Women of Influence

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Last year in November, I went to the Women of Influence event, presented by the Puget Sound Business Journal. The women selected for the award are not only professionally successful in their own right, but also contribute significantly to bettering the community around them. Every woman was inspiring and amazing, but there were a few things I thought were definitely worth sharing:
  • Amazon’s head of HR (can you imagine what a big job that would be?) is the only woman on Amazon’s S-team. There are 12 people on the team. Because she heads up HR, she is intimately familiar with the Amazon leadership principles and the one she spoke to the most was failure. She said they adamantly adore people who have failed in a big way and have learned from their mistakes, making them better able to handle professional challenges. You can read more about Beth here. I still find it interesting that at a company as innovative and forward looking as Amazon, there is only one woman in the highest 12 at the company.
  • After 8 or 9 of these women got up on stage and spoke about their inspirations and their successes in life, I turned to my friend Meredith and made a comment that I thought it was interesting that 1) every single one of these women had children, and 2) of the 5-10 minutes they had on stage, they all spoke about their children. I thought it was interesting because it’s not something I would expect to hear from most men when being honored. When Heather Redman got up on stage, she noticed the same thing. Heather talked a lot about leaning in, which to her meant not necessarily including conversations about her family at work. From my perspective, she appeared to be the most outwardly confident of the women. At the end, she spoke of the same observation I had, that all of these amazingly accomplished women spoke about their kids consistently. She said that was something she was going to take away from the night: that bringing that kind of empathy and kindness to the conversation in a professional environment should be embraced and done more frequently, rather than covered up or suppressed.
  • Dr. Rhonda Medows said “the third grade I knew I wanted to be a doctor” in the article here, but in person at the event she also talked about how people often discover their dream later in life and the important thing is to pursue it with balance. Rhonda was particularly memorable to me because she came from a poverty-stricken environment and turned that experience into her drive and passion to pursue medicine. In her article, I really liked this advice:
    • Question: What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
    • Answer: My sons are 16, 18, and 26. I would share with my 18-year-old self the same lessons I have learned and now share with my sons:
      • Learn about yourself, your interests, your passions, your strengths and weaknesses.
      • Find your balance. Spend more time on the things that are important to you, view life as a marathon not a sprint, seek a positive work – life mix and the right mix of setting goals and seizing unexpected opportunity.
      • Don’t spend too much time trying to achieve other people’s expectations. Sometimes they are too low. Sometimes they reflect their own issues and not your own potential.
      • Respect people.
      • Put family first.
      • Embrace change and ambiguity, don’t wait for the perfect and miss what’s good. When you learn something new or have different experiences, it’s ok to change or adjust your priorities.
      • Define your own success by achieving what’s important to you after evaluating the options and the work you’ll have to invest.
      • Be true to and never betray your own core principles. You can change a job, change friends and partners but you will always have to live with yourself and your own decisions.
You can see all of the women who were honored here.
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Gender Gap in the Workplace

 

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Some of you may be surprised I haven’t sent a Thoughtful Thursday out about gender inequality in the workplace. I’ve discussed it with many of you from time to time and it’s something I’m very passionate about.

This past week, disgusting stories have come out about Harvey Weinstein and his deplorable sexual assault acts used against women in an effort for them to get into big roles for their career. It’s the extreme case of what many women know to be true – that women are harassed, assaulted and treated very differently, due to their gender, in the workplace.
I personally have a few “little” stories of sexist comments made to me throughout my career, but they don’t even come close to what I’ve read from other women.  Mary Keene-Dawson, a very well respected digital marketing consultant in London, states in this article that she’s experienced “men pulling their cocks out in meetings in an attempt to intimidate me during a tough negotiation.” This behavior is beyond appalling and Rolling Stone is correlating the insane amount of stories now coming out to the Weinstein scandal, stating that: this is not a personal problem, it’s a systemic problem and the Weinstein scandal may be the final straw that broke the camel’s back to make bigger changes to the system.
I hope they’re right.
Years ago in my Expedia days, Dara made a BHAG (big harry audacious goal) that Expedia would have women in 20% of the leadership roles by 2020 or he wouldn’t get his bonus. Although I have no quantifiable data about the response of employees, I do know anecdotally that many women appreciated the gesture, but felt like that goal fell short. I remember saying “he probably won’t even be around by then anyway,” which ended up being the case.
But now we’re seeing real change, as shown in this article about the CEO of Oath. He wants women in 50% of leadership roles, which makes sense, since women earn almost 60% of undergraduate degrees & 60% of master‘s degrees and they make up 49% of the college-educated workforce. Tim Armstrong, the Oath CEO, references Gloria Steinem as his inspiration for his initiative. Gloria advised him “companies perform better when there’s men and women so don’t think about women-only, think about how to combine that.” Both genders bring value to the table, so having equality of genders in leadership positions is where companies will find the most benefit, as shown in this McKinsey study.
There are two main sociological problems in accomplishing this goal, according to Sheryl Sandberg.
  • One is that “Data show that for men, professional success is correlated with being liked, while successful women are treated with increased disdain.” Think about that. As women grow more successful, people like them less. As men grow more successful, people like them more. No wonder women have a hard time getting into senior leadership teams or running companies.
  • The other problem she states is that “women are seen in a positive light when they advocate for others, but the opposite holds true when they promote themselves.”
So really in order for women to get more successful, they need other people to advocate for them and then when they become more successful, people will like them less. That’s pretty fucked, but thankfully at least one part of that problem is being solved by people like Gloria Steinem, Sheryl Sandberg and Tim Armstrong. Hopefully with the sharing of information, all of us can do our part to be more conscious about our responses to sexist things we observe in the future. And maybe even by sharing information we will start to see real change in the leadership mix of more companies soon.