. Like, but you know that I’m good intentioned.” And I think something Stephanie, I talk about a lot is the importance of having psychological safety in the organization, to be able to say, “Hey, I might not be educated in this area. It’s something I’m working on, but I want you to call me on it”. Like if I say something incorrect or I, if I say something that is offensive, know that I’m coming from a good place and I don’t mean it in that way. And you have the freedom to help me continue on that journey, whoever that is. But it starts with psychological safety. We say that a lot.

Mike Iannelli: That’s how you deliver feedback too. Because I’ve not been great at this and I’ll, I’ll be the first to tell you, giving feedback is hard for me cause I always feel like I’m hurting someone’s feelings or I’m saying it wrong or I’m going to cause them to quit or feel bad about themselves. And they probably think, God, he’s, you know, maybe he’s, he’s just not good at it. I didn’t have the tools. I didn’t have the tools growing up, but it’s trying to put yourself in everyone’s situation all the time. And if you can give the feedback in a way that is helpful and not a feeling of fear. 

Marc Stracuzza: Yeah. I always used to say it starts with trying to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. For the moment, just assume that they’re not ill intended, right? We all mess up. We all say things stupid. We all put our foot in our mouths, but if you can just for a moment, just say they’re not ill intended and just try and come see, come see it, meet them halfway and kind of say, what did you really mean by that? Listen, some people are just jerks and they just are. And some people are ill intended, but for the vast majority… 

Mike Iannelli: Are you calling me a jerk right now? 

Marc Stracuzza: I’m gonna get assume so you can gimme the benefit of the doubt here, but was saying that I think if we can just see that, and that’s, that’s empathy, right? It’s trying to understand somebody on their terms. 

Mike Iannelli: Oh, of course. Yeah. 

Marc Stracuzza: Um, then we’re all better for it. And then in a corporate environment, at a place like commercetools, as we talk about career paths and career trajectory and growing people’s, uh, you know, building people’s skills and building their career and really trying to bring the best out of everybody, you have to build that relationship and trust with them. 

Stephanie Forbes: Yep. 

Marc Stracuzza: And from a career perspective, right? If you don’t want to share your life story with me, that’s fine. But from a career perspective, we need to build that trust that I’m looking out for your best interests, that you’re giving me your best effort. And once we meet in the middle, then if we put our foot in our mouths and we say something stupid, for the most part, people are going to be like, yeah, I know you better than that, right? I know that that’s not who you are, so we’re going to be forgiving of each other if we mess up. 

Stephanie Forbes: And own up to it. 

Marc Stracuzza: And open to it. And you’re not going to improve unless you mess up. Like very few people. 

Mike Iannelli: What were you saying, own up to it? 

Stephanie Forbes: Own up to it. Like if you mess up. 

Mike Iannelli: Like take accountability for it.

Stephanie Forbes: Yeah. If you say, “Hey guys, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. I meant to say, hey everyone.” Just own up to it. People can accept that better than you continuing that cycle of saying the incorrect thing. 

Marc Stracuzza: We don’t all recognize our faults in the moment. 

Stephanie Forbes: Right. 

Mike Iannelli: Right, truth.

Marc Stracuzza: I think if we give ourselves the grace to say, I’ve come back to you and I realized I made a mistake later. 

Mike Iannelli: Grace, that’s a great word.

Marc Stracuzza: It comes along with empathy. 

Mike Iannelli: Yes, it does. 

Marc Stracuzza: So we’re going circular here today, but I think I’m thinking about my kids right now. I do this all the time. I’ll mess up and I might say something out of anger or, or just not thinking about it. And then I’ll come back 15, 20 minutes later. I’d be like, I’m sorry. Apologizing. Okay. I’m getting sorry for you don’t have kids on listening to this podcast. You don’t have kids. You’re like, why are they talking about this? But if you just come back and you just say, “I’m sorry,” and that the people can see that you’re fallible and this, I guess, is for kids, but it’s also for peers, it’s also for direct [00:22:00] reports. People can see that you’re, it’s okay for you to make a mistake and you own up to that, then they’re much more open to making their own mistakes because you don’t have to be perfect in life or in your job. You just have to do the best you can. 

Nicole Hayworth: And establishing a culture of feedback too, like, I’ve been working with my team on that of like, gosh, “I said this thing in a meeting and I don’t know how it came across. Tell me how you thought that I came across and what do you think that I could do better?” I think that really sets a nice stage of having reciprocal feedback. 

Stephanie Forbes: You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable of asking those questions like, okay, I need you to give me feedback, but I don’t know what kind of feedback I’m gonna get. But you have to be uncomfortable with that and you have to accept and have a space where you can be uncomfortable. You can say those hard things to people, uh, in a very professional way, of course, we can’t just dog people out and call them out. But, we can bring up things.

Mike Iannelli: I’m sorry. Can I go back for a second? You said dog people out? 

Stephanie Forbes: Dog people out. Yeah. Maybe that’s a Southern thing. 

Mike Iannelli: Is that a Southern thing? I don’t know.

Marc Stracuzza: I knew what you meant. 

Mike Iannelli: I know what you meant too. I was just, I was just trying to have a little fun with it. We got to spice it up every now and then. Sorry.

Stephanie Forbes: But be comfortable with being uncomfortable with giving feedback to people. And I think that’s what’s great about commercetools is we’ve created a space. We created a psychological safety space for people to share their thoughts and ideas. 

Marc Stracuzza: I’m actually excited. We’re starting a new program this year called Radical Candor. 

Mike Iannelli: We just did that. It’s amazing. You know, our, our CEO of our holding company, Patrick Lindsey at LCI and we get together and we talk about uncomfortable things and Radical Candor was one, uh, we just went through and John and I’ve deployed it through the company and it’s, you have to be on board with it cause it can be hard, especially in a small business too, to hear the feedback, you know, we’re, we’re running fast. We’ve got a small team, we’ve got a huge mission, and we’ve got a lot to, to give back and prove. 

We all have to break through the glass, right, as an organization. And you have to say things that are hard sometimes, and I don’t like hearing them. I mean, I don’t. I like feedback now, but when I feel as if you’re doing a good job and then you’re feeling like you’re affecting somebody’s life, maybe not the way it should be, it’s hard to hear it. But if you implement the candor aspect of it and understanding that the whole organization is on board with this philosophy, then it works. Because then all of a sudden you’re having those uncomfortable conversations or you’re not holding back as much. And as long as it’s professional and again, it goes back to intention. If my intentions are good to make sure, you know, if they’re bad, you can, I think you can tell, I don’t know. I feel like I can tell pretty quickly if someone’s intentions are good or bad. I think we have to start thinking about intention and, and what is the intention of what’s being said instead of the quick reaction of I’m going to attack, uh, versus, Hey, let me, you said it, I think, ” Let’s take a step back and think about your intention for that.” 

Marc Stracuzza: Yeah. 

Mike Iannelli: I want to talk a little bit about the accessibility side because we started doing some things. I want to know a little bit about some of the, the training aspects, some of the challenges that you’re dealing with and then what, so an intentionality in terms of making sure that all products, the website, probably moving forward, have that piece. Because inclusion goes directly connected with access. 

Marc Stracuzza: So first of all, I don’t want to speak for the entire product team. 

Mike Iannelli: Okay. Just for you then. 

Marc Stracuzza: So, I have not been part of product for two years, I’m on the strategy side. But I will say this. Um, I think that it does have to be part of your everyday. I think that if you’re approaching accessibility and you’re approaching access to your products from a perspective of it’s an ancillary or secondary part of your design. Then you’re doing a disservice. And ultimately you’re going to fail because it’s, we all know this with software, it costs a lot to change something than to just do it right the first time.

Mike Iannelli: Amen. 

Marc Stracuzza: So if you’re bringing in the idea of this needs to be accessible, our products need to be accessible from the beginning. Then it’s so much easier. It has to be part of your everyday thought. It has to be part of your design process, has to be part of your test process.

Mike Iannelli: So have you changed that there to include that as a best practice? 

Marc Stracuzza: So in some ways, yes, in some ways, no. And I think, like I said, it’s a journey and it’s something that we’re working on. I will say again, going back to commercetools’ core product, our core product is a set of APIs. So there is no visual element that needs to be directly accessible from the perspective of a user interface, right? Um, our configuration of those, we do have a product that is called the Merchant Center that allows people to configure the product from a visual interface, but everything that is done there can also be done through APIs. So where there might be failures from, from an accessibility perspective in that domain, there’s a secondary channel that is fully accessible because APIs are by definition fully accessible, they’re programmatic. And we do have all of our documentation is consumable and in RAML, which is an accessible format. So I think there are definitely ways that we can improve, but there are definitely ways that we are directly accessible to those people who have visual impairments, certainly, or secondary channels, a way of consuming information. I do know that it has been part of the thought process moving forward to try and make accessibility more of the everyday, you know, as we’d go through design and we go through committing changes to our visual elements of our product. I’ve seen this time and time again, I’ve worked for many big companies that were “accessibility focused” even. If you’re not thinking about it at the time of development, then you’re going to make mistakes, and fixing it is not necessarily easy. Now, the cool thing is, is like when we have our corporate website where we brought Ablr in and we did the assessment and we went through the process, you know, there are certainly ways that we can improve that and bring in external resources to help with that if you don’t have the internal knowledge. But I, I think it is, it is a constant effort and a constant evaluation that you have to go through from both your development side, but also from your quality assurance side, because if you’re not trying to, if you’re not testing it, then you’re not going to see it either. So I think there’s a lot of, there’s still improvement to be made. I think we’re trying to get there. I am confident that those people, our customers who want to use our product have, have a channel to leveraging it through an accessible means. I would like all channels to be accessible. 

Mike Iannelli: And talk to me real quick about that. So when you deploy to a client, how does that work? Cause they have their existing platform, their existing content, right? They’re just, so a lot of times we’ll talk with organizations about websites and we do it for, we do learning management systems, gamification, uh, mobile apps, billboards, TV, commercial. We do accessibility for every possible thing you can think of, but a lot of times organizations will have this great, we’ll work on their site, but they have these third party plugins. And it’s like, we can only do so much because then when they leave, they go to a third party that’s not accessible. And that’s a challenge that’s happening because a lot of these organizations, and it seems behind the scenes that you don’t have that challenge because your organizations are using you and you’re accessible in that way. 

Marc Stracuzza: Yeah.

Mike Iannelli: That’s a huge deal because a lot of times you leave a site and then you’re stuck on an inaccessible experience that’s third-party operated. 

Marc Stracuzza: Yeah and I think it’s important to understand that what commercetools is, is a platform that enables shopping experiences, right? We’re an industry leader in, in what we call composability.

 And again, API access is, is the forefront of that. And so when we talk about accessibility, almost always we’re talking about the front end, which is the user interface, which is what the things that customers are directly engaging with..

Mike Iannelli: Interacting with, yep. 

Marc Stracuzza: The cool thing about commercetools is you have one singular backend to support all of those channels simultaneously So whatever experience you’re developing you’re getting the [00:29:00] data the same way consistently, you’re getting the information the same way consistently through the same set of of common APIs that support all the channels all at once. Now that doesn’t necessarily make the front end experience accessible It makes all of the information accessible and that’s a great step towards accessibility. But really, you’re talking about who’s developing the app.

Mike Iannelli: And I want you to, in layman’s terms, I do want you to talk about composable commerce. 

Marc Stracuzza: Yeah. So could you do that real quick and explain that? 

Stephanie Forbes: Explain it like you can tell it to your grandma. 

Marc Stracuzza: Explain it like 

Mike Iannelli: I’m a four year old. 

Marc Stracuzza: Explain it like I’m five, right? 

Mike Iannelli: It’s Philadelphia, remember? The movie Philadelphia with Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks. And he says, explain to me like I’m a four year old. 

Marc Stracuzza: Explain it like I’m a four year old. Yeah, like I’m five. No, I mean, composable commerce is just the idea that you get to pick what you need to build the thing you want. And that’s the general content behind commerce. You want to build great commerce experiences. So I’m a brand or a major retailer, and I want to build experiences that are consistent across all of my channels, again, our, our app, our website, or whatever our channel might be, social commerce now coming down the pike, and I want to build a great experiences that are common across all of those as well, and I want to do it in the way that fits me best.

Because I don’t want you to prescribe to me what is best for me or my customers. I want to have the flexibility to do it any way I want. Well, that’s what composable commerce from a methodology gives you. So you’re like Burger King. You pick the piece that… 

Nicole Hayworth: “You have it your way.” 

Marc Stracuzza: Yeah. I’m not going to sing the jingle. Don’t don’t don’t start this on the record, but the idea that you pick the pieces that are best fit for what you want to build, that’s the idea of composability. Now, commercetools is the industry leader in composable platform from a commerce perspective. And so we like to think that we, uh, we help kind of move this forward, propel this movement forward.

A lot of this has done through a technological perspective. I don’t wanna get too deep into it, something called Headless, which again means that you’re not prescribing a front end experience. It’s all API driven. So again, you can access the same information from anywhere, from any channel that you want.

We’re not prescribing to you what something needs to look or feel like. So we enable these great front-end brand experiences by having a consistent and scalable and accessible backend. 

Mike Iannelli: Wow. Well said. 

Marc Stracuzza: did I do it like I’m five? 

Mike Iannelli: No, it was, yeah, the first part was like five. Then you went to like teenagers.

Marc Stracuzza: Sorry, I kinda. 

Mike Iannelli: And then you kind of went into like 

Marc Stracuzza: I kind of leap forward. 

Mike Iannelli: IT guy from his thirties and I’m lost. But I’m interested just, just for a moment about our engagement. Cause we talked a year or so ago. I think immediately we had just a fun relationship, a fun conversation, and we got to meet the rest of the crew Is there anything like what have you learned just in the short period of time with our time together?

Stephanie Forbes: Like I said before, you all have opened up our eyes to see what we have not tapped into. Um, given us the opportunity to, to look at things different and see it in the eyes of someone else who has a disability or uses screen readers or external keyboards. One of your participants, I can’t remember his name. He reviewed our website. 

Mike Iannelli: Angus probably. 

Stephanie Forbes: Probably so, and, um, just by him going through it and talking through it. It made me feel comfortable, first of all, cause I’m not a techie person, but he was able to explain it. And I was like, oh, this is what it’s like for someone who has a visual impairment that they can’t see because of the color or the font that we use or whatever the alt tags that we use, they can’t, uh, maneuver. So there’s breaks in our site where they couldn’t see it. And it really opened up my eyes of what it feels like to be someone who has a disability in that aspect. So it just really opened up things for me to start talking to the organization differently and bring an awareness and try to instill some policy changes. We have an accessibility statement now. We have things where we can talk to the employees about what their needs are. It’s really just constantly evolving, and I’m so excited to continue to learn more and to expand more within the organization. 

Marc Stracuzza: What I liked is when we first had the conversation with you, the Ablr perspective, is you met us where we were.

Stephanie Forbes: Yeah. 

Marc Stracuzza: You didn’t try and push us too far, too fast. You kind of said, “well, what can we do for you? How can we support you in your learnings?” Um, and the, yeah, the experience of having your team go ahead and do an accessibility assessment on our site, give us the information in a very clearly concise, well-understood format. We took that exact information. We had to give it to our website developers. They were super excited to get the feedback because they wanted to improve the website. And, you know, we’ll give you a little bit of advertisement here. There was no judgment. There wasn’t like, “oh, you all are missing X, Y, Z, how could you,” right?

It was very much of a, it was very much of a, we’re going to help you improve as best as you can. And we talked about it being a journey and everybody, you know, having different funding or different potential to do it. You take small steps when you can, where you can, and you move the needle forward as best you can. And every little step is going to help. It’s not gonna improve everything tomorrow, but every little step you take forward is a help. And I think that a [00:34:00] company like yours, like Ablr, that enables that in a nonjudgmental way is super important. 

Stephanie Forbes: Yeah. 

Mike Iannelli: I appreciate you saying the nonjudgmental, um, yeah, we try, try not to lead with anything other than support and help cause it’s not an easy journey to do any of this. And anyone, especially, and I, especially commercetools and all of our other clients that are doing it. Any little bit of help matters and the relationship matters, and how we work together and how we grow together. That’s great. And I think the way I look at this whole journey that we’re all on is, is together is, you know, it’s starting with accessibility.

Accessibility is the first place to go because you’re trying to make sure your consumers are able to access your content. Then you start looking inward a little bit. How can we make sure that our intranet is right or our human resources policies are right and all that. And then all of a sudden you start looking at, well, what about our communication? How do we make sure we’re inclusive? And how do we start training people? Which is what we need to talk about as well at our disability inclusion training. Uh, which you will love. It’s created by people with disabilities. It’s 30 hours of footage, It’s really cool. It’s kind of like a setting like this where people, we talk and ask really pointed questions about preferences and etiquette and inclusive language. It’s really well done. Now it’s shifting into inclusion. So you got access, inclusion, and then it’s going to start shifting into staffing and untapped talent and people that have been on the sidelines. It’s an evolution and the beauty of is we’re all going to be here to watch it. And we’re all going to be here to see it, but what you all are doing and why I’m so grateful for you being here, cause you’re doing it in every division of your organization and you’re doing it from the top down and the bottom up. And it’s really been an honor to work with you guys. And I mean that sincerely. I’m so grateful that you guys came here. I have no idea what’s going to happen with this, but I’m so grateful that you came, I think the conversation was excellent. Um, hard things to say, but great things to say. And I’m, I’m severely honored that you’re here. I think you guys are doing amazing work. I’m blown away, severely blown away.

Thanks for joining us on part two of this episode of Access Granted, podcast powered by Ablr. I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to you, our listeners, for tuning in and engaging with us on this important topic of accessibility and inclusion. A special shout out to our incredible clients, like commercetools, who are leading the charge in prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion on a global scale. They have truly exemplified what it means to champion accessibility in their respective roles, and their dedication should inspire us all. Stay tuned for more insightful conversations and let’s continue to work together towards a more inclusive world.