Monthly Archives: August 2018

Gender Biases and Stereotypes- A real life case study in the Silicon Valley

Most women, as they rise to positions of power, face a bastion of stereotyping, focusing only on their gender and belittling their achievements. Read on how even stalwarts like Sheryl Sandberg also faced the same.

In 2012, at the time that SAP bought out Ariba, a much read technology investor and writer on Forbes Magazine, Eric Jackson, wrote an article captioned ”Sheryl Sandberg is the Valley’s IT Girl – much like Kim Polese”. A highly opinionated article which compared Sandberg’s social prominence and “not Camera Shy” persona that leads from the frontlines, as COO of Facebook, to that of Kim Polese.

Nearly a decade before Sandberg’s book “Lean In” made waves, Polese was known as the “superstar of the internet” and the “Madonna of the tech world”. Polese, at age 35 had successfully founded an internet company called Marimba that sold for $239 million, 15 times the venture capital raised for it and had become the golden girl of the silicon valley.

Jackson, in his scathing article went on to highlight the similarities between the two women (and there were quite a few) but the main premise of the article was that Sheryl was falling into the same trap as Polese, who, he claims, neglected internal operations of the company in favour of focusing excessively on “external Stuff” such as media and outreach. Jackson somehow thought it in his place to warn Sandberg of becoming a forgotten “has-been” just like Polese (factually incorrect because Polese continues to be on several technology boards and continues to do outstanding work in the technology space).

He advised Sandberg – “If I was a friend of Sheryl Sandberg and she asked me for my advice, I’d say: you don’t want to be the next Kim Polese. Maybe you should tone down the public appearances for a while and just keep your head down at Face book. There will always be some new Fortune Magazine cover to do, or award for being the most powerful woman executive in the world to accept. Yet, you’re ultimately going to be judged for your – and yours alone – business accomplishments. So, don’t take your eye off the ball.”

This is just one of the examples of stereotyping that women face. Since this involved high profile people it became more noteworthy, but is very much on the lines of what women face at the work place all too often. Pretty face, not much more: Jackson, in the very title of the article, calls Sheryl Sandberg an “IT girl” of the Silicon valley. According to the Collins Dictionary an “IT girl” is a loose term used to to describe a young woman who is well-known because she goes to the most fashionable places and events and knows famous people. In this context, it trivializes Sandberg’s achievements as a top executive who has earned her place in the spotlight. It objectifies her and brings focus merely to her femininity, which should rightfully be irrelevant in the face of her achievements.

Being at the right place at the right time: In the same article Jackson, has a whole paragraph dedicated to why he thinks Polese did not deserve her place on the Times magazine list of 25 most influential people. He attributes it to luck. If we look at most success stories be it Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Steve jobs, we will have to attribute much of their success to being at the right place at the right time. But the point is that they were the right people as well, who had earned their spot. Yet, this tag is most vocally and casually attached to women leaders, taking away all the credit they deserve for their hard work and attributing their success to luck and at being at the right place at the right time.

Good catch: In the original article, Jackson had a line saying Sheryl Sandberg’s husband was ‘super smart to boot’. A line he soon removed due to the heightened back lash it received, as did the rest of the article. In this case, Sandberg was a Harvard graduate, worked at the World Bank and US treasury and was Google’s Vice President before Face book – a pedigree that is hard to match- and none of which had anything to do with her husband. Yet women, like Sandberg get stereotyped- making it seem like they got to their positions of success and power because of their association with powerful, smart men – again taking away from their efforts, brains and leadership attributes.

Eric Jackson has since issued an apology to both women and his readers for a sloppy inaccurate article. We hope that all the feedback he has received has given him the opportunity to reflect on his thought process.

If work place genders ratios are to changed one must change their mind set. Rethink their assumptions, notions , conscious and subconscious biases and let women do their jobs, with the spotlight on their Jobs and not on their gender.

Finding your inner Goddess – Leadership lessons for women from Athena

If you have ever had the good fortune of visiting the ancient city of Athens, Capital of Greece, you will be immediately struck by its ancient and dominating history. Athens dates back to 7000 BC it is, one those places whose present is much entwined in it glorious past, a past that follows you around no matter where you go. According to legend, the Athenian King Cecrops named the city after himself but the Greek Gods, seeing how beautiful it was, felt it deserved an immortal name. Read on to discover who the city was eventually named after…

King Cecrops decided to have a contest amongst the Gods of the Acropolis, the winner of which will lend their name to the glorious city. The two most promising and prominent Gods of that time, Poseidon and Athena, naturally were the fiercest contenders.

The contest between them was so intense that they nearly went to war with each other. However, just when they were about to attack each other, Athena had an idea for a different approach. She proposed that she and Poseidon enter into another contest, where whoever presented the city with the best gift would become the patron. King Cecrops and the people of the city would decide the winner.

Poseidon struck the Earth with his massive trident and presented the city with the gift of water. He was the God of the Sea and the gift of water, in the form of a massive foamy stream, excited the people. But they found out, a little after, that the water was sea water and quite unfit for human consumption.

After much thought and wisdom, Athena, in turn presented the city with an olive tree. Her gift was presented as a seed sown in the earth, and people had to wait to see what comes of it. The olive seed bore fruit and proved to be a wonderful and practical gift. It provided the people with sustenance, fuel, wood and a crop that was tradeable. Athena’s gift was much loved and she was proclaimed the winner.

Thus Athens got its name and Athena’s wisdom was immortalised, in the city of Athens, which to date bears the olive fruit which is much loved world over.

Athena is considered to be the Goddess of Wisdom as well as war. She was a prudent and wise battle strategist. She had creatively turned what could have been a destructive war into a gift for the people. She had ensured that the outcome of their rivalry and irrespective of who won the contest, the city and people won and benefited by default.

Athena is also considered the Goddess of strength, leadership, crafts (specially spinning and weaving) and was known for her generosity and kindness.

As women, in leadership roles much can be imbibed from these myths and legends of Athena. She embodied courage, wisdom as well as kindness and domesticity. For us women striving to balance the home and workplace, we could, like Athena, embrace our femininity and yet, fiercely lead from the front line.

In 1982, much inspired by Goddess Athena, speaker, author, and successful entrepreneur, Martha Mayhood Mertz spearheaded a leadership award program: The ATHENA Award, named for the strong, enlightened goddess. An award for individuals who excelled in their professions, gave back to their communities, and helped rise up other leaders, especially women. Mertz’s book traces the ATHENA history and illuminates 8 ATHENA principles: Live authentically, Learn constantly, Advocate fiercely, Act courageously, Foster collaboration, Build relationships, and Give back, Celebrate.

These eight distinct attributes reflect women’s contributions to leadership. While these can be applied by both genders, women demonstrate these personal traits more intuitively. These intuitive traits, when combined with the strongest aspects of traditional leadership – taking risks, assertiveness, hard work – could prepare women to be successful leaders in the 21st century.

Series on Examining Gender Biases

I recently attended a Women Entrepreneur conference. There was a lady, a successful venture capitalist that was delivering the keynote address. While talking about biases at the workplace, she related a story that stayed with me for many days.

In a previous job with a Fortune 500 company, the HR team conducted an experiment. They sent 2 CV’s for the same job description for a fitment check. The interesting part of the experiment was that the CV actually belonged to the same person…the name on one CV was male and on the other was female. The fitment results for the CV which had the male name was much higher than the CV that had the female name.

The audience that these CV’s had been floated to did not think they had a gender bias. It was an eye opener for them too. This set me thinking and I thought we should dedicate our next series on LinkedIn to gender empowerment and gender biases.

Trust you will enjoy this series….it was fascinating for us to put it together.

Push Vs Pull- Steering the ship of Learning – Part 2

In the first part of this series we tried to make sense of push learning and ways in which it impacts learning. In this second part let us hash out Pull learning.

In this learning approach, companies provide a host of online learning, MOOC’s and LMS based trainings where the onus lies with the employee to up skill himself. It is a more decentralized bottom- up approach, where access to information is easy and almost instant.

Several organizations profess that this is the new age and cost efficient methodology of learning. Here, organizations strive to provide content to employees in the most easy to use and learner centric ways and employees can, at will, opt-in for such programs. Diverse yet relevant information is available as are the tools to assimilate them. It also goes a step further and allows employees to test themselves and evaluate learning. Organizations drive learning through these digital platforms and strive to create traction towards these learning methodologies.

In today’s age, knowledge is no longer at a premium. Unlike the pre-internet era, one no longer needs a trainer/teacher/guru or mentor to learn first hand from. All you need is a device. But the question remains, despite all the knowledge available why is there a deep lacuna in both skills and behaviours that are required of each contributing individual?

Investments in digital learning platforms and e-learning do not ensure that learning happens within the organization.

Much like the new age schooling system which is child centric and one where the child learns at his/ her own pace, the question to be asked is, how prepared and equipped are they to face the harsh realities of the competitive world? Similarly, in the corporate world, how well can they surf the fast paced technology tide? Is every employee attuned to the changing landscape and aware of specifically what skills he needs not just to surf the tide but to stand out amidst the several thousand surfers?

While his organization may be agile enough to embrace new business models and technologies, how deep are the ravines separating his current knowledge( and skills) and the desired knowledge( and skills) ? How long is the bridge over these ravines and how long would it take him to cross it?

Push Vs Pull – Who calls the shots?

Given that neither of the two approaches to learning are bereft of pitfalls, we have come to believe that organizations must have a multi-pronged and layered approach to learning. Learning and development teams shoulder the responsibility of creating a learning strategy which is in line with their organizational goals. They bring to this task a deep understanding of the capabilities and skills that an organization needs to successfully execute their business plans and achieve their performance goals. They must put their employees in the forefront and make them active drivers of the learning experience. They need to become facilitators of learning and curators of content, deciding which skill and behaviours must be pushed onto the employees but strive to establish processes to get employee buy in’s to learning, thus moving it into the realm of pull learning. This is further fortified by embracing leader-led training and subject-matter authored content and creating a culture of social and collaborative learning into every program.

L & D Teams are required to captain the ship of learning – Keep an eye on the compass and make sure that the organization and its workforce are headed in the right direction. They also ensure that the rudder are constantly churning the minds of it employees, fuelling their career goals, leaving no room for complacency and steering them towards their own growth and development and, in turn, that of the organization.