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Girly Geeks

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.

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

The rewards of taking risk – at Dreamforce 2012

I’m living in a Dreamforce whirl this week, and am reminded again and again of the importance of taking risk.

As T.S. Eliot said:

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

On the GirlyGeek panel last night – alongside of an EVP of salesforce, the CFO of Square (such a cool company), the VP running the party for 84,000 people, a very brave CEO of a salesforce consultant firm and an EloQueen – every panel member talked about the importance of taking risk. Leaning in, following the anxiety, taking on a challenge you don’t know if you can do.

Leading up to the show, my team and I came up with the idea of “Letters to Marc Benioff”, but based on the comment an SVP at one of salesforce’s competitors had said to me the first time I presented to him – he said “you had me at hello”. All about how having customer intelligence makes you more useful to your customer, and grows your revenue.

We put together the Letters tumblr on a whim, hoping to make a funny thread to bring attention to FirstRain and to my great surprise, I found not only do I get lots of positive feedback, I also enjoy writing it (yes I am the author, truly, it’s not ghost written). But it’s risky.

Daniela put together the hilarious S**t Dreamforcers Say video. She was sufficiently concerned about the risk that she didn’t tell me until it was done. She was concerned it would not work, or would be too lame. But for anyone going to the show it’s pretty funny – or as my son (who worked at FirstRain this Summer) said “Mom, you guys are SO DORKY”. No higher praise from a nerd!

And then there is the Carrot. Again feedback from a customer. Imagine an EVP of Sales, in a French-Canadian accent “Penny, you are ze carrot to my stick!”. Who knows whether our Carrot strategy will work at Dreamforce or not. It will reach it’s peak at my session on stage with Steve Kozek of GE Capital on Thursday. He’s game and has a great sense of humor. Should be fun, but it’s risky.

No one achieves great things without risk. No career grows without risk. As Sarah from Square said, you won’t grow if you are not uncomfortable in conversations with your manager. I know that if I am not feeling the anxiety in my gut I am not taking enough risk to move forward.

So onward into Dreamforce 2012. Carrots, S**t, Letters to Marc. We are going to channel T.S. Eliot and find out how far we can go in the next 72 hours.