Tag

gender bias

Equality

Is this the “Ultimate CMO” – or poor research on your target?

See the Ken doll? He was sent to me as the  “Ultimate CMO” – “Every CEO’s dream come true” in a fancy box designed to get me to take a meeting and learn about a marketing service.

Blue eyes, blond hair and khakis – what a silicon valley stereotype! He is male and so he wears “winged oxfords” and an “untucked dress shirt” and his box says “all CMOs contain nuts”. He came in a box from a marketing agency who claim they are category
creators. A small firm run by three men with excellent marketing
pedigree. But they named the agency Play Bigger – focusing on size  perhaps? (my team checked, Ken is actually anatomically androgynous)

Of course this was the joke of the office when it came in given who we are and the gender diversity we have at the top of the company (and we suspect they sent the doll as a lead generation gag without looking us up first). But they achieved their goal with me which was to get me to react. I sent Play Bigger an email sharing my lack of appreciation for the male stereotyping and they asked me for a meeting which I accepted, much to the infuriation of my head of marketing.

But in the end they failed. They booked a time to call me on Friday – and did not call. Even clever, and tasteless marketing campaigns need to follow through with the warm lead or they were just a waste of money.

Equality

Hey Mr Waiter! Don’t insult me at the table

Insult can be about blindness as much as it can be overt.

Case #1: My husband and I are at a lovely restaurant. The wine list is put in front of him. He hands me the wine list, I chose a wine, and I tell the waiter when he comes. The waiter returns with the unopened wine, opens it and asks my husband if he wants to taste it. Bret has seen this movie before. He usually smiles at the waiter and says “My wife ordered the wine, if you want a tip I suggest you let her taste it”.

This scenario used to happen every time we went out to dinner. But after 30 years of marriage it happens about 1 time in 20 in California now, but still almost always when we are in Italy. Waiters of Italy take note – my husband knows how to say it in Italian too.

Case #2: I am out to dinner with a friend, who happens to be male. When you work in a male dominated industry like tech, and you make most of your friends through work, this happens often. We’re at the end of the meal, I signal to the waiter that I’d like the check, and the waiter brings the check to my male friend. We tussle over who’s going to pay and, if I win, I place down my card. If the waiter isn’t on the ball (or checking the name) he still brings the check back to my male friend.

This second scenario is a source of great amusement to one of my friends who thinks I shouldn’t be allowed to pay anyway because I am “a girl”. He, of course, says it just to get a rise out of me. But I win enough times with him, but when I do it, and the waiter returns the check to him, it makes his teasing laughter that much more annoying.

Ah, but life is short. I’ve now become skilled at gently telling the waiter his (or her!) mistake and letting it go. But I look forward to the day when waiters are trained to be gender-blind.

Image: Agent-Hope on Deviant Art

Equality

My life is not a sausage factory

Yes high tech is still dominated by men – but it doesn’t have to be.

In Kara Swisher’s hilarious keynote speech at the Women of Vision dinner last week she said “my life is a sausage factory” referring to the predominance of men in the high tech industry. Kara reigns supreme in the world of tech journalism so she’s talking with men, and writing about men, most of the time. She’s a kick – outspoken, whip smart and fearless – had me in stitches.

She’s right though. There is an unhealthy focus on young men right now with the talk of “brogramming” and the frat house culture — probably about to be celebrated in Bravo’s new reality TV show Silicon Valley. I’m willing to bet anyone a dollar that the new show will stereotype women as a) young, pretty and in media, b) arm candy for partying with or c) if smart, then ugly.

But real technology companies do not have to be like that.

My life is distinctly not a sausage factory because FirstRain has women throughout it’s leadership – and what may be unique is that the CEO (me) and the COO (YY) are both women and mathematicians. Now this was not by design – it is simply a result of being open to women as tech leaders, and hiring the best person for the job.

Frankly when building a company having the best person for the job is the only thing that matters. The best person means the intellect, the experience, the creativity, the skills and the cultural fit to build a great solution. We don’t have enough women coming into the pipe today (hence the need for non-profits like the Anita Borg Institute who threw the dinner Kara spoke at) but even with the 20% women CS graduates we do have you can find great female software architects and engineers if you are open to them.

YY and I have worked together on and off for 20 years. We’re both mathematicians, both have programmed, both worked in marketing for a while. YY’s a deep nerd, mother of 3 with her wife Kate, and the best person I could have hired to run the technical teams at FirstRain. Our VP technology is male (Marty), one of our two lead architects is male (one of our founders), the other is female – again we were gender blind when hiring but sought world class talent. Our managing director in India is a female engineer (Aparna), promoted from the engineering ranks because she was the best person to lead what has developed into a truly world-class software engineering and analytics team.

So we have ended up with a management team that is about half female, the women are on both the technical and business sides of the house and I am very (unreasonably?) proud of that. And I’d like us to find more female engineers among the applicants for our open San Mateo and Gurgaon software engineering jobs. Give me a mixed grill any day.

Equality

Girl, stop crying and talk like a man

The same issue comes up every time.
“I offer an idea at a meeting, no one listens to me and then a man says the same thing and everyone listens”.

This is what I hear again and again from women in tech. Often they are the only woman on a team and so the only woman in the room. Often they are smart, nerdy and not very assertive. Sometimes, not always, they are very polite too. Their ideas get overlooked and it upsets them. And they ask me for advice.

And my advice is always toughen up, get over it and learn how to assert yourself in a male world. Until you are the boss, or you are in a team that is 50% women, you need to learn how to talk like a man. If you went to France to work on a team of French people you would learn French. If you work in a world of all men you need to learn how to talk Man.

There is a textbook for how to do this. Deborah Tannen’s brilliant “You Just Don’t Understand”. Professor Tannen, after years of research, points out that the way women talk creates connection while men’s language transfers information. (This is especially true of engineers). Women are creating community as they speak, men are establishing status. We are brainwashed young — women are in the home, men are on the hunt. So while we make nice, men figure out who’s on top.
Knowing this is power and the start of the solution to the problem of your ideas being ignored. Complaining about it is a waste of time and energy. Take an assertiveness class, practice speaking up and being heard, find a man on your team who is aware enough to listen to your desire to change and who will help you. But don’t expect the group to change, that’s an unreasonable expectation until they are working for you or the group has several women in it.

There is one other thing that can really help with the mental toughness necessary to be gender-isolated every day at work and that is to sign up for some challenge that stretches you and raises your confidence and assertiveness at the same time. Train for a half-marathon, sign up for a triathlon, join toastmasters  — and then take the same steel that your challenge requires into your meetings, and remember to smile as you make yourself heard.

Equality

Why are Women Funded Less than Men? – a new conversation

If you are thinking of starting a company, or raising venture capital, and happen to be female then Pemo Theodore’s new ebook is for you.

Why are Women Funded Less than Men? a crowdsourced conversation presents a thoughtful collection of advice on how to do it and the challenges you face, drawn from a fascinating set of video interviews. Pemo interviewed VCs, entrepreneurs and advisors, asking them all to speak about the issues and challenges facing women trying to raise venture capital.

In a world more than 95% run by men, and 95% invested in by men, advice for the female entrepreneur is invaluable, and by presenting the advice in short video form, Pemo makes it very easy to absorb and enjoy.

Raising venture capital has never been a problem for me, and as I watched the videos I found myself thinking was I lucky, good, or just really ignorant of the challenge? I very much resonate with the advice to not be aware of your gender as you pitch, to be aggressive and to ignore that you know most VCs are not women friendly – your idea is still great.

I also resonate with the advice from Janice Roberts at Mayfield Fund that you can empower yourself by choosing the right VC. Finding the right investing partner is critical – my advice on how to pick a VC is in this post.

Many of the contributors speak about how important confidence is. So many women let themselves down by expressing self doubt. DON’T. VCs are already taking enough risk – they won’t invest in someone that reveals their fears – and men don’t let on no matter how scared they might be. Be confident, project confidence, and your investors will follow you.

As I said in my forward for the book:

While the facts are that only 3-5% of venture capital goes to female entrepreneurs there is simply no good reason for this to be the case. Women are as strong and smart as men, and often have the advantages of better management skills and stronger team building ability. But today’s venture world is dominated by men looking for the classical male style of leadership and until that changes women need to adapt to the current rules of the game, get funded and win so they can change the game.

It take confidence, courage and authenticity and a healthy dose of advice and encouragement. This wonderful collection of advice, shared experience and often humorous stories will be an inspiration to any female entrepreneur. Pemo interviews across the spectrum: VCs, entrepreneurs, those who have succeeded, some that have failed, all that have learned and share their experience with you. It’s a terrific resource if you are raising money from venture capital, plan to do so for your next brilliant idea or are a VC yourself wanting to unlock higher quality deals by tapping into the female advantage.

The complete videos of Pemo interviewing me on raising money are here and here too.

Equality

Another ugly stereotype of women in the workplace

Sometimes I read articles about women in tech that make me angry, sometime they make me laugh. They rarely make me sad but this one did.

Penelope Trunk wrote a piece for BNET titled: Are Startups Better as Single-Gender Affairs? Based on the author’s experience in three startups it reinforces the stereotypes that women and men can’t work together because they are too different and just can’t get along.

This is just simply not true, but feeds the confidence of the men who don’t want to bring women into the workplace, or who want to pigeon hole them into safe roles. Why do women do this to themselves? Why do they reinforce stereotypes that hold women back?

Penelope cites that while she cried, the guys threw a fit, and this was too much drama for a small company. Ugh. Women cry, and trust me men cry too. Women use anger, and so do men. Everyone is emotional under pressure, male and female, and they show it in different ways. Some are overly timid, others are assholes. The tension certainly shows up but it’s not gender related.

Maybe I should not give her opinion credence by reacting to it, but BNET published it so it’s out there. Maybe I should ignore BNET from now on?

Diverse teams are simply more effective in small and large companies. They produce better results most of the time. But like any creative force they take management and leadership. Without that any team, all men or all women, will not succeed. And as female leaders we need to be very skilled because there are still too many people who are biased or ignorant of the benefits of women in leadership positions alongside of men.

And instead of hurting women’s chances in new ventures, women need to help other women until we have a decent balance in tech.

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

LinkedIn is the White Male’s Social Network

The Pew Research Center released a study on social networking a few days ago that – if you are interested in the social networking phenomenon – is a fascinating read. Most of their conclusions are related to Facebook: Facebook users are more trusting, they have more social support around them and they are more politically active, plus they are slowly getting older.

LinkedIn is very different from Facebook though – it is the only social network dominated by men. White, well educated men. Even Twitter which gets touted as being for breaking news is dominated by women but LinkedIn, which is for professionals, has majority white male users.

This is probably a reflection of the dominance of men in tech, and men in upwardly mobile positions. But given that the users of social networks are younger I would have hoped to see a better balance of women, but not yet. Not yet. Something we must continue to change.


Less surprising is that the LinkedIn users are better educated than the other networks, but as with the gender imbalance it’s disappointing to see how very low the percentage of LinkedIn’s users are black.

Equality

I get called a “naughty girl”

Sadly there is no titillation with this story – just the usual gender patronage.

I was on the phone with a sixty-ish business man a few days ago and I was selling. Not selling hard but describing my business and answering his many questions as he queried me to get a good sense of where we are, what our strategy is and the source of our momentum.

After an hour of high quality conversation I went for the close and asked for his conclusion. His response “You are a naughty girl for asking me so directly”.

I was gobsmacked. Can you imagine a man saying “you are a naughty boy” to another man? In any business setting?

So, gentle-reader, how, pray, did I respond? Jane Austen would have been proud of me. I stayed with my immaculate good manners, apologized for being so direct, and reminded him that he would think less of me if I did not try to close him, all with a sense of humor.

In the end it’s just funny. I know this gentleman greatly respects me. He’s just not aware of what his words communicate and he’d be mortified if he was so I am not going to tell him, I’m just going to succeed in his world.

Equality

Women want to make money too – and this is news?

In a world where women still make less money than men for the same job, iVillage and Today.com have released a survey that shows – shock horror – that salary is the most important criteria for a woman choosing a job.

“97% of working moms surveyed saying that salary is most important to them, followed by a family-friendly work environment (91%), job enjoyment (91%), flexible hours (86%), a short commute (83%) and health insurance for the family (81%)”.

Why is this news?

The report attributes this to “today’s fragile economy” and this infuriates me. Women are equal in the workplace and, like men, are ambitious, want to make money and want to grow their careers. The desire to make money has nothing to do with the “fragile economy” and everything to do with professional women finally coming of age.

Why do women continue to perpetuate the worldview that women are not as mercenary and tough as men? Lisa Barone of Outspoken Media wrote a hilarious “Letter to Women in Tech, I Let You Down” where she writes that she never got the memo to be meek and weak. The perpetuation of the concept that we are in any way less able or less ambitious is women hurting women for no good reason at all.

I certainly never thought for a moment that I would not succeed, make equal money, run the meeting, set the strategy, lead the company – why wouldn’t I? Because I don’t have a Y-chromosome? Seriously?

It is true women have to work hard. In our society they still do the majority of the household chores. As the iVillage survey reports “All moms, whether they are working or not, continue to be responsible for the majority of the household chores. In two-thirds of dual working families, moms are responsible for 75% or more of all the household chores, with 97% of those surveyed responsible for half or more of the duties in the house.”

Yes, a harsh side effect of the aforesaid missing Y-chromosome today but get over it ladies. Like breastfeeding in the middle of the night there are some things that are not going to change in our generation so the best strategy is deal with it, let the dust bunnies build up and, when you can, pay for extra help around the house. Now I have a cleaning lady; when my kids were little and I was taking my company public I had two nannies working shifts – and surprise, surprise my kids are just fine.

Yes I had moments of guilt but I want to be a role model to my daughter and every other nerdy, techy young woman out there that they can be anything they want to be – and yes still be happy and have a family. Technology is a fantastic place to grow your career as a woman because, in the end, all that really matters is how smart you are when you are architecting systems and writing code.

We must keep going and get all the way to the top. Women are still scarce as CEOs (especially in tech!) and in the board rooms which are still Male, Pale and Stale – as reported by BNET and Catalyst – and this is a direct result of the low numbers of women in the top jobs. There are enough women at the top now to show young women coming up that there Are No Limits.

I refuse to apologize for being an equal member of society and for wanting the same opportunity as any man. I expect to compete – I’d want no less. I watch men compete hard and ferociously for advancement and so should we. And when we win it’s not news. It’s expected.