The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Deepti Sharma
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview, we meet Heidi Solomon, Vice President of Global Sales of VXI Global Solutions and Founder and CEO of GirlzWhoSell. Heidi showcases her pandemic experience from two perspectives: one is from her corporate job at VXI and second from her “side-hustle” GirlzWhoSell. From the VXI angle, the company remained strong during the pandemic but had to reinvent themselves as an organization, pivoting from brick-and-mortar to work-from-home operations and supporting clients who were deemed essential. From a GirlzWhoSell angle, this new organization was born out of the pandemic to give back and create opportunities for women and young girls who were disproportionately affected. GirlzWhoSell is aligned with the U.N. Development Goals for Girls. Heidi points out that the impacts of the pandemic are not gender-neutral. The social-economic impacts fell harder on women than men. And this statement, she backs up with data. The focus then is to create jobs for women as entrepreneurs where they can excel.
What do you do as a business?
Heidi: I’ve my day job- vice president global sales for VXI Global solutions. We’re a 600 million dollar global business process outsourcing company, which employs over 35,000 people around the globe. I’m very blessed to work with such an amazing organisation. I’m also founder and CEO of a small business. It’s my side hustle called “ GirlzWhoSell”, an organisation committed to closing the gender gap in B2B sales and positioning sales as an intentional career opportunity for young women.
Where is GirlzWhoSell located? Do you also have any employees?
Heidi: Currently I’m a solo entrepreneur and don’t have employees. But I hope to be changing that soon. I’m headquartered out of New Hampshire, United States and working from home at the moment like most people.
How did the Lockdown and the pandemic affect your business?
Heidi: An interesting question, I’d like to approach it from a couple of different angles. The first being from a VXI perspective. We were very fortunate that a major percentage of our business is not necessarily in the industries that were exponentially or negatively impacted by the pandemic. So even though we did have a revenue impact, we remained strong. We had to reinvent ourselves as an organisation and pivot. Up until the pandemic, 100 per cent of our work was done in brick and mortar contact centres, so we had to pivot almost all of our employees to a work from home environment. Till now, we’re still maintaining a 60–40 split, it depends on the geography. At one point we were entirely working from home and now we’ve almost recovered with nearly 100 per cent of people back at work in the office. But in the Philippines; Guatemala; Jamaica and the USA the percentage of people working from home continues to vary.
From a GirlzWhoSell perspective — a new organisation that was actually born out of the pandemic — I’d like to share some stats as a context. The reality is that the impacts of the pandemic are not gender-neutral. The social and economic impacts of Covid 19 were harder on women than men. I appreciate and am super passionate about what AlterContacts is doing, but I believe the government needs to gather data and target policy to keep citizens equally safe, sheltered and secure. Let’s take a look at the numbers in the healthcare sector as an example. 70 % of healthcare workers and first responders are women, yet there’s a 28% gender pay gap in healthcare, it’s higher than the overall gender pay gap of 19% globally. This pandemic we’re rolling back the clock on the economic gains that we’ve made as women. Women are losing their jobs exponentially more than men because they’re over-represented in the hardest-hit industries- food service; retail or entertainment. According to global stats from the department of labour 140 million full-time jobs may be lost to Covid and women’s employment is 19% more at risk than men. That’s just huge.
In the USA women make up 46% of pre-covid workers, and yet represent 43 to 54 % of overall job losses, because of the fact that one- they’re in the hardest-hit industries and two- they still are required to take on more of the home responsibilities. As kids pivoted to at-home schooling, women took up most of that responsibility. They either lost their jobs or decided to move out of corporate America to care for their families. If we stay on this path, we could see a trillion-dollar GDP impact by 2030.
I’d say — just as a backdrop and to relate it with GirlzWhoSell — we’re a small startup company, but as a woman, it’s really critical at this point that we focus on creating jobs; allow women to pivot and to move into more entrepreneurial positions, where they can excel. GirlzWhoSell is an organisation focused on training and developing young talent who have also been exponentially impacted by the pandemic- those coming out of college and having a hard time finding jobs; those not able to find jobs in the career of their choice or their degree fields. I’ve interviewed hundreds of women and I’m hearing this from them. We’re looking to be able to train and develop young women and to develop a pipeline of future sales leaders for corporations because talent is also at risk today.
I feel it’s incumbent on me as a woman to be able to move the needle and to create to give back also to leverage my privilege. I’ve been very fortunate with this pandemic, I have a job, a home, food on the table, I’m healthy and have a family. I’ve fared better than so many other women out there, particularly women of colour and underserved communities. So, I feel it’s my responsibility, especially as a white woman in this country to give back and to create opportunities for other women. That’s why GirlzWhoSell was born.
It’s incredible and very relevant to the times right now. Do you think you faced any challenges while starting a company during the pandemic and how did you overcome them?
Heidi: Again I’ll take it from two different angles. From a VXI perspective, as I mentioned earlier, we had to reinvent ourselves as an organisation; not only moving people from a traditional brick and mortar environment but also supporting companies that are considered essential- telecommunications or healthcare or other industries which remained essential. It was critical for us to remain in business so as to be able to support these organisations and assure that they weren’t negatively impacted by maintaining our staffing.
From my personal perspective as VP of global sales, this impacted our client services; our sales and even our operations team. I spent 70 % of my time pre-pandemic on the road, being in front of our clients or at global site locations, that just came to a halt. We needed to determine how to reinvent our sales organisation with respect to customer interaction in a virtual environment, which included everything from virtual site visits. We couldn’t just stop doing business, we needed to continue. My job is to bring in new revenue, we needed to continue bringing it in. Covid was not an excuse. We had to find other ways of creatively engaging with customers and still move the business forward.
From a GilzWhoSell perspective, not being on the road 70 % of the time or hanging in the airports and hotel rooms and not doing all the things I normally do, I had space to fill. For me launching a company during the pandemic was a very good opportunity to leverage my passion for sales and develop an organisation that can bring that to market. I hope this answered your question.
It’s true for all companies that they’ve to find new ways of doing business. How is your business going now, especially with the new lockdowns after Christmas and what are you planning for the coming months?
Heidi: Talking about VXI, we’re staying the course; it’s business as usual. We’re just going to continue to enhance upon what worked and keep adding value to customers in any way we can. From that perspective, we’re just going to stay the course; watch what happens with the world and do our part. We’ve donated millions of dollars as a means of support in the different countries that we do business with; in terms of putting individuals up in hotels and donating masks while ensuring that we are in 100 % compliance with all the regulations by the country that we’re required to meet. First and foremost is keeping our employees safe. We’ll stick to what we did in 2020 and adjust to whatever is thrown at us in 2021.
In terms of GirlzWhoSell, we’re just officially launching the company. We made the announcement, so there has been a lot of work that has been done to get us to this point- it’s actually going to the market; being able to develop the training programs; being able to work with high schools and colleges; bringing these programs to market and start building the skill set of the future sales leaders. 2021 is gonna be a really big year for GirlzWhoSell in terms of continuing to build the company.
Another component of GirlzWhoSell which one might find interesting is that not only do we want to support young women in training and development in sales, but the ultimate goal is to develop firstly a national and then global sales training network — a B2B sales training network — so as to license our training curriculum. Also putting other women in business, so they can become independent GirlzWhoSell facilitators and trainers and start their own companies. That’s a big goal for our company in 2021 as well.
That’s an amazing and great goal. I believe it could be a global experience as well, given that it’s probably an online course and training.
Heidi: Yes all of the courses right now and also the ones we’re developing are online. Of course, we’re gonna be doing some webinars, but we have 3 different programs that are in development at the moment. One is just a 3-hour boot camp, so we can easily slide into universal curriculums- basically educating the young women about the benefits of a career in B2B sales. Then we have a 3-day program, which will take that to the next level and also there’s another 6-month program in development. So, all of this will be virtual. When the world reopens up and we can all get together face to face, I think that some of the courses could also transition; we could do summer camps or have another face-to-face type of opportunities like conferences. For now, the world is virtual, so we’re adapting.
I hope that you can get to have in-person interactions soon in the course as well, it’d be very meaningful too. If you could name 3 things that you need help with, what would be those?
Heidi: I just wanna ask for the continued support from women. I really love how women have come together and the corporate focus that was born out of some unfortunate circumstances this year in terms of racial unrest. The companies now are more than ever focused on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. I guess altruistically, I hope that it continues not necessarily just due to Covid. Companies continue to have a long-term commitment to trying to provide more job opportunities and more equity for women. So, that’s one thing.
From a GirlzWhoSell perspective, well people can visit my website. If they’re interested in our initiative and would like to know more about becoming a corporate sponsor or a trainer or a mentoring and thought leader for the organisation, I’d really appreciate them reaching out. The concept is to try to deliver these programs at no cost to our students and have the organisation subsidised by corporate sponsorships. That’d be incredibly important and appreciated.
Thank you for the important work that you’re doing with the United Nations by highlighting the true impacts of the pandemic on the world and I really appreciate you for giving me the platform to share my thoughts about the topic.
About the Guest
Heidi Solomon-Orlick is an accomplished BPO industry veteran with over 30 years’ experience in global sales and executive leadership. She currently serves as Vice President of Global Sales for VXI Global Solutions, a $600 million multi-national outsourcing company. Heidi is Founder and CEO of GirlzWhoSell, a company committed to closing the gender gap in B2B sales and to building the largest pipeline of future female sales talent. Heidi is also the Founder of the Women’s Impact Network, an organization addressing the unique needs of women over fifty and tackling ageism in the workplace. Heidi is a venture investor in women, minority and LGBTQI owned businesses, is a SheEO Activator, Chief Storyteller for the podcast Making of HERstory and a frequent industry keynote speaker. She is an avid champion for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.