Tell me a bit about your early years and where you come from.
I was born in Chico, California. My dad was the head of the chemistry department at California State University at Chico. As I got into primary school, my mother started running for elected seats like the school board, and ultimately she became Vice Mayor of Chico. But then, my father passed away when I was in fourth grade. My mom, almost as soon as he passed away, started aggressively pursuing her career in politics, which took us down to Oakland. Her intention was to go to law school in San Francisco, but then she started working on people’s campaigns and got really involved in the State’s Democratic Party. Ultimately, by the time I was in high school, she was Treasurer and Chair of the California Democratic Party working with people like Nancy Pelosi and Jess Unruh. There were so many great characters I was exposed to and they all had incredibly strong belief systems. I had this highly active childhood with my mom, filled with democratic politics, but I was conflicted because my father’s parents, who were still a big part of my life, were staunch Republicans. So politics for me were very uncomfortable and I thought “Ah! Politics are horrible, and you shouldn’t talk about them because all people do is fight.” [chuckles]
I wanted everybody to get along and I just wanted to be normal with a normal family. It seems I never got to be that way though – I had this big curly hair that kids at school made fun of- calling me names like tumbleweed and bushy. So in high school I wore it up in a ponytail braid really tight all the time. I was really self-conscious of it and tried to make it go away.
Eventually as I was applying to college, I realized that my curly hair and my strange upbringing with just my sister and my mother, and all the characters in politics as well as my knowledge about it, was really making me different and it was becoming really fun. When I got to college I picked a major that only had 13 people in it and was only offered at two schools in the nation at the time. I just liked doing these things that stood out or somehow made me stand out from the crowd even if just slightly.
The major was cognitive science, which I got interested in because I was leaning toward computer science at the time, but thought the comp sci majors were boring and introverted. Cognitive science was neuroscience, philosophy, computer science, a lot of linguistics at the school that I was at, and cognitive psychology. There were people doing all kinds of research and studies of stroke victims, babies developing language, the brain, and psychology so the group seemed really alive and gregarious. We studied language in the human brain and how it’s organized – human language is the one thing that sets us apart from animals, so understanding its constructs and processing in the brain when applied to computer processing, helps to make computers smarter. It was the early days of artificial intelligence, and we had philosophy in order to contemplate if developments were limited or unlimited and the implications of the work. Now this multidisciplinary program exists at many schools and ironically CogSci is a big feeder to product roles in tech – it took me 20 years out of school to migrate into a role like that, though!
When I got out of school I really just wanted to work and have stability, because I felt like my life had had a lot of instability. My mom’s political activities exposed me to a lot of hotels and their ballrooms for fundraisers, and I thought the hotel business looked like a lot of fun, so I went and worked for hotels – I know, funny choice for a Cognitive Science major. Hotels, though, gave me this intense appreciation for problem solving with people. In hotels, you’re working face to face with guests, and in the service industry it’s all about your guest and being an advocate for your customer – figuring out what they need before they need it. It was a nice way to start out my career, and customer advocacy is something I’ve taken with me to every role since.
In particular in tech when I got there, it was so far from customer empathy because everybody was just trying to figure out the coding of our web site and back end systems. All the mind-share went to the complexity of the technology and it was very common for everybody to disregard the customer. Really, when we did take the time to think about the customer in the early days of tech, or at least in my early days, it was just this revolutionary thing that impressed people[chuckles]. Meanwhile, hospitality and the retail world had been doing it for years so it was fun to bring that to tech.
So walk me through your early years in tech and some of the foundation you helped lay for e-commerce.
I would say I was a part of it, but I don’t ever feel like I made things happen on my own across eCommerce. It’s so funny when you get out of the Bay Area and look at the industry from the outside. It really does look revolutionary, but when you’re in the middle of it you feel like you’re just part of a big team, or part of a company that’s doing new things (sometimes in really messy ways), but you don’t realize how new they are, but then they become the norm everywhere else down the road. eCommerce has been like that for me.
The first startup that I did was an online drugstore (more.com – more than a drugstore, just a click away…), and we were competing with PlanetRX and Drugstore.com. It was the early days of the dotcom bubble and we were heavily funded, which gave us a lot of money to acquire customers and we did just that. Customers back then were unsure of the world wide web, let alone buying from it, but we had a fair share of early adopters. I was responsible for customer operations and on my first day my boss said to me “Oh, we have this typical merchandising success situation on our hands where we’ve launched the store and the customers are responding very positively, but we’re out of inventory so we’re not able to fulfill the orders.” In other words, we had customers ready to buy, but we didn’t have the product to ship. Having come from the catalogue business, where my boss and I had worked together I said, “Well, let’s find a way to delight the customers and make sure that they’ll give us another chance and come back.” For this group of customers, and I don’t remember how many it was, and this was not a sustainable solution at all, we sent them an apology letter with a crisp $10 bill. We sent this little bribe to every single customer who didn’t get their order. In typical dot.com fashion, the idea was to get their attention, delight or surprise, then let them know that we cared about them. It is kind of appalling now, if you think about sending cash in the mail to your customer, but at the time, we wanted to make a big impact so he/she would remember who we were and get some cash to boot so they could get the product they needed that we couldn’t provide. Customers loved it and held out to order from us again. It was very scrappy and a low-tech way to respond to a real customer problem without requiring technology, which would have taken too much time. We needed to lay the foundation so that commerce on the web could be trusted and there were people behind the technology who would take care of their customer – this gesture helped.
After all the dot-coms went out of business, I was a little shaken, and wondering if I really wanted to do start ups again – I had a family of four I was supporting after all. I went to BabyCenter, which was a great set up, because they had been a startup that got acquired by Johnson & Johnson. J&J is really a very hands-off corporation in all the right ways. They expect you to run your business very independently and do what you need to do to make your business work. It was like being in with this great, big parent company behind you and supporting you while we took a second shot at an eCommerce business. So, that was really where we got serious about making e-commerce work for the long run and we couldn’t pull tactics like sending ten dollar bills to your customers to take care of the mistake that you made. We focused on building a strong vendor community (they were still afraid to do business on the web), building strong and reliable customer operations, using the technology to our advantage, and getting to profitability. Are you familiar with Baby Center at all?
Not at all. [laughter]
Okay – BabyCenter’s secret sauce is when you come to their website for the first time they ask for the mother’s due date and that sets off a relationship with the site and the mom based on the stage of pregnancy and age of the baby. We had 8,000 articles about the health of the baby and pregnancy. We would send a weekly email about the development of the baby that got it right every single time. Moms would ask how we knew this was what was going on for her or her baby. I came on just as we were launching a new ecommerce business because their old one had gone down with the previous owner. In the store we leveraged the stage of the mom and the age of the baby with how we merchandised.
In terms of laying the foundations of eCommerce… the previous BabyCenter store had customer comments, which we brought back — I think it was originally just them and Amazon during the dotcom era. The thing about customer comments was they were so new our vendor community was really afraid of them – the thought of customers publicly sharing their view of a product was appalling to some manufacturers – of course now it’s completely the norm.
Three years into my tenure at BabyCenter, I became VP of the store, and I remember going with our fabulous merchandise buyers to do a dog and pony show around the country to our top vendors with the goal of building their trust or winning over vendors who refused to sell online at all. We had to constantly reinforce that we were a legitimate store because they were afraid of online. They fearfully thought we would undercut pricing or ruin their brand with crazy promotions funded by tech investments. BabyCenter, though, had this editorially objective health site with a critical mass of pregnant moms that really legitimized us. J&J too as a parent company legitimized us. So we got a lot of vendors, but they were still very nervous about the customer comments. Eventually a few of the vendors started to figure out that the comments helped them design their products because they could listen to the customer to make improvements. Our merchants were all over these types of stories when the next nervous merchant would complain so slowly the community started to understand the benefits of the wide open web.
The other thing that was great about the early time in eCommerce was we were all asking each other for help. Companies like A&E, HBO, Bluefly, Travelocity, NY Met Museum Store, the Smithsonian, Amazon, eBay, and anybody in the industry who was building a commerce site for the first time would talk with each other and we’d help each other with our questions. We’d reinforce for each other what we knew was right – like helping customers by allowing customer comments – even though our vendors threatened to pull their products. We’d float a lot of site questions like should navs be on top or on the left, should we use tabs like Amazon, etc. Shop.org and the Customer Experience Councils run by what is now called Collaborative Gain were big facilitators of those conversations. We all built strong networks of peers who were growing and scaling their businesses online and also growing in their careers and they’ve all become great friends over the years, which is so special to me. There is an intensity to these relationships because we were all very vulnerable and humble since the industry was so new.
To give you a sense for how small and fledgling a community we were, the first Shop.org conference I went to had about 60 people in a meeting room at the Hyatt in New York. It was amazing to meet everyone and realize they all had the same challenges and questions and that we could literally all help each other. The last time I attended shop.org in 2007 there was something like 7 or 8 thousand people at a big convention hotel in Las Vegas – and it still goes on. It was really great to see that community grow and it was both vendors and stores. I loved the vendor aspect of the community because there were so many new types of technologies that your store could take advantage of but that we wouldn’t want to build for ourselves – tools like analytics, search, and the shopping sites that were lead gen for your store. The conferences were all about learning and connecting.
A lot of us were very vocal and I think participatory in asking for help, which is how I got involved in the Cyber Monday conversation. The Executive Director of Shop.org got a group of us together on the phone and floated the idea of this term “Cyber Monday.” We had all been talking about promotion trends for the holidays, and we knew that Black Friday was the big promotional day for bricks and mortar, but we also all knew that the following Monday, when everybody got back to work from Thanksgiving, our online orders spiked. We wanted online to own a part of the holiday season in the mind of customers and thought we could lean into the spiking of the orders on that Monday. We all agreed Cyber Monday was a great term and then a few of us were interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and they quoted me on the front page, which was something I never expected to happen and was exciting! We continued to collaborate over the holidays because there were such consistent patterns in the shopping across all of our sites. I don’t know that this happens anymore in eCommerce, where people communicate and share the dynamics of the season that they’re experiencing, but back then, we were looking at things like the final day to ship in time for Christmas, the Cyber Monday promotions, and tactics for extending out your window of shopping as long as possible. The fourth quarter was and still is the biggest quarter for most of these sites and the stakes are high for the merchant to get the orders right for the customer – we had good years and bad ones in terms of delivery accuracy across the industry and we worked collaboratively to reflect on the bad and improve. I’m completely confident now placing orders that have to arrive by a deadline and that is the result of all of our hard work in early eCommerce.
It’s just amazing to think about E-Commerce being small enough to be a community.
Yeah and back then, I think we were excited about it approaching 2% of retail and maybe someday like in 5 years it would get to 4% of total retail sales. Now its approaching 8 and 9% of total retail sales and mobile has taken off.
What other things – when it was a small community, and you all were just experimenting with different things, and showing ideas, and sharing dynamics with each other – what other concepts did you guys see and introduce for the first time that are just omnipresent now?
Shipping! The catalog industry for years had made money on their shipping charges, and when e-commerce came along, we wanted to remove any barriers to buying and conversion in check out. Many of the sites just had free shipping to combat any reason a customer wouldn’t try online. Shipping and lack of trust were the biggest reasons customers gave for not buying online. We wanted to build the customer trust and help them try the BabyCenter store so had a $5.99 flat shipping fee no matter what you purchased – so a pacifier would cost $5.99, a bed the same, if you bought the two together they’d ship separately but the customer still only paid $5.99. We and all the other sites were losing our shirts with shipping costs. We weren’t even building the loss from the shipping cost into our retail price, because customers could compare prices with other sites and we had to be competitive on price.
Instead of talking to the online community for help, I talked with old catalogers. If you talked to e-commerce people, they would say, “No, you absolutely can’t charge for shipping- the customers just won’t shop with you.” But the catalog industry was much more realistic. They ran the numbers very, very carefully to know how to charge and how to make money on it. The thing that the catalog business couldn’t do was have a calculator that a customer could use when doing mail order and adding up the charges themselves. Catalogs charged based on the value of the order for simple calculations. You paid the most for a high-value order. The problem was, a silk scarf might cost $450 and you have to pay the highest shipping cost even though it’s the lightest thing to ship. So the advantage that our e-commerce store had was we could build a calculator into our checkout that used the weight and footprint of the product. We shipped pregnancy pillows, which are these great big light things, but they’re actually expensive to ship because the footprint of the box is really big. We started to build in that kind of intelligence into our shipping calculators, and the idea was to charge the customer what was realistic and understandable in terms of the shipping charge. This early move on the part of our store massively changed the bottom-line of the store and we had no customer rebellion because the charges could be explained and they made common sense. That was a really satisfying thing – We got to use the technology to its advantage, make some money for the store, give something realistic to the customer that they could understand, and the store’s P&L started to make a lot more sense.
It’s amazing. Did you expect at all that your experience in hospitality [laughter] and the catalog industry would be so valuable to you?
No I don’t think I was all that calculating when I was making choices for my career with catalog and hotels (I was calculating though when I went to that first start up because tech was so important to the Bay Area’s economy it seemed a shame not to tap into as a career choice) Before that though, I was really trying to go by what was going to make me happy, be the most engaging and developmental for me.
In hindsight, the other skill that hospitality and the catalogue business gave me was great analytical skills because I was doing a lot of forecasting and managing large labor & vendor costs. I knew when I got into tech I appreciated that real world experience that required us to make money and manage costs. In tech when you’re so focused on solving technical problems and proving new models to your customers or the business community it’s easy to lose sight of building good businesses that fulfill on their promise to the customer or share holder. I like that common sense business perspective that I’ve contributed to my businesses.
Absolutely. Tell me more about what it was like being a woman coming into tech from a totally different industry and having two babies when you started. What is that like? Were you the only mom around at that point?
Yes, at the startup I was the only one with kids (they were 18 months and 2.5 years old) except for the CFO who started toward the end and she had a middle schooler. I found out long after we were done working with each other that she didn’t even know that I had babies during that time. I think I kind of hid it there and came up with my own solutions. — Instead of working late into the night when everybody else did, I would get up at 4am to miss traffic and get to the office as early as 5 or 6am. I’d have a few hours of quiet time where I could get a lot of work done and then be home in time for dinner and see my kids in the evening. I did have to push back on people calling for 6pm or 7pm meetings and then I do remember explaining I had small kids to get home to knowing it might hurt my influence somehow.
With one start up I interviewed with after the dot.com bubble burst, I opted out altogether because the founders had dropped out of college to start the company so they weren’t exactly at the life stage I was at with small kids. Tellingly to their late night, late morning schedules my interviews were at 8pm in the evening. I couldn’t imagine they had any idea what it was like to have babies at home so I declined the opportunity – years later they ended up making it really big and I potentially could have made millions. I remember thinking about that at the time and looking back on all the things my kids had gone through while I would have been out of the house killing myself for that business (the kids were learning to read, do math, dance, socialization, all normal kid stuff plus my daughter also had some learning differences we managed with some specialists, which took time and commitment to her) – no way would I change that decision to opt out of the start up. The kids needed me during that time and I’m so glad I had jobs that allowed me to be home at nights and on weekends. Maybe I worked just as hard at the companies that never made a killing, maybe I was actually afraid of taking the plunge into a completely new disruptive model, but in my mind I designed a career that didn’t remove me completely from my family life. At least with one choice the monetary result of that decision wasn’t as positive – again though it was right for me and my family.
I think I struggled more at home though as a woman in tech than I did at the office. When faced with the opportunity to go to the start up I did join, my husband and I spent a lot of time evaluating if this was really what we wanted. We had decided my career would be primary and with tech I had the opportunity to thrive in my career vs. just survive juggling a nothing special job and being a mom. Earning a living started to fall onto my shoulders and care giving for our kids fell to my husband because my jobs demanded a lot of time and ultimately a lot of travel. We had no role models and even the other working moms that I knew tended to have a husband who was also working. Those moms were balancing their career with being the heavy lifter at home, whereas I was putting everything that I had into my career, trying to be a good mom at the same time, but with a husband who was a really strong supporter at home. Without the role models, though, it was really hard for both of us to keep a balance in those roles, and I think ultimately, what happened to us was we kind of lost ourselves. I like to say “I leaned in so hard I fell over” ha ha. For a variety of reasons, our marriage failed, but we would both say that we managed to raise two really great kids who have had the benefit of growing up with an involved working mom and a really involved dad. Ultimately, I wanted a bigger role with my kids, which I got as a single mom after the divorce and sharing custody.
Another unique aspect of my career, which was also true the years I’ve been in Tech, was that for whatever reason, I was in companies that had strong female leaders. At BabyCenter, where I became part of the exec team for the first time, we had a female CEO and we had a majority of female exec’s. Hotwire too had a majority women on our Exec team and Mulberry Neckwear had a female founder again with majority female leaders in senior leadership. It really wasn’t until I was 35 that I noticed, or even realized how being a woman brought a different style to a team. It wasn’t until I was on an exec team that had a majority of men that I started to wake up to, “Oh, there are big differences between men and women and how they lead and manage people.”
I think the turning point for me was when I had a boss who was the CEO tell me that one of my female managers, who happened to be our best product person in the company, was too emotional. He wanted me to work on that with her. The conversation obviously raised some flags for me, and I wasn’t quite sure if it was ok or not. I walked away thinking, I don’t know what that means so I talked to a friend of mine, who is an amazing gender discrimination lawyer. I confided with her that I thought I needed to learn more about gender issues in the workplace. As much as I had grown up with a feminist mother and maybe because she was a single mom, I didn’t know what sexism looked like and it had never felt like a factor in my work – my experience was if you deliver you’ll get recognized. My friend’s advice was to read ‘Men Are From Mars, Women are from Venus’ so I could understand gender differences a little better. It opened up this whole new world for me because I was raised with my sister by a single mother and didn’t have strong male role models in our house. I had no idea what men were sensitive about and even that they are sensitive! I thought all men were strong and made of Teflon. To apply the book’s content in the workplace was really eye opening and I hope my work on my own lack of sensitivity to men’s orientation served to bring me closer to the men I work with. I never did address the quote emotional issue with my employee and instead continued to support her with her results, which she definitely was recognized for.
Silicon Valley is talking a lot these days about the obvious sexism when it occurs. What strikes me is that the men aren’t present in these dialogues after the fact. Almost every company I join now has a women’s group or a women’s summit that works to develop us or support us. These groups are great – women mentor each other and focus on creating great results for their businesses. Consistently, though, the men aren’t present. What I would find really interesting is what the men think and experience. How do we learn that the conversation is just different when it involves women and men – it’s not about men changing or women changing, but instead about a dynamic that is completely different when we’re all equals at the table. We all have to realize it’s going to be uncomfortable and we’ll feel unease, but the benefit is huge because the diversity of styles and ideas will create better ideas and solutions. I’m not sure women and men are talking together about the fact that we need to do the hard work and feel that discomfort in order to move forward in creating diversity in the industry. It’s not comfortable when the people on your team don’t all look and act alike – the industry hasn’t figured out that the benefit of that discomfort is great results.
Let’s keep going with that. In your time in tech – you’ve been in 17 years, whether it’s related to being female, whether it’s related to something not having much to do with you – how have you seen tech change through these multiple cycles? How has it changed and how is it the same, for better or for worse?
I was going to say it seems like it’s getting younger! That is just because I’ve aged though – we were young during the dotcom times ha ha.
I certainly feel like I have a very strong set of peers who are the same age as me and we are all actively engaged with each other and involved in the tech community. I’m not sure the tech world has learned that diversity of all types (including age) helps results though because you still find us in packs that all look alike.
I think one clear change is that the female/male conversation is getting really loud. That was not present for me at all in the beginning or I was unaware of it if it was. I’m amazed at how loud the conversation is getting with the tweets, anecdotes, books, and media attention it’s getting. I still feel like it’s a lot of talk and there’s not a lot of actions going on that are truly changing the statistics of women in leadership roles at C-levels or on boards.
Another interesting change over time is that lot of the small companies have gotten extremely large, and they look like the large companies that we were all running from when we went to work for small companies. It’s amazing to me how these small companies start out so nimble, and flexible, and then very consistently grow into pretty big operations with their own fair share of bureaucracy.
Maybe the tech world has more awareness of diversity and is more diverse as a result of these large sizes. The big companies I’ve worked for seemed more supportive of diversity efforts than the small ones I work with. When you’re small it seems you surround yourself with people that look like you or act like you, but in the big companies, all types of people exist. I see them represented with groups. There’s LGBT groups, there’s minority groups, there’s any group that really wants to form, and the company is supportive of it. So versus the rest of the world, I see the big companies making an effort to embrace the diverse communities that they have within them. But again, it is at the lower levels of the company and when you get into the executive branch it’s very homogenous still. Which is where I think the work is to be done.
You mentioned in your pre-interview that your kids don’t find tech very desirable after seeing the experiences you’ve been through. Can you expand on that?
I think for them– they live with me and they know my highs and lows, and —they see you have to be pretty resilient in tech. They’ve seen my jobs come and go and the companies come and go. So some of that is just their personal experience with their mom, I think.
I’m really thankful for the opportunities because they’ve allowed me to provide a lot for my kids. They have a great start in life, but they’ve also gone to schools with people that have massive amounts of money as a result of tech. I think they’re very sensitive to the privilege that they’ve grown up with, and they have this suspicion that the tech community isn’t aware of its own privilege.. So they’re going into very creative careers, most likely in the arts or somehow connected to the arts. Right or wrong, and they haven’t experienced it with all the color that I have, they think about it in terms of sitting in a cubicle all day, commuting out of the city on one of the buses, and working for a big company vs. a start up. My daughter is a studio art major, and I always say, “Go into web design. It’s the most competitive job in the valley right now.”and she’s like, “Yeah, yeah, whatever. I don’t want to sit in a cubicle.” They’re still young. I think there’s a chance they’ll end up connected to the industry, but they think a lot about privilege, and how that privilege creates distance with different communities in our country, and they’re sensitive to that.
Yeah, that makes sense. Kind of bouncing off of that, I’m thinking about risk. Things turned out really well for you, and I’m curious to know if you got bit by a bug that prevented you from feeling risk or if your risk aversion was high from childhood? I’m just curious leaving established industries and going into tech or a start up it’s super risky. I’m curious, as a mom, what was your relationship with risk or did you just know you would make it work, no matter what?
I feel like I’m really risk averse [chuckles]. Ironically, I was always looking for security and stability and work/family balance, but I think I knew that tech with its risks had a better chance of a high growth career than others. Deep down I must have always known that I’m smart and can figure out jobs and I have a very strong network of people that trust me and that I trust – That I think is the insurance policy to the risks that I might take.
I think I learned with that first start-up, that feeling scared and nervous and like I may have made a mistake is the exact moment that you’re probably going to make a really big difference or learn something completely new. When I was working on a project that could either go really well or dramatically badly, and we tried to mitigate risks as best we could, there was always a point where we had to go with our best judgment. Those were the times that I was really nervous and afraid, but I learned it was because those were the projects that made the biggest difference for the businesses that I was in vs. ones that were tweaks and forgettable. Now I’m sort of at the point where if I’m not feeling that nervousness and being slightly scared I start to question if this is really where I should be focusing my efforts. If you’re just in a routine day in and day out you’re probably not making a big impact, which isn’t very fulfilling so you have to take risks.
Yeah. What are your goals for this year? What are you working on right now, either for your career or for yourself?
Well, my son is about to graduate from high school, so after this I’m an empty nester.
Wow. That’s exciting. Scary.
My goal this year is giving and contribution – I want to give more to my friendships and contribute in meaningful ways to their lives, I want to make strong and meaningful contributions to the company I work for. I’m not working currently and am in a job search, but I wouldn’t say it’s highly active yet because I’m trying to assess what I want the next stage of my career to be. I’m doing a lot of reflection and the foundation work to set myself up for being an empty nester who is having a lot of fun and is fulfilled from my contributions. I hope it means a lot of fun with my career and a lot of fun with my personal life.
Amazing. Based on the reflection that you’ve done so far, what is important to you in a job now?
I think a strong sense of customer advocacy. A business that focuses on their customer experience so that their product is really great. The last two years I’ve been commuting to Cincinnati, helping a company in the midwest transform and become more technology-focused. I’m back in Silicon Valley now. It’s so interesting to see the, I guess, acceptance of experimentation and building for the long term that Silicon Valley has. I’m invigorated to go to a company that’s highly experimental and excited to test new directions. And then, maybe on the side or as an educational project for myself, I really want to learn about or start developing some programs to help companies get more diversity up in the executive levels because I think what we’re doing now isn’t quite enough. It’s not just about developing the women. I’d like to do some projects exploring what the men & women think of these conversations about the elephant in the room, what they’re aware of or not aware of, helping to bring awareness to everyone about what equality looks like. That’s another direction that I’m interested in going likely more as an interest than an actual job.
Yeah. Just, based on your experiences or experiences of your friends, what are the biggest gaping issues that you’d like to address sooner than later?
That is really easy: unconscious bias amongst men and women. Women and men are different – the differences add up to strengths that lead to better results when working as a team. We’ve got to learn to embrace these differences rather than judge them. Men are very focused on results – which is good and we need that – and women are focused on broad contexts. They look at the full picture to understand all the dynamics that might be creating the results or preventing results from happening. And it’s a little bit of a slower process than just zeroing in on, “What are the results,” and “What did we do right,” or “What did we do wrong?” So you can see this spectrum where men operate at one end and women at another (I’m totally generalizing here). Business leaders don’t know what operating in between those two ends looks like. I hope we can somehow start to identify what a gender neutral approach is or engage together and learn that neither way is wrong, so we accept both. This kind of operating amongst senior leaders does require going slow, it does require having very open and honest and messy conversations with people – some who might by nature not be very open and certainly not open to messy- I don’t think you can approach it with an agile methodology or something that can be easily blue-printed or replicated. As companies start to succeed in the area of diversity and equality we need to learn from them. We need to hear about what exec team conversations look like when it is a truly diverse group, or what it looked like when they stumbled, and the things that the men struggled with, or that the women struggled with. This requires a ton of transparency. The more those conversations can happen in a setting where both men and women are present, the better. It’s hard to get the men present for those right now and I’m not sure that we even ask vs. jumping in with a “women’s summit”
What advice would you have, based on your experiences in tech– what advice would you have for those folk just starting out? Like what do you wish you had known in the beginning?
What advice would I have? I think this can apply to most careers, I would advise to get experience managing people and working with customers early if they can. So much happens based on people’s ability to work with people. Learn analytics and business models, because that positions you for decision making roles. Move around in companies. Don’t go for a career where you stay in one place for 20 years, because the moving around of companies serves to build a pretty diverse skill set. Even move in industries if you can, or at least verticals within tech. It gives you a really strong foundation of diverse skills. The MBA may not be so important. Stay close to yourself and design a life that allows you to be true to yourself inside and outside of work.