Thursday, August 23, 2012

Birth Control Battles and Women in Tech

Published in the Huffington Post earlier today:

Would I have the career I have today without having had easy access to birth control? I doubt it. Tech women are like any other women. Most of us ‘successful’ technical women were uninsured or low-income at the beginning of our careers, including those of us in Silicon Valley. We were students, we went for stretches without health insurance, we had to manage when we got pregnant just like any other woman building a career and taking her rightful place in our society.

And technology is an area that needs women more than most. It’s the fuel of our new economy, especially software technology. We’re creating tech jobs here, the U.S. has an advantage, but we need more STEM college graduates, and that means we need more women going into and staying in technology.

But as the Republican Convention is about to begin, consider how the Romney-Ryan ticket would rupture the opportunity for tech women by going after our birth control. That’s right, birth control. Leaving aside other weapons in the ‘War on Women’, maybe one of the best ways to keep working women down is by making basic contraception difficult to find and hard to afford. Mitt Romney has pledged to “get rid of” and defund Planned Parenthood, which would deny access to birth control for millions of women, and Romney supports efforts in Congress to restrict or eliminate access to birth control for low-income and uninsured women.  That means most women at some point in their lives.

Ask any under-insured grad student who spends her nights on her computer how her career prospects would look if she couldn’t afford to control whether and when she gets pregnant. How many female CEOs would have shattered the glass ceiling in Silicon Valley if managing their reproductive health had been out of their hands when they were working their way up the ladder? Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo who is about to have her first child at the age of 37, might have something to say about that.

 It is incredible that in the 21st century there is any debate about the value and necessity of easily accessible and affordable birth control. Now Romney has chosen for his running mate a young congressman who seems very comfortable turning back the clock by frowning on birth control, while writing a plan to dismantle the basic health care safety net that millions of women rely on. Paul Ryan also voted to defund Planned Parenthood, and last year sponsored a “personhood” bill  that would not only give full constitutional rights to fertilized eggs but could ban some forms of birth control and fertility treatment.

Women working in technology are on the cutting edge, creating jobs and changing our world in dramatic, powerful ways. But we can’t do that if politicians in Washington restrict our ability to plan our families and our futures.

How judgement and blame are ineffective

Why do we tolerate judging and blame when we all know they are such toxic behaviors?

I recently came across a great model for thinking about how blame and judgement impact team behavior. The first chapter in Kevin Kennedy's new book "Devil in the Details" uses a four quadrant model to explain this as follows:

  • The horizontal axis is the spectrum driven by thought - how we think. On the right the positive aspects: thought driven by insight and learning; on the left the negative aspects: thought driven by blame and judgement. 
  • The vertical axis is the spectrum driven by emotion. At the top the positive: emotion is modulated in a predictable rhythm, measured and controlled; at the bottom the negative: drama reigns.

As you would expect, Quadrant 1 leads to the most useful behavior in most business situations. When we can remain calm and centered, neither judging nor blaming, nor being the victim, we can build trust and make forward progress. Everyone can be heard, facts are the basis for decisions, the team can move forward together.

When we judge other people on the team, blame them, or even play the tourist (Kevin has a whole chapter on the damage "tourists" do to teamwork) we experience dissonance. The team becomes divided, some judge, some feel judged and facts and clarity go out of the window.

And yet, judgement is common in technology. Maybe it's because engineers are taught critical thinking, taught to be black and white in their judgements and they get in the habit in all walks of life - they know they are smarter after all. Maybe it's because we are all emotional creatures (yes even engineers, although they can't always see it) and so we get out of practice of consciously checking our emotions at the door. Or maybe it's just a lack of personal discipline, the discipline of being always aware and present. Being, as Steven Feinberg says, neutral.

It's a simple model. The left hand side is simply never productive. When I can put myself to the right, (which I am sorry to say is not always), I am simply more effective. When I lead my team to be to the right, they can solve any problem.

Most of the time, I try to put myself in quadrant 1. But not always. As Kevin points out, sometimes as the leader you need to be in quadrant 2. Not often, but when you want to create a call-to-arms, you want to create intensity or to lead with emotion, then you consciously step into quadrant 2.

Either way, the important thing is to be conscious of which quadrant you are in, and to be deliberate if you need to move yourself, and your team, from quadrants 3 and 4 into quadrant 1.

Kevin Kennedy is CEO of Avaya. I've served on two public company boards with him, and learn from him in every meeting. His book is a terrific, practical guide to team leadership.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

You Had Me At Hello

We're in the countdown to DreamForce and it's time to have some fun with it. Check out my new Tumblr - You Had Me At Hello

It's my letters to Marc Benioff - CEO of Salesforce. He cares about his customers. So do I.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why Absolutely Everyone Needs To Be Software Literate

My opinion piece published in Forbes this morning...

The average American teenager spends six hours a day texting, 90 minutes a day on Facebook, and more than three hours a day watching TV on the computer – and every interface they experience and every interaction they have is being run by a software application developed by software programmers.

Teens aren’t the only ones being influenced by the vision of the geeks. On average, adults spend more than 10 hours a day intentionally interfacing with software applications and even more time interacting with less obvious apps such as those in cars, at stores and even at the movies. Today, as Marc Andreessen notes in “Software Is Eating the World,” the business of the world’s most influential companies is software.

This exponential software proliferation has set the stage for one of the most influential leadership positions in America today: the role of the software developer. Our software-driven digital world is at the beginning of a revolution that is as profound as the invention of the printing press. Are we – and more importantly, our students – aware of the impact this revolution is going to have on their ability to influence the world in the next 50 years?

For thousands of years, influence and knowledge were closely held by the intellectual elite. From Socrates’ writings on philosophy to Julius Caesar sending propaganda about his battles back to Rome to the Church using its literacy to control Europe, knowledge and influence were the privileges of the educated few. But all that changed in 1440 with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. That single – yet monumental – event democratized knowledge. Within 50 years, there were 35,000 book titles and more than 20 million books in print, and it became possible for anyone who could write to share their ideas and influence their world.

The book was the new technology that made rapid social change possible. Unless you could read and write though, you could not participate in the revolution.

We are now experiencing a revolution that is just as profound, a revolution that began 60 years ago with the computer and has been propelled forward with the microprocessor, the personal computer, software, the Internet and the great global leveler – the mobile smartphone. Software has changed the way we communicate, the way we shop, the way we listen to music, the way we create images, the way we find dates, the way we read books and watch movies, the way we work, the way our every action is stored and analyzed and the way we educate our kids. The democratizing effect of software in the Digital Age is becoming our shared experience as a species.

Software applications are changing the economic and political landscape, too. Just think about the role of mobile phones in microbusinesses in the Third World or, just last year, the role social networking software played in the uprisings of the Arab Spring. The teams who wrote the real-time social apps used to enable the Arab Spring helped change the world, and software accelerated that transformation.

I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to become an expert in C++, JavaScript or Ruby on Rails, but the ability to create algorithms and apply structured logic, whether by writing the code oneself or by learning how to use applications that translate structured logic into code, can make us all active participants in the Digital Age and the software revolution.

Unfortunately, in the United States, we are seeing a dramatic drop in technology interest. Over the last 20 years, the percentage of top-tier high school students who choose to major in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) has dropped from 29 percent to 14 percent. Equally disheartening is that the number of girls majoring in computer science has dropped since the 1970s, and girls now make up only 20 percent of computer science graduates. We’re losing a significant portion of our potential technical talent based on gender bias alone.

The truth is that anybody can learn structured logic and how to code, just as anybody can learn to read and write. And not surprisingly, the field is hot. CNNMoney just published a list of the top fast-growth jobs in America, and software developer came in at number one. It’s a high-paying gig and represents one of the fastest growing jobs around, with an estimated 32-percent growth rate over the next 10 years.

Technology, especially software, is where new U.S. jobs are being created. Students who graduate with STEM degrees will earn 26 percent more than those who don’t. By 2018 though, companies in the U.S. will be able to fill only 29 percent of the computing jobs available with students who hold bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields. Companies from Wal-Mart to Disney to Apple are increasingly hungry for graduates who understand software and can think in a logical and structured way – we simply need more of them.

There is no denying that software is influencing every aspect of our lives and the information with which we are presented. So the choice for every student today is do you want to be a driver and influencer of the world around you, or do you want someone else to be in control? When I was a student, I chose math and software, and this decision has enabled me to become a tech CEO more than once. To lead a technology company, I don’t have to write code anymore, but I do have to understand it. I have to be literate in the language of the software revolution.

Technology’s impact is accelerating. It’s time to encourage every child, every student and every worker to take an interest, to understand the basics of software and computing and to be an active participant in the creation of our new software-driven world.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Quora answers the shocking question about Silicon Valley

Thanks Quora! Talk about getting answers...
Last week's question:

Silicon Valley: What are some things I'd be shocked to learn about the outside world? I'm pretty sure my reality is stuck in a bubble of tech startup culture

produced hilarious results...

  • I know and love people who would be surprised that "Most people have never heard of Instagram, Square, Dropbox, AirBnB". 
  • It is hard here to remember sometimes that "Most of the world is not 16-29 year old males" and "Women are [indeed!] about half the population" 
  • Where I come from (rural SW England)  "Most people's friends are not millionaires" and "Most people don't know people who have retired at age 35"
  • Living in the alternative reality myself, I don't really get that "Pitching can also refer to baseball"
  • And I am sorry, even for people outside the valley, no "Microsoft is still" not! "glamorous"

But no BetaBeat - we are not pitiful! We may be self-absorbed, our fearless employees may be nerdy and need a shower, but they are not to be pitied...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

My Silicon Angle profile - and an excuse to showcase John Cleese

Am profiled in Silicon Angle today. Starts out with the serious - what FirstRain is able to get out of Twitter for business people. Then migrates to my extra curricular interest in the impact of software and why everyone needs to be able to code. But the best bit... when they asked me my favorite commercial of all time and I could share the amazing, unforgettable John Cleese Accurist ads from the 70s. My favorite is at the 1:47 mark.

La Foce: A Perfect day in a Perfect garden

In the heart of the Val D'Orcia there's a place that has seen 500 years of history, and yet sits quietly buzzing in the sunshine with no visible scars from the past.

La Foce is a Tuscan estate, made up of an old villa, extensive farms and a garden. But at it's heart it is a truly glorious garden with some lovely buildings to set it off.

The original villa was built in the XVth century as a wayside tavern for pilgrims on their way from Siena to Rome and then became a part of the estate of the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala of Siena. In 1924, wanting to use their wealth to develop an estate in poor, rural Southern Tuscany, Iris Origo (an Anglo American) and her husband Antonio Origo bought the villa and surrounding 7,000 acres and set out not only to restore it, and build farms on the estate, but also to design their dream garden. Designed by the English landscape architect Cecil Pinsent over 10 years, the garden combines levels, colors, and textures to create a dream space full of bees, butterflies, lavender, lemons and boxwood.

La Foce was not always so peaceful. In the Second World War the Origos took in refugees from the Allied bombings in Genoa and Turin and cared for the children through the ugly and violent Allied advance up through Italy as the Germans retreated. You can read the story of Iris' daily struggle, and simple successes, in her war time diary War in Val D'Orcia.

But today you'd never know La Foce had seen such a dreadful period during and right after the war. Wandering through the courtyards and gardens I never wanted to leave. If you are driving south of Siena on a Wednesday afternoon (the only time it's open) take a moment and stop.

 The original villa, built for pilgrims traveling to the Jubilee in Rome in 1600
 The inner courtyard, full of pomegranate trees and geraniums

 The sundial is accurate, not that you want to know the time

 Cascading levels of lavender, lemons and wisteria. 
I try, but my garden in Cupertino never looks this good!

 Pathways through sculpted boxwood. 
The roots are on a slope - their tops are level

 Looking back to the villa
(where you can stay and imagine a different life...)

 Lavender so perfect, and so busy, it's hard to believe until you see it

 Geraniums everywhere

 Sculpted hedges drawing you in and down to the vista point. 
Recently cut and suffering from the drought.

 No warning of the vista that is about to come...

 Perfection. The iconic Tuscan road, created on the 
La Foce estate for no other purpose but to please the eye.

 My traveling companions...

 who insisted on getting a record of my endless grin

 Hidden "rooms" in the garden, overflowing with lush borders, beds and wisteria

And at the end of the day, thanks to a local chef (and much of it harvested from the garden of our house) dinner of tomatoes, cheese, cold tomato soup, homemade bread, salad and vegetarian pasta.

Finally, at the end of a perfect day, the view as we 
drank local wine and supped in our garden.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Exec friendships are hard too

There was a terrific article in the New York Times this week on how very hard it it to make friends over 30. The discussion is buzzing and comments are flying. Clearly lots of people feel the pain of forming deep friendships once they have kids, and a job, and all the time conflicts that prevent us putting the time in to form deep friendships that seemed so much easier in college and pre-kids.

But it also got me thinking about how much harder it is to make friends when you are an executive. Some people see you differently as you take on more responsibility, and their view of you creates a barrier to forming genuine friendship.

For example - one assumption folks make about me is that I don't have time to make friends. Because I am a CEO surely I am busy all the time working and would not have time to go out for a drink with no work purpose. Wrong. I am human and enjoy socializing as much as the next person. Yes I am busy, but I make time for my life as well as my work. Especially when it comes to cooking together.

As an exec you do have to weed out the people who just want something from you, but wrap it in "friendly" behavior. There is a group of casual friends who I have now learned only contact me when they are looking for a job. Why they don't realize I have figured that out escapes me, but I help them anyway because it's the right thing to do. Or the people who want a reference, or they want me to coach them - but they never give back. There is an ask every time I see them.

Don't get me wrong, I love coaching, but I want an authentic discussion. "Penny, I'm facing an issue, can I get some coaching" is great. The "hey, Penny we haven't have breakfast in a while" bugs me.

People project their issues too. Some assume that because of what I do I must think I am above them, or not be interested in them. Rubbish. Everyone is equal, people either interest each other or they don't. But someone with a social status complex is tough to be friends with. The relationship just never feels balanced. I work hard to bust this perception with my employees right up front. It's hard to design together, or sell together when one person has a status complex.

Confidentiality can be an issue too. Clearly I never reveal company confidential information anyway, but as an exec you can only relax with people who you know are not going to talk about what you said, or did, the next day. Gossip is a nasty but tasty social currency. I consciously think about whether the group I am going out with is safe or not. Not that my behavior is ever actually interesting enough to gossip about these days but in the day of cellphones and social media I am always ON unless just with close friends.

Given that forming friends is harder over 30, and harder the more senior you are professionally, it makes it that much more painful when you lose a friend. I've lost friends in the last few years to cancer, to misunderstanding, to friends moving across the country (which doesn't mean you lose them, but you certainly see them less often), to spouses not getting along. Losing friends to death is heartbreaking. Losing friends to people not being able to get along is just downright annoying, and bad ROI on my time.

I do believe that as we move through different phases in life we do, as the NY Times piece says, have to invest in friends for the phase of life we are in. And as an exec that means finding people to whom my job is not relevant to the friendship. Funnily enough, this doesn't mean they are people I don't work with - I like working with my friends. It just means they are people with a healthy self image who don't attribute any special social status to my being a CEO. And the most fun are the ones who know my foibles, are absolutely irreverent, and can make fun of them with me when the day is over.

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