Gaining the Technology Leadership Edge, Episode #56

Breaking Barriers in Tech as Executive Champions Real DEI Change

Show Notes

About the Guest(s):

Crystal Larsh has carved a notable path in the field of technology, with a particular focus on project and product management. She got her start in a high school STEM program, working with languages such as Cobol, Fortran, and Pascal. As her career evolved, she sought to control and shape product creation, resulting in a transition to product strategy specialty in marketing. With over two decades of experience, Crystal has contributed significantly to various sectors, including the gaming industry, where she has managed large-scale, multi-location projects. She is also an advocate for DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), aiming to make an impact beyond just corporate gestures, focusing on real change such as addressing pay disparities and building inclusive spaces. Currently, she serves as an advisor and VP of Operations at Rainbow Unicorn Games, which champions the creation of a gaming studio fostering diversity and storytelling from unique perspectives.

Episode Summary:

In this episode of “Gaining the Technology Leadership Edge,” host Mike sits down with Crystal Larsh, a seasoned professional with a rich background in technology project and product management. The discussion dives into Crystal’s beginnings in a STEM program, her passion for programming, and her eventual shift toward product strategy and creating tangible impact within the field.

Crystal shares her most cherished achievements, notably her expansive multi-year project with the gambling industry in Canada, highlighting the complexities of managing remote teams before it became the norm. She delves into how she meticulously navigated and executed the operational overhaul for the province of Manitoba’s gambling infrastructure, reflecting her sharp project management acumen.

Crystal also passionately discusses the vital role DEI plays within technology leadership and her mission to effectuate substantial, equitable change in workplaces. From correcting pay disparities to establishing safe spaces for underrepresented groups in gaming, Crystal articulates the essence of authentic DEI efforts that go beyond symbolic gestures.

Key Takeaways:

  • Crystal Larsh stresses the importance of shaping the creation process in technology, which spurred her move from programming to product strategy.
  • Despite the challenges, she successfully led an international team to revamp Manitoba’s casino infrastructure, exemplifying strong cross-geographical project management.
  • A formidable DEI advocate, Crystal not only celebrates diversity but also actively pushes for tangible changes that affect the well-being and growth of underrepresented individuals.
  • She elucidates the significance of having diverse perspectives in a company, linking it directly to better problem-solving and increased profitability.
  • Crystal provides advice for the next generation of tech leaders, emphasizing the need for financial caution due to the unpredictable nature of the industry and the importance of networking.

Notable Quotes:

  • “I really wanted to control and shape the way things were getting made.”
  • “Mostly went off without a hitch. Not saying that there wasn’t some threats of strangling here and there, but, you know.”
  • “It’s not just, hey, we’re going to celebrate you and have a pride month and events. You need to actually support them.”
  • “You can’t coach the asshole out of someone.”
  • “Shield yourself, protect yourself as much as possible. And network. Network. Network.”

Watch Episode #56 on YouTube

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Episode Details

Embracing DEI and the Future of Tech Leadership: Insights from Crystal Larsh

Navigating a career in technology leadership involves more than just keeping up with the latest software or hardware developments; it extends into harnessing a diverse range of skills, advocating for inclusive workplaces, and adapting to ever-evolving business climates. In a candid conversation with Crystal Larsh, a veteran in technology project and product management, we delve into some of the most pressing topics in the tech industry today: diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI), the real impact of layoffs, and the shifting landscape of tech careers.

Key Takeaways:

  • DEI Advocacy Must Go Beyond Surface Celebrations: It’s critical to integrate DEI principles into the fabric of company culture, rather than limiting recognition to symbolic occasions.
  • Preparedness for Industry Instability: In the volatile tech world, it’s essential for professionals to have financial safeguards and a strategic career network.
  • Mutating Career Paths in Tech: Today’s tech landscape demands flexibility and an openness to roles that may not have existed a generation ago.

DEI: More Than Just a Token Effort

When it comes to DEI, Crystal’s journey echoes a paradigm shift: moving from superficial acknowledgments towards substantial, systemic changes within organizations. Advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion is a complex undertaking often met with resistance. Yet, it’s a mission she undertakes with fervor.

“It’s more than just having employee resource groups at your company…We have pay disparity, like, real bad… You need to go back and make sure that we’re level setting things.”

A Multifaceted Challenge

The path to a truly inclusive workplace isn’t merely about salary equity or hiring practices; it’s a comprehensive strategy that spans across several dimensions of organizational behavior. Crystal underlines the importance of representation at decision-making tables and the tangible impact diverse voices have on business profitability. Enlightenment comes from knowledge—and companies are beginning to acknowledge the wealth of evidence suggesting that diverse teams outperform their less varied counterparts.

Addressing Mindset Over Quotas

An oft-misunderstood concept about DEI is its misrepresentation as a quota-filling exercise. The true essence lies in fostering an environment where every team member, irrespective of their background, feels valued and can express themselves genuinely. Crystal’s approach here is realistic; while she acknowledges the importance of DEI training, she also points out the intractability of staunch mindsets:

“If the end of the day, the person doesn’t want to change, you can’t coach the asshole out of someone.”

Weathering Instability in Tech Employment

The narrative around tech employment generally leans towards the lucrative pay and fast-paced innovation. But there’s another, less talked-about aspect: the uncertainty and frequency of layoffs. In Crystal’s words, we’re far removed from the days of 20-year tenures and golden watches upon retirement.

Planning Ahead

Crystal’s pragmatic approach advises professionals in the tech industry always to have a financial buffer equivalent to a year’s salary. Such preparedness becomes a shield against the unpredictability of job tenures.

“You need to have up to a year’s worth of salary… because you don’t know when it’s going to go out from under you.”

Networking as a Career Lifeline

Building and maintaining a robust professional network is another indispensable strategy. A solid network can smooth over periods of employment turbulence, offering pathways to new opportunities that might not surface through traditional channels.

The Changing Contours of a Tech Career

When Crystal muses about what she could have done differently career-wise, it’s a gentle reminder of the inherently mutable nature of career aspirations. Today, a successful tech career can take many forms beyond traditional roles.

Alternate Career Trajectories

There’s room for innovation in one’s professional life, especially in tech, where the landscape is ever-shifting.

“I’m a complete and utter perpetual nerd. I play board games… I wanted to marry those two concepts and start writing articles around agile.”

Modern Leadership Beyond Tech Skills

The tech sector increasingly values leaders who can bring diverse perspectives, empathy, and flexibility to the table. As technology integrates deeper into all aspects of business and everyday life, leadership requires a synergy between technical acumen and a robust understanding of socio-economic realities.

In this dynamic conversation with Crystal, we glimpse the dimensions of modern tech leadership—whisking us from DEI to the realities of tech employment and the possibilities of unconventional career paths. Looking ahead, tech leaders must adapt, advocate for change, and embrace diversity, not just in their teams but within their own career journeys. It’s an era where adaptability isn’t just an asset—it’s a survival trait.

Contact Information for Crystal Larsh


Timestamp Summary
0:00:00 Crystal’s interest in technology and desire to shape the way things are made.
0:00:45 Crystal’s achievement in replacing Manitoba’s transaction server infrastructure.
0:02:35 Crystal’s integration of DEI principles into leadership and project management.
0:04:15 Crystal’s experience with pushback promoting DEI in the tech industry.
0:06:23 Discussion on the importance of DEI and hiring practices.
0:09:27 The profitability of businesses with diverse voices and perspectives.
0:10:38 Mike discusses the bias against Indian people in the tech industry.
0:11:24 Crystal suggests that if someone doesn’t want to change, they shouldn’t be in charge of hiring.
0:12:08 Mike emphasizes the importance of diversity in decision-making and shares a personal experience.
0:14:48 Crystal talks about the need for diversity of thought in teams.
0:18:15 Crystal explains how Tabletop PM started as a project combining her love for board games and agile concepts.
0:19:18 Crystal advises the next generation of tech leaders to save money and network.
0:21:09 People are not spending, impacting businesses.
0:21:35 Layoffs are rarely about the individual.
0:22:43 Magic Mind offers a productivity boost.
0:23:17 Layoffs are not personal and should not define self-worth.
0:24:59 Crystal would have opened a low-stress cafe with board games.
0:27:20 Mike and his wife considered opening a cat cafe.
0:28:08 The misconception of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
0:28:38 Crystal can be reached on LinkedIn or through her websites.
0:29:06 Conclusion and thanks for listening.