SXSW Day 2 – It’s all about the ladies

I went to SXSW expecting to meet lots and lots of men in tech, but instead I ended up meeting various inspirational ladies.

The first of which, were Jan Ryan and Virginia Miracle, both very impressive female executives / entrepreneurs / mentors / investors, all in one very friendly package. They shared some great tips on how to get more women into the C-Suite with the discussion revolving around: 1) improving negotiation skills, 2) finding the right culture to work in and the mentors that will help you reflect and evolve and 3) learn to handle conflict resolution. I found this such an upgrade compared to the normal “let’s all sing kumbaya and promote diversity” bullshit. #sxwomen

I also listened to a keynote from Princess Reema from Saudi Arabia and how she had been using her business sense (and very deep pockets) to get more women into the workforce, promote breast cancer awareness and support local female entrepreneurs. I really loved her talk and ideas but had this nagging thought in the back of my head that kept me wondering if this was all a big hypocrisy as certainly the best interest  of her family is to keep Saudis in the middle ages while the royals party it up across the world. But that’s just me…#empower

I attended a panel titled: “She’s a C-Word! Lessons From Tech’s C-Suite Women”, it was led by a crazy lesbian lady (I wouldn’t even care, but she kept mentioning that she was a lesbian) with sunglasses named Kara Swisher. She kept telling everyone to f.. off and sharing stories about the time she hung out with Oprah or Sheryl Sandberg so I suppose she was someone influential as well.  The other participants, Kira Wampler, CMO of Lyft and Sara Clemens, Chief Strategy Officer at Pandora were pretty damn cool and so I asked them about how could we get more women into the board rooms but was told to not even bother, because the boards are the ultimate boys club and unbreakable glass ceiling. Since I really want to be in a board (and get tons of money to work like 4 times a year), I plan on using my newly acquired Twitter skills to pester influential ladies to change the power dynamics on executive boards. #cword

In contrast to this, I went to get free makeovers at the Cosmopolitan / Cover Girl booth, where I discovered other ways for women to be useful parts of society. I could take only about 5 minutes of listening to a fashion blogger talking about how she spent her entire free time discussing hand bag features or twitting about them. And these people are making tons of money and influencing thousands of American women. Total fail.

Upon exiting their booth I ran into squirrels reading books and this definitely cheered me up and helped me regain hope with respect to the future of our society.

You can read about my learnings in the first day at SXSW here or how on Day 3 I realized that Venture Capitalists are a-holes and there are other ways to change to society here.

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Breaking the glass ceilings 101

A conversation with a female friend at a male-dominated and highly competitive company in a very competitive industry went down like this.:

Friend: Grobby, you would be proud of me. I had two days of meetings this week for managers in my dept. it was 16 men and me. When I saw the invite I was kind of startled at the lopsidedness. I know it’s a male-dominated industry but 16 to 1?! Come on!

And I was mad but didn’t plan to say anything. But I ended up changing my mind and prepared a little something to say, and I challenged everyone in the room to take a look around – 16 to 1 — and we can do better than that. Be aware. We’re obviously missing out on talented people and to have only one female who is in any kind of mgmt role just doesn’t look good and isn’t good for our company or our work

Grobby: “Woooooww!!! I AM super proud of you!!  And what was their reaction?”

Friend: It was mostly positive. There were a couple people that said there aren’t as many female applicants or they try or something (being defensive) but overall people agreed

Friend: And the HR representative who was presenting to us (and a woman) said she really appreciated my making the important point, and that she had actually been a little taken aback at the #s. And that this has been a conversation topic recently for her with senior manager of how to get more gender diversity.

Also that she just had an exit interview with a woman who left and said a big reason was she didn’t see advancement opportunities for women as there are VERY few women in top positions at the company

Grobby: Tell her first to stop calling us diversity. Women are not diversity. They represent MORE than 50% of university graduates. They are not some underprivileged sector of the population. For your company they are a huge talent pool which it is not taking advantage of

Question no. 2:  I would ask her is – what are the characteristics that get people promoted in the organization

Friend: And there are a decent – not great, but so-so — number of women at the company. But not in leadership roles

Friend: I also presented this challenge. Google did a study of its workforce (following complaints and anecdotes) and found that women in the same position were paid less and women with same experience and education were in lower level positions than their male counterparts (on average). I think my company should do the same thing. I’m willing to bet that women in same role – on average – are paid less

 Grobby: You totally should. This is almost industry standard by now to do these kinds of studies. Pressure your HR.

Friend: Anyway we’ll see if my comments have any effect. I think the message really needs to be drilled to senior management 

Would you, the reader, have the guts to bring this important topic to discussion with your superiors? You SHOULD because they could be surprisingly supportive. And if they aren’t, perhaps it’s time to look for another employer.

“She is good at her job, but she is just a little too aggressive”

Still trying to change  the world one step at a time.

Sheryl Sandberg’s recent initiative “Ban Bossy” made me think about how I had been often myself perceived as too aggressive, while thinking to myself that I was just trying to do my job. I remembered hearing various comments from my most respected female colleagues here along the lines of “I keep getting negative reviews, as I am too critical”, while marveling at how others that I found completely incompetent rewarded for “good social skills.” And not to forget the worst category of all – the really intelligent and competent ladies I found way too humble and undervalued by their bosses and the company as a whole. Those are the ones that  work long hours, do not get promoted and say that they don’t seek promotion but are happy to be doing a good job.

Since the failure of my first women empowerment initiative, the positive outcome was the the jargon “poderosa” (powerful) stuck around with the parties involved, in conversations, in e-mails, in internal jokes. It helped me keep the conversation alive but left me with the need to keep provoking change.

Yesterday, I decided to share this video, that talks about the stereotypes women face that keep them from leadership roles with some of my powerful lady colleagues – asking them: “Do you want to be bossy or do you want to become the boss?”.

It was really interesting to get back the emotional responses such as:

“My therapist told me to be more girly “Mulherziha”, so I dropped her, continuing to be  ‘bossy’!! “,

“Incredible! I’m feeling more relieved after watching this.”

I was rather surprised with these responses, and am now thinking of what to do next to build on this.

An Exercise in Empowerment

This evening I attended a very cool event organized at a friend’s rooftop. The hostesses were two of my girlfriends who have recently graduated from a top MBA program in Europe and are now trying to launch a business aimed at increasing women empowerment in Brazil. They assembled an interesting group of female advisors, ages 25-35, of various nationalities and sectors: corporate, government, social entrepreneurship, consulting, environmental engineering, finance, that are all interested in the topic, and shared their ideas with us, asking for our feedback.

We all had very different insights about the challenges women face in this world, from difficulties managing raising kids with a full time job, lack of female (or even male) mentors, hard time accessing financing (even banks have prejudice against landing to women), lack of supportive business network, challenge in asking for a raise, outright discrimination in hiring / promoting, being outside the male bonding circle with the boss, machismo culture, other women who use their sexuality to get ahead, and self-doubt/fear and other personal characteristics that prevent women from taking the leap they should be taking in their careers. It was a very interesting discussion that also generated all sorts of possible solutions and initiatives. I felt really motivated after participating in this exercise, which made me once again reflect on the fact that I should be doing more about this topic.

To my mother who thinks I am a feminist who will not get married, I have to say that I care about these issues not because I am feminist or because I hate men or think that women are better than them.  I, rather, have 2 very specific things that move me to action:

1) Empowerment – I want to help people believe more in themselves and get better and more successful and women happen to need much more help in this realm, and

2) Fair treatment – I can’t stand discrimination, stereotyping (that goes beyond the joke) or ignorance and I think the issue of gender is being treated too often based on ancient concepts instead of looking at modern day reality and needs. Again here, there is too much discrimination against women in Brazil in my opinion in terms of promotion and access to equal career opportunities and I want this to change.

Here, I said it. Now what?

Why do I care about women empowerment?

I read this article today – 3 things that women should stop apologizing for – and really liked it because it summarizes very well my learnings in the past few years about some of the challenges we face as women in our career. The three things we SHOULD NEVER apologize for (and we do all the time – especially for items 1 & 3):
1. Being Smart
2. Being Successful
3. Being Powerful

Ironically (or not) enough, it’s presented by Citi, a financial institution.
Why is this ironic? As someone who had previously worked on Wall Street, I had experienced the most male-dominated, women-oppressing environments firsthand. Women in banking are a sad minority that keeps apologizing for its existence. As a woman, I had 2 basic choices to lead my career with – either be soft and sweet and be labeled as the girl that gets promoted for sleeping with the boss (or not get promoted at all), or being labeled as the aggressive woman that doesn’t know her place in the food chain or gender role. i.e.: Hello Kitty or T-Rex. Not Cool. I was more on the T-Rex side, which didn’t make me feel too good but also didn’t get me too far as I wasn’t sharpening my teeth enough. Moreover, that experience made me learn to apologize for being smart again and again.

Thankfully, I had left that environment some time ago, got over the stigmas and saw that there are other types of professional environments that are not as chauvinist. But I was left with the sense that males are the ones creating these dynamics. Later one, when I went to business school we talked about how women are statistically significantly underpaid as compared to men, and what may the reasons to that be. There are three that stuck with me ever since, that showed me that the fault is ours as well: (1) women don’t negotiate their starting salary as much as men and therefore have a smaller base to start from.( 2) women are much more hesitant to ask for promotion than men and (3) when women succeed, they, unlike men attribute their success to other factors(i.e. my team, luck, etc), rather than themselves.

In the Brazilian environment, I see quite a lot of that, and as opposed to USA when this subject is being discussed over and over again, I feel like there is a big lack of role models and reluctance to bring the subject up. Moreover, women feel much more embarrassed to be promoting themselves (especially if they ARE indeed intelligent and competent) as it may be interpreted as aggressiveness, arrogance, or what not.

I have personally been mentoring a colleague of mine, an extremely intelligent industry expert that kept feeling like she is failing because she was treated like a junior person and ignored by management. When asking her why she is not bringing up her expertise more often, she said she wouldn’t want to show off, so she just kept her opinions to herself all the time, which in turn made people think she doesn’t have the knowledge on the subject. After a while, she herself started thinking she is inadequate because others were always appearing to have knowledge and expertise and ready to express themselves at all times (when in fact, they were just doing self-marketing with little substance). This makes me so angry – and my tactic has been to channel my anger into her – “Know you are fucking smart and others are just fucking idiots” is the mantra I keep beating into her. I think that so far I made her see the second part of the mantra, which is already a progress, but the first one is tougher. It will take longer as there has been too much ego damage to repair.

I hope to continue spotting these smart and wonderful women so that I could remind them what they forgot so that they feel comfortable to charge the world and reach their true potential.