Tag

career women

Career Advice, Equality

Feeling like a failure every day – and overcoming it

I doubt myself every single day. As a CEO it’s the dark secret none of us are supposed to talk about, but it’s real, and so it was marvelous for me to listen to Maria Klawe yesterday say that she wakes up feeling like a failure every day.

Now Maria is one of the most successful people in academia. She’s president of Harvey Mudd College, educating the next generation of brilliant computer scientists, mathematicians and physicists, she sits on the board of Microsoft and she’s a much admired water color painter… and a wife and mother too. Definitely an over achiever who is universally admired.

And yet, every day she feels like a failure. She told this to 4,800 women at the Grace Hopper Conference yesterday, but then said the way she deals with it is that she consciously listens to the other voice playing in her head which says “I want to lead the world!!!”

Sheryl Sandberg, on stage with Maria, used the analogy of running a marathon. For the men in the race, voices are telling them “you’re great!”, “you can do it!” and “keep going!” but for the women in the race the voices are “are you sure you can do it?”and “what about your children?” Imagine trying to run a real marathon with everyone around you questioning whether you can, or worse whether you actually should?

My experience for the first 25 years of my career was just that. Everyone around me, family, friends and co-workers questioned what I was doing (except my husband – he never questioned but went along for the ride). I was ambitious, determined to make a point, and determined to win the race I had chosen which was being a high tech CEO. As I had children people came out of the woodwork to question my decision, and as a (younger) blond woman I was also consistently underestimated which attacked my confidence (maybe they were right and I was about to be found out!)

For almost every day in those 25 years I would feel like a failure, waiting to be caught out. I’m a classic example of the imposter syndrome: where you feel like an imposter or fraud, waiting to be caught out. It’s not uncommon in smart, talented people and it’s especially common in women.

I would beat myself up in my head – you’re not smart enough, you’re too aggressive, your children need you, you need to lose weight… an endless dialog that got louder the more tired I got. And the voice would stay inside my head because no one else wants to hear about your self doubt. It’s old news to your family, boring to your friends (they’ve heard it before) and must not show to your co-workers or employees.

So what to do?

It took a few colliding changes for me to finally conquer it. I passed forty – and felt more confident over forty than I ever had under. I had a nasty health scare which made me take each day above the dirt much more seriously. And I realized that I was not alone, my peers feel the same way, and it’s OK – you just have to push through.

When you’re looking in the mirror feeling like a failure try this:

Step 1 – acknowledge that it’s happening and it’s not real. Learning about the imposter syndrome really helped me understand the dynamics.
Step 2 – create and listen to the other voice in your head. Maria was spot on. There is another voice, it knows you can do great things, but you have to listen to it, consciously.
Step 3 – be open about your own self criticism when coaching others. Sharing the fact that I have self doubt made it more clinical for me. It’s normal, but it’s not useful.
Step 4 – get exercise and sleep. Feels great and you can lead the world with a good swim and a good night’s sleep.

Feeling like you are failing is normal. It’s part of what drives us – the need to prove to ourselves and everyone else just how much we can lead and change the world. So embrace it as a funny part of you that you just have to slap down every day – and you will!

image: http://akiaino.deviantart.com/

Equality

Queen Bees or a Stiletto Network?

I was disappointed by the drivel written in the WSJ on Friday The Tyranny of the Queen Bee. It is just not reality, and reinforcing a negative stereotype at the same time. The WSJ should know better.

The thesis is that because there are so few women in power they hang on to the power as Queen Bees and bully other women… “Four decades later, the syndrome still thrives, given new life by the
mass ascent of women to management positions. This generation of queen
bees is no less determined to secure their hard-won places as alpha
females. Far from nurturing the growth of younger female talent, they
push aside possible competitors by chipping away at their
self-confidence or undermining their professional standing. It is a
trend thick with irony: The very women who have complained for decades
about unequal treatment now perpetuate many of the same problems by
turning on their own.”

The referenced research is thin at best, and frankly the behavior described in the article is just not my experience at all. There are so few women at the top in tech that I have found they support each other. Pretty overtly. Not that a woman will promote another woman because of gender, but they will spend time, coach, encourage, and generally put a hand out and say “join me when you’re ready”.

Our reasons are selfish. There are just not enough talented people trained in STEM in our workforce and we need more of them. Helping women get in and stay in technology and tech management is essential for us to be able to grow. We don’t have a scarcity of opportunity – we have a scarcity of trained talent!

Dr Drexler your opinion that “female bosses are expected to be “softer” and “gentler” simply because they are women” is also just not reality in Silicon Valley. I’ve been a Silicon Valley tech executive for more than 25 years now and no one who’s ever worked for me would call me soft. Compassionate when needed, but a hard ass. And I am not unusual – for women in power here I am more the norm.

I’m really looking forward to Pamela Ryckman‘s new book Stiletto Network, coming out in May (you can pre-order it here). Pamela did extensive research over the last year on how executive women help each other. Publishers Weekly just gave it a rave review saying:

“In an upbeat tone and energetic style, we learn how these successful women are coming together in intimate groups, where they embrace fashion, capital structures, and deals. Emboldening, encouraging, and entertaining, this book is essential reading for any woman who wishes to further her career while remaining true to herself.”

Now of course I’m briefly mentioned in it, so in a narcissistic way I think the premis of the book is right (although I have not read it so who knows – maybe I am a Queen Bee – but I doubt it!).

It’s really important now that we talk about the reality of women in power, especially here in tech, and not keep reinforcing the negative stereotypes. Women are a huge, latent force being unleashed. At Dreamforce last year Salesforce.com hosted a Girly Geeks panel which I was on. It was crowded out, more than 1,000 women came and Salesforce had to cut off their own employees to make sure enough of their customers and partners could come. The energy, drive and passion in the room was pallpable.

There is a tidal wave coming of women in power and women helping women. It’s happening!

Image: lollonz.deviantart.com

Equality

Why women need sponsors more than mentors

I was on a panel at GHC 2012 last week “Sponsors or Mentors – which will get you there?” Standing room only in a large room, it was clearly a topic of great interest to the female tech students and geeks at the conference. And the questions were priceless…

The panel, lead by Anne Losby of Thomson Reuters,  was prompted by a report Catalyst put out last year on Sponsoring Women to Success. In it the research clearly shows sponsorship is a powerful differentiator at the top and key to overcoming the barriers for women. And while we are making good progress as a gender, and women make up more than 50% of the workforce, they still only make up 3.8% of the CEOs of the Fortune 500. So plenty of room to improve the ratio.

First – do you know the difference? Mentoring has been talked about for
years but talking about sponsorship is a fairly new fashion. Mentoring is about advice and coaching, helping the younger employee figure out the system and skills. My advice to people seeking mentors is seek someone willing to tell you the truth about yourself. Seek someone who will hold the mirror up to you (and your behavior), even is the image is ugly. And a great mentor will put the time in to teach you.

A sponsor, however, is not a mentor. A sponsor has power and the ability to help you get ahead. They know you — strengths and weaknesses, talents and warts — and are ambitious for you. They help you prepare for opportunity by steering you into the right experiences and the right training. They will advocate for you and make the case when you are not in the room for why you should get the next promotion, the next cool project. They win when you win be because the company, and possibly their reputational capital in the company, are stronger when you do.

I experienced this myself in my first 12 years in Silicon Valley. I worked for 2 companies – one for 4 years, one for 8, but was never in the same job more than 21 months. I had two sponsors (although I could not have labeled them as such at the time) who were watching me, grooming me and putting me into opportunities to learn and stretch. Both were men, because back then there were no women in the organization above me. I would not have become a tech CEO at 36 without their sponsorship.

So why is this so important for women?

The tough reality is that women face a double bind. Catalyst research has shown that women who advocate for themselves can be penalized in the workplace. Women get labeled as “aggressive” when the same behavior in a man would be labeled as “assertive”. I’m not complaining, it’s just reality and so sponsors can help women get ahead by advocating for them and helping them avoid the double bind.

Sponsors are also important for women because men tend to know what they want and ask for it, women tend to wait to be asked. There is unconscious sterotyping going on with the men judging the women who do ask, but there is also stereotyping going on by the women who restrict their own behavior. Afraid to appear “pushy” or “too aggressive” they moderate their own behavior to meet the expectation of humility from women.

And this is where the questions lead on the panel. All the discussion, in the end, led to the double bind. How to get ahead and ask for the project, the job, the doctoral research without offending the men around you and being judged? Lots of advice ensued, but in the end I told the group to “Just go for it and course correct when you are in the job. Don’t tap down your natural energy and your drive, we need that in our companies!” Strong women (and men) – apply here.

Equality

Golf is an old man’s game (in Silicon Valley at least)

It’s different here. Yes it’s not perfect, but it is so different. We don’t care if Mark Zuckerberg wears a hoodie, men don’t wear ties here and the last point in Julie Steinberg’s recent WSJ article on the Nine Rules Women Must Follow To Get Ahead  — that as a woman you need to “Dress well and play golf” is just out of touch.

Successful young people (men and women) in Silicon Valley certainly don’t need to play golf here to get ahead.

In 25 years of being a high tech exec I have played golf only once – and then it was only because the sales team begged me to – and they hired a pro to play with me so all I did was putt (I think they didn’t want me to slow them down!). I have never, ever felt I needed to play golf to get ahead. Even with the older golf playing execs I worked for I found they still liked to go out for a drink or a great meal to bond.

In today’s Silicon Valley the bonding hobbies are younger men’s hobbies. You are more likely to be bonding over the benefits of a titanium racing bike frame than over titanium clubs. You may well want to be able to discuss fine red wine. You will definitely need to be able to bond over tech gadgets and geek out on how many LEDs are in the new iPad.

And what I find so exciting about the under 35 generation here is that you are also very likely to bond over family. What little Katie is doing in school, where little Tommie likes to go camping. I see a generation of young nerds coming up who, while they still outnumber the girls 4 to 1, are very much more engaged in their homes, their families and their outdoor hobbies than the prior generation of executives where the old boys club and golf are much more prevalent.

So don’t pay attention to old school advice about having to play golf. Instead make sure you work hard, impact the business and either be the executive, or understand the next generation of execs coming up because they are the future.

But note: I have a few girlfriends who love golf – now that’s a good reason to play!

Equality

Yahoo panel: There’s no such thing as work-life balance

Oh the irony of posting on this right after my post on the Iron Lady! She had no balance too.

For a while now I have been outspoken that I think balance is a myth and we are unfair to young women coming up to spin the myth that they can have it all. They can’t any more than men can. Business is just too competitive.

So it was fun for me last week to be on a panel at Yahoo on Breakthrough Leadership Lessons and to be asked about work-life balance. Never the shrinking violet I just went for it as you can see here – and was relieved they laughed instead of chasing me out of the building!

Career Advice, Equality

Go ahead and ask the “girl questions”

So often women long to ask the “girl questions” – the ones tied to their roles as mothers and household managers – and yet fear asking them in a male dominated workplace.

Every time I talk with groups of women about anything I am swamped with questions about child care, sharing house work and what my husband and/or kids think about me working and being a CEO. It’s as if there is a pent up demand for answers or guideposts along the road and yet, in reality, there are none.

Yesterday’s excellent New Yorker piece on Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg gives an example of how tough the question of whether to even ask the questions is – even women judge other women for asking:

“Earlier, Sandberg had described a talk that she gave at the Harvard Business School, after which all the women asked personal questions, such as how to find a mentor, and the men asked business questions, like how Facebook would deal with Google’s growing share of the cell-phone market. Telling this story, Sandberg was critical of what she considered to be “girl questions.” Now Priti Youssef Choksi, Facebook’s director of business development, asked whether it was “a girl question” to pose concerns about, say, maternity leave.

Sandberg and the female executives in the room said that they thought it risked being a “girl question” if it was asked in a “whiny” way. Choksi pressed the point, describing a female employee who had recently talked to her about taking a short maternity leave because she feared that she would lose her job if she stayed out longer. When Sandberg came to the company, she changed the policies to allow men and women four months, but this employee wanted to take only one. “As much a girl question as that might be,” Choksi said, “the logistics of being away for X amount of time is something women are afraid of, and I’d rather tackle it head on.

“I agree,” Sandberg said, retreating from the much sterner position she had taken moments ago.”

For many executives, male and female, if you ask too many “girl questions” you risk them labeling you as too concerned about “women’s issues”, but as an employee if you don’t ask you risk missing understanding and context for your choices at the company you work for which can be an important part of determining what strategy to take so go ahead and ask. The important thing is to be matter-of-fact about it – never whiny, never paranoid – just pragmatic. My choice on child #2 was to take him into the office at 4 weeks old for a week because the company needed me in – and after the first shock no one minded (you can read some of my funny experiences along the way here).

Two weeks ago I was interviewing a young female candidate – mid thirties with 4 year old twins. After an hour of highly professional discussion she then asked me about our health insurance… and before I could even answer her question she was apologizing for asking, repeatedly! She was hyper sensitive about being perceived as weaker than a male candidate or needy. She even told me she does not think her managers know she has children and she wanted it that way.

This level of concern and awareness of being a woman in a male workplace backfires. I don’t believe you want the issue to be a lightening rod, instead make is a simple part of who you are as an employee. “I have a family – tell me about your health benefits”. Note – the only case at FirstRain so far where we have had an employee out for an undue period of time because of a birth was a young dad out because his baby was an extreme preemie. You can bet he was as focused on his family as any new mother would be!

My advice to women coming up and dealing with the challenges of raising a family at the same time as building a career is to be open and authentic about it. Never whine, never see yourself as a victim. See yourself instead as a valuable, skilled employee that your company needs and wants and then other people will see you as you see yourself. And if your company penalizes you find a better company to work for. Seriously.

And in the right setting, with other women facing the same issues you are, share the ideas that can help you navigate the very real challenges of a having little children and a strong career at the same time.

Equality, Leadership

Is a broken arm a priority?

I found myself telling this story to a journalist last week as I described some of the weird and funny experiences that come with my choices in life. I’ve written before that I think balance is a myth – it’s impossible to achieve if you are a CEO and a mother – and there are days when you just have to choose.

One day when my son Sebastian was 8 years old – it was the last day of the quarter at Simplex. We had the traditional kind of business where revenue recognition was a major task on the last day of the quarter to make sure we were accounting for our orders correctly and shipping the right ones to make the number, as well as negotiating with customers to get business closed. Typically I would spend the day with my CFO and VP sales intently closing the quarter.

On the day in question, at about noon, I got a phone call from the nurse at Bas’s school – and she told me that Bas had fallen off the parallel bars and broken his arm. She’d called the nanny, and then my husband, but neither had answered and so I had to go and get him.

I remember standing with the phone in my hand and The Clash playing in my head trying to decide what to do: Should I stay or should I go? I walked into my CFO’s office and said “OK you guys have to do this without me. I’ll be back as soon as I can”.

When I walked into the nurses office Bas was sitting with his arm wrapped with ice and hadn’t cried until then. He broke down when he saw me -“Mom, I can’t believe you came,” he said. “It’s the last day of the quarter!”

He’d tell you that story if you asked him. Sometimes he tells it with pride for his mom. Sometimes it’s a great way to embarrass me!