Tag

women in industry

Equality

Golf is an old man’s game (in Silicon Valley at least)

It’s different here. Yes it’s not perfect, but it is so different. We don’t care if Mark Zuckerberg wears a hoodie, men don’t wear ties here and the last point in Julie Steinberg’s recent WSJ article on the Nine Rules Women Must Follow To Get Ahead  — that as a woman you need to “Dress well and play golf” is just out of touch.

Successful young people (men and women) in Silicon Valley certainly don’t need to play golf here to get ahead.

In 25 years of being a high tech exec I have played golf only once – and then it was only because the sales team begged me to – and they hired a pro to play with me so all I did was putt (I think they didn’t want me to slow them down!). I have never, ever felt I needed to play golf to get ahead. Even with the older golf playing execs I worked for I found they still liked to go out for a drink or a great meal to bond.

In today’s Silicon Valley the bonding hobbies are younger men’s hobbies. You are more likely to be bonding over the benefits of a titanium racing bike frame than over titanium clubs. You may well want to be able to discuss fine red wine. You will definitely need to be able to bond over tech gadgets and geek out on how many LEDs are in the new iPad.

And what I find so exciting about the under 35 generation here is that you are also very likely to bond over family. What little Katie is doing in school, where little Tommie likes to go camping. I see a generation of young nerds coming up who, while they still outnumber the girls 4 to 1, are very much more engaged in their homes, their families and their outdoor hobbies than the prior generation of executives where the old boys club and golf are much more prevalent.

So don’t pay attention to old school advice about having to play golf. Instead make sure you work hard, impact the business and either be the executive, or understand the next generation of execs coming up because they are the future.

But note: I have a few girlfriends who love golf – now that’s a good reason to play!

Equality

Is it ever acceptable to use the term “Rape” in a business context?

Are you made uncomfortable by the repeated use of the word “rape” in a work setting? To my surprise I was.

First let me preface this by saying I am no shrinking violet. I’m a CEO who grew up in the semiconductor business where blue language and sexual harassment is/was common. I’m tough to shock and I will drop an F-bomb myself to make a point (although I am trying to stop this!).

But I found myself in the middle of a conversation about how a class of vendors would “rape” the company being discussed. There were 10 men in the room and me, and the word kept getting repeated, with intensity, from person to person as the discussion grew. It’s not the first time I have heard the word rape be used for a company being “skewered”, “screwed”, “taken advantage of” etc. in a pricing and supply discussion. However, I was surprised to find myself reacting to the repeated, high energy use of the word. I had an internal stress reaction – I was distressed and very uncomfortable. Of course I schooled my body and face to make sure no reaction showed, and watched my own reaction flow through me until the conversation switched to another topic.

It made me consider whether it is ever OK to use such a violent word in a business setting?

Rape is a violent act, in 90% of cases against women. One in six women in the US has experienced rape or attempted rape – and it is one of the most under-reported crimes. Rape is featured widely in classical art by artists like Titian, Rubens and Poussin. It is shown both as a violent act and as in-the-end-she-liked-it in films. In no case are women, or most men, numb or indifferent to the physical and emotional violence of visual portrayal of the act, or the description of the act.

We use other violent words in business. We talk about “attacking a market”, we talk about “killing an issue”, sometimes we tastelessly use war terminology when describing a market strategy, talking about defeating the enemy. Business is not for the faint of heart.

But I find men talking about “being raped” by business terms a bridge too far. It’s insensitive to the violence of the real act and it’s terrible after effect on the victims. To me, it’s in the class of talking about women’s bodies in a business setting – carrying the objectification of women in the media into the workplace. It’s in bad taste and insensitive. But to bring the issue up at the time would be professional suicide (notice the use of the word for another violent act in a phrase which is in common use). So I just “suck it up”. Would you?

Equality

Girls and 1000 tech jobs in Nashville

We have a real problem with jobs in tech. We have more jobs than qualified people.

This is not in the news today because for much of the US population there are not enough jobs. Not enough jobs that people are trained for. And yet in Silicon Valley we have 1 tech position open for every 2 that are filled. Hiring great technical staff is tough and increasingly expensive.

But this is not just a California problem. At the Nashville Technology Council’s annual meeting last week the theme was Diversity – and all the discussion was around education and attracting IT workers to Nashville. They have 1,000 open positions and not having enough IT workers is a real, commercial problem for them.

Commissioner Hagerty, in his warm up speech, talked about the need for technical education in their schools and local colleges. Followed by Mayor Dean who covered many of the same themes and a sense of urgency about education investment. The Nashville Technology Council has a mission to “help Middle Tennessee become known worldwide as a leading technology community, the Nashville Technology Council is devoted to helping the tech community succeed.” – and their main focus this year is Technology Workforce Development.

It was really fun for me to speak to this group and their membership. 500 people, all of whom care about technology jobs in Nashville.

Here’s my talk. I cover the urgency of the need to get more women into technology and the changes we can make to help women stay in technology. Today, even if they start out in the technical field, half of our tech women leave tech in the first 10 years – they either leave in college or they leave early in their careers. It’s just too hard and too isolated.

But it does not have to be this way – and that’s what I talked about. We have to solve this problem as a country. By 2016 we will only be producing 50% of the tech staff we need as a country. Today less than 50% of our workforce (women) hold less than 5% of the leadership of the technology industry.

This is such a waste of talent. It’s a competitive, bottom line issue for any company that needs tech workers – whether they are in health care, energy or computing.

We’ve solved it at FirstRain. We have women in leadership positions in engineering – and we have a very flexible work environment. We can solve it everywhere, and as a country, if we want to.

Equality

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.

Career Advice, Equality

Go ahead and ask the “girl questions”

So often women long to ask the “girl questions” – the ones tied to their roles as mothers and household managers – and yet fear asking them in a male dominated workplace.

Every time I talk with groups of women about anything I am swamped with questions about child care, sharing house work and what my husband and/or kids think about me working and being a CEO. It’s as if there is a pent up demand for answers or guideposts along the road and yet, in reality, there are none.

Yesterday’s excellent New Yorker piece on Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg gives an example of how tough the question of whether to even ask the questions is – even women judge other women for asking:

“Earlier, Sandberg had described a talk that she gave at the Harvard Business School, after which all the women asked personal questions, such as how to find a mentor, and the men asked business questions, like how Facebook would deal with Google’s growing share of the cell-phone market. Telling this story, Sandberg was critical of what she considered to be “girl questions.” Now Priti Youssef Choksi, Facebook’s director of business development, asked whether it was “a girl question” to pose concerns about, say, maternity leave.

Sandberg and the female executives in the room said that they thought it risked being a “girl question” if it was asked in a “whiny” way. Choksi pressed the point, describing a female employee who had recently talked to her about taking a short maternity leave because she feared that she would lose her job if she stayed out longer. When Sandberg came to the company, she changed the policies to allow men and women four months, but this employee wanted to take only one. “As much a girl question as that might be,” Choksi said, “the logistics of being away for X amount of time is something women are afraid of, and I’d rather tackle it head on.

“I agree,” Sandberg said, retreating from the much sterner position she had taken moments ago.”

For many executives, male and female, if you ask too many “girl questions” you risk them labeling you as too concerned about “women’s issues”, but as an employee if you don’t ask you risk missing understanding and context for your choices at the company you work for which can be an important part of determining what strategy to take so go ahead and ask. The important thing is to be matter-of-fact about it – never whiny, never paranoid – just pragmatic. My choice on child #2 was to take him into the office at 4 weeks old for a week because the company needed me in – and after the first shock no one minded (you can read some of my funny experiences along the way here).

Two weeks ago I was interviewing a young female candidate – mid thirties with 4 year old twins. After an hour of highly professional discussion she then asked me about our health insurance… and before I could even answer her question she was apologizing for asking, repeatedly! She was hyper sensitive about being perceived as weaker than a male candidate or needy. She even told me she does not think her managers know she has children and she wanted it that way.

This level of concern and awareness of being a woman in a male workplace backfires. I don’t believe you want the issue to be a lightening rod, instead make is a simple part of who you are as an employee. “I have a family – tell me about your health benefits”. Note – the only case at FirstRain so far where we have had an employee out for an undue period of time because of a birth was a young dad out because his baby was an extreme preemie. You can bet he was as focused on his family as any new mother would be!

My advice to women coming up and dealing with the challenges of raising a family at the same time as building a career is to be open and authentic about it. Never whine, never see yourself as a victim. See yourself instead as a valuable, skilled employee that your company needs and wants and then other people will see you as you see yourself. And if your company penalizes you find a better company to work for. Seriously.

And in the right setting, with other women facing the same issues you are, share the ideas that can help you navigate the very real challenges of a having little children and a strong career at the same time.

Equality

Women want to make money too – and this is news?

In a world where women still make less money than men for the same job, iVillage and Today.com have released a survey that shows – shock horror – that salary is the most important criteria for a woman choosing a job.

“97% of working moms surveyed saying that salary is most important to them, followed by a family-friendly work environment (91%), job enjoyment (91%), flexible hours (86%), a short commute (83%) and health insurance for the family (81%)”.

Why is this news?

The report attributes this to “today’s fragile economy” and this infuriates me. Women are equal in the workplace and, like men, are ambitious, want to make money and want to grow their careers. The desire to make money has nothing to do with the “fragile economy” and everything to do with professional women finally coming of age.

Why do women continue to perpetuate the worldview that women are not as mercenary and tough as men? Lisa Barone of Outspoken Media wrote a hilarious “Letter to Women in Tech, I Let You Down” where she writes that she never got the memo to be meek and weak. The perpetuation of the concept that we are in any way less able or less ambitious is women hurting women for no good reason at all.

I certainly never thought for a moment that I would not succeed, make equal money, run the meeting, set the strategy, lead the company – why wouldn’t I? Because I don’t have a Y-chromosome? Seriously?

It is true women have to work hard. In our society they still do the majority of the household chores. As the iVillage survey reports “All moms, whether they are working or not, continue to be responsible for the majority of the household chores. In two-thirds of dual working families, moms are responsible for 75% or more of all the household chores, with 97% of those surveyed responsible for half or more of the duties in the house.”

Yes, a harsh side effect of the aforesaid missing Y-chromosome today but get over it ladies. Like breastfeeding in the middle of the night there are some things that are not going to change in our generation so the best strategy is deal with it, let the dust bunnies build up and, when you can, pay for extra help around the house. Now I have a cleaning lady; when my kids were little and I was taking my company public I had two nannies working shifts – and surprise, surprise my kids are just fine.

Yes I had moments of guilt but I want to be a role model to my daughter and every other nerdy, techy young woman out there that they can be anything they want to be – and yes still be happy and have a family. Technology is a fantastic place to grow your career as a woman because, in the end, all that really matters is how smart you are when you are architecting systems and writing code.

We must keep going and get all the way to the top. Women are still scarce as CEOs (especially in tech!) and in the board rooms which are still Male, Pale and Stale – as reported by BNET and Catalyst – and this is a direct result of the low numbers of women in the top jobs. There are enough women at the top now to show young women coming up that there Are No Limits.

I refuse to apologize for being an equal member of society and for wanting the same opportunity as any man. I expect to compete – I’d want no less. I watch men compete hard and ferociously for advancement and so should we. And when we win it’s not news. It’s expected.

Equality, Leadership

Is a broken arm a priority?

I found myself telling this story to a journalist last week as I described some of the weird and funny experiences that come with my choices in life. I’ve written before that I think balance is a myth – it’s impossible to achieve if you are a CEO and a mother – and there are days when you just have to choose.

One day when my son Sebastian was 8 years old – it was the last day of the quarter at Simplex. We had the traditional kind of business where revenue recognition was a major task on the last day of the quarter to make sure we were accounting for our orders correctly and shipping the right ones to make the number, as well as negotiating with customers to get business closed. Typically I would spend the day with my CFO and VP sales intently closing the quarter.

On the day in question, at about noon, I got a phone call from the nurse at Bas’s school – and she told me that Bas had fallen off the parallel bars and broken his arm. She’d called the nanny, and then my husband, but neither had answered and so I had to go and get him.

I remember standing with the phone in my hand and The Clash playing in my head trying to decide what to do: Should I stay or should I go? I walked into my CFO’s office and said “OK you guys have to do this without me. I’ll be back as soon as I can”.

When I walked into the nurses office Bas was sitting with his arm wrapped with ice and hadn’t cried until then. He broke down when he saw me -“Mom, I can’t believe you came,” he said. “It’s the last day of the quarter!”

He’d tell you that story if you asked him. Sometimes he tells it with pride for his mom. Sometimes it’s a great way to embarrass me!

Equality

Video interview – on raising venture capital as a woman

Pemo Theodore of EZebis is creating a series of interviews with women, and a few men, around the challenges and successes women face raising venture capital.

The low number of women entrepreneurs getting funded (see the WSJ chime in on this, and Techcrunch be controversial as usual) is a hot topic right now. And how and whether women should get extra help. Dip into the comments on these two articles to see how intense people get on the subject.

Here’s my interview with Pemo which she published today:

I’ve been fortunate enough to successfully raise money in the private and public markets over the last 15 years and I have some opinions about what it takes, and why women have to be serious about themselves, and not self sabotage. Bottom line – we need more women going into technology, and staying technology, and getting technical and operating experience. The statistics are not in women’s favor right now and we must change it.

Career Advice, Equality

How to think about your career path

I was asked to speak to a mentoring group at our audit firm – Frank Rimmerman – this morning. It was an early morning group – all women – all accountants but in different roles: auditors, internal accountants and outsource accounting. All under 40, the majority under 35.

Since it was an early morning session, and I only had 45 minutes, I decided to take a casual approach and discuss three basic guiding principles to help the audience structure their thinking about their career path.

After a preamble about the path my career had taken I walked through the following three principles:

1. Think about your career as a pyramid, not a ladder, and so think about the set of skills you need to build up over the first 10-15 years of your career. It’s important to have a realistic view of what you are currently good at, but also what the gaps are in your skillset, and then to pick opportunitities either within the firm, or if need be switch firm, in order to fill in the critical gaps.

In my case I shared the time when I wanted to be a CEO but got the candid feedback from a VC that I would never be recruited to run a startup unless I had experience managing a P&L. Hard to hear, but great advice, and at that point I set out to get a GM job so I could learn P&L management.

2. The people you work with and for are far more important than your title or how much money you make. There are 1000+ ways to do something wrong for every 1 way there is to do something right. Working for high quality people, working with high quality people is critical at the early stages of your career (well it’s always important but it is especially important when you are on the steepest part of your learning curve). It is 1000 times more efficient to see and learn the right ways early on.

In my case I have a viewpoint that life is short, we spend many hours every day at work, and it is simply not worth the time to work with and for people you don’t respect and that you can’t learn from. You don’t have to like them. You do need to respect them. Pick a high quality firm to work for.

3. You are responsible for your brand, you must take control of your own PR. It is true in life that people think of you what you think of yourself. They see the you you project to them. As a women in particular you need to be very aware of the projection you give – your confidence, your willingness to speak up, your courage in volunteering for hard jobs. Men often understand this early on – society rewards confidence and even brashness in a man, but while social society does not reward that in a woman (remember you are supposed to wait to be asked to the prom), work society gives opportunities to the confident. So – take charge of your own brand.

Think about the funny side of this and you’ll realize how true it is. Women often excel at self deprecation – how many times has it happened to you (if you are a woman) that when someone compliments you on what you are wearing you respond with “really, I got it on sale” or “really, you don’t think it makes me look fat?”. Men just don’t respond that way, they just say “thank you”.

I enjoyed talking with the Frank Rimmerman team – they have different issues being in an accounting firm, and yet many of the same issues – how to figure out the catalog of skills they need, how to get mentoring, the child-rearing challenge, and how to network. I was glad to be another voice in the discussion and to share some of my life lessons.