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Entrepreneurs: Pinterest, Women and Culture

Thursday, April 17th, 2014


Can male founders create great, woman-friendly cultures?

And if they do will the company become mind-blowingly successful?

Ask Pinterest co-founders Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp and Paul Sciarra.

Better yet, listen to their female engineers.

People would say things like, “Pretty girls don’t code,” or “I assumed you weren’t very good at coding because normally physical attractiveness and technical ability are inversely correlated.” It was a revelation to join the team at Pinterest and feel like I was treated like an engineer first, not as a female engineer. In most other places, I felt like people always treated me as a “female engineer,” like I was a novelty. People even called me a unicorn to my face. It was really nice to come here and not have that gender modifier in front of who I am.Tracy Chou

But once she started working, she quickly got tired of having to explain her role at the tech companies she worked for to strangers who assumed she was in HR or community management. “Now, I tend to always preface with, ‘I work at Pinterest and I’m an engineer at Pinterest,’” (…) We have a lot of support from the company to put on events for women in engineering in particular, whether through logistics or funding.Nadine Harik

The most exciting part for me is that I get to work on a product that I love and feel like I can actually make a big impact on what we do. It’s cool to be able to focus, and learn and grow as an engineer. – Jennifer Tsai

These comments reflect a culture friendly to women, but in a company that is certainly not dominated by them.

Looking at the Pinterest team picture you see a lot of chronologically young males, but based on the women’s comments the frat boy mentality isn’t what’s shaping the culture.

Nobody can quibble with the level of talent Pinterest has hired or the October 2013 valuation of $3.8 billion.

The point is that talented people of both genders will migrate to a place they feel both valued and comfortable.

Creating a culture that equally values women and men doubles the likelihood of finding, hiring and retaining top talent.

And it’s that talent that paves the road to success.

Image credit: mkhmarketing

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Women @ Kimberly-Clark

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014


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

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014


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

Monday, April 14th, 2014


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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Ducks in a Row: Good Bosses are Part Shrink

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014


Sometimes motivation requires more than the opportunity to grow, making a difference, challenges and feedback.

Along with knowing what makes your people go, you need to understand what blocks them.

At first glance, one seems more prevalent in women programmers, but I’ve seen versions of it in both men and women and not just in programmers—nor is it particularly new.

One is something known as the “imposter syndrome.” That’s when you’re pretty sure that all the other coders you work with are smarter, more talented and more skilled than you are.

The second is pure myth; again not only in the programming world.

The Real Programmer lives only to code. That programmers are expected to work insanely long hours isn’t new. But this idea that they are doing it of their own accord, for the sheer joy of it, is new.

Either attitude will kill productivity and cripple not just those who suffer from them, but those with whom they work, too.
Good bosses, no matter their level, are aware of these and other mental blocks and become adept at providing whatever support and/or guidance is needed to move beyond them.

However, bosses who harbor the attitude that ‘it’s not my problem’ or believe their people should ‘just get over it’ usually become proficient at hiring—primarily because they get so much practice.

Flickr image credit: Joe

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Does Your Staffing Reflect Your Audience?

Monday, March 10th, 2014

How many men claim to understand women?

How often do you hear a man say about his mom/spouse/girlfriend/plain friend/other female ‘I know exactly what she wants?’

Rarely? Never?

Then why do they assume they know what women want when it comes to user experience in technology?

No, this isn’t about hiring more female programmers; it’s about hiring women from backgrounds not typically associated with technology.

People such as Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist hired as director of user experience at Intel Labs, the company’s research arm.

She runs a skunk works of some 100 social scientists and designers who travel the globe, observing how people use technology in their homes and in public.

Social scientists (of both sexes) look at the world differently than your typical tech employee, whether in development or marketing.

It’s even more important when it comes to social media, where many companies are/were started and/or run by guys.

Guys who are often younger and being younger know more (if not all) about creating great user experiences—and when they do want help they tend to ask guys who are a lot like them.

Guys who tend to think of their audience as people similar to them in gender and age.

Not intentionally, but the unconscious bias is still there.

The problem for these guys is that women are a giant presence in social media, consuming more, interacting more, and in more ways, than guys; not only that, but average users are in their 30s.

social media review

It’s pretty much a given that women and men are different.

And that one of the benefits of age is experience and experience changes how people think, react and interact.

Knowing all this you may find it beneficial to hire a more diverse workforce, including people who have lived long enough to understand a variety of people from a variety of perspectives.

Image credit: Designed by http://reviews.financesonline.com | Author: David Adelman | Our Youtube


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Ducks in a Row: Actions are as Thinking is

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014


Microsoft has done a lot of dumb things over the years and they haven’t stopped yet.

A recent ad campaign for Windows Azure implied it was “so easy, even an older woman can do it.”

This on top of an earlier tweet from @WindowsAzure.

“What do you do when your 68-year-old secretary needs Active Directory Multi-Factor Authentication? Ask Dear Azure.”

Social media wasn’t happy and Microsoft ended up apologizing for its “poor judgment.”***

However, Microsoft’s apology doesn’t cut much ice when viewed in light of the dynamics that drove/are driving the development of Windows 8.

According to a person who claims to be on the Windows 8 design team this is the thinking behind Metro.

It’s designed for your computer illiterate little sister, for grandpas who don’t know how to use that computer dofangle thingy, and for mom who just wants to look up apple pie recipes.

I have a low opinion of Win8 based on hearsay and the bad reviews I’ve read, but that’s beside the point.

Assuming what the programmer shared is even relatively accurate it shows that the ad was more business as usual than an error in judgment.

It reflects a corporate MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) grounded in the C suite and begs the question of whether it will continue in a world sans Ballmer and Gates.

***In fairness, Geek Feminism says this gaff is common.

No phrase expresses the meme of female technical ineptitude more neatly than “So simple, even your [grand]mother could do it.” This is a very commonly encountered form of condescension.

Flickr image credit: Metassus

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Being Stupid

Monday, February 17th, 2014


People who find stupid actions a source of amusement usually focus on celebrities, real or faux, and politicians.

Not me; I focus on the business world.

The first of two standouts this week is AOL, which decided to change the 401K matching plan to save money.

Moreover, CEO Tim Armstrong moved his foot from his mouth to deep in his throat by blaming the needed cost savings on Obamacare and supporting unusual cases like two women with complicated pregnancies.

When the employees screamed and the poop hit the media fan Armstrong and AOL swiftly backpedaled and reinstated the old policy.

A few years ago occasional contributor Matt Weeks wrote about the “startup social contract” and the repercussions when it’s broken.

If the workers and/or the exec team come to disrespect, disbelieve or ignore this social contract, the company is lost.

Although Matt wrote about the contract in terms of startups, it applies to enterprises of all sizes and ages.

While AOL’s actions were ill-advised, Goldman Sachs was just plain stupid, although they were encouraged by the sponsoring student group.

The conference, Women Engineers Code, or WECode, which was organized by an undergraduate student group at Harvard, featured stacks of cosmetic mirrors with the Goldman Sachs logo, a photograph posted to Instagram shows. The Instagram user also said that the bank brought nail files to the event.

One of the attendees wondered if the swag represented “sexyfeminism or gender stereotyping”

I can assure her it didn’t.

To quote a senior manager I’ve known for years, “given the choice between stupidity and malice aforethought the cause is almost always stupidity.”

Flickr image credit: The Columbian

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A Question of Conscience

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014


Would you say

“If I lived in Boston I’d put a bullet in your brain.”

“you are clearly retarded, i hope someone shoots then rapes you.”

“Amanda, I’ll fucking rape you. How does that feel?”

“I am 36 years old, I did 12 years for ‘manslaughter’, I killed a woman, like you, who decided to make fun of guys cocks.” “Happy to say we live in the same state. Im looking you up, and when I find you, im going to rape you and remove your head.” There was more, but the final tweet summed it up: “You are going to die and I am the one who is going to kill you. I promise you this.”

to your wife/girlfriend; your mother; your sister; your female colleagues, etc., because their opinion of a movie, joke, politics, etc., differed from yours?


Then why do you accept it or just shrug it off when it’s done anonymously on social sites like Twitter?

And while anonymous trolls are bad, having it done openly and accepted is significantly worse.

What especially alarmed me about what happened to Ms. Harmon and me is that it was set in motion by people and organizations who are out in the open — a signal that this kind of attack is broadly seen as acceptable, or even funny.

Last week I shared several links that looked at some of the problems that keep women from STEM careers.

However, I seriously doubt that girls and young women who read these posts and attendant comments are encouraged to makes themselves into career piñatas.

Edmund Burke said, “All it takes for evil to succeed is for a few good men to do nothing…”

Are you one of the few?

Flickr image credit: Andy Ramdin

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Y-Gender News

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

I am truly tired of listening to the likes of Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg talk abut women in the workplace when, in fact, their world bears no relationship to the majority of women locally or globally.

Elite women, like their male counterparts, marry later and have fewer children than their less-educated sisters. They take shorter breaks from paid full-time employment (a reverse from past trends) and claim an ever greater share of overall female income while relying on nannies and other household help.

Also, I’ve always doubted that having hot women wearing minimal outfits as a booth attraction at tradeshows gives a company an edge. And guess what? It doesn’t.

Booth babes do NOT convert. How do I know? Well, I actually split-tested this a few years ago and the results were indisputable. If you have invested in a trade show to generate new business, using booth babes is a lead conversion boat anchor. –Spencer Chen, marketing professional

Interesting research from Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer Jill J. Avery focuses on the effect female cooties have on masculine brands. Who knew that masculinity was so very fragile?

“Gender contamination occurs when one gender is using a brand as a symbol of their masculinity or femininity, and the incursion of the other gender into the brand threatens that… Girls and women seem to have more freedom to consume products and brands commonly associated with the other gender than boys and men, who are more tightly constrained by the prevailing views of masculinity that associate being masculine with avoiding anything feminine.

Then there’s the ongoing problem of women in STEM—or the lack of them, actually.

There is a lot of systemic bias in the system against young women taking this kind of direction with their studies and their career. And we must change that bias and it must be changed at the middle school level.

While many recognize that solutions need to be applied in middle school or sooner, new research shows that just having a male teacher may impede progress and intimidate interest.

The stereotype that men are better at math than women is so ingrained in our culture that women feel stereotype threat — and as a result, perform more poorly in math — just from watching a man take a dominant role in a math study group.

IBM is one company that is actively fighting back.

Women have played a key role in some of the most important innovations in IBM’s history. Meet some of them through the Technologista series that celebrates some of these accomplishments.

I think my favorite pro STEM-for-girls is Debbie Sterling, who starts much earlier. She’s the entrepreneur who not only didn’t buy into the hype, but also created toys to combat it.

Who said girls want to dress in pink and play with dolls, especially when they could be building Rube Goldberg machines instead?

YouTube credit: GoldiBlox 

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