Knowledge sharing is the single most important act that has to happen for women in Silicon Valley.
When you hear panel moderator Christina Farr of VentureBeat say that at times she’s hesitant to write about women led companies because of the comments she receives from angry readers, you know there’s a problem here.
That being said, things are changing as more venues are provided for women to talk about how they got to where they are. BoxWorks, the enterprise software customer conference that took place earlier this week, provided this venue.
There are very few panels at enterprise software conferences devoted strictly to women. There are even less with the phrase “wonder woman” in the title. The panel was called “Wonder Woman” on the “secrets of Silicon Valley track”:
"Women own 40% of America’s private businesses, and kick-ass females are driving Silicon Valley to new heights. Get their unique insights on technology, leadership and life in the world’s innovation capitol."
The panel included Karen Appleton a VP of Business Development at Box, Dawn Lepore the former Chairman and CEO of Drugstore.com, Ellen Levy, Managing Director at Silicon Valley Connect, and Dana Evan, Former CFO and EVP of Verisign.
The panel offered up many suggestions for overcoming the challenges of being in a male dominated world.
From left to right: Karen Appleton, Ellen Levy, Dawn Lepore, Dana Evan
1. Don’t gender discriminate when it comes to mentors
When Dawn Lepore was CIO of Charles Schwab Steve Jobs was her mentor, but he didn’t know it. Lepore would have calls with CEOs of major companies and she would ask that the call be one hour -- they would each get 30 minutes to direct the conversation. Lepore would answer questions about Charles Schwab IT for 30 minutes. For the other 30 minutes she would ask leadership questions. Multiple people on the panel mentioned when they were coming up the ranks there were no women, so they turned to male mentors for guidance and support.
2. Ignore the Nonsense
Growing up in a house with a mom who was a PhD in Math at Stanford and also had 5 kids, Dana Evan grew up with the notion that there wasn’t anything she couldn’t accomplish. Fast forward a few years, Evan is the top sales executive at Netscape. However it wasn’t always a walk in the park.
Evan recalled many evenings where she was not invited out drinking with the guys. On this week’s panel Evan said she would go home and send seven hours of email. When she went in the next day her boss was pleased with her work ethic and eventually this would give her a leg up on the guys.
On a personal note, I’d like to think today there are many more resources at women’s fingertips to spend those nights networking in women’s groups rather than stay home alone. We all know that relationship-building happens at the bars, and those relationships built outside of the office will help a woman with opportunities.
I think Evan’s point about ignoring the gendered behavior speaks to a theme of dealing with unfavorable situations. They include getting left out of social events, being handed coats and coffee requests at a meeting under the assumption she was the secretary and being told on a golf course she was in the wrong place (as the only woman). All of these women agreed you don’t want to “back a dog into a corner.” Meaning you don’t want to assume ill intent and you can use tools like humor to get through those awkward situations at work.
3. Sense of Humor
Increasingly we’re seeing the media networks touch on real women’s issues using humor. And from the way Ellen Levy dealt with breast-feeding when she worked at LinkedIn, you’d think she wrote for the HBO hit Girls. There weren’t rooms for breast-feeding, but she was lucky enough to have an office. She put a note on the door that read, “Please don't enter. It will be more embarrassing for you than it will be for me.”
Karen Appleton admitted she doesn’t feel she was ever treated differently as a women in tech. She talked about being the first female employee at Box. She recalls the early stages at Box offices in Southern California when a few of the employees were living at the office. There was a shower and Appleton remembers having to tell one of her male colleagues to not walk around the office in a towel. Her advice for young women was, “Just go in kick ass. If you work hard you'll get rewarded.”
4. It’s a Meritocracy Til It Isn’t
Almost the entire panel agreed that Silicon Valley is a meritocracy until you get into the senior ranks. The panel agreed that women get the tough CEO jobs -- the turnaround companies -- and more is expected of them. Additionally when things go south with women led companies the media is ready and eager to roast these female CEOs.
The panel agreed that the power sits with the investors. When the investors insist that there be more female board members, the tech world will be friendlier to women.
Editor's Note: Interested in reading more by Blake? Why not read Tools That Small Businesses Can't Live Without