Tag

women in business

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

Dressing for success as a woman in Silicon Valley

There’s a new class of perfect female executive in technology today. She wears short skirts, fitted tops, maybe a jacket or a small cardigan and heels. Always legs and heels. Her hair is perfect, her makeup light and she never forgets her lipstick.

These women were all over Dreamforce in San Francisco a few weeks ago. As I walked around the show I was struck by how much the uniformity of their look is the female equivalent of the buff, white sales guy of my early career who worked out as a part of his competitive regimen. His suit fit perfectly, his shirt was white, his hair short – the Don Draper of the 1990s.

Twenty years ago we (the women) were covered up. The admin could dress sexily in the office; professional women like me dressed in a strange male-mimicking style. Navy suits, cream shirts, shoulder pads with incredibly unattractive bows at our necks and sensible shoes. St John before it went Couture. Never a short skirt, that would be unprofessional. Never pants until the mid nineties. Combine that with early 1990s fashions and we did not look good!

But now, as women make up more than 50% of the workforce, and as women are gaining share of the executive ranks (albeit a little slowly, but it’s happening) the de rigueur dress code for professional women is smooth, polished, sexy and absolutely in control. Marissa Meyer, as the new icon of workplace style, revels in Oscar de la Renta. High fashion indeed.

The pressure’s on for women to look polished now. Consider Rebecca Jane Stokes’ piece in Jezebel yesterday “My Boss Told Me My Hair and Makeup Were Holding Me Back“. While I’m a CEO, and visible every day, I smiled as I read it because still find remembering the lipstick hard. (Confession: I think lipstick is pretty gross so maybe my subconscious is in control on this issue).

But lipstick is just one of many questions to ponder when you think about the time investment needed to create “the look”. What about…

  • Hair dye? It takes an hour or more every 4 weeks to keep the color bright (and control the creeping grey!) Good use of time, or not?
  • Nails? It takes 30 minutes every Sunday night to clean and polish my nails after an enthusiastic weekend in my garden. And the dog doesn’t like the smell so I’m doing it alone on the sofa.
  • Hair? Blowing out my hair at home takes 30 minutes – and it’s every day because I swim almost every day. Leaving it “au natural” means unruly curls, not a sleek look. The really good look, for the very important meeting, takes 45 minutes at the salon. One of my friends who is a famous Silicon Valley female exec told me she never gives a talk without having her hair and makeup done for her. Never. That means 1.5 hours every time!
  • Makeup? Another 10 minutes, so that’s not too bad, but it seems like a waste of time and effort to me. But I wear it for work, of course, though rarely outside of work.
  • Heels? A clear sign of how hard a woman is trying. They are never comfortable but they do look good. But if you are presenting to your customer, or your investors, flats just never cut it, but stay away from FM shoes!

In the end I think the issue comes down to whether you are customer facing or not.

If you’re just in the office with your teammates then who cares! The studied nerd look of jeans and a t-shirt work well, although personal hygiene is still an absolute must. But if you’re on the outside representing your company then you need to look the part. At least professionally groomed and definitely clean.

Male or female, your brain and your skills dominate your ability to do the job. But meeting the threshold of expectation of your social group helps. It ensures you don’t get negatively, and unnecessarily, judged for how you look. If you’re in R&D or on the phone then jeans are accepted; if in person with a customer then professional is expected, and only when you know the customer well can you risk business-casual.

But for a woman that does not have to mean looking like the perfect clones. It means finding the professional look that works for you, your body type and your personality. Hillary Clinton proved that the pant suit can work at the highest levels of power. Meg Whitman has the dark suit and pearls down as CEO of HP.

The single most important thing is that you exude confidence in who you are – that’s what your team, management and customers need to see.

Equality

Birth Control Battles and Women in Tech

Published in the Huffington Post earlier today:

Would I have the career I have today without having had easy
access to birth control? I doubt it. Tech women are like any other women. Most
of us ‘successful’ technical women were uninsured or low-income at the beginning
of our careers, including those of us in Silicon Valley. We were students, we
went for stretches without health insurance, we had to manage when we got
pregnant just like any other woman building a career and taking her rightful
place in our society.

And technology is an area that needs women more than most.
It’s the fuel of our new economy, especially software technology. We’re
creating tech jobs here, the U.S. has an advantage, but we need more STEM
college graduates
, and that means we need more women going into and
staying in technology.

But as the Republican Convention is about to begin, consider
how the Romney-Ryan ticket would rupture the opportunity for tech women by
going after our birth control. That’s right, birth control. Leaving aside other
weapons in the ‘War on Women’, maybe one of the best ways to keep working women
down is by making basic contraception difficult to find and hard to afford. Mitt
Romney has pledged to “get rid of” and defund Planned
Parenthood
, which would deny access to birth control for millions of
women, and Romney supports efforts in Congress to restrict or eliminate access
to birth control for low-income and uninsured women.  That means most women at some point in their
lives.

Ask any under-insured grad student who spends her nights on
her computer how her career prospects would look if she couldn’t afford to control
whether and when she gets pregnant. How many female CEOs would have shattered
the glass ceiling in Silicon Valley if managing their reproductive health had
been out of their hands when they were working their way up the ladder? Marissa Mayer,
the new CEO of Yahoo who is about to have her first child at the age of 37,
might have something to say about that.

 It is incredible that in the 21st century there is any
debate about the value and necessity of easily accessible and affordable birth
control. Now Romney has chosen for his running mate a young congressman who
seems very comfortable turning back the clock by frowning on birth control,
while writing a plan to dismantle the basic health care safety net that
millions of women rely on. Paul Ryan
also voted to defund Planned Parenthood, and last year sponsored a “personhood”
bill
 that would not only give
full constitutional rights to fertilized eggs but could ban some forms of birth
control and fertility treatment.

Women working in technology are on the cutting edge,
creating jobs and changing our world in dramatic, powerful ways. But we can’t
do that if politicians in Washington restrict our ability to plan our families
and our futures.