Wednesday Jun 10, 2009

Professional BusinessWomen of California: Closing Session

The closing session of the Professional BusinessWomen of California's Conference closed with a panel from Fortune Magazine's 50 Most Powerful & Highest Paid Women in Business list.

Laura Liswood, Secretary General for the Council of Women World Leaders was moderating and started out describing her adventure she had when she sought out to interview all 15 living women who had been president or prime minister of their countries. It was an interesting journey, one she was even surprised she was able to complete!

Our panelists that afternoon were Safra Catz, President, Oracle; Deborah McWhinney, President, Citi Personal Wealth Management; and Joanne Maguire, Executive Vice President, Lockheed Martin.

All of the women discussed career paths and how to get what you need from your career.  They all had good advice, but some pieces of wisdom from Ms. Catz really stood out to me.  She noted that no one will make your career easy for you - you need to make your own opportunities. And, back to our  Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, she simply stated, "you don't ask, you don't get." Then finally, "You're not men. You may be better."

Unfortunately, most of the time for the panel was used up by Liswood's introduction and the two previous speakers and the session ran over by 30 minutes. This meant many of us missed our trains - I know, I was running to the train station with several other women, none of us really appropriately dressed for running :-)

On the bright side, I did get to meet an energetic woman that was just a bit sweaty, like me, on the train, and discuss all that we saw and heard during the day.

Tuesday Jun 09, 2009

Professional BusinessWomen of California: Afternoon Keynotes

The afternoon keynotes at the Professional BusinessWomen of California were focused on financial advice and retirement planning.

Valerie Coleman Morris started out with some sage advice: "Don't worry about what you've lost, you can't get it back."  Harsh, but true. I know I've personally spent too much time on the "what if" game for my 401K and other investments.

Ms. Morris's emphasis on this for woman is due to the fact that in general women spend 13 years less in the workplace than men do - which means we really need to start thinking about retirement sooner and more seriously, to make the most use of all of our working years.  Yes, this is SO hard to think about fresh out of college - all I can say is that I am so glad that there was an older man in my first day of orientation at work that told me retirement is sooner than I thought and talked me into starting my 401K right away.

She warned us that because women live longer, we are more likely to find ourselves with many medical needs that are not covered by any sort of insurance. More reason to save.  Also, she said the average age of widowhood was 55.5, so you won't be able to count on joint social security income or anything of that sort.

Ms. Morris also cautioned all women that were in a committed relationship to make sure that they knew where all the accounts were, where to find account numbers, and any brokerages holding any investments.

To keep our financial planning paranoia going, the next speaker was Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz - yes, the same family as the famous Charles Schwab brokerage. Ms. Schwab-Pomerantz stressed how concerned she was that financial planning of any sort was not being taught in school, and how critical this good planning is for all of us having a secure future.

Ms. Schwab-Pomerantz talked about how to keep our heads above water, even in this economy, giving these few "easy" guidelines to follow (okay, they're not easy, but they definitely have merit and I'm pretty sure she knows what she's talking about):

  • Have an emergency fund
    •  Should be a minimum of 3 months worth of expenses
  • Minimize debt
    • Should not have more than 30% of your income in debt
  • Save
    • Hard to think about while minimizing that debt and creating your emergency fund, but she said that if you think you'll need a retirement income of $50,000 a year you will need to save at least $1.25 million. Wow!
  • Have a will and a trust
    • Again, hard to think about while young and healthy, but you have no idea what will happen when to either your or your spouse.
  • Health Insurance
    • Without this, one health crisis may wipe out all of your savings and put you back to square one at any time.

Both of these women gave me a lot to think about!

Monday Jun 08, 2009

Wired to Care: Professional BusinessWomen of California's Conference: Session III

When it came time for my third session at the Professional BusinessWomen of California's Conference, none of the options really stood out to me as relevant for my career or personal growth, so I chose the topic covering a bit about how our brains work: Wired to Care.

Dev Patnaik, author of Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy, presented on this topic, which was surprisingly fascinating! He talked about the importance of empathizing with your customers and the people in your organization in order to prosper as an individual and as a business.

He started out by telling us the Xbox story and how Microsoft had set out to crush PlayStation II. They assembled a large team of game playing, young software engineers and gave them free reign to design, in their opinion, the best game system out there.  These developers suddenly found themselves in their dream job, making game systems for themselves! They knew just what to develop, because they were the customer base. The system did it job, selling millions of units. Microsoft saw this as a huge success.

When Microsoft decided to take on the iPod, they took that \*same\* team that did such a great job with the Xbox to work on the Zune. The problem is, these guys didn't understand who they were developing for. When interviewed later, they noted they were just implementing what was on the PowerPoint slides, not taking any risks or making major changes to the design - because they didn't really understand the end user. It wasn't them.

Mr Patnaik went on to outline the major aspects of growth and innovation: empathy, creativity, and execution.

He talked about a visit he had to Harley Davidson and one of the first thing he noticed is that the parking spots at the front were marked "No Cages"; that is, no motorcycle rider jargon for no cars. All of the best parking spots were reserved for motorcycles. Many of the employees, particularly those higher up, are riders themselves - and not just weekend riders, but men and women that use a motorcycle as a primary means of transportation, folks that went to rallies, people that really knew what the customer wanted, because they are their own customer.

Similarly at Nike, the campus is full of gyms, tracks, pools, climbing walls, etc.  All of their buildings are named after great athletes - they are surrounded by this day and night. They are encouraged to try out the new gear and provide feedback on it.  I don't have to tell you how successful Nike is at selling athletic gear.  This is about where Patnaik mentioned that empathy goes beyond what you have direct experience with and how even Nike's cricket line is sucessful, even though that is not a sport played in the US, where Nike is based. They understand and relate to all of their customers, not just the ones that are exactly like them.

In contrast, Patnaik talked about a visit he had with a senior executive in marketing for Delta Airlines. This fellow started out the conversation with Patnaik saying that "Airline travel in America is great!" which, frankly, surprised Patnaik (and everyone in the room for this session!)  After spending an hour talking this particular executive, Patnaik discovered why he didn't see any issues with air travel today: When it was about 40 minutes before his flight, his administrative assistant would call him down to a private shuttle bus for Delta employees, which took the executive to a private entrance to the aiport for Delta executives, where he waited in no lines, crossed the tarmac and boarded into first class moments before the door closed.  This is a far cry from the normal experience the rest of us have flying today: expensive shuttles that are often late, or begging a friend to take us to the airport, long lines to check in, long lines for security, expensive food & water beyond the gate (which you have to buy because you won't get any on the plane), long wait for boarding that comes with pushing and shoving from folks who don't care what group number they're in, etc, etc.

Patnaik mentioned that Delta spent $250,000 on a survey to find out how their custmers really felt about flying today - something they could've done themselves as part of their regular job if they didn't take advantage of the special perks available to them.

At Jump Associates, the company Patnaik founded, they actually track how well they think companies are going to do based on their empathy they have for customers, called the Empath-O-Meter.

One way to see you have a clear empathy problem is when you discover that your business uses different words for your product (or components) than your customers.  Patnaik went on to say that American automotive manufacturers call the dashboard the "instrument panel", and while we may know what they are talking about, the awkward word choice is jarring when we hear it.  Worse, a candy manufacturer called their candy bars: "filled bar with inclusions". That sounds like it needs medical treatment ;)

The main issue here is that if you don't have tangible experiences, you will lose touch with your customer base.

Early in the conversation, Patnaik mentions that he prefers using the word empathic over empathetic, because the latter sounds too much like pathetic and the two words are synonyms.  Taking his lead, two days after the conference I was at another event and our table was brainstorming and I decided to use the word empathic. About 2 minutes into this brainstorming, a woman at the table said, "Um, you're using the wrong word. That's not a word. You mean empathetic." So much for using what I learned at this conference ;-)

The key points that I did take away were that empathy is not a special occasion thing - it needs to happen every day as a natural part of your existence and business.  Empathy doesn't mean "I understand people like me" - it means, "I understand people."

Friday Jun 05, 2009

Professional BusinessWomen of California's Conference - Lunch Keynote!

This is where the conference took a definite turn for the political!

The opening speaker was Meg Whitman, former eBay guru and now California Gubernatorial candidate. She made it very clear that her motivation for getting involved in politics at this stage in her career was how strongly she felt that the price of inaction is far greater than the price of a mistake. She sees California's current stalemate with budgets and those terrible propositions as a fear to take action and make decisions that Californians will pay for for many years to come.

Whitman's basic premise is that people are basically good. That's how eBay works with sellers and buyers who will never meet face to face, yet can trust each other to fulfill a contract. She is passionate about improving California, showing how clearly appalled she is that California is now ranked 48th in the nation for K-12 schools and that the droupout rate in one of the largest high school districts, LA Unified, is 50%. FIFTY! that is insane.  I remember as a kid being told how wonderful the CA schools were and how those students would have a better chance of getting into good colleges than we would as Indiana students. What has happened?

Next we heard from a Democrat and the founder of PBWC, US Congresswoman Jackie Speier. Ms Speier spent the majority of her time emphasizing the economic gaps women still face in California.  When PBWC was started in 1989, women were making 57 cents for every dollar a man made. Now, 20 years later, California women are making 85 cents per every male dollar.  Yes, it's better - but why is there still a gap?

She went on to tell a heartbreaking story of Lilly Ledbetter who had been a manager at Goodyear for 20 years.  When she was about to retire, someone gave her an anonymous note letting her know she'd actually been seriously underpaid for the last 20 years. She sued and was originally awarded $3million dollars in back pay, but when this went to the supreme court they took the judgement away from her. Their opinion was that she should've been aware and filed her grievance at the time, and because she waited 20 years she didn't deserve the award. 

Ms Speier also noted that in the United States, we still allow cosmetics to be made from things that we know cause cancer and birth defects! She told us that nearly all lipsticks sold in the US contain lead. LEAD. In something we all put on our mouths.  I am sure the manufacturers say you are not supposed to eat your lipstick, but really, how many of you out there bite your lip on occassion? Or possibly let your lips touch your food while you're eating. You get the point....

I'm not sure what she can do about this, but I do know that the EU has made great strides in this area and their women still get nice makeup. I'll have to start doing some research into the brands I use.

Thursday Jun 04, 2009

Leverage Your Language: Professional BusinessWomen of California's Conference - Session II!

I'm still processing all of the events from that Professional BusinessWomen of California's Conference, even though nearly a month has passed!  The second session of the day for me, Leverage Your Language to Get the Respect, Results and Rewards you Deserve was presented by Colette Carlson, was one of my favorites.

Colette's energy was contagious and it was hard to not get enthusiastic about communication - an area I know I can always improve in!  Colette frequently referred to one of my favorite books,Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, and reminded us that we need to ask for what we need to be successful. She stated that playing it safe will cost us all time, money and sanity.

Throughout the talk, Colette continued to stress that congruency between thoughts, words and actions were critical.  This is something I know I don't always get right, and find myself surprised by someone's reaction to something I said where in my head I meant no ill-will or judgment. In fact, I had a situation turn "crucial" on me this week at CommunityOne, and I'm not sure why.

Colette had a lot of self-invented acronyms which did remind me a bit of Gary Busey, but hers were actually useful. For example, Limiting Ideas Eliminate Success (LIES) - which goes along with the entire idea of asking for what you need and what you want. She said she uses this with her kids all the time - instead of focusing on what she \*doesn't\* want them to do, she will ask them to do what she wants: "Please walk around the pool" vs "Don't run!".

She cautioned us to be careful about raising our voices as that is more likely to be seen as aggressive vs assertive, and reminded us to avoid being passive agressive at all costs as it will hurt relationships and prevent you from getting what you need and want.

At this point, she started drilling into specific use of language. To keep conversations safe and productive, she says we should only start a sentence with the word "you" if it is a compliment, and use "I" for stating concers.  For example,
 "You are a great hostess" is a better compliment than "I had a great time at the party".  Also, something like "I am concerned about the schedule" is better than "you are not meeting the timeline" - because the latter immediately puts the person the defense and will engage their "reptilian" brain - not the best state to have rational conversations.

Other recommendations: use "investing" vs "spending" for use of time, and "get to" vs "have to" to show that you appreciate the work and activities you are doing.  She also says to lose the word "should" from your vocabulary: it really should be will, choose or must.  For example, "I will go to that charity banquet tonight" - too many "shoulds" that you never get to can be disheartening, and means things really should be dropped from your list.

Avoid apologizing for your opinions or attempting to set expectations low - because people will listen with less credence to what follows. Never say, "I could be wrong" or "you won't like this idea" or "I'm sure I'm forgetting something".

Colette noted that it is very important to accept praise with grace and not to b
elittle your own accomplishments and to make sure you show up to meetings and events with confidence and a smile!  Be proud of who you are and why you are being included, and only pay compliments if they are sincere. People can see through insincerity and will like you less for it. I know I've personally seen many examples of this in my career!

She cautioned women against starting right out with the whole story when asked a simple question. For example, if your boss asks you "how was the meeting" you shouldn't start out with "well, the plane was running late and then our taxi didn't show up....." but give the results, "We made a lot of progress and I think the design is going to be accepted. I can fill you in on the details later if you want".  She said this is something women do - and I know I'm guilty of this, as I do love telling stories. :-)

At this point, she went into a barrage of meeting skills that I think we can all benefit from:

  • Speak up early
  • Be Inclusive
    • connect to everyone with your eyes, not just one person.
  • Avoid raising your hand
    • children raise their hands, not adults. This is something she sees as a unique female meeting habit.
  • Make statements
    • Don't present your ideas as questions
    • Claim your ideas
  • Focus on others
  • It's better to be interested than interesting
  • Provide Value
  • Share your "because" (basically what led you to your conclusions or why you are asking for things)
  • Stories, when told at the right time, make things more memorable
  • always smile

It was a LOT to absorb and typing up this blog entry a month later was a good exercise for me to remember all of this. Next comes the tricky part: using it!

Friday May 29, 2009

Professional BusinessWomen of California Conference: Session I

I still have so many more notes to post from the Professional BusinessWomen of California Conference, but here is my entry on the first session!

Leadership Lessons from Barbie's Mom: 10 Lessons About Leadership, Reinvention and Redemption from the Founder of Mattel Toys.

Who knew that the founder of Mattel, one of the largest toy makers in the world, was founded by a woman? I didn't. I always knew that Barbie was created by a woman, but had assumed she was just the spouse of someone that worked at Mattel (which is sort of right, as she and her husband did run the business together, but both working in very different contexts).

Ruth Handler, inventor of one of the most beloved girl's toys, Barbie, is relatively unknown herself!

Barbie has had over 108 careers in over 50 years - quite a busy lady! And it all started with a simple idea from Ruth Handler - "Little girls want to play at being big girls."  In 1952 Ruth observed that dolls for girls were all baby dolls. There weren't adult dolls to play with. When she brought up the idea at Mattel, she was told that the doll she described could not be made, that the right materials were not available and no parent would buy a doll with breasts for their daughter.

Now to the part of the story that most of us do know: in 1955 the Handler family was visiting Switzerland when Ruth and her daughter came across a German doll based off of a sexy cartoon prostitute. Her daughter immediately wanted one to play with - so did Ruth. It was the doll she had envisioned, finally brought to life.  She saw many young girls on her trip playing with this doll, which had been simply made as a gag gift for men.  She bought one and took it back to Mattell and told the design department to "make this!"

Three Barbie dolls are now sold every 3 seconds. Wow!

It was not an easy journey for Ruth Handler. Even though she had helped found the company, and ran all the finances, she had to be hidden from view when it came time to talk to the men on Wall Street about taking Mattell public. Literally, while her husband entered the Wall Street office from the front door, she had to enter via an entrance used to discreetly remove garbage from the building. I can't imagine such a thing happening today, so I am so glad for pioneers like Ruth for opening doors for the rest of us.

Ruth Handler was also not perfect - when Mattel hit hard times, following a bad fire in one of their Mexican plants and they were suffering from poor sales in Europe, she wasn't sure what to do to keep the stock price up and keep investors happy.  She was approached by an accountant then who  suggested she cook the books... and she did.

Thirty years later, we all know how these types of shenanigans pan out. You can fool folks for awhile, but eventually the gig is up.  Ruth had lost sight of her goals and values, and for that she served 5 years of 500 hours of community service and was fired from Mattel.

Ruth Handler then found her self struck by breast cancer and had to get a mastectomy. She was so horrified by the "falsies" and at the poor treatment she received from sales associates in department stores that she reinvented herself and started a new company: Nearly Me.

There was so much more covered about Ruth Handler in this talk that I couldn't begin to recount it all here, but fortunately for all of us, Robin Gerber wrote a book on Ruth Handler so we can all learn more :-)

One thing that most stuck with me from this presentation actually came from a comment from a woman in the audience. Her father had worked at Mattel and knew the Handlers well, so she also got to know them and had found memories of getting to test out new toys before they were available to the general public. Her father had received a recognition award while at Mattel and it was the wording I found most interesting: "Companies are made up of men and women and the work they do."

Something to think about.

Tuesday May 12, 2009

Professional BusinessWomen of California's Conference - Morning Keynote!

I was so fortunate to get to attend the annual Professional BusinessWomen of California's (PBWC's) 20th annual conference in San Francisco at the Moscone Center last week.  It is a one day conference, but so jam packed that I felt like I was at a week long event!

The day started bright and early, I arrived about 7:30AM - in time to get some breakfast and tour the exhibit. I was disappointed to find breakfast was just cake and danishes, nothing healthy other than orange juice - so I had to go to the site's vendor and get myself a bagel.  There was a quick stretch program sponsored by a local gym, which was a good way to get centered and ready for the long day ahead.

The morning keynote started with a beautiful poem about the strength and endurance of women by Roshawnda Bettencourt, 2008 State Poetry Out Loud Champion, followed by a welcome from PBWC President, Ann Barlow.

Ms Barlow looked back at the history of PBWC and how far women have come since its inception, but was careful to point out the gaps that still existed.  Women are still paid less than men for the same work. And not just a little bit less - a lot less. Barlow noted that a woman needed to work from January 08 to April 09 to make as much as a man did in just 2008 alone.  In addition, only 15% of board positions are made up by women, which is not representative at all for the number of women in their various industries.

After Barlow, we were welcomed as well by Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Joannie Greggains. By this time, I was feeling \*really\* welcome ;-)

Kavita Ramdas, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women, gave us great insight into how much more women are impacted by poverty around the globe than men, which is devastating considering this is the same group that is most impacted by war, famine and violence. In fact, currently 80% of the world's refugees are women.

Ramdas reminded us that research has proven that when girls are educated it results in lower birthrates, lower infant mortality, and greatly decreases the spread of AIDS.  Yet, when econmic downturns happen parents must often choose which of their to feed, which ones to educate,  Globally, it is most often the daughters that are kept home, only to repeat the cycle of poverty once again as they grow up ignorant and impoverished.

The evidence Ramdas presented continued to be in the favor of educating women and hiring them into higher positions. For example, she noted that banks that had at least 30% women in strategic positions were less likely to have recently invested in the bad home loan market.

The goal of The Global Fund for Woman is to provide the funds where it is needed when it is most desperately required. They keep a very low barrier to entry for fund requests - they accept proposals in any language, in any format: email, documents and hand written notes.  Ramdas knows that this funding can make a world of difference for woman around the globe, and she sited many examples from Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Nicaragua during her talk.

The morning keynote session wrapped up with Patrick Lencioni, author and President of the Table Group, giving us a high level summary of the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.  He noted that there are way more than 5 ways to run a successful team, but these five things will quickly squash any good work that is happening. Unfortunately, the summary was so quick - we only really got the first four :-)

  • Absence of Trust
Vulnerability based trust is so critical. That is, the ability to apologize, ask for help, and be honest about mistakes.  If even one person on the team can't do this, it will impact the dynamcis of the other team.

  • Fear of Conflict
This does mean personality conflict, but about ideas. All members of the team must be willing to weigh in on discussions and even disagree. A good leader should be able to bring this out of his or her team members, because it will lead to successful buy-in later on by all team members and insure there are no unresolved issues that will inhibit the team.
  • Lack of Commitment
If anyone on the team is not really committed to the success of the team, it can end up infecting all members who will not want to pull more than their fair share.
  • Lack of Accountability
Teams need to have peer-to-peer accountability. That is, not going around each other to the leader or boss to report on other team members.  A troublesome sign is when someone says, "I don't have the time and energy for this." Lencioni sees this as an evasive manuever which will lead to trouble later on.

There was a fifth one, but I guess I'll have to read the book to find out more! This was one of the most intense keynote discussions I think I have ever attended, and it really set the tone for the rest of the fascinating day.

Did you make it to the conference? Was it just me, or did Lencioni really get you thinking about your own teams and perhaps some of your own behaviours?

More on the sessions later!

Thursday May 07, 2009

Garden is planted, PBWC was attended!

With the amazing help of my mother-in-law, the tomatoes (cherry, Better Boy, Roma and Early Girl), basil, parsley, oregano, marjoram, basil, parsely, sage, jalapeƱos, yolo wonder bell peppers, serano chilis, and marigolds are in the ground or in the Earth Boxes! (and for you Simon & Garfunkel fans, the rosemary & thyme from last year are still prospering) Most of those were started from seed in little peet pots, except the oregano, marjoram, Roma and Early Girl tomatoes.

I went to the Professional BusinessWomen of California Conference yesterday in San Francisco at the Moscone Center. It was intense! What a wonderful program! I will have several blog entries from that event over the next week (based on my 13 pages of notes - double sided!)


Valerie's former weblog. The new one can be found at


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