Tag

Cindy Gallop

Career Advice

Give yourself permission!

I was struck by the interesting interview with Beth Comstock of GE in the NYT today – where she says “you have the permission to try something new”. In this case she is talking about innovation but innovation is not the only area where we are held back by the need for permission. Too often we are stymied in areas that lead directly to our happiness.

Too often, as working professionals, and especially women, we are held back by our fears. Fear of failure, fear of what other people will think, fear of the unknown, fear of being less than. We live in the world of Lean In and male-dominated tech, where I know and have personally experienced that to get ahead you have to work twice as hard, and be twice as smart, as the men around you. This doesn’t leave much room for permission to change, or to be rested, or happy.

So what’s the solution. I think it’s to consciously, and overtly, grasp the nettle and give yourself permission.

Permission to stop caring what other people think. As Cindy Gallop (entrepreneur and change agent extraordinaire) says “Fear of what other people will think is the single most paralyzing dynamic in business and in life. You will never own the future if you care what other people think”. And yet so often we worry endlessly about what the people around us think. Our boss, our peers, our parents; the people who have opinions about our title, or car, or house, or how much money we make. But in the end, the only people whose opinion really matters is our closest friends (who if they love you will support you no matter what you do, or how your screw up) and our partners in life (who do have to be in the boat with us). No one else matters. Truly.

Permission to try something completely new – like start a company. Scary. What if I am no good at it, don’t like it, fail at it? Well, so long as you do some basic financial planning so you can survive a temporary misstep what are you afraid of? Chances are you can always go back to what you did before. I have seen this many times in Silicon Valley – value accrues to failure. People try something completely new, it fails and they go back to what they did before. But they are often now actually more valuable. They have more experience, they may be humbled and so be a better leader and more compassionate. They will be changed, and usually for the better. Or maybe permission to try something completely new for yourself means going to back to school and taking the chance you can create a whole new career path for yourself.

Permission to not check your email 24/7 on vacation. Permission to not keep a perfectly tidy house. Permission to wear flats to work. Permission to leave a job you hate, or a boss you hate, even if it means making less money. Permission to pursue a sports passion which may mean you don’t climb the corporate ladder as fast as your peers. Permission to experiment with your career.

I had to take myself through this process as I made the decision to change my professional life. I can get wracked with guilt that I am no longer driving the feminist CEO agenda. I can get down on myself that I stepped back when other women are running companies and setting the agenda for key technologies in the valley. I, like so many successful women, continue to fight the demon of feeling like a failure inside every day. And so I give myself a talking to – sometimes physically in the mirror! Permission to try a new way of life. Permission to be with my family, and travel, and read, and write. And to stop caring what other people think.

For a while at least!

Leadership

Why being “too aggressive” is a compliment for a leader

Much is being written right now about high performing men and women are described differently in reviews. Kimberly Weisul in Inc calls it an “insane double standard”, and who wrote up the original survey in Fortune points out the old truth professional women know:

Jane – who is a strong female – gets the feedback to be less aggressive whereas Joe – who is a strong male – gets the feedback to be more patient.

In Kieran’s survey a full 71% of women had negative feedback in their critical reviews, vs 2% of men. Why am I not surprised?

I’ve always been characterized as “too aggressive” and “too ambitious” in my reviews. From day one, until the day I became a CEO. Then the very same characteristics were praised – you are aggressive – that’s great!

When I wanted to recruit a world class board member to my board and identified Larry Sonsini (who I did not know) my board said “you’re being too aggressive, you’ll never recruit him” – and then I did. When the IPO market shut down after the dot.com bust and I needed to get my company public many people said “it can’t be done, you should just sell the company” – but I took it public in a very successful IPO in 2001 (with the help of Frank Quattrone and his CSFB banking team – Frank is very, very aggressive). When the financial market cratered in 2008/9 and we decided to pivot FirstRain to the enterprise it took every ounce of aggression and assertiveness to do it – and we did – with the result that FirstRain has significantly higher quality personal business analytics than anyone else because we cut our teeth on hedge fund managers.

For young women wanting to get ahead – especially if they want to be a GM or run their own company one day – I say be aggressive. Be a rebel. Stand up and be noticed – don’t conform. As Cindy Gallop (an original rebel) says you can’t change the world if you are worried about what other people think all the time.

And if you are a rebel, embrace it. There’s an interesting section in Ben Horowitz’ fantastic book The Hard Thing About Hard Things where he talks about When Smart People are Bad Employees. One such type is the Heratic – and two of the three examples he gives are indeed bad for your company. But one, the Rebel, may change the world for as he says “She is fundamentally a rebel. She will not be happy unless she is rebelling; this can be a deep personality trait. Sometimes these people actually make better CEOs than employee.”

I recognized myself when I read that. I am sure I was tough to manage. I am sure I got heaps of critical feedback because I was aggressive, and ambitious, and challenged the status quo every day. But it is those same characteristics that make me a leader and a (reasonably competent) CEO. 

I did have to learn how to be kind with my strong personality though. Early on I was not always aware of the affect I had on other people. But once I figured that out then I let my aggressive personality blossom, and took care of the people who were following me.

So when someone tells you you are too aggressive and you need to tone it down smile and say “thank you” and keep going.

Equality

TechCrunch, TitStare and a Tale of Two Silicon Valleys

This weeks spectacular display of bad taste by TechCrunch Disrupt has lit up the Twittersphere with more analysis of how hostile tech is for women. In case you missed it, TechCrunch Disrupt opened with not one, but two awful presentations (awful unless you are a teenage boy). An app designed so you can capture people staring at other people’s breasts, TitStare, and a demonstration of on stage masturbation (male masturbation of course), with an iPhone app counting the number of times you can shake your iPhone in 10 seconds. We have such a long history of bro-dom in tech, and such a lot of material, that the Atlantic has written a poem to it.

What I find so bizarre about this week’s particular brand of puerile presentation is that it is still going on. Are these guys living in a time warp?  Do they actually work in Silicon Valley or not? Twenty years ago I would have expected it, but not today!

In the real Silicon Valley today most people are so busy building products, users and revenue they don’t have time to make fun of women, or their breasts. If it doesn’t make me money, leave it out. Enterprise software is back in fashion, the Cloud and Mobility are turning the world on it’s ear – who has time for sexism any more?

In the real-world of Silicon Valley now we have strong sexual discrimination laws. Woe betide you if you work for a real company and you harass a female employee or create a hostile environment. And if you work for a real company pay attention – you can get fired in the blink of an eye if you put the company at risk by hitting on the women you work with, or worse yet who work for you.

In the real-world of tech we have more and more women in power – Meg Whitman and Marissa Mayer and Ginni Rometty and Christy Wyatt and Mary Meeker and Theresia Gouw and Arianna Huffington and many more, including me… and I sure hope the tech frat boys are smart enough to keep their breast interests outside of our offices.

In the real-world of tech we have women changing the way we think about sex. Cindy Gallop is changing the world through sex and challenging the way we even think about sex in today’s society. As she posted in Facebook “You’re absolutely right TitStare doesn’t get a thumbs up from me”. But in contrast the boys of Hacker News defended TitStare with “I don’t see the problem. Pornography is perfectly legal and big business.” At least they equated it to porn, which it is, but pretty boring and tasteless porn.

Two contrasting views of how tech power views women have been emerging for the last 10 years and there are two Silicon Valleys – two worldviews within the tech industry. First, there is the tech world 95% of us live in. Intense work on powerful technology, long hours, explosive markets, serious investors, growing revenue and creating long lasting products and customer engagement. Some gender bias in graduating degrees (yes I write often that we need more women in STEM), little gender bias in the workplace, no misogyny in the office.

And then there is the tech world that attracts press and discourse because it drives traffic — the world of the tech boy culture so perfectly captured by TitStare. But it’s rare. It’s now almost as unimaginable as a politician sending a text photo of his penis to a woman via social media — but wait, that was real too! Some people’s (lack of) intelligence boggles my mind.

But if you do run into the second tech world, the misogynistic one, and it makes you angry, remember: don’t get mad, get even. Smile and take over. Whether you are female or male, don’t tolerate the behavior and it will, eventually, die.