women in industry

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.

My Personal Journey

Named one of the top 10 women in microelectronics

I was honored today to be named one of the top 10 women in microelectronics by EE Times – you can see the article here.

It’s very nice to be recognized, but the fact that I am being recognized 6 years since I left the industry is also indicative of the sad state of affairs – just how few women make it to the top in that field. The other women in the list are almost all women I know well – there were so few of us how could we not get to know one another?

I am on the Anita Borg Institute board – and this is the reason. There are simply not enough girls in the U.S. staying in math and physics in high school, and not enough girls in the U.S. studying engineering in college and as a result we have too few coming up the technical ranks. It’s a huge exposure for us as a country to be tolerating an education system and media bias which discourages 50% of our population from participating in the critical technology areas that will lead the world in the future. Nuff said – I’ll step back down off my soap box now.


I Am A Technical Woman – Anita Borg Institute

I am at the Grace Hopper Conference today in Tucson Arizona – here as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology. Check out the video the team made last night (and which is at the top of Digg this morning) – it will make you smile and give you sense of the power of this group of young women.

The conference is a spectacular success – 1600 attendees – 99% technical women and 50% students. The energy and enthusiasm for technology is contagious and exciting to see.

The Institute is all about women AND technology: helping women come into and stay into technology – particularly computer science today although we are expanding – and helping the influence of women on technology. We’ve gone from barely surviving 6 years ago when Anita died to now being a thriving organization with a budget of over $3M and an annual conference that is a sellout even in a recession year – and I fully expect that we will continue to grow from here.

Today we are very strong in the IT sector – the majority of our sponsors like Google, HP, IBM, Sun, Cisco, Microsoft, NetApp (to name just a few) to our newer sponsors like SAP and Symantec – are in the IT business but we have strong interest from the financial services sector and the government and defense sectors. I bet today we are going to be talking about how we staff up and bring up some sectors specific programs to bring the leaders in financial services into the Institute. I had the pleasure of meeting with senior women from companies like Goldman Sachs and BP last night and no matter how diverse their businesses are they need and use technology and want diversity in the workforce – and we can help!


Women need to support women at work

Gender stereotypes already make it hard enough for women in the workplace but in tough times how women treat other women matters even more.

Today women make up 50% of managers in companies, but only 15% of executive officers. It’s still rare to find women in any executive positions except HR and it’s almost unheard of in technology. There was a period with no women CEOs in the top 150 technology companies before Carol Bartz took over Yahoo – and this for an industry that sells to as many women as men now.

Women in senior management are rare at most companies. Their behavior as leaders is scrutinized and it often feels like a no win – we are either too aggressive (feedback I’ve had) or too timid – held to standards most men are simply not held to. I know that’s not going to change any time soon so as leaders we have suck it up, be ourselves, lead and find and empower other leaders in the organization.

But how women behave towards each other often reflects whether they think other women around them help or hurt their chances for advancement. The New York Times last week wrote about women bullying other women at work – reporting that 40% of bullies in the workplace are women – with all the examples being women bullying other women.

This behavior does not make sense. What other minority would do that to each other? The question is – do you believe being in the minority as a woman is an advantage or a disadvantage?

I’ve seen the best, and the worst, watching women in engineering companies where they are very much in the minority:

– Women who think that more women in the workplace would be a good thing tend to support other women. They’ll actively coach, form support and mentoring groups and recommend other women for projects and advancement. This happens when they themselves are not threatened by female competition.
– Women who like being special in a group, being the exception, will consciously, or unconsciously sabotage other women because they don’t want to share attention. They like being different and see other women as competition – professionally or socially.

If you are experiencing sabotage or bullying from other women you can change the culture of the group you are in. One way to do this is to get the women in your organization together to acknowledge that you are a group, you are within the same culture, dealing with same stereotype and subtle discrimination issues. You can bring in a speaker to name the elephant in the room and catalyze the discussion — bring in a dynamic speaker from the outside or a senior woman from your organization. Talk about how much better the workplace is, and everyone’s opportunity is if you help each other develop your careers. Getting the discussion out in the open will raise awareness and a sense of responsibility in most people to help each other – I’ve seen it work.

Women are also rare in the corporate board room – less than 16% of Fortune 500 board members are women. I sit on two public boards and yes, I am the only woman on the board in both cases. When it comes to the substance of the job this is irrelevant – but when I was invited to a working group of women who sit on public boards I was delighted to meet 25 other women who, like me, are in the minority. We discuss substantive issues about being on public company boards and the changing corporate governance challenges; we don’t talk about being women, but even so it is encouraging to look across the room and see so many smart, powerful women navigating the same choppy waters.

Clearly I am not advocating unfairly advancing someone based on gender – promotions need to be earned on merit not matter what. But I am advocating paying attention to how you can help other women in your organization thrive – and putting a stop to sabotage.


Celebrating Anita Borg on Ada Lovelace Day

I never met Anita Borg while she was alive – but I serve on the board of the non-profit that bears her name and so I am reminded of her legacy frequently.

The Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology is about the impact of women on technology and the impact of technology on the world’s women. It was originally set up by Anita to bring women together and advance them in technology and when she died it was renamed in her honor — it’s a testimony to Anita that the institute survived her. As happens with many non-profits, the future without the founder was unclear, and I was recruited right at that moment by two friends on the board. I watched as Anita’s friends and admirers: professors, CTOs and VPs of engineering at the largest technology companies, came together to put a healthy funding model and growth strategy is place. ABI is now funded by world leaders like Google, IBM, HP, Intel, Microsoft and Cisco to name just a few.

Now, 5 years later, the institute serves thousands of women each year with conferences like the annual Grace Hopper Conference, the Systers online community and training programs like Tech Leaders.

Anita’s direct impact is well documented – especially at the ABI site. I am celebrating her on Ada Lovelace day not only because of how she impacted women in technology during her life but also because she found a way to leave a long lasting impact on the world’s technical women through her institute.


Beware the open mic – it can reveal your prejudice

Amusing report on CNN today on the comments made by Gov Ed Rendell on the selection of Janet Napolitano to lead Homeland Security. He says: “Janet’s perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it”.

Prejudiced and stunningly dumb to say it! And I just posted on this issue last week – how hard it is for women to find balance in a world where men are typically assumed to have someone at home (and often do) and women are expected to be the primary caregiver if they have kids.

I very much agree with Campbell Brown’s questions in her report on this incident:
1. If a man had been Obama’s choice for the job, would having a family or not having a family ever even have been an issue? Would it have ever prompted a comment? Probably not. We all know the assumption tends to be that with a man, there is almost always a wife in the wings managing those family concerns.
2. As a woman, hearing this, it is hard not to wonder if we are counted out for certain jobs, certain opportunities, because we do have a family or because we are in our child-bearing years. Are we? It is a fair question.
3. If you are a childless, single woman with suspicions that you get stuck working holidays, weekends and the more burdensome shifts more often than your colleagues with families, are those suspicions well-founded? Probably so. Is there an assumption that if you’re family-free then you have no life? By some, yes.

The only way we will change assumptions is to live the change and show how women can be in the workplace, in senior positions, with families. And it will change if we live it and point the living out. In most cases I find the prejudice is not malicious in any way, it’s just lack of practise. I saw a trivial, amusing example the other day: email from an institution I am involved with where all the other parties are male – a question of whether dinner should be “with wives” or not? That was an easy one to nudge with humor.

Equality, Leadership

Balance is a myth for executive women

In the technology industry, with few women in the executive ranks and fewer still in the board room, we live in a world where balance is a myth. We talk about balance but the reality is that women in the corporate world are competing with men most of the time, appropriately competing on skill and hard work, but up against significant gender stereotypes and so we have to work harder and smarter to get ahead.

Balance is hard for most working women – but it is particularly elusive for women wanting to be a senior exec, be in the board room, run a billion dollar division or be a CEO. It’s elusive because:
– Business is global today and travel is a part of any executive job because you have to meet your customers and your sales and distribution teams. When you are a leader you can’t lead from your desk, even with great communications technology.
– As CEO I do have more control over my time than in any other job, and the ability to make a better culture for my own female employees, but I also have the ultimate demanding boss – my company – and there is no excuse I have ever been able to come up with to not put my company first when it really needs me. My employees depend on their jobs and I am accountable to them.
– Many men at the top of companies, even today, have wives at home taking care of the family and house. A couple of years ago I found myself the only women on a large company executive team. I strove to hold my ground against weekend meetings, or endless late night dinners, but it was clear that I had to conform to the schedule to do my job.

So given these types of challenges how can women survive and thrive at the top of companies?

Women often have an over developed sense of responsibility – the belief that they have to care for it all: work, children, husband, aging parents – caring for everyone else. Recognize that’s what’s going on in your head, give it up and prioritize what you have to get done. You just can’t do it all and be Wonder Woman every day so explain this to your kids, they will understand. My kids learned early on that I didn’t play the same role in school as most of the moms, but they’re confident in the world because they have travelled extensively instead and I have shared my work world with them whenever I could.

Many women have highly honed multi-tasking skills (try running a board call while cooking for hungry 2 and 4 year olds). You can use these skills to juggle the conflicting demands of work and family. And with the level of travel executive management often requires it’s important to have a partner, your spouse and/or child care help, that you trust.

And in the end I have found the most powerful tool I have is to be conscious of the choices I make every day. Choosing carefully rather than being dragged along in the turbulence of my daily demands. I’ve had my share of tough choices, like when on maternity leave and my company needed me and deciding whether to go to my son when he broke is arm. There is never an easy answer but being aware of the choice each and every time helps me stay sane.

Women can and will find new ways to be executives, and we need this in order to bring women into the executive ranks of companies and so create more diverse companies and more opportunities for women. It’s amazing that even today Fortune reports that almost half of the California tech companies have no women executive officers. And Diane Greene of VMware was the last female CEO in the top 150 in Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs has all white men in his executive staff at Apple, and the pervasive prejudice in the VC world still shocks me.

But it’s important not to be naïve about how this can and will change in the future. We can only be effective in the boardroom if we are just as committed to the job and the business results as men are, and willing to work just as hard, or harder. So it’s our responsibility to get more women to the top and only from there can we change the culture of companies to make balance easier – but we will always be challenged by the need for long hours and travel that just goes with any executive job.Submitted to Huffpo today

Equality, Leadership

Leadership and Risk

I visited the Grace Hopper conference today in Keystone Colorado to give a talk on Risky Business – Building Teams and Taking Risk as the Leader.

As I always find when I talk on leadership I had a great time. About 300 women in the room (GHC is 1400 technical women this year), 50% of whom were students. My objective was to share my principles on how to build a company from a startup (an inherently risky proposition), illustrate my principles with stories and have fun at the same time.

I started with three key principles to leadership of a startup
1. Have a clear vision of what you are building
2. Refuse to compromise on the quality of your team
3. Embrace risk (note embrace not take risk)

The talk was very interactive. When I talked through how important it is to have a clear strategy that everyone understands I illustrated it with how we have all hands meetings and any question is OK, how I take every opportunity I can to make sure every employee can use the strategy as context for their decisions. That opened the floor up to questions – since I’d said any question is OK!

I talked about being uncompromising about the quality of people on the team – from interviewing practises to letting people go who are in the wrong job. A senior manager from Cisco asked me where I thought B players belonged then, and I said (not entirely facetiously) in a large company. There is enough risk in startups already – you have to have A players. And diversity helps because you get a better mix of ideas and opinions into the room.

I feel strongly that you cannot tolerate politics in a small company – it is just too inefficient. This is something I learned the hard way at Simplex and so at FirstRain I simply won’t allow it. Trust is incredibly efficient. It lets you move quickly, it lets you make decisions without getting everyone involved if you have to because the team trusts each other to always act in the best interests of the company.

Then I took two examples of risk where I felt very exposed and talked them through with the group – taking Simplex public in 2001 when the window was supposedly closed, and taking my new baby into an executive staff meeting at Synopsys because I had to go into work (but was the only female VP in the industry at the time). I fessed up that my style of leadership – very open and transparent – does make me vulnerable personally and I have learned to embrace it (most of the time).

Of course, any time I present to a roomful of professional women I get the question on balance – how do I do it? do I think I am superwoman? do I judge women who slow down their careers for their families?

I think balance is a myth and I ended my talk with one of my favorite stories that always gets a laugh – how I dealt with it when my son broke his arm (the link takes you to my personal blog with just a few stories from my life).

It was great to see so many technical women together at the conference – it’s inspiring because we still see disproportionately few women in CS/EE degrees and we need more, as a profession and as a country. And it was a privilege to share my beliefs and life stores with them.

Career Advice, Equality

When an editor forgets his brain

I participated on a panel at the Red Herring conference in San Jose – “Women CEOs in Tech”. It was an interesting discussion on why the dearth of female tech CEOs? what are the contributing reasons? and then telling stories and answering questions about our experiences. From my perspective it was a chance to share the work being done by the Anita Borg Institute, and for me to share my observations on how much things have changed in the last 20 years.

In response to the question – Have you ever experienced discrimination and how did you deal with it? I talked about my belief that the best way, unless it’s malicious, is to deal with it with humor and I was reminded of a funny story from my past – which I shared.

Sometime in 1998, when I was CEO of Simplex and Aki Fujimura was COO, we were invited to a press meeting called “meet the editors” with Electronic News. Jim Detar was the editor-in-chief at the time and we arrived, exchanged cards with Jim and his two cohorts, sat down and prepared to answer questions.

Jim asked a question related to company strategy and I answered. (Aki and I had agreed in advance that I would answer strategy questions and he would answer product questions). As I answered Jim looked irritated but said nothing.

Jim then asked a second question – which I answered. This time he was visibly annoyed and took no notes.

When I finished he said “No, I don’t think you understand the reason for this breakfast – we are here to talk to the executives”. He hadn’t realized I was the CEO; he hadn’t checked my business card and because I was a woman he assumed I was the PR lady. Because Aki is an Asian male he assumed Aki was the executive.

I smiled, explained that I was the CEO, and suggested we keep going.

To Jim’s credit he recovered after a few questions and then sent me a card in the mail a few days later. It was a brown card with a drawing of a brain on it. Inside he had written “I am sorry I forgot to use it, Jim”. Of course I laughed and I forgave him.

James Detar is now an editor with Investor’s Business Daily. I wonder if he remembers?

Mike Cassidy covered the panel today in the San Jose Mercury News


Backslide of women at the top

There’s a rich article on this issue in this month’s Portfolio.com – called Sexism.

Some fascinating statistics
– the gap between men and women’s pay improved over the last 25 years, but it slipped back in 2006 and women’s pay is still only 78.7% of men’s
– only 14.8% of Fortune 500 board seats are held by women and it’s been flat for 3 years
– the number of female corporate officers at the Fortune 500 companies has dropped in each of the past 3 years
– combine this with the stats on Silicon Valley boards where the valley is already substantially behind the rest of the country – we’ve a long way to go

And alongside an article about Wall Street’s most powerful woman – Erin Callan who is CFO at Lehman – and who the reporter speculates “might not rise higher”.

However, there is one corner of the financial services industry where women are surging ahead and that is as Chief Investment Officers of endowments and private foundations – as reported by the New York Times last Friday.
– women now run 10 of the largest 50 foundations and endowments, up from 4 ten years ago, including the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the Gordan and Betty Moore Foundation.

This issue will improve in jobs that are measurable – like money management – faster than in the more subjective positions. There the prejudice of women’s style in the workplace – see my post on this irritating issue – will continue.