Tag

Sheryl Sandberg

Equality

Dressing like a woman — not a man

A year ago at Dreamforce 2012 I was delighted to see women dressing as women – and posted on the trend. And this year in 2013 we had both Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Meyer on stage with Marc Benioff looking like women! Fashionable, professional but very feminine.

Why do I care? Well here is my employee badge from Synopsys in 1990. Thirty years old, very, very much in the minority, and I decided to poke fun at the system and the dress code (I always was a bit of a rebel). A baby face in a suit and tie — I figured I’d have fun with the dominance of men and dress like one so they just might not notice I was a woman.

So yes, I appreciate that we can dress like women in the office now!

Career Advice, Equality

Feeling like a failure every day – and overcoming it

I doubt myself every single day. As a CEO it’s the dark secret none of us are supposed to talk about, but it’s real, and so it was marvelous for me to listen to Maria Klawe yesterday say that she wakes up feeling like a failure every day.

Now Maria is one of the most successful people in academia. She’s president of Harvey Mudd College, educating the next generation of brilliant computer scientists, mathematicians and physicists, she sits on the board of Microsoft and she’s a much admired water color painter… and a wife and mother too. Definitely an over achiever who is universally admired.

And yet, every day she feels like a failure. She told this to 4,800 women at the Grace Hopper Conference yesterday, but then said the way she deals with it is that she consciously listens to the other voice playing in her head which says “I want to lead the world!!!”

Sheryl Sandberg, on stage with Maria, used the analogy of running a marathon. For the men in the race, voices are telling them “you’re great!”, “you can do it!” and “keep going!” but for the women in the race the voices are “are you sure you can do it?”and “what about your children?” Imagine trying to run a real marathon with everyone around you questioning whether you can, or worse whether you actually should?

My experience for the first 25 years of my career was just that. Everyone around me, family, friends and co-workers questioned what I was doing (except my husband – he never questioned but went along for the ride). I was ambitious, determined to make a point, and determined to win the race I had chosen which was being a high tech CEO. As I had children people came out of the woodwork to question my decision, and as a (younger) blond woman I was also consistently underestimated which attacked my confidence (maybe they were right and I was about to be found out!)

For almost every day in those 25 years I would feel like a failure, waiting to be caught out. I’m a classic example of the imposter syndrome: where you feel like an imposter or fraud, waiting to be caught out. It’s not uncommon in smart, talented people and it’s especially common in women.

I would beat myself up in my head – you’re not smart enough, you’re too aggressive, your children need you, you need to lose weight… an endless dialog that got louder the more tired I got. And the voice would stay inside my head because no one else wants to hear about your self doubt. It’s old news to your family, boring to your friends (they’ve heard it before) and must not show to your co-workers or employees.

So what to do?

It took a few colliding changes for me to finally conquer it. I passed forty – and felt more confident over forty than I ever had under. I had a nasty health scare which made me take each day above the dirt much more seriously. And I realized that I was not alone, my peers feel the same way, and it’s OK – you just have to push through.

When you’re looking in the mirror feeling like a failure try this:

Step 1 – acknowledge that it’s happening and it’s not real. Learning about the imposter syndrome really helped me understand the dynamics.
Step 2 – create and listen to the other voice in your head. Maria was spot on. There is another voice, it knows you can do great things, but you have to listen to it, consciously.
Step 3 – be open about your own self criticism when coaching others. Sharing the fact that I have self doubt made it more clinical for me. It’s normal, but it’s not useful.
Step 4 – get exercise and sleep. Feels great and you can lead the world with a good swim and a good night’s sleep.

Feeling like you are failing is normal. It’s part of what drives us – the need to prove to ourselves and everyone else just how much we can lead and change the world. So embrace it as a funny part of you that you just have to slap down every day – and you will!

image: http://akiaino.deviantart.com/

Equality

Wonder Where the Women in Power Are? Look to Silicon Valley

Posted on the Huffington Post March 13, 2013

There is a tectonic shift happening and we’re living the future right now here in technologyland. Women are gaining and holding power at a rate we have never seen before and finally they are openly talking about it.

Sheryl Sandberg’s well-marketed new book Lean In, is stirring up the timely discussion about what it takes for women to get ahead. Sheryl says you need to “lean in,” believe in yourself, and not hold yourself to impossible standards of doing everything; and she’s rightly pointing out that men and our workplaces have to change to make it possible for women to broadly have equal opportunity for leadership.

Sheryl’s saying what those of us who lead technology companies here already live: you have to have confidence, embrace your opportunities and be ready to not get hurt by the “likability gap” that women in power face. Her situation is particularly fortunate in that she joined not one, but two, very high growth opportunities (Google and then Facebook) and so she’s now rich and is taking criticism for telling those less wealthy than her what to do, but hats-off to her that she’s speaking out and putting the issue of gender in leadership onto the national agenda.

But she’s one of many now in Silicon Valley, and not all the stories are as sunny. Women are also taking on some of the hardest turnaround challenges in technology today:

Marissa Meyer stepped up to be CEO of Yahoo! — a challenge so difficult that even a strong product executive with her technical chops may not be able to pull it off. When she stopped employees working from home she was strongly criticized by men and women alike (ironically, often on the grounds of gender equality), and yet she is making the tough business decisions needed to change the Yahoo! culture from one of entitlement to one of growth. If a male CEO had made the same decision it either would have not made the press, or it would have been lauded as a “brave” and “bold” move to turnaround Yahoo!

Meg Whitman has taken on the thankless task of righting HP after a disastrous revolving door of CEOs — not a challenge for the faint of heart — but early indications are she’s going to win and accelerate revenue growth in 2014.
 

Whether you consider Safra Catz, President of Oracle, Diane Bryant, CIO of Intel, or Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Cisco, women are winning and holding leadership positions and showing us the future today. And it’s hard not to include Ginni Rometty, the CEO of the technology powerhouse IBM, even though she is not based in Silicon Valley. The fact that these executives are women is a distant second to their ability.

So why is it different here in Silicon Valley for women? There are two fundamental reasons.

1. Generational. Many of our new, fast growth technology companies are run by men, and women, of a younger generation than in other industries. Consider the leadership of Facebook, Google, Salesforce.com, LinkedIn — they are all under 50 and many are under 40. Even Tim Cook of Apple is only 52. Their generation have grown up with women working in their families and so they don’t bring the same prejudice the over 60 generation bring. As a female technology CEO I’ve found the number of times I get asked “what about your kids?” goes down dramatically every year as the peers I work with drop below 60.

2. Technology is a meritocracy. It’s all about how good your product idea, your code, your algorithm is, not your race, gender or whether or not you are gay. And it is especially true in the new generation of tech companies. The competition for talent in the San Francisco Bay Area is ferocious and the competition for market share never lets up, so we simply can’t afford to not hire the best engineers, regardless of gender. We just need more of them.

When Pamela Ryckman was researching her new book Stiletto Network (releasing May 2013) she found that the unique entrepreneurial ecosystem of Silicon Valley has benefited women disproportionately. Instead of rigid organizational structures, Silicon Valley thrives on change: companies come and go, teams form and disband, and so talent gets spotted and adopted regardless of gender.

Companies, and whole industries, are going through disruptive change now as the impact of software increases the power of the individual. The payment industry is being rocked by disruptive changes like Square and Google wallet. Manufacturing is being rocked by 3D printing, making it possible for you and me to manufacture products from our imagination without having to build a factory.

The demands made by the pace of change and fierce competition in our industries do not leave room for gender bias at the top any more. And that’s why more and more women are emerging as leaders and holding power here in Silicon Valley.

P.S. This does not mean women, however, are gaining equality across technology as a whole. We still hold a distant minority of board positions (9.1 percent of board seats in Silicon Valley are held by women) and we still have a dire need for more girls to go in to, and stay in, computer science and technology (less than 18 percent of our CS graduates are girls). The work of non profits like the Anita Borg Institute to coach and encourage female geeks is still essential for the technology industry as a whole.

Leadership

PR over exposure is a dangerous game

Eric Jackson wrote a painful piece in Forbes this morning comparing Sheryl Sandberg to Kim Polese – and while I don’t agree with his judgement that they are alike (one is wildly successful, one less so) he throws a bright light on one of the risks that can plague female tech executives: over exposure.
The over exposure starts because when you are a fresh new female executive you are rare and a novelty. The press wants to cover you because your opinions are new grist for the mill on everything from technology, to child care, to diversity in the office. Your PR team loves it – it’s an easy way to get the press’ attention and get the ink on the company. When I was a new CEO in 1996 I ended up on the cover of the San Jose Mercury News – amusing but of no value to my company Simplex. The press I got that was useful to Simplex was tech press and then business press around our IPO, not the many panels I did on being a female CEO with two small children.

Over exposure is a deadly trap. In the end you are judged ONLY on your financial performance, and unless you think a great deal of press coverage about you is going to drive your top line results you need to tread very carefully. Kim Polese was extraordinarily over exposed. She was naive, and taken advantage of by her PR firm but she was young, pretty and articulate and so a great product for them to sell. But Marimba did not prove to have legs after the bubble burst and while there is no shame in that per se – that’s life in the Valley – it was a long way to fall for her celebrity, and was not necessary.

I put this observation into practice a few months ago at FirstRain. We were choosing a new PR agency and I had been clear with my team that while I was happy to do panels and talks on technology, or even on public board experience (I am on two public boards RMBS and JDSU), I am not willing to overload on the female tech CEO talking circuit. So imagine my irritation when one of the PR firm leads decided that the whole strategy should be to use my gender to get FirstRain in front of the press and would not shut up about it.

In Sheryl’s case the risk was lower than Kim’s because she was already a proven
executive at Google, and Facebook’s a juggernaut, so she is
also already successful there. Extensively exposing her to the press in the year
before the Facebook IPO made sense – she is then “known” to the
investment community and the retail investor and so could carry the revenue end of the IPO
roadshow. And if she has larger ambitions post Facebook (who knows…) then the positive exposure raises her name recognition at a national level.

It’s a fine balance. You can only be a role model, mentor and adviser to young women if you have a successful track record. And yet the thirst for female tech role models is so great that once you have a high profile position you get given the stage – and it’s tempting. My input to my team is never, ever lose sight of the end-in-mind which is business exposure for FirstRain (or Simplex last time). The “woman CEO” platform comes after that and in service of that purpose only — unless I am doing it on my own time.