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Women @ Kimberly-Clark

April 16th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

kimberly-clark

Personally, I think the only thing dumber than expecting a twenty-something to design a product that resonates with Boomers (the people with money) is to have predominantly men leading, guiding and driving innovation for a corporation whose customer base is 83% female.

Yet, that is what was going on at Kimberly-Clark.

In fact, the situation was dire enough in 2009 that it even caught the eye of the board.

If they wanted to create better products targeted to female shoppers, executives realized, they had to transform into the kind of company that propelled women into higher positions instead of letting their careers stall.

With consultants’ assistance, the company did a wide-ranging survey of what was holding women back.

These ranged from concerns that promotions would lead to putting their families second to eradicating the “mommy track” stigma to the time to commute in China.

Kimberly has moved aggressively to address the roadblocks and has accomplished a great deal over the intervening five years.

By 2013, women at Kimberly-Clark made up 26% of the director-level or higher slots, up from 19% in 2009. Female representation on the board of directors also increased.

That was enough to win Catalyst Inc.’s top award for advancing women in the workplace.

Of course, the prime question is did it pay off in terms that Wall Street could understand?

At the end of 2009, the company’s stock price stood at $63.71. By the end of 2013, it had risen to $104.46.

‘Nuff said; money talks.

Flickr image credit: Kimberly-Clark

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Ducks in a Row: Ageism/Sexism—Cause and Effect

April 15th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/speedywithchicken/5842604404

As I wrote yesterday’s post, I had a personal epiphany regarding the cause and effect that has driven/is driving the escalation of ageism and sexism in the tech world.

I’m not saying I’m the first person to think of it, but I also haven’t seen or heard it put this simply.

It probably applies more to the tech world, because this is the first time in history that success—in the form of money, profile and influence—has come to a large number of people sans the experience that leads to maturity.

Moreover, many of them come from economically secure/elite backgrounds and are the children of the majority in control—mostly white and male.

What you have are thousands of boys in men’s bodies who suddenly have the financial ability to do what they want.

And what they want is to continue their frat boy life substituting work for school, but with the same partying, pranks, attitudes and immaturity of the collegiate fraternity boys they were.

It is a proven biological fact that males mature at a later age than females.

Generally speaking, 18-24-year-old males aren’t known for their sensitivity or respect, let alone any kind of deep thinking.

They are known for their insecurity, irresponsibility, partying, randy mindset, dismissal of everyone outside their small circle and generally oafish behavior.

So when they trade school for work, yet have the opportunity to do so without losing their previous mindset, why would you expect them to create an environment that was different from their college days?

Or want to invite people in and spend time around those who don’t share that mentality?

Flickr image credit: speedywithchicken

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From Ageism to Sexism

April 14th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kazvorpal/10020809313

It’s pretty obvious that ageism is alive and well in tech.

As is sexism, which you can see from the email a female CEO received from an engineer she tried to hire.

But far worse are these examples of what women in tech face, exemplified by the latest bit of app stupidity.

“Titstare is an app where you take photos of yourself staring at tits.” –David Boulton and Jethro Batts at the TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon

Not to mention those who defended it.

“It is not misogyny to tell a sexist joke, or to fail to take a woman seriously, or to enjoy boobies” –Pax Dickinson, co-founder and CTO, Glimpse Labs

Or the incredible level of ignorance and pure stupidity exemplified by White_N_Nerdy on Reddit.

“I’m honestly trying to understand why anyone says that females are ‘needed’ in the tech industry.” He continued: “The tech community works fine without females, just like any other mostly male industry. Feminists probably just want women making more money.”

Being old enough to remember, medicine, research and law were “mostly male” industries not that long ago—as were college and advanced degrees.

In the comments section of the article, many women say that prior to the Nineties women developers and engineers weren’t subject to nearly as much abusive harassment, which matches my memories from when I was a tech recruiter in the late Seventies through the Eighties.

What happened?

Please join me tomorrow for a look at what may be an epiphany of cause and effect for both ageism and sexism.

Flickr image credit: KAZ Vorpal

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If the Shoe Fits: You Can Change the Dialog

April 11th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

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The uncivil war between Bay Area techies and the rest of the citizenry is common knowledge.

London is facing similar problems, as exemplified by what’s happening in Shoreditch, a rundown neighborhood in East London (think the Mission before tech discovered it) now a home to co-working spaces from the likes of Google.

While it is gentrifying rapidly, with housing prices rising 17% last year, and hipsters and 20somethings moving in all boats aren’t being lifted by the tide.

Over the same period, however, the level of child poverty in the area remained one of the highest anywhere in London, according to the Child Poverty Action Group, a local charity, while unemployment now stands  around 11 percent, well above the national average.

But a different approach is being taken by some of the tech crowd, in order to craft sustainable, long-term solutions, rather than throwing a few million dollars (which is a rounding error to companies such as Google and Facebook) here and there.

To build bridges between the two communities, a group of local tech founders has started to run monthly programs to connect successful entrepreneurs with those who either have nontech businesses or who want to start their own company.

Over three hours, Niklas Zennstrom, a co-founder of Skype and Richard Reed, a co-founder of the British smoothie maker Innocent Drinks, shared business advice and marketing tips with the small business owners, including the founder of a local fitness company and a maker of custom bike clothes.

Think about it.

How much time/effort would it really take to stop by the small businesses near you, invite them to discuss and brainstorm ways and means to grow their businesses over coffee and even set up a similar mentoring program?

Besides helping them you may be surprised at how much you learn through the interactions.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: a Basic Truth about Age

April 10th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/edanley/4289324169

KG wrote a great post about ageism that started an interesting conversation regarding what needs to happen on both sides of the age line-in-the-sand for things to change.

But what people seem to forget is that, at the time, the Boomers were plenty disrupting and more demanding than their parents.

In fact, historically each generation has disrupted the status quo and demanded both more and different than its predecessor in one way or another.

Every generation has focused on various traits of the upcoming generation and deemed them the end of civilization—if not the world.

I’m sure our hunter ancestors looked with horror at their gatherer children and predicted starvation if the herds weren’t followed.

It’s a given that what’s currently happening always seems more difficult, and even brutal, than what happened in the past when viewed from a distance.

I have no problem when Gen Y demands and walks when those demands aren’t met for two reasons.

  1. Most of their demands are of universal interest (ability to make a difference, respect, challenge, opportunity to grow, etc.) and will improve the workplace for all ages; and
  2. walking is the privilege of the un’s—unmarried, unparenting, unmortaged, unencumbered.

One of the few constants is that we will always have a multigenerational workforce.

So everyone would do well to remember that eventually we all become our parents—maybe not in our own minds, but definitely in the minds of the newest generation agitating for change.

Flickr image credit: Eric Danley

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Attitude Beats Age

April 9th, 2014 by KG Charles-Harris

kg_charles-harris

In writing my post on Ageism in Silicon Valley, I came to think of a good friend of mine who was an extraordinary developer. 

Two years ago he was, in essence, one of the people around 50 with great knowledge and skills, but with little knowledge of how to rejoin the burgeoning Silicon Valley entrepreneurial development workforce after having been focused on other projects for several years. 

 He eventually landed a gig at a young technology startup, one which was badly managed and where he was underpaid.  However, he liked the technology and some of the people he worked with.  But the environment was relatively toxic and he considered leaving quite soon after joining the company.

After slugging it out there several months, he slowly transitioned into a role of being mentor/manager – simply because of his greater experience and maturity.  In fact, despite his frustration with how the company was run, he managed to maintain productivity among the engineers and foster a better environment.  This, of course, had the effect that he became slightly less frustrated.  However, he still harbored thoughts of leaving quickly.

He started discussions with a few other startups – ones where he knew the work environment was positive.  He could easily do this as he now had a track record and people spoke highly of him.  But then a bomb went off – one of the largest internet companies on the planet put in a bid to acquire his company (unfortunately I cannot divulge any detailed information). 

Today he’s a senior manager in one of the most popular internet properties, one which most younger, hotshot, MIT or Stanford engineers would do anything to be able to work at.  He’s the “grey head” among the “young guns” and if he stays at the company for two years he will not have to work another day in his life.  The added upside is that the acquiring company has a fantastic company culture and he’s really happy at work.

This is almost a fairy tale story, but it’s real.  I don’t expect most of you to experience such a surreal ride, but the moral of the story is that nothing good can happen unless you go out there and make yourself attractive.  This means that you will probably not get full value for your past experience, but it does mean that because you do have experience you will progress faster than the younger team members – you have actually learned a lot of the lessons they’ll have to acquire over the next 15-20 years already.

Get out there!

Also, if any of you read this and want to be referred to any startup companies, we are always searching for people and I know several others in the same situation.  Feel free to contact me— kgch@emanio.com

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Ducks in a Row: Ageism in Silicon Valley

April 8th, 2014 by KG Charles-Harris

https://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/2854226061/Let me start by saying that I’m the CEO of a company that specifically seeks older developers – most of my team is over 40 years old.  In fact, my belief is that before professionals have at least 10 years of experience under their belt, it is rare that they have developed the deep experience and judgment I need, regardless of their field of endeavor.

Recently, there have been a number of articles describing vicious age discrimination in Silicon Valley.  I know firsthand that it’s real, but nothing is ever completely one-sided.

Along with ageism on the side of the young, there is a certain amount of self-sabotage on the other side—foremost because as people get older and more experienced they have expectations that are very different from those of younger developers.

As a pre-funded startup EMANIO follows the path of other software startups, i.e., build a working prototype and have some customers using it before seeking funding.  

This is a more involved process when building an enterprise product than one that focuses on consumers, because consumers seldom have IT departments and processes that slow or prevent our gathering of information.

Doing a software startup requires a development team willing to work for stock options and/or with minimal cash payments until we have accomplished building the prototype and having some customers using it.  If older programmers aren’t in a position or willing to do this, it is impossible for a pre-funded startup to hire them. 

This is a clear advantage that younger developers have – their expenses are generally lower as they haven’t yet bought homes, started families, etc.

Another thing that may come from age and experience is a certain annoyance in once again having to prove oneself—or learn new tricks. 

Many of the programming languages and methodologies that were popular have changed.  Agile methodologies and new languages abound and older programmers must take the initiatives to become familiar with them—usually on their own time.  Few young companies have the time or money to teach people these skills.

However, with the number of free, online classes available from places like MIT, Harvard and others, learning new languages and methodologies should be an easy task for those with the right attitude. Few, if any, companies care where or how programmers learn Ruby and other languages, as long as developers are proficient and productive.

On another note, in our present economy most job opportunities come from personal networks.  As such, being part of a team and proving oneself is absolutely necessary in order to be asked to be part of another team.  

Spending 3-6 months in a pre-funded startup is almost a prerequisite for being asked to join another team, regardless of whether the initial startup was successful or not.  

Older developers have to adjust to this change in the job market—and even when their skills are highly sought after they may need to adjust their expectations. 

This includes learning how to relate to very young and/or inexperienced team members and at times acting as a mentor, without seeming like a parent or overbearing or a fun-killer.

Everyone is searching for talent—cheap, productive talent is always welcome most places I know.  The cheap does not have to last for a long time; usually just long enough to get your foot in the door.

(See Entrepreneurs: the Shallowness of Youth and the Myth of Age for more information and links to other articles.)

Flickr image credit: Cliff

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What’s in a Name?

April 7th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonoropeza/1832649884

How do you start your day?

Do your colleagues and boss jump on you with questions, demands and complaints?

Or are there congenial greetings, happy how-are-yous and questions displaying authentic interest in you-the-person?

Other than perpetual curmudgeons and people who got up on the wrong side of the bed, most people would prefer the second scenario to the first.

Bosses should take note, because the second scenario leads to higher productivity and better retention rates.

Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade has solid research to back that up, but, in my view, she badly undermined its adoption by choosing to describe it in terms that will turn off most managers.

She calls it “companionate love.”

Companionate love is shown “when colleagues who are together day in and day out, ask and care about each other’s work and even non-work issues. They are careful of each other’s feelings. They show compassion when things don’t go well. And they also show affection and caring — and that can be about bringing somebody a cup of coffee when you go get your own, or just listening when a co-worker needs to talk.”

Why don’t experts, especially academic experts get it? Why is it so difficult to understand that what something is called affects it in the marketplace?

From about age two on (maybe even younger) humans react to what something is called, whether a product or an action, and that reaction is a good predictor of success.

In today’s world, to succeed, management advice needs to develop terms that wrap the user in a mantle of cool while projecting an image of knowledge and leadership.

Sadly, ‘companionate love’ seems to fall short.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t implement the underlying philosophy or respect, consideration and interest using terms more acceptable to your situation.

Flickr image credit: jon oropeza

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If the Shoe Fits: Can You Build a Team?

April 4th, 2014 by Miki Saxon

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

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I hear a lot of bull disguised as best practice from founders (and other bosses) regarding hiring and management.

  • We only hire stars.
  • All our people are self-starters.
  • Our people are self-managing.
  • We’re not into hand-holding here.

And all forms of variations on the theme.

The reason it’s bull is that most people prefer to be part of a cohesive team (think family)—with the exception of those who are out for themselves and their own glory.

The smartest founders know that it’s the power of the team that confers long-term success.

Christopher W. Cabrera, founder, president and CEO of nine-year-old Xactly is a good example.

He has a 300 person workforce, mostly in their early thirties, which means most were in their twenties when hired.

He uses a prominently displayed rubber band ball to drive home how the company works.

Every month we have an all-hands meeting where every new employee puts their rubber band on the ball. Rubber bands come in all different sizes, shapes and color. Together, when they’re combined, they take on a whole new set of properties and the ball can be bounced or thrown where an individual rubber band can’t. So our motto is, “That’s how we roll.” Somewhere in that ball is my own rubber band. There is no single band in there that’s more important than any other. It’s the collective that counts. Our employees are part of something bigger and we’re trying to build something great.

Take note: no stars.

Hall of Famer and current SMU (turnaround) basketball Coach Larry Brown puts it this way,

“They all want to be coached. They all want to get better. They all want somebody who cares about them.”

Which pretty well sums it up.

A place to make a difference and a boss that gives a damn.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: SVEN and the Four Gears of Geoffrey Moore

April 3rd, 2014 by KG Charles-Harris

kg_charles-harris

I can no longer count the amount of events I’ve been to as an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, and with the exception of very few (I’ve mentioned the exceptions in my previous posts), most are a colossal waste of time and money.  In fact, I view them as “preying on the weak, confused and desperate” company founders who seek ways to create their companies and products and get them funded.

I spent last Friday afternoon in Woodside at the Digital Marketing Summit with Geoffrey Moore put on by SVEN – the Silicon Valley Executive Network.  To those of you who don’t know Geoff Moore he created the “Crossing the Chasm” framework based on the eponymous book he wrote on the commercialization of technology products and companies.  He created the intellectual basis for what we, as entrepreneurs go through in building companies, and he is bringing a new and equally important addition to this work in the 3rd Edition of Crossing the Chasm – the Four Gears Model that describes the levers of growth for technology user adoption.

Though in the book he describes this as directed toward consumer adoption, it applies strongly to the B2B software business as well.  The Consumerization of the Enterprise is in full swing and startups and large companies alike need to understand how this works and how to use it to generate revenues and profits.  The Four Gears structure is a central tool for accomplishing this.

I only recently joined SVEN and this was my first event as a member.  It was excellent – a good mix of large companies such as Cisco and Genpact mixed in with fast growing startups like Lithium and Bizo.  The discussion was led by the founder or SVEN, Brian Reynard, who led the interesting discussion deftly and expertly.  The topic was one of great interest to anyone building or growing a company.

Some of the interesting themes that came up in the Q&A were how to re-engage customers who had become disenchanted with the brand, the difference between B2B and B2C marketing, the new channels and how to use them and the entire framework of the Four Gears and how to tune them.  By the way, I consider the concept of the 4 Gears as both revolutionary and very practical to implement.

The best aspect of the event was to hear CMOs from small and large enterprises describe their growth strategies and problems in an open manner and the ability for personally interfacing and making connections.  Without a doubt, SVEN is one of the more useful organizations fostering networks and interchange between companies in Silicon Valley.

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