No Girls @ the Drawing Board Part I

Women in tech or the lack thereof, is an issue that extends far beyond the reach of the people who work in the tech field. Technology has become such a huge part of our daily life that the influence of its designers bleeds over into the norms of our society. The discouragingly small amount of women designing software and apps isn’t just a bummer, it’s an indication of the value placed on women’s issues and women’s needs.

When Apple first unveiled their Health application, we were amazed at how much it could tell us about our vital signs. It allowed us to track calories, weight, steps, heart rate, respiratory rates and even  more serious items like BAC and electrodermal activity. It was convenient, it was beautiful, and it was missing one BIG thing: a period tracker. Apple Health could tell us virtually everything we needed to know about ourselves – unless we happen to be women, in which case one of the fundamental parts of feminine health was conspicuously left out. In June of 2014, in conjunction with the announcement of Apple Health, the Senior VP of Software Engineering at Apple, Craig Federighi, confidently announced that Health would let users “monitor all of [the] metrics you’re most interested in.” Periods must not have been very interesting to him.

FitBit, on the other hand, did remember to include a period-tracker. Unfortunately, it was similarly out-of-touch. The tracker only allowed users to track their periods for a limited time; attempts to track beyond that were met with the message, “Periods should be between one and ten days.” The options to respond were “okay” and “cancel.” This glaring design flaw is obvious to any woman who has suffered from irregular periods or endometriosis, amongst other reproductive health issues. It begs the question, how many women were involved with designing this feature? If FitBit is true to form for the current tech landscape, the answer is few to none. Today, only 29% of leadership at Apple is female, along with 28 percent at Facebook, and 25 percent at Google. The numbers are slightly higher if you analyze the breakdown of all employees, rather than just leadership, but Pinterest is the only tech company with significantly higher numbers (19 percent of leadership and 45 percent of total employees). This is largely because of a huge effort made by the company in the last year, spearheaded by Candace Morgan and her D&I team.

The lack of women in tech not only leads to products that don’t cater to women’s needs, but they also fall into disappointingly cliche stereotypes about “girliness,” strengthening gender stereotypes. For example, the layouts and color-schemes of some period apps tend to be skewed toward pinks and florals, reaffirming antiquated assumptions about those colors belonging to a specific gender. One of the most popular period-tracking apps, incidentally, is designed by a woman. It’s called Clue and its not pink.

So what do apps designed for women by women actually look like? Here are a few of my favorites:

Spitfire: Built by two female engineers (awesome) who are also competitive athletes (WOW), Spitfire is an app designed to help women take their strength training to the next level by giving them access to the regimens of other competitive athletes. One user, Tatenda M., summed up the app perfectly in her review posted on Spitfire’s website, “ It’s the only weightlifting app that is truly by women for women. It was designed, coded, researched, marketed by tech ladies who lift heavy things and kick ass at both.”

Clue: A period tracker for women, by women. Ida Tin, CEO and co-founder of Clue wanted to feel more in control of her body and its functions, and the app’s clean, no-frills design shows that. “I didn’t want it to be your secret diary… I wanted it to be a very straight, natural part of life”, she says. The app has over seven thousand beaming reviews and boasts a 4.7 star rating.

Canva: Designed by Australian Melanie Perkins, Canva is an editing and designing tool that you’ve probably seen in action before – on my #MotivationalMonday quotes! The app is incredibly user-friendly and, while it may not be designed specifically for women, it has helped me share lots of  content with my social media circles. As a Women’s Leadership and Inclusion expert, being able to share my knowledge and experience in a beautiful way is extremely valuable to reaching my ultimate goal of encouraging and empowering all women.

Honorable mention goes to the team of girls who recently developed an incredible app in a Saudi Arabian hackathon. The hackathon was organized with the goal of producing apps that will help travelers who are participating in the Islamic Pilgrimage known as Hajj. The app allows users to instantly translate signage using the camera on their phone, without the need for an internet connection. The app alone is amazing and has the capacity to change travel as we know it, but in a country notorious for its exclusion of women from making public impacts, its creation is certainly a double victory. “We managed to destroy the impossible and prove that Saudi women can achieve anything,” said developer Bayan al-Ghamdi.

It makes all the sense in the world that apps made by women are better for women. Years of research and development went into creating so many of the applications we now use on a daily basis. Men and women can and should come together to work in tandem to produce amazing and innovative technology. But before that can ever happen, we need more women working in front of the drawing board.

Is Diversity Enough? Here’s Why it May Not Be.

You could have the most diverse workforce there ever was but, if you’re not leveraging that diversity, then what is it good for?

Everyone’s talking about diversity. As Silicon Valley continue to grow and expand, a considerable effort is going toward hiring diverse employees by expanding the candidate pools to include a wider range of backgrounds. Companies from Microsoft to Uber are fervently discussing ways to engage their employees based on their gender, ethnic, religious, and sexual differences, in addition to trying to expand their teams to be more inclusive of people in each of these categories. Does all this effort actually translate into success? Not necessarily. The truth is, you could have the most diverse workforce there ever was, but it’s also possible to miss the mark if the potential of that diversity isn’t leveraged.

When building a team, it is crucial that existing employees as well as new hires understand the value of diversity and the benefits it brings by fostering an inclusive environment. Recent McKinsey research confirms the economic value of a diverse team, demonstrating that companies with “the most ethnically diverse executive teams—not only with respect to absolute representation but also of variety or mix of ethnicities—are 33 percent more likely to outperform their peers on profitability.” Of course being an inclusive and respectful individual is the right thing to do, but even employees prioritizing financial returns should be especially cognizant of data like this when interacting with their colleagues. Yet somehow, sadly, “people of color [still] report isolation, discrimination, and toxic work environments. They are promoted and paid less than their white counterparts. And they are excluded from executive level positions.”

Last week I facilitated a workshop called “Building Respect in the Workplace” for Siemens Healthineers in which I encouraged participants to discover, acknowledge, and ultimately overcome the unconscious biases that have the potential to create these toxic work environments. Unconscious bias is a tough one to tackle because it isn’t born out of malice. Unconscious biases can even manifest when someone believes they are doing something to help their colleague. Unfortunately, these efforts can inadvertently make them feel more out of place than ever. Take this example: A successful person of South-Asian descent, working in finance at a tech company, has been nominated for an award. They win, and when their boss delivers a speech congratulating them for their achievement, the boss suggests that it is truly a triumph that they can come to this country and make such a valuable contribution to American innovation. It turns out, this employee actually grew up in New York.

We also discussed confirmation bias, something that happens as a result of years of paying attention to information which confirms what you already believe, while ignoring information that challenges your preconceived notions. This is why it is so vital to consistently ask for input from others, question your own assumptions, and practice empathy and non-judgement. Here’s another example: If an investor has a positive feeling about a particular company in which they own stock, or perhaps they have made money from it in the past, they are unlikely to sell their stock when they encounter a negative review. Their mind will seek positive information and ignore any negative predictions, thus confirming their assumption that the stock they own is profitable.

Thankfully, a diverse team naturally produces a wide array of opinions and ideas that will inevitably challenge conventional wisdom. If managers can create positive and respectful environments where each member of the team feels their input is appreciated and has influence over the actions of the leader, then the leader can leverage this diversity and translate it into profits and growth.

 

I’m a Millennial female about to enter the workforce. Here’s why I’m concerned.

God-willing, I am graduating from college this year.

Myself, and all of the other women who will graduate from college this spring are currently faced with a very different image of the working world than our mothers. We’ve witnessed the birth of movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, and expect that the age of Mad Men-esque gender dynamics are over.

I know that many companies are rushing to build entire teams devoted to improving their gender demographics. Girls are more in demand than ever, in fields like computer science and engineering. Human Resources may be the birthplace of Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, but it is no longer the only department in which women can break glass ceilings.

The degrees that I will be receiving certainly lend themselves to a career in Diversity and Inclusion, a quickly growing field, but despite being constantly reassured that the bounty of opportunities is ripe for the taking, I still don’t see much in the way of possibilities beyond entry and mid-level positions. My classmates and I are often disappointed when evaluating potential employers because we don’t see ourselves progressing long-term, as evidenced by the stark lack of women in upper management. Statisticians who have analyzed the issue have coined the term ‘leaky pipeline’ to describe the mountain of obstacles women face, starting during the time they are being educated and persisting through their ascents to upper management. Women slip through cracks because of discrimination, inflexible workplaces, and pay disparity. The leaky pipeline is a vicious circle; it’s what causes women to leave their careers before reaching their full potential, resulting in a lack of representation in higher positions.

All of this makes it extremely difficult to find female mentors. While there are a number of women who have made names for themselves in tech, for them the journey to the C-suite was not an easy one. In all likelihood, the last 20+ years of their life may have been devoted to fighting their way up the ladder, battling misogyny, chauvinism, and a constant shadow of doubt cast over their competence. When they were starting out, there were no diversity initiatives. Today, companies like Pinterest are flaunting their diversity goals to increase the number of women on staff to make it more appealing for someone like me entering the workforce.

However, I’ve also been hearing stories about women who have made it but are usually the ones who become Ice Queens that Monique has talked about at great length in her book Leading Gracefully and in last week’s blog. It sounds like these negative feelings make some women especially reluctant to offer mentorship or even encouragement to the younger generation of women who are just starting out.

When I asked a friend who entered the workforce a year ago what her experience has been, she shared how she was given the opportunity to work with the CEO of an all-female company that did not go as planned. The woman who she expected to be mentored by ended up treating her as a personal assistant instead, going so far as to ask her to pick her kids up from school. She told me matter-of-factly, “Guys don’t get asked to do that.” We walked down the sidewalks of San Francisco in silence for some time as I tried to digest the weight of her words. She would tell me later that the same thing happened to her roommate.

In spite of saddening stories like these, I am looking towards the future with optimism and excitement. Working with Monique as an intern at Highest Path has shown me that there are successful women who are eager to walk the walk and bend over backwards to give young women like myself the opportunities to learn and grow in a positive environment. What the working world needs now are more successful women who understand the valuable role that they play in patching up the leaky pipeline and establishing new precedents for the generations of successful women yet to come.

Ice Queen Syndrome – How Faux Confidence Can Hurt Women in Leadership

Queen Bee, the Ice Queen. We’ve all met one or worse yet, worked for one. I recently came across a slew of articles analyzing the role of the these characteristics in the office ecosystem. It’s a topic I’ve discussed at great length both in my book, Leading Gracefully and at speaking engagements across the US and abroad. So, why did these articles in particular catch my eye? They weren’t about the problems associated with being pegged as the Ice Queen, they were about embracing her!

Needless to say, I was shocked. Women have been forced into these stereotypes for decades because of discriminatory work environments, and that’s not a tradition I think we should embrace. As I began reading the arguments posed by pro-Ice Queen authors, I realized that the core of the argument in favor of being the most unapproachable person in the office was about exuding confidence.

Let’s get one thing straight: Women should not have to trade likeability for confidence.

I developed the Feminine Leadership Model based on leading with the ideal balance of our masculine and feminine traits, but confidence is neither. Women can embrace feminine qualities that make them kinder, more caring, and more empathetic – all the while carrying themselves with the kind of confidence that will get them the respect they deserve. And let’s be real, being icy and bitter only exudes faux confidence, at best. I teach my female clients that showing empathy, leveraging your vulnerability, and letting your colleagues know you care are all real ways to become a more effective leader. These methods are all antithetical to being the office Ice Queen, and lead to a healthier and more successful team dynamic.

Discriminatory and male-dominated work environments may be to blame for the existence of the Ice Queen stereotype but, by and large, the victims of the aggressive and bossy female leader are other women. And in fact, one of the top complaints I hear from my clients are stories of how their female bosses actively working to sabotage their career. Typically these are stories of female bosses who micro-manage which makes it difficult to gain the skills necessary to advance or don’t advocate on their behalf, limiting their visibility which hurts their chances for promotions. This practice hurts the overall cause for those of us who are interested in closing the gender leadership gap.

I believe it is vital for women to strengthen their professional relationships with each other in order to close this gender gap. Here’s a passage I include in Leading Gracefully: “When we become less judgemental, and more forgiving of women who may be slightly different than us, it can lead us to work better together – and give women the boost that they need to face the myriad other challenges they have to face in the workplace.”