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.


5 Keys to Authentic Leadership

From a talk I gave at VMware in Palo Alto earlier this month

Leadership comes in many styles – charismatic, intellectual, bullying – but in all cases leadership is hard to sustain over time unless it is authentic. Real. Genuine. These 5 keys are from a woman’s perspective, but most apply just as much to men.

1. Embrace making decisions. 

Not only embrace them, but have confidence in how you make decisions. I’m a fast, intuitive decision maker. I make a decision on minimal visible information and then use data to check my decision. This means I cannot be afraid to be wrong and change my decision, but I will make it in my head, whether I like it or not.

For a long time, I thought that my method of decision making was in some way bad. Shortcut, or lazy but not a studied, analysis based approach which is what “smart” people do. I doubted myself and did not feel authentic about my own decision making! Until I read the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

As I read Blink I gradually realized that I was not crazy, but my method of decision making is actually very human. We have evolved to make snap decisions on limited amounts of data – some visible to us, some not – and when you can tap into that skill and embrace it is an advantage! But you do need to keep one ear open and keep listening to additional information as it comes in so you can course correct if you need to.

Embrace your decisions and be real about your decision making process. Don’t pretend otherwise – even if you’ve been taught it’s not ladylike to be assertive. If it’s your decision make it; if it’s someone else’s support them. Be direct.  It takes guts to make big decisions, but it’s what leaders do.

2. Don’t ask “whether”, ask “when”

This is an area where men typically differ from women. There are many studies now that show that men will ask for promotion before they are ready, whereas women will wait until they are over qualified to put themselves forward for promotion. I believe, if you have a goal, it’s really important that you communicate that goal out to your leadership confidently. Don’t think about whether you’ll get a promotion or a big opportunity, think about when you’ll get it. Talk with your management about what you want, and ask for their help to get you there.

American Express used this understanding of how women wait to change the demographics at the top of their company. They won the ABI Top Company for Technical Women in 2012 and when Yvonne Schneider accepted the award she spoke of how AmEx proactively trained their male managers to reach down into the organization and ask women to apply for promotions, often before they would have done it naturally themselves. As a result, women moved up into management alongside of men, and the top of AmEx was changed. AmEx didn’t ask whether, they asked when and reached down.

I knew I wanted to be a CEO after I had been working a few years. And being verbal, I talked about it with my network. With the coaches and VCs whom I was getting to know. And as a result I got told all the reasons I was not ready and the education and experience I needed to get to be ready. It was invaluable, and included my company Synopsys sending me to the Stanford Executive MBA to learn about finance and management (since all my formal training was in mathematics). Had I not spoken out about “when I’m a CEO” I would never have got the smack down and been told to learn about running a P&L first, which was the best advice I could have received at the time!

3. Learn to Act As If

You might think that learning to act is in contradiction to being authentic, but I find it’s a part of the process. There are so many situations where I have had to learn to act as if I belong, even though I am the odd man out (so to speak). For many years I went to Japan every 4-6 weeks for business meetings with my customers. In 6 years I was never, ever in a meeting in Japan with another woman. The only women I met were tea ladies. And through that experience I learned to act like a man. I was treated as an honorary male. I learned to drink whiskey late at night in small Osaka bars, and eat food that was still moving, and most of all, never show traditional female traits. That made me effective, and over time my behavior became natural and authentic to me.

And just a few weeks ago I went to a dinner in Palo Alto for 100 CEOs and I was the only woman in the room. By now I’ve learned to “act as if”. As if it’s not odd being alone in a crowded room and relax. That allows me to be authentic in the moment.

4. Balance is a myth

I’ve written and spoken about this many times here and here. I spoke about it again at VMware. We’re in a competitive industry. We’re competing on a global scale. It’s important to decide what matters to you at any point in time, and focus on that. Balance doesn’t win intense market share fights or create dramatic innovation. 

And sometimes you just have to let go and be human. Like the time my son broke his arm on the last day of the quarter. This story always gets a laugh… because it’s true!

5. Laughter is the best weapon

Gender discrimination is all around us, all the time. Some days I think it’s getting better, some days when I see the games being played in the San Francisco tech startup world I think nothing’s changed, but my approach remains the same: when it happens to you keep a sense of humor. It’s hard for men to discriminate if you are humorous in your response, and it help you keep your head on straight and not get mad.

One day, when I was a CEO, I was at the beginning of a meeting with a group of investment bankers who did not yet know my company. We had not yet introduced ourselves and one of the group knocked over a diet Coke. Without missing a beat the banker turned to me and said “sweetie can you clean that up?” I smiled, went to kitchen for paper towel, came back, cleaned up, went and washed my hands, came back, reached out my hand to the banker and with a big smile said “Hello, my name is Penny, I am the CEO”.

One evening, I was at a dinner with people I did not know, at a table of men. During dinner I felt a hand on my knee, creeping under my napkin suggestively. I leaned towards the man whose hand it was, gave him a big smile, lifted his hand up and put it back on his lap and said “no thankyou”.

I have a thousand stories like that, and I have found humor defuses almost any situation. Especially if you are a leader in the group. If someone discriminates against you it is rare that it is overtly intentional. And if you can, try to work with men who have wives who work or daughters. Your humor will make them catch themselves and think about what they are doing.

In the end effective, authentic leadership is all about results. Being authentic means you are focused on the real, the now and reaching the end in mind. You don’t get caught up in what people think about you – instead you try to be your most complete self in the moment – and so be effective.


Forced ranking is about the top, not the bottom

How do you rank against the guy next to you—better, worse, the same? And do you think the process of your managers discussing you relative to your peers is a good thing, or a bad one?

The practice of forced ranking—or the euphemistically named “vitality curve“—was developed by Jack Welch and GE in the 1980’s as a way to identify non-performers and so improve the financial results of the company. It was quickly picked up by companies in Silicon Valley with more aggressive cultures, like Intel, and used as a way to force employees onto a bell curve. It was recently dropped by Microsoft, while being picked up by Yahoo.

The ranking process is not a scientific one—it’s a process of judgement. My experience has been managers sitting in a conference room, putting names up on a white board, arguing through the lifeboat test: if you had to throw one employee out of the life boat, which one would you throw? Sometimes the process is simply a forced ranking, putting employees in a linear list; other times it’s a process to force employees into groupings like A, B and C, or top 20%, middle 60% and bottom 20%.

Sometimes it is a scientific process. In sales, results are ultimately measurable, and I know one tech CEO who used to fire the bottom 10% of his sales team each quarter, irrespective of whether they made quota or not. His purpose was to drive a dog-eat-dog competitive culture within his sales team.

The end result is the same. You end up with the collective judgement of a group of managers on a group of employees and, if you’ve run the process well, you know who your top and bottom performers are.

It’s always illuminating. If nothing else, to find out what other managers think—but I think it’s a clumsy, archaic process to manage the performance of your weakest players.

Poor performance needs to be managed continuously, not once a quarter or once a year. When you have someone who is not performing, you need to act quickly. Never forget, if someone’s not pulling their weight you can bet everyone around them knows it, and they are pulling down (at a minimum) the morale and (more likely) the performance of everyone on the team with them. So as the manager, you owe it to everyone to intervene and either put some training and coaching in place quickly to bring up the employee’s performance, or get them out.

But the top performers are the most valuable people in your organization and the ranking process can make you pay attention to their satisfaction and compensation, as a team, on a rigorous schedule. The pareto principle holds true for your engineer’s performance as much as it does for the likely distribution of your customers—80% of your results are probably coming from the contributions of your top 20%. This does not mean that the middle 60% is not important—quite the contrary—but it does mean you need to pay daily attention to the happiness and professional health of your top 20%.

This is where forced ranking can be truly illuminating. When you get your managers from across the organization, responsible for different job types, into a room and get them talking about their top talent, everyone can then pay attention to their careers. You can make sure your top talent has appropriate top compensation (especially stock options and/or RSUs) and that their career interests are being watched over and nurtured by every member of your management team.

Forced ranking is a useful tool, but a tool to be used occasionally and not as a religion. It’s not about making your employees compete (and so driving financial performance up). It’s not about identifying your bottom performers (you need to be doing that continuously). It’s about making sure your leaders know who the top talent in your organization is so you can grow them, and grow their leadership and impact on your company.

Photo: Seth Coal Deviant Art


Defining success

Invited to answer a few simple questions about success and leadership I found myself having to think hard. To really think about how to get such a complex concept across simply – and be truly authentic.

My answers are here (and if you know me personally some of these will make you nod knowingly):

1. How do you define success?
Achieving happiness while making a positive difference to the people around you.

2. What is the key to success?
To know what you want to make happen (in work or out of it) and then go after it. Don’t stop for anything or anyone.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I knew I had the chance to be successful but I didn’t know if I could
pull it off. I still worry about it every day. I’ll probably worry about
it until the day I die.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Fear. Fear of disappointing my father. Fear of what people will think about me if I fail.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
To be truly interested in the well being of other people. Life’s not
easy for anyone and a little caring and kindness goes a long way.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Wandering around art galleries, gardens and ancient ruins in Europe.

7. What makes a great leader?
The ability to inspire people to be greater as a group than they can be
alone. It’s a combination of ideas, brains, beliefs and charisma – and
good old fashioned guts.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Seek a path that you are totally passionate about. If you love what you
do you’ll be good at it. And, if you want a great job, take a good look
at Tech. It’s the future.

Thanks for the opportunity Jason.

My Personal Journey

Tears for the Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher dies

Whatever your politics, Margaret Thatcher was one of the greatest leaders in modern English history. I cry today, remembering England in 1979 and how bravely and radically she transformed the country with her powerful leadership and vision for the possible future of the UK.

In the Winter of Discontent which struck the UK in 1978-79 we had continuous strikes of angry union workers and a weak, ineffective government — coupled, I remember, with unusual cold and very deep snow. The country, which had run a global empire and stood up to Hitler, was on it’s knees in political turmoil with a defeated population, high taxes, bad food and no way out.

Margaret Thatcher was the powerful force that turned the country around. Her leadership was unstoppable. She had a clear, determined vision for what the UK could be again, and no one and nothing was going to get in her way. By restructuring taxes and privatizing the nationalized industries she forced the country to compete on the world markets. Yes, there was severe unemployment as a result, but short of a deep socialist (short-sighted) agenda that unemployment was coming, one way or another, and she had the courage to get ahead of it.

Watching Mrs Thatcher on stage a few years after she left power confirmed what I had come to believe watching her in the media. She was on stage with Gorbachev and George Bush Snr (Reagan had already succumbed to Alzheimer’s by then) talking about how they worked together to reform Soviet politics — which resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall. She had a huge brain, charm, and an iron will. Her clarity, intellect and wit were unmatched, even by her peers who were themselves global leaders, and I was inspired.

I have admired her determined, uncompromising leadership since 1979. For 30 years now when I am asked who has inspired me I have said Margaret Thatcher.  It’s as true today as it ever was. 

It’s not the first time I’ve cried for her. I cried for her – posted here – when I saw the film Iron Lady about her rise to power, fall from power and fall into dementia.


Don’t be too busy to lead

Do you respect the leaders who always look busy, or the ones who are calm and collected? Do you want to follow someone who’s harried, or someone who’s accessible to you?

Obvious right?

And yet the cult of being busy, and the sense of self importance that comes with that, undermines many aspiring leaders.

Being busy is not a virtue (except maybe in bees). It means you can’t manage your time, don’t have a competent admin or are trying to do too much (which impacts your ability to lead). Or it means you’ve hired the wrong people. And since a leader must never be a victim she must always take responsibility for being so busy.

The challenge is the more intense your job the more demands there are on your time, so it’s important to set up a system where you are still accessible. This means not over scheduling each day. Whether you or your admin book your calendar, don’t ever book every time slot. Leave blocks open so you can walk the halls and respond to people who want to talk with you. And get creative about how you can be available on the phone — in the car, on the treadmill (although hard to do in the pool!)

When you telegraph that you are over booked you telegraph that you’re not in command of your time. Don’t ever tell someone you’re “triple-booked” – even if you feel like you are. Never make someone feel bad for interrupting you – figure out gracefully how to give them your time at some point in the next 24 hours.

What’s underneath all of this is that great leaders telegraph to their employees that they are important to them. Provided you’re not dealing with someone who abuses access, your people are more important. They are doing the real work, your job is to facilitate their ability to do their job. The days of the executive who sits in a remote office behind a big desk with three admins in front of them are gone. The days of the social-media-using, accessible leader are here.

Image: Busy Bee on DeviantArt by tyrantwache


Who needs sleep anyway

Sleep. What a concept. As an entrepreneur it’s more rare than cash, and harder to come by.

As Mark Suster wrote in his recent blog post about Entrepreneurshit “It’s 4.50am. Sunday morning. And I couldn’t sleep. I have much on my
mind since I just returned from a week on the road. 5 days. 3 cities.”

Most nights I lie awake for 2-3 hours in the night. The gerbils running on the treadmills in my mind never stop. Problems. Opportunities. Equations. Spreadsheets. People. Endlessly running.

Until recently I worried about the sleep too. One more thing to add to the list – now let me worry about not getting enough sleep and what’s that going to do to me. My health, my ability to be smart and articulate in the big customer summit tomorrow. Aaargh!

But I recently learned that waking in the night is actually one less thing I have to worry about in those waking moments – it’s quite normal and may even be our natural sleep pattern.

In the days when we went to bed and got up with the sun, it turns out we would sleep in two sleeps – the first for four hours… then a period awake… and the second sleep for four hours. There’s a great description of the research in the BBC News report The myth of the eight-hour sleep. So maybe it all makes sense now. I am supposed to lie awake solving the problems of the day – but I need to get up and make a “hott drinke” as I do my email:

“And at the wakening of your first sleepe You shall have a hott drinke
made, And at the wakening of your next sleepe Your sorrowes will have a
Early English ballad, Old Robin of Portingale 

And on days like today, when I have had a couple of short nights, and I know YY has had less than 5 hours of sleep after a red eye flight in to NY to join me (for a series of really cool meetings this week) I tell myself we can sleep when we’re dead – coffee and adrenalin will pull us through.

And I believe it, until I go away for 3-4 days to a tropical island and end up sleeping 10+ hours a night, every night (something I do a couple of times a year) and then I know all those days when I thought I didn’t need to sleep I was kidding myself.

Ah, the necessary self delusion of the entrepreneur.

Career Advice

How judgement and blame are ineffective

Why do we tolerate judging and blame when we all know they are such toxic behaviors?

I recently came across a great model for thinking about how blame and judgement impact team behavior. The first chapter in Kevin Kennedy’s new book “Devil in the Details” uses a four quadrant model to explain this as follows:

  • The horizontal axis is the spectrum driven by thought – how we think. On the right the positive aspects: thought driven by insight and learning; on the left the negative aspects: thought driven by blame and judgement. 
  • The vertical axis is the spectrum driven by emotion. At the top the positive: emotion is modulated in a predictable rhythm, measured and controlled; at the bottom the negative: drama reigns.

As you would expect, Quadrant 1 leads to the most useful behavior in most business situations. When we can remain calm and centered, neither judging nor blaming, nor being the victim, we can build trust and make forward progress. Everyone can be heard, facts are the basis for decisions, the team can move forward together.

When we judge other people on the team, blame them, or even play the tourist (Kevin has a whole chapter on the damage “tourists” do to teamwork) we experience dissonance. The team becomes divided, some judge, some feel judged and facts and clarity go out of the window.

And yet, judgement is common in technology. Maybe it’s because engineers are taught critical thinking, taught to be black and white in their judgements and they get in the habit in all walks of life – they know they are smarter after all. Maybe it’s because we are all emotional creatures (yes even engineers, although they can’t always see it) and so we get out of practice of consciously checking our emotions at the door. Or maybe it’s just a lack of personal discipline, the discipline of being always aware and present. Being, as Steven Feinberg says, neutral.

It’s a simple model. The left hand side is simply never productive. When I can put myself to the right, (which I am sorry to say is not always), I am simply more effective. When I lead my team to be to the right, they can solve any problem.

Most of the time, I try to put myself in quadrant 1. But not always. As Kevin points out, sometimes as the leader you need to be in quadrant 2. Not often, but when you want to create a call-to-arms, you want to create intensity or to lead with emotion, then you consciously step into quadrant 2.

Either way, the important thing is to be conscious of which quadrant you are in, and to be deliberate if you need to move yourself, and your team, from quadrants 3 and 4 into quadrant 1.

Kevin Kennedy is CEO of Avaya. I’ve served on two public company boards with him, and learn from him in every meeting. His book is a terrific, practical guide to team leadership.


How much candor is too much?

A week ago I spoke to the MIT Sloan Executive MBA classes of 2012 and 2013 about being a CEO. As you can imagine within an EMBA class — made up of professionals with an average age of 40 – many of the students are entrepreneurs, or are considering whether to develop into a CEO/GM/entrepreneur so my experience could be helpful, or at least interesting to them.

I find that in a setting like this story telling is the most interesting way to communicate. I’m not teaching, I’m simply sharing experience. And I try to be light hearted so that it doesn’t get boring. But sometimes I do wonder if I am too candid. My talk centered around huge challenges and how I dealt with them. I started with one of my worst low points when my confidence was in the tank and described the abyss. As I posted before this happens to everyone at times and as a CEO you must not let on, not quit and find a healthy way to cope.

Then I shared three really tough experiences:
– becoming a CEO, finding out I was clueless and struggling to work out what really mattered in this new, amorphous job

– switching industry from EDA (software for semiconductor design) to the Information industry and going back to first principles (customers) to figure out how to develop the strategy

– having my market melt down on me not once, not twice but three times (April 2000, Sept 2001, Sept 2008) and figuring out how to change and survive each time.

I truly believe people learn much more from mistakes than from successes and so sharing my mistakes, with plenty of self-effacing humor, exposes that everyone is haunted by the same thoughts of failure. Finding ways to deal with the problems and thrive is what you need in 99% of companies. Some are right place, right time but most morph their strategy several times before they get it right.

The feedback from this talk was a first for me. My audience was probably 70% male, 30% female and at the end of the talk and Q&A both men and women came up to chat with me and ask me more questions. The feedback was positive (whew!) but about my candor. Specifically one student voiced that most speakers come in and talk about all the great things that happened and what they did, not all the things that went wrong and the mistakes they made. But how much candor is too much?

This talk was not taped but if it had been could it hurt me if pieces were take out of context?

Candor is amusing, it’s compelling and sometimes it makes people uncomfortable but it is usually unforgettable because it is pointed and rare. Cindy Gallop is an extremely brave example speaking on makelovenotporn.com and the pornification of our culture – and people listening to her are uncomfortable but they will never forget what she said. Candor is also often simple – like Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech. Nora Denzel in her Top 10 Career Tips makes fun of herself and women as a group in a charming, funny way.

Candor is also self-indulgent. For me, it’s easy to laugh at myself. It takes more work for me to be serious.

I am serious in front of customers when talking about our technology and how we can help them. I am serious when speaking about the changes impacting the information industry. I am serious when working with investors of the private or public companies I work with. With my employees I strive for serious transparency.

But me and my experience? It’s hard to be serious about that!

And that leads to the question. As a female CEO, where there are not very many of us, do I hurt women when I am candid and share my mistakes and challenges more than a male CEO would? Do I help the student but confirm that women are less serious about their careers and themselves than men?

I take everything seriously in business. But when I am talking with peers – as I consider the students at the Sloan MIT EMBA program to be – I try to be candid and share in a way that will help them see the “man behind the curtain” to demystify the leadership role.

After all, the only way to walk on water is to know where the rocks are – and that takes mistakes and learning.


5 leadership keys for women

Do women lead differently than men? Yes, usually. Do women face more barriers than men? Frequently. But do women often hold themselves back ? Yes.

I gave a leadership talk and Q&A, at a tech company in Silicon Valley a couple of weeks ago where I was meeting with female leaders in a hardcore semiconductor company. Because it’s hardcore it was a small group, and because I grew up (professionally) in a hardcore technical environment like that I spoke to the things I have seen women do that hold them back as leaders – and how to flip these challenges around and turn them into advantages.

Here are the 5 keys to leadership as a woman (although not exclusively…) and each one is the flip side of a common weakness:

1. Embrace making decisions – they are fun

Companies need people who are decisive and courageous. A common issue with new entrepreneurs and young managers is that they hesitate to make decisions. It’s tough when you don’t know what to do, but it’s better to make a decision quickly and decisively, and be ready to change it if you are wrong, than to hesitate, hash it over many times, or wait for someone else (your board, your team, your boss) – or even worse time and delay – to make it for you.

Making decisions gets easier when you learn to trust yourself and your judgement – you can feel in your gut and in the tips of your fingers what to decide. Never underestimate your own intuition – it’s not a myth, it’s real.

I simply did not understand or trust this until I read Blink (the voice is my head is uber-critical) but now I love the feeling. I am not always right, and I definitely need and value advice, but I learned to trust, move forward fast, knowing that if I am wrong I’ll also figure that out quickly, or someone I trust will slap me.

2. Never ask whether, ask when

This is a mindset that many men are good at. They come out of of the womb asking when they’ll get that raise, when they’ll be promoted, when they’ll go kill that bear, not whether. Women so often talk about whether. Should I push for that promotion, should I ask for more money, will I get funded, will they promote a woman, will they like me?

Working with mostly men, and a few women, I see a pattern in the successful women. They don’t ask whether they have a right to what they want, they assume they’ll get it. They don’t particularly care what other people think of them, they care about getting the job done. They act like they are competent, it’s in their future, they are going to get it, and there is not any question of whether, just when.

3. Hire your betters

The fastest way to build a great team is to hire people who are smarter and more experienced than you in their field, and if you are technical these are probably mostly men today.

It can be intimidating to interview people who are senior to you – I know. It can be downright frustrating when you talk to men who, when they meet you, talk down to you because you are blond and forget that you are interviewing them (can you tell I’ve been through this?). Remember, you don’t need to be “the man” – you need to get the job done better than anyone else.

Stay focused on your vision for your team. A group of people who work for and with you, all of whom are smarter than you in some dimension but who want to climb the hill with you. Plan to grow into being their leader and if they are good people they will give you space to do it. Give in to fear of being usurped and you’ll fail because you don’t hire a strong enough team.

I confess I used to always try to hire my “elders and betters”. As time goes by the first becomes more difficult, but thankfully the second is still easy!

4. Speak up and be sure you are heard

I have often heard the complaint that a woman will say something in a meeting, not have her idea acknowledged and then a man will say the same thing and everyone will jump on a agree. There are even TV ads that make fun of this reality.

Given that this does happen, develop some tactics that help you be heard, and help you confirm that you have been heard. State your input and then ask a question that causes your co-workers to engage in your idea. Repeat yourself in different words. Go to the white board to sketch your concept – whether it is a process or a product idea – it’s really hard to ignore the person at the white board. If you are in an online meeting call on a co-worker by name to get their direct input on your idea. What does not work is speaking your piece and then waiting – that is the easiest way for you to be dismissed.

5. Put the company first and get results

And finally – the playing field is not level. Fact. Deal with it. To lead men and get ahead in a man’s world you need to work harder, be smarter and be more ambitious than the men around you.

The CEO lives in the place where the company and it’s results are all that matter to her. So practice that. In everything you do put the company first, ahead of your needs. Ahead of office politics (I wish I had known this from day one – I had to learn this one). Drive to results, be sure you get recognition for your results, and you will get ahead and become a leader.

Male dominance of tech is not going to change quickly so don’t complain, or hesitate, just get on with it. And if you are a leader – men, and women, will follow you. When you look over your shoulder you will know.