As Ellen Pao writes in today’s Time article it is an indication of “tech’s existential rot”. In a world that “started off seemingly harmlessly by white men funding white men with few exceptions. When only white men were given opportunities, only white men were successful. White men went on hiring only white men, because it seemed to be a common trait of successful employees. Then investors who were white men decided only white men could be successful and doubled down on white men. White men who succeeded in the system decided it worked and saw no need for change. Fifty years later investors can’t break out of that pattern.”
But it is time for the pattern to break for many reasons. There is mounting evidence that diverse teams build better products – they are more likely to understand the buying behavior of their customers if they reflect the customer. There is also growing research that companies with diverse boards and management teams produce better returns for investors -so now some investors are encouraging boards to take on diverse board members.
But more importantly it is no longer acceptable for companies to allow employee harassment to continue while HR departments stand by or worse become part of the problem, as Uber is finding out to it’s detriment. The #deleteuber campaign has been due for a while and will hurt. (note, I switched to Lyft a year ago after reading about the leadership culture at Uber.)
So if it is no longer acceptable at the board level, in the executive team, and in the engineering ranks what can we do to make change happen faster?
I have worked in the “bro” culture of tech in Silicon Valley for more than 30 years. I have repeatedly experienced unconscious bias (sometimes not so unconscious ), being underestimated, being dismissed, being propositioned etc. and I have worked hard to over come it as I became a CEO who grew my company through a successful IPO and acquisition. And as I have done so I have been open and public about my wish to be a role model to other women that you can be technical, and be in a leadership role, and have a family in the technology industry. It’s possible to do and be happy.
I was conscious of the challenge I was facing from day one when I was one of only a handful (I think 5) women majoring in math at Cambridge in my year, out of about 300. And so, to be a role model, I have always tried to hold a leadership position in any situation I am in, especially if everyone else in the room is male.
It is so clear to me now that the problem we have in tech is not a pipeline problem. Yes, we need more little girls to like computers, and more little african american boys to believe they can be Mark Zuckerberg, but we have plenty already who enter the tech world. But the women leave in droves within 10 years because the environment is hostile. Our problem is keeping women in an industry that makes life difficult for them.
It is time to set the tone at the top. To insist that boards have at least 2 or 3 women on them (not just none, or the “we have one so we’re done” you see on so many boards). There are now several recruiters who specialize in finding qualified women with the right experience for boards. For example Beth Stewart of Trewstar would tell you there is no shortage of qualified women to serve, but a shortage of boards who think this is an important issue.
It is also time for boards to insist that the CEO builds a diverse leadership team. This takes real work to find diverse, qualified executives but it can be done in most fields. Uber is just one of many examples where a mostly male leadership team is simply deaf and blind to the issues facing their female employees.
“Tone at the top” is an expression used by boards when reviewing the results of the annual audit. They discuss whether the management team is committed to honest, ethical behavior and whether they operate with integrity. The discussion is important to sign off the financials – after all what audit committee chair would want to sign off the financial filings if he did not believe the CEO and CFO had integrity with the numbers?
It’s time for companies to embrace a “tone at the top” discussion around equal opportunity for all employees. It is time for every board to pay attention to the diversity statistics within their companies. How many women are employed at every level, has the company done an audit of pay across gender to check that women are not paid less than men for the same job? Are the percentages of women in leadership growing or shrinking? It is just not hard for HR to run reports and track progress over time – but it takes a serious discussion on the importance of diversity from the board down to build a world class company in the 21st century.
I am hoping this is what Eric Holder and my friend Arianna Huffington will now do for Uber.
First off, determine why you want it – and be able to articulate that. Are you looking for income or interest? Be clear about this because there is a huge difference between the two. Non-profit boards typically don’t pay, in fact they expect you to give money. For-profit private company boards may pay cash, or they may only pay in stock (which may, or may not, ever be worth anything) and for-profit public company boards pay, but the pay varies widely depending on the size, industry and country of the company.
Once you can clearly state what you want and why, the next step is for you to determine what value you are going to bring – what is your value proposition? What experience do you bring, how will you be helpful, why should a board want you on it? I had never done this formally until a few weeks ago when I was on a panel and the moderator asked us panelists to write down our value propositions. This is what I came up with (late at night in a hotel room!):
As someone who has 20 years as a high tech CEO, has been through an IPO and many M&A deals and who is very technical, I bring experience in what it takes to create the strategy, execution plans and leadership teams necessary to drive growth. As a compensation committee chair on two public boards I team with the CEO to create the right incentives to execute the operational plans and create shareholder value. I tend to be the voice in the room focused on strategy and the needs of the leadership team in a rapidly changing world.
Try writing yours – what would you say?
Another way to approach this is to inventory your skills. Make a list of what you’re good at – what makes you unique. This is your experience – what types of jobs you’ve had – PLUS what is it about your intellect and personality that will be helpful? Are you good under pressure, are you energized by solving hard problems, are you good at negotiation, are you natural coach, do you have strong P&L management experience? These are skills that are often not on your resume, but when a recruiter asks you what you would bring to a board it’s good to be able to confidently state the top 3 or 4 skills that you would bring.
The next challenge is that while you may feel you are ready to contribute on a board, many boards will not want to hire someone with no previous experience. This is one of the top objections that prevents boards diversifying – boards tend to hire people they know, who are like them, who have served on boards before. It’s less work than hiring someone who is different and needs training. But as the trend towards building more diverse boards continues, nomination committees are coming to terms with hiring board members without previous experience.
One of the ways you can prepare yourself is to go and take training. I am a member of the volunteer faculty at a two day intensive training course – the NextGen Directors Academy – designed to take a small group of diverse, aspiring future board members through the nuts and bolts of being on a board. We cover the basic responsibilities, what each committee is responsible for, what your institutional investors care about and case studies of boards who got off track with activists. It’s an interactive, peer to peer format, and there are no stupid questions. There are several courses around like this, but not all have deep, intense content so make sure you talk with previous attendees before you sign up.
Another way you can prepare is to make sure you have the business basics covered. Most of the top business schools run executive training classes, from a few days to several weeks, ranging from general management preparation to specialized skills like cyber security. Once you have inventoried your own skills and experience, think about whether you have a gap you need to fill with some training, or whether you want to develop a skill that is currently in high demand for board members.
One of the ephemeral requirements of many boards is “fit”. Boards are expected to be collegiate, to get along, to voice difference but in the end come together on decisions. (I could write a tome on whether this is healthy for the shareholders or not, but not here). If you want to get onto a company board, but have no experience to point to, try joining a non-profit board first. Pick one that is a decent size (>$500k a year in budget), that has a real board that meets 2-4 times a year and that is run by an experienced chairperson. Reading the prep materials, listening to the management team, sitting in the meetings contributing to the discussion in a balanced, collegiate way will bring you confidence and experience that you can then refer to when you discuss your first for-profit board.
Make sure you have the time to be an effective board member. Being on a board carries status with it, it sounds important, and it may pay well. And many boards have 4-5 meetings a year so it doesn’t sound like much. But actually board work can take a huge amount of time. On a regular basis you need to put the time aside to read, to prepare and to attend the meetings. But in addition you will have countless phone calls and phone meetings outside of the regular meetings. You will need to meet with the CEO and members of the executive team and if the board needs to find a new CEO (for whatever reason) expect to spend days and days, over a series of months, meeting candidates and discussing them with the other board members. So before you pour time into preparing yourself to sit on a board make sure your day job allows you enough time to truly contribute.
And finally, don’t be shy. If you want to get on a board say so. Tell everyone you talk with about boards that you are, yourself, looking for a board seat. Network with recruiters who specialize, and stay in touch with them so you are current in their minds. Talk to people who are already on boards. Finding the right board is a pretty random process and so getting the word out will help the right board find you.
Posted in the Huffington Post
Our world is changing very fast, and the role of women is changing
fast with it — and, mostly, for the positive. We have more women in
power, more women in the workforce, more women in control of their lives
but there still aren’t representative numbers of women at the top of
And yet, we now know that diverse teams make better decisions. We know women make 85 percent of consumer
buying decisions, and so, if you sell anything to them, you probably
want women in your decision structure. As a CEO, if you’re making
strategy decisions, and hiring decisions, you want a diverse set of
opinions around you to advise you. It’s time to pro-actively bring women into your workforce.
why would any company build an all-male leadership team now, or an all
male board, or a board that is mostly male with one token female? The
most often-cited reason is that there are no qualified candidates —
what baloney! When Twitter filed for its IPO with no women on the board
(despite the dominance of women on social media) the reason given was:
“The issue isn’t the intention, the issue is just the paucity of
It’s just not the truth (as the NYT kindly pointed out
to Twitter at the time). There are women available to hire, but you
have to be determined to build a diverse leadership team to make it
happen because the easier path (less work) is to hire people just like
you: men. You have to be willing to do the extra work, find the diverse
candidates, and open up your job spec to change your company for the
future — and for the better. It’s just good business.
Here are three roles where you can change the numbers:
Board of Directors: Mostly male still. Women hold only 16.9 percent of board seats,
10 percent of boards have no women on them and those numbers are barely
changing. If, as many boards do, you set your search criteria
narrowly… for example, must have been a CEO (that cuts most women
out), must have prior board experience (that cuts most women out), must
be retired (the women in the workforce are newer and so less likely to
be retired) then, presto! all you see are male candidates.
solution here is to open your search up to operating executives who are
not CEOs. They are in related industries in powerful operating positions
like CIO, GM or CFO and probably have no prior board experience. But
everyone starts somewhere, and there are excellent training programs you
can go to to learn how to be a public company director.
Software Engineers: Mostly male still. And with hiring practices like the “Bromance Chamber”
at DropBox not surprisingly! Twenty percent of CS majors are girls, and
the best technology companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel et
al) both compete to hire them and invest in programs like the Anita Borg Institute
to learn how to both recruit them, and retain them. But the best
companies also reach outside the rigid spec of pure computer science.
the solution is to be open to a wider set of candidates, without
compromising quality. Open up to girls (and boys) with math majors, or
double majors in math and computer science — those who wouldn’t make it
through the narrow filter of typical CS hiring processes, but who are
likely smarter, harder working, and need just a small amount of training
to be fully effective for your company. Facebook even runs a summer
intern program for students without technical degrees, knowing they can
train them and wanting the very best brains for their engineering teams.
Mostly (white) male still. A lingering bastion of the smart,
golf-playing male in a crisp white shirt. When challenged on the limited
number of female candidates being presented, most recruiters will whine
and complain about the limited pool.
The solution: Deliberately
ask your recruiter to do the extra work to find the diverse candidates.
At my company our sales recruiter did, and we found excellent female
candidates immediately. It’s been my experience that women sell just as
well as men, so why not get a mixed team in place so you see the selling
challenges from more than one perspective?
In all these cases,
you are not trying to hire women. I’d never compromise the quality of
the hire for race or gender. Many women would (quite rightly) be
offended if they thought they were only being hired because of their
gender. What you are doing is insisting on a diverse candidate pool and a
level playing field for those candidates. And, in my experience, that
leads to stronger candidates, to gender balanced teams and, as a result,
to better decisions.
At my own company, FirstRain,
where I am CEO, our board is 50 percent women. My senior leadership
team is half men, half women. That’s no accident. If you are determined
to see diverse candidates you will — and have absolutely no compromise
on quality — quite the reverse!
Posted in the Huffington Post today
Is the fact that Twitter has filed for its IPO with no women on the board,
and only one (new) woman in management a question of supply or demand?
Is it the “arrogance of the Silicon Valley mafia,” as Vivek Wadhwa believes,
or “difficult” due to a lack of qualified candidates as Twitter
insiders have implied, or just competing priorities while managing a
rapidly growing company?
This is a critical debate, one that has been growing since Lean In was released and a debate that is good for technology companies. We now know that having diverse product design teams creates better products. We also now know that having women on boards makes companies more competitive. So why would a company build its management team and board entirely from men?
Some would argue it’s a priority issue and the debate Vivek and Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo,
sparked on Twitter gets us thinking about the priorities. When you’re
building a company, especially one as visible and ground-breaking as
Twitter, it can be hard to do anything that takes extra effort. It’s all
you can do to keep up with the demands of the voracious needs of your
company and a second-level issue, like diversity, probably does not feel
urgent. It takes time and effort to build a diverse team because to do
so you have to demand that your recruiters do the extra work to provide
you with diverse, qualified candidates.
The trustees at the Anita Borg Institute from Women in Technology,
where I have served on the board for the last ten years, know this
firsthand. ABI is funded by companies like Google, Intel, Microsoft,
IBM, Facebook, Amazon, HP… the board is made up of both men and women,
executives who believe growing women in technology is important and the
way to change the numbers is to make diversity a priority. To focus at
both the college level and in the workforce — to focus on solutions
that keep women in technical roles, that reduce the isolation many women
feel in tech, and that teach the skills necessary to get ahead in a
male dominated world.
Some would argue it’s a supply issue – that there are just not very
many women in tech to chose from so finding qualified ones is hard.
It’s true, there are not as many of us as there should be, but there are enough that boards can find one, or two, women to help them diversify their ranks. It’s a question of good governance in the end. Catalyst research has shown women on boards increases the rate of return to shareholders over time which is one of the reasons the EU is moving to quotas of female directors, and why the UK has a percentage target
of female directors for the FTSE by 2015. But in the fast pace of
private Silicon Valley companies few VCs would tell you having women on
their boards matters because it’s all about rate of growth, and when
you’re moving fast you hire who you know, or people who’ve done it
before, which is most likely men like you. My experience over the last
twenty years is that the bias in neither conscious, nor intentional.
So yes, women on boards is not usually a priority to young tech
companies, but Silicon Valley is not ” virtually closed to women,” as
claimed on Sunday. There are plenty of us here running companies,
building products and building companies that we believe will change the
world. For the first time we have women at the top of several high
profile technology companies — all at once! We have the glamorous
Marissa Mayer at Yahoo and Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook; we have the
intensely focused Meg Whitman at HP and Ginny Rometty at IBM; we have
high-growth, smaller company leaders like Amy Pressman at Medallia and
Christy Wyatt at Good Technology and we would all tell you that while
we’re not done, the environment is so much better for women now than it
has ever been.
But in the end, the debate itself if the best thing that’s happening.
Sheryl’s making people talk about how to encourage women in the
workplace with Lean In, ABI is challenging leaders to measure the
quality of their company by what kind of company it is for technical
women to work in (Intel was the most recent winner),
and Twitter’s IPO gives us another chance to look at the statistics,
take a deep breath, and once again set out to change them. As Dick Costolo’s final tweet last night said, “The issues are much bigger than checking any 1 box.” It’s time to address them.
It’s an imperfect process, and the consultants are very mixed in the quality of their analysis, but it throws attention and light onto the right issue: over time is executive compensation lining up with company performance?
So why Diversity? Because we now know that having a diverse board improves company performance. Consider:
– ION’s research that companies gain a competitive edge with more women on the board
– Catalyst’s extensive research that having women on boards improves financial performance
– University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee research that boards with a woman on them are 40% less likely to have a financial restatement
but the numbers of women on boards are not changing. As Ilene H. Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst and a member of the
WCD Global Nominating Commission, said: “Despite heightened conversation
globally around women’s representation on corporate boards, the 2012
Catalyst Census once again showed no change for the seventh consecutive year – and the challenge is not lack of qualified women.”
The reality is white men still dominate the board room.
Fran Maier of TRUSTe calls the low number of women on boards “despicable” and attributes the issue to low turnover of boards, lack of term limits, and most of all due to male board members recruiting people like them. She and Catalyst are right, it’s just not a lack of qualified candidates.
And yet today only 16% of US public company board seats are held by women, 29% of companies have no women on the board, and while 91% of the Fortune 500 have one women director, only 60% of the Technology 200 have one director — technology is significantly lagging!
I think the answer lies in transparency. I don’t think it lies in quotas as the EU is pursuing. Their notion that 40% of directors should be women by 2020 or the company faces sanctions will create a negative backlash and will not lead to the best candidates being hired. Quotas are in place in several European countries, and they certainly
make change happen fast, but I believe it diminishes the impact a woman
can have on a company if she’s known to be there because they need a
human without a Y chromosome to fulfill a quota.
But we can tackle this issue, and make change happen, if companies have to report on their diversity and the process to improve their diversity to the shareholders. The British, who like the Germans are at the bottom in the rankings of women on boards and in management, have introduced voluntary measures where companies report on their diversity and their targets.
The statistics will change if companies are required to report on the diversity statistics of their upper management and board, and present them in the MD&A. It would improve if they were required to report on the change over time and describe their diversity programs to bring more women on the board and into senior management. Even more revealing would be to require them to disclose how many diverse candidates they interviewed in the CEO and Director recruiting process. I’ve been in the room – it’s shockingly low (and I have to be very careful about when and whether I point that out since I am still always the only woman in the room – as I was years ago when this photo was taken).
Most boards want to do a good job. Most want their companies to do well and to provide good governance and oversight. Faced with the growing body of research that diversity improves financial performance, most would engage and try to improve things. Some are tone-deaf to the issue (which never fails to surprise me, even now) but educating boards and causing them to publicly report on the their diversity, their programs and their improvement over time would make change happen, and improve financial performance at the same time.
And my board at FirstRain? 50% women of course.
The good news is that in 12 of the 16 categories women were ranked higher than men by their peers, their bosses and by their direct reports. And not only on the traditional softer areas like nurturing.
“Specifically, at all levels, women are rated higher in fully 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership. And two of the traits where women outscored men to the highest degree — taking initiative and driving for results — have long been thought of as particularly male strengths. As it happened, men outscored women significantly on only one management competence in this survey — the ability to develop a strategic perspective.”
“Why are women viewed as less strategic? This is an easier question to answer. Top leaders always score significantly higher in this competency; since more top leaders are men, men still score higher here in the aggregate. But when we measure only men and women in top management on strategic perspective, their relative scores are the same.”
We know women are at least as good leaders as men, and yet 78% of top management is male and 67% of the next level down are men. For many CEO searches there are never even any women candidates on the list so having a woman at the top is not an option. It’s just still very hard for women competing to get to the top of companies. Women quoted in the article speak to the need to work harder to prove themselves and the constant pressure to never make a mistake.
I gave a talk at the engineering school at San Jose State University last week and less than 10% of the students in the room were women. Of course I took the opportunity to talk about FirstRain and our fantastic technology – and asked them to apply for a job with us when they graduate if they are great software engineers. But I also spoke about the need to build teams with women in them, and how that takes deliberate action to build a culture that is flexible and supports diversity. And as I looked out across the room I wondered if my words have any impact?
I am teaching at Berkeley Haas School of Business late this afternoon – talking about How to plan Resources for your new company. There will be 200-300 students and since it’s a business school maybe 30% will be women, and this time I don’t plan to talk about gender diversity, and yet diversity itself is a way to get maximum value out of your resources so maybe I should.
I read the study with a heavy heart this morning because, despite all evidence to the contrary, the perception is women are not as good leaders and when they get to the top they are bitches. It’s portrayed in the media, it’s rife in the comments in the article, in movies women are not portrayed as leaders and in corporate America I sit in conversation after conversation where “he” is the default pronoun. I get tired of saying “he or she” against the headwind.
But maybe it’s just Monday morning and I don’t have my girl-riveted metal armor on yet for the week. Time to suit up!
Needing to hire the “best and the brightest” is like motherhood and apple pie. No-one can argue with it. And yet it is harder than you’d think for many companies. Great prospective employees can pick and choose and they make their decisions as often on soft issues like who they’d work with/for and what the culture of the company is like as they do on hard issues like project, title and pay.
At FirstRain we work hard to create a fun work environment and to be innovative in our culture – like our “no” vacation policy (not literally… you can read about it here), we certainly like to have fun as a team and diversity is one of our strengths – our employees come in all flavors and colors and we have our fair share of women.
But what if we were not diverse? How would I go about changing it?
I am on the board of a public company called JDSU. It’s a recognized leader in the optical and broadband markets – components, systems, technologies and test & measurement – and it’s known for collaborating with it’s customers on amazing technology. But it’s in an industry that is just not very diverse. Let’s face it – men are in the majority in comms.
The comms sector is very hot now with the explosion in bandwidth (all those teenagers on smartphones) and it needs to hire and keep the best engineers at all levels. So I’m thrilled to see that JDSU is setting out to change it’s diversity profile so it can have a recruiting advantage. They have set up a new women at work initiative (and like everything else at JDSU it has a TLA – that’s a three letter acronym – WAW).
I was at a JDSU board meeting in Germantown Maryland earlier this week and met with the team putting the WAW initiative together to brainstorm through ways to get it off the ground. It looks like it is going to be a lot of fun: mentoring programs, networking events, blogs and tweets about how JDSU is changing… and “women” is just the start… in the end it’s all about Inclusion and they hope to put blue prints in place to recruit and retain more minorities too. I had a really fun hour with the group of passionate JDSU women imagining everything they can do to change their culture.
And one of the first things they are doing is getting involved in ABI and sending a team of women down to the Grace Hopper Conference in Atlanta this October. It’s a conference for technical women – and a great place to recruit the best and the brightest. JDSU, along with many leading firms in tech, finance and defense, will be there interviewing and making offers during the conference.
If you are a technical woman and you have never been to GHC go! It’s the experience of a lifetime. And if you are a technical woman interested in a new job check out JDSU and the other GHC sponsors – or ask me about FirstRain at the conference. I’ll be there on a panel, in the technical executive forum and – of course – on the dance floor after the celebration dinner!