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


Three Disruptive Ideas

I love being asked to talk to groups of women or girls. Especially high school girls who are a future untapped resource for technology and so if I can move just a few of them to consider tech I’m happy.

Last week I had the opportunity to do just this at Wycombe Abbey in England. Wycombe is my alma mater and one of the top girls schools in England. Really smart kids (and definitely privileged, but that is not their fault). It was surreal for me to go back for the first time in 34 years as I had left swearing never to go back (yes, I was a terrible rebel in high school) but walking around the school and talking with staff, old friends and kids I was transported back and it was not all bad.

I took the opportunity to challenge the girls with three ideas that dramatically influence them today and will shape what future they craft for themselves. A few gasps, some embaressed laughs (yes, I said porn and pornification a few times) but overall I think they were intrigued by…

1. Software is everywhere – being able to write and understand software is as important now as being able to read and write. High school students spend on average 10 hours a day working with software, they just don’t know it.

2. You are being watched – every action you take is being stored and analyzed and this creates a fascinating area called Big Data. Understand it, tap into it and have fun with the technology. Build you own app.

3. Don’t believe what you see – women are objectified, hyper-sexualized and diminished by our media (advertising, TV and movies). Don’t buy into the stereotypes. Educate yourselves so you see it, and see through it, and then get involved in changing it – become a part of #NotBuyingIt. Yes this is where I showed some shocking images and said some shocking words, but my 16 year old niece told me afterwards it was “cool”.

A tame one from the Harrods children’s bookstore shelves February 7 2013 – hard to believe!

Why booth babes at CES is a dumb marketing decision

Yes sex sells, but only if the type of sex you are using to promote your product attracts your target buyer. Otherwise it’s just a turn off.

Which is why having booth babes at CES today is such a dumb marketing decision.

Some fun facts about women today: they make 80-85% of the consumer purchase decisions and control more than 60% of all personal wealth in the US and as Bounce Ideas says:

“There are 2 sexes in the human race. And one of them does most of the buying…. As a marketer, you’ll have a huge advantage if you know how to speak
her language, earn her business, and, ultimately, her referrals.”

So why-oh-why would you think young women in limited clothing draping themselves around your booth is going to position your products well for your primary buyer? Or make it comfortable for the many female journalists to cover your products?

BBs are not a new phenomenon, the Atlantic tracks them back to the inaugural show in 1967 in A Brief History of CES Booth Babes. Thankfully the B2B trade shows I frequent have a lot less skin in view than B2C shows like CES – and yet the buyers are more likely to be men in the B2B world so you’d think a bit of cleavage might be acceptable. But probably good taste and fears of sexual harressment make saner heads prevail for B2B shows.

There was a backlash discussion against booth babes at CES 2012 and the BBC stirred up the discussion with their Booth Babes controversy video last year. Never ones to miss a chance to keep a story alive the Beeb put together the update “Booth babe debate returns” this year – and again documented the tasteless phenomenon. It’s good to keep the discussion current.

Sadly, sexually objectifying women in CES advertising gets worse than booth babes.

Why would you think tying your product to oral sex the way Voco Nation did last week with the tag line “because oral is better” is going to help you with 80% of your potential buyers? Miss Representation and Jolie O’Dell did a great job of getting the word out about how bad this ad was – with the end result that Voco Nation had to take down their facebook page, delete all the many negative comments, and then put it back not accepting comments.  Way to go crisis management guys. But they could not stop the thrashing @VocoNation received on Twitter as consumers voiced that they were #NotBuyingIt.

The offending ad

It’s time. There is absolutely no need to objectify women to sell millions of dollars worth of consumer products. It’s just dumb now. Women make the majority of the buying decisions today. They’ll out earn men by 2028. The advertising industry needs to get into the present and stop living in the 1960s.