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Thursday
Feb272014

Women Tech Start-Ups at Women 2.0

Attending the Women 2.0 conference in San Francisco last month was enligthening and inspiring. Talk about a community of women supporting women! It was awesome to feel the energy, meet some amazing women founders, and learn about women led technology that is currently being developed.

As one would imagine, women led companies have a different type of agenda and purpose. Many of the startups featured in the Innovation Hall were either related to helping people, children, women, or about connecting people. One company that really jumped out at me was Cashtivity - an online platform geared toward helping children in the classroom learn how to create and run businesses. Yes, that's right - children! Instead of violent video games that desensitize kids to violence, how about teaching them entrepreneurship? Cool, right?

Another great company I met was SkillGravity - an interactive and and efiicient way to organize your network. Maybe you've got a new brand or product you need to legalize? Check out women run HIPLegal for all your IP related needs! Maybe you're interested in learning how to code? Women Who Code is a global community run by volunteers who teach ordinary women coding languages. Or maybe you're into sustainable farming and want a cheaper option than Whole Foods? Farmstr is an online farm to table marketplace, delivering sustainably farmed meat and veggies stratight to your door!

The list goes on and on, but one thing that struck me is being as so crucial is giving women entrepreneurs the tools to succeed. In a supportive environment like Women 2.0, there were opportunities for mentoring, PITCH Sessions that gave women an opportunity to pitch a panel of VC's, as well as lots of networking opportunities to meet and collaborate with other women on their businesses. I'll definitely be attending next year and I think we need more conferences and events geared towards developing future women leaders and entrpreneurs!

Monday
Nov182013

Why Women (And Men) Need to Care about Our Culture of Violence

Note: When I submitted this article to the Huffington Post, whom I write for regularly, I was denied publication. No real reason was given. The end result was censorship of a hugely important topic for conversation in this country. If you have any contacts with online publications who might be interested in publishing this article, please contact me directly.


 

I’m probably the only person in this country that believes that our obsession with the hit TV show, Breaking Bad, which recently aired its final episode, has been one of the lowest points for our nation. Breaking Bad had over 10 million viewers for the finale, received countless Emmys and fans threw blue crystal parties to celebrate the ending of the show (in honor of the crystal meth that was being made and sold by drug dealer, Walt, the main character on the show.) Let me be clear, I am not in any way commenting on the level of talent of the entire cast and crew of the show. But as we continue to see more slaughter and unnecessary violence and killing in this country, I think the following needs to be said.

As a woman, daughter, future mother and concerned citizen, I’m writing to express my sadness at the loss of humanity in our country. The amount of shootings, murders, homicides and other horrific acts in the US surpasses all other countries. A recent survey showed that the United States has about six violent deaths per 100,000 residents. None of the 16 other countries included in the review came anywhere close to that ratio.  It’s no surprise; we also own more guns then anyone else. Couple that with the fact that you can’t turn on the TV without being inundated by violence – whether on the news, movies, TV and now even social media, and you have a bad tasting cocktail. We have become a nation obsessed with violence, anger, hate and all things dark and evil. Not only are we obsessed, we are paying to be fed this type of entertainment.  Every time you watch a violent TV show, movie or buy a video game for your child, you are supporting the corporations and sending them this message: “Please make more violent media for my consumption. I will pay you a lot of money for it!”

Ever since the deregulation of the major media outlets back in the 80’s and 90’s, our TV programming has gradually disintegrated as corporate cable channels started to spring up. Currently, broadcast television networks are banned from using explicit profanity and “non-sexual” nudity between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. If the networks don’t comply, the FCC is permitted to impose fines of up to $325,000 per incident. This is in contrast to cable networks (FX, Comedy Central, AMC, etc.) who don’t face these same restrictions.

As cable networks continue to push the envelope with violent/sexual/crude humor series like "American Horror Story," and "The League," and “Breaking Bad,” they also see increased ratings according to Nielsen data. With an increase in ratings, advertisers want to advertise on cable networks more than broadcast networks. We are essentially giving advertisers the green light to produce more violent programming for our viewing pleasure.

If you ask a TV writer in private whether they feel good about the garbage they write, I’m sure most of them would say their conscious is eating away at them. But they don’t have a choice. BIG TV run by BIG media decides what sells. Writers like Vince Gilligan feel proud of themselves for coming up with the depraved themes seen on Breaking Bad and are then rewarded by receiving Emmys.  The message it sends to the entire industry is that violence sells, and you better come up with something even more depraved if you want to compete. They have absolutely NO incentive to change their programming or to come up with programming that is positive, loving, makes you feel good, uplifting or educational for that matter, and the cycle goes on and on, until you feel your soul leaving your body.

The outcome of all this is that we are becoming more and more desensitized to violence. Our tolerance for violence has gone way up, and so has our appetite for it. We believe that it’s cool to shoot guns, make and sell drugs, kill people for money etc. Our children watch this and think it’s normal – they don’t have the ability to distinguish TV from reality, the way adults can. They are highly influenced, and the video games, TV shows and movies they watch are all sending them the same message. Violence is cool. Violence is OK.

The sad part is that not many of us are linking violence in the media to what’s happening in our society. I’m no expert, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the relationship between violent images and violent behavior. A recent study has now linked "sustained violent video game play significantly related to steeper increases in adolescents' trajectory of aggressive behavior over time." More and more children are turning violent, and now 12 year old children are taking up arms against their fellow students and teachers as we hear of more and more school shootings. Is this the world we really want to live in? Is this the world we want to raise our kids?

I sure don’t, and that’s why I’m asking for women (and men for that matter) in this country to stand up and do something about this horrible problem. It’s up to us to flex the power of our purse string and begin choosing otherwise. We see growing buying power in women, and marketers are targeting women more and more as they become key decision makers when it comes to purchases. With this comes a bigger responsibility and realization that we have more power than we think to influence change. Just imagine, what would happen if women become more conscious and decided not to purchase or view violent TV shows, movies, videogames etc.? This would send a very clear message to those media outlets and cable conglomerates. Instead of sending them the message of “please feed us more violence” we would tell them “stop feeding us violence” and perhaps, just maybe, they would listen. And guess what, once enough of us do this, and their profits start tumbling down, you bet they will listen.

Women have more power than we think in this equation. And I believe strongly that women, who are the givers of life, the caretakers, nurturers and mothers have a responsibility here. Do you really want to live with that terrible thought in the back of your head every day as you drop your kid off to school? What if it turns out to be your kid that’s breaking bad? If we continue on the path we are headed, it very likely could be. It is not normal for a first world, democratic, advanced society like ours to have the rates of violence that we have in this country. We need to wake up to that fact, face the dire situation we are in, and begin to make informed choices that can make a positive impact for all of us.  It starts with what we watch, what we purchase, and decide enough is enough. Join me in this conversation and lets make Breaking Bad our nation’s rock bottom, instead of making it just the tip of the iceberg.

What other ways can you think of to make an impact and influence change to stop violence in the media?

Thursday
Jul112013

Recap of the Women & Power Leadership Forum

On June 7th, over 50 multi-generational women leaders from Silicon Valley, and as far away as the Mid-west and East Coast, gathered together for a day of deep dialogue to explore the meaning of feminine leadership in the 21st century.

Using practices from the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter, the full day event began with attendee-hosted discussions exploring the meaning of power and leadership for women, with topics ranging from "How do we use our Intuition, Wisdom, & Knowing to be more Powerful Leaders" to "Using Empathy to Build Inclusive Cultures in Organizations." Set in the pristine retreat-like setting at the Quadrus Conference Center in Menlo Park, every attendee had the opportunity to take a "seat at the table" to express varying experience and perspectives across generational lines, learning from each other in a safe and supportive environment.

The second part of the day consisted of a deeper dive into the meaning of feminine leadership and looking at what are the qualities that make us more powerful as women leaders, and what happens when we disconnect from that place, and what is possible when we step into it more fully. Rounding up the day with action, the women collectively shaped new models of leadership for the 21st century looking specifically at the traits and qualities needed to foster collaboration and empathy as leaders. Attendees had the opportunity to bring projects and ideas they want move forward on and were able to get feedback and input through action-oriented hosted discussions.

Of course it isn't a women's event without some wine and chatting, and many women stayed afterwards to network and foster deeper friendships and relationships. They left feeling inspired, connected, and ready to step more fully into their authentic feminine leadership!

Here are some reactions from attendees:

"As a young woman who is just starting her leadership journey, the Women & Power Leadership Forum was essential in starting me off in the right direction. Listening to and receiving advice from experienced career women has reinforced my confidence to succeed in my career. The leadership forum was invaluable to my career development and I would like to thank everyone who participated in being so warm and inviting!"

"The new century is calling for women’s leadership. As women professional’s we must lead ourselves and others in our organizations from the true authentic feminine power. That takes cultivation that is best nurtured through community and support of other women."

"It was a day of truth-telling. Facing ourselves, our challenges as leaders in the workplace, in the world. It was a day of learning to let the veil fall away, so that our authentic voices could be in the conversation."

"I was truly awakened to the concept of authentic feminine leadership through this experience. I didn't realize I was unbalanced until attending this forum. I was impressed with the focus on multi-generational attendees and I believe learning was enriched due to this focus. I am excited, refreshed and renewed as I am learning new ways each day to honor, focus on, and practice both masculine and feminine leadership qualities."

Click here for the photo gallery

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Thursday
Jun062013

Women Redefining Success and Power

Read this article on the Huffington Post>>

If you’ve been paying any attention lately, you know that women’s leadership is a hot topic right now. It’s about time! I’m especially inspired by Arianna’s work with The Third Metric, which is adding a valuable perspective to this important conversation. As a woman’s leadership expert and coach, I’m passionate about helping women more fully embrace their natural strengths, namely their feminine capacity, as a key to success in business and in life.  Compassion, Empathy, Collaboration, Connection, Candor – these are examples of feminine traits that are preferred when it comes to success and leadership, according to a recent global survey. What would be possible if we based our definition of success and power on these values? And more specifically, what if women embodied these traits more fully?

My own experience working inside a Silicon Valley tech company taught me that contrary to popular belief, women were NOT exhibiting the character traits so commonly referred to as ‘feminine.’ To my shock and horror, most women were hiding their emotions, their passion, and compromising their ability to be collaborative and build consensus by showing up more like men. What I began to realize was that in order to stay competitive and be taken seriously in a business setting, women had been hiding their natural feminine gifts and abilities and adapting to a more male-centric model and approach. 

This presented a big problem for me when I was given the opportunity to step into a leadership position at the ripe old age of 25.  When I took a look around for a female role model I could look up to, all I saw were women acting like men, including our then CEO, Meg Whitman.  As an up and coming manager, I had to decide – was I going to lead like a man, or was I going to try something different? Being the rebel that I am, I opted for going against the norm and decided I was going to stay true to myself. So on the first day of my task force meeting with a group of executives, I walked in and declared “I have NO idea what I’m doing and I really need your help!” I was half expecting that statement to undermine my credibility and authority, but to my surprise, it had the reverse effect.

What transpired over the following year was nothing short of miraculous. Instead of controlling all the details of the project, I built trust with my team by asking for their help and empowered them to participate fully in taking ownership of their tasks. Instead of bottle-necking the decision making process, I empowered people to make decisions and got out of the way.  I inspired my team with a strong vision and built relationships with the main players, so if I ever had a problem, I knew who I could go to for a quick solution.  Through the courageous act of being vulnerable, I was able to successfully pull off one of the biggest challenges of my life: producing a 10,000 user- conference for eBay.

The icing on the cake for me was the end result. We had one of the highest attended conferences of all time, and my team came up to me afterwards and said how much they enjoyed working with me. Attendees at the conference said they felt cared for and how well organized the conference was. To me, this was validation that my experiment had not only worked, but it rocked! And that’s when it hit me. Instead of using a command control and authoritarian leadership style (more traditional, male-centric), my experiment to lean into my natural strengths as a woman are what led me to the biggest success I had experienced to date.

That’s when I came to the conclusion that the biggest obstacle to women’s advancement in business was the fact that we were trying to conform and adapt to an outdated model not very suited for the 21st century. I began to think what else might be possible if women stepped more fully into their authentic, feminine leadership.  And I began to get excited about the possibilities and impact that could have on business and in the world.

That experience is what led me to transition into a career that would allow me to help women realize this for themselves, without the pitfalls and risk-taking I had to endure.  And it’s what has led me to co-host the upcoming Women & Power Leadership Forum on June 7th in Silicon Valley - a first time conference I’ve been spearheading along with an incredible hosting team including Kathy Jourdain, Linda Guzzi, Regina Getz-Kikuchi and Suzanne Thompson. This forum will be geared towards bringing together top women leaders in Silicon Valley from different generations (C-Suite to Millennials) to engage in a day of deep dialogue about how we can redefine success and power so that it’s more sustainable for ourselves and for the planet.  Our vision and hope is that by closing the generational gap and building a community of women who truly support one another and embrace their feminine strengths, we’ll be able to bring back the balance this world so desperately needs.

Please leave your comments and thoughts as we’d like to engage you in this conversation as well.  What is your definition of success and power in the 21st century? What traits can women (and men) embrace to truly thrive?  What are actions you can take to create this shift in yourself? What type of community or network would best engage and support you in creating this shift?

Friday
May102013

The Future of Work: the Art of Collaborative Leadership

The way we work is shifting. We see that in subtle ways and other times in not so subtle ways.  Even traditional companies like Deloitte are investing in people development, realizing that it is the best resource they have to stay ahead of the curve. Those with a real competitive advantage intuitively understand innovation and creativity as essential to meeting market demands and crucial in facing our collective sustainability challenges.  The future of work as we know it is shifting from an outdated directive approach toward collaborative frameworks that inspire us to engage in new and different ways with our work and with each other.

This elusive concept has always intrigued and intimidated me, so I began to question my own assumptions I held about collaboration.  One of my current projects has given me an opportunity to explore and experience my own leadership in a collaborative environment.  For the last six months, I have been co-designing and co-hosting the Women & Power Leadership Forum, using collaborative processes based on Art of Hosting principles. Together with Kathy Jourdain (an experienced steward in the work of Art of Hosting), whom I thank from the bottom of my heart for embodying collaborative leadership so beautifully and supporting my discovery of this, as well as a wonderful hosting team, this experience has provided rich learning for all of us in exploring what it means to be collaborative and uncovering the traits required to cultivate it.

Decision by Consensus?

One of the big beliefs I made up about collaborative work was that one most come to decisions by consensus; if there were any outliers, you could not forge ahead. This seemed an exhaustive and almost impossible task when you think about how hard it is to get a group of people to agree on anything. Just look at what happened with the Occupy Movement  - decision by consensus just doesn't work especially when you're talking about scalability. To my relief, I discovered making the final decision wasn't as crucial as was the process in making the decision.  Team members must have a chance to voice their opinion through open and honest dialogue, and everyone must have an opportunity to explore the issue together. This process is integral to collaborative decision making (even though that term seems like an oxymoron!). Once you've gone through this exercise, themes and patterns emerge, and through collective sensing, a solution or decision emerges. Not surprisingly, the solution or idea is often better than what one person could have come up with just by themselves.

Leaning In vs. Leaning Out

Another assumption I held was that a strong vision was enough to inspire collaboration. Turns out, it's not enough. As leaders, we assume that leading means doing it all.  For many of us, fear of failing and embarrassment have us hanging on to control. We take on more than we should, we step on toes, and we micro-manage without meaning to.  Not surprisingly, the signal this sends is that "she's got it covered." Women tend to do this to a fault - we take on more than we can chew because we are good multi-taskers and want to prove our value, so we take it all on and in doing so, prevent others from stepping in. This is where the now proverbial "leaning in" approach is NOT effective. By "leaning out" as leaders, we give our people a chance to lean in. This creates an opportunity for them to take responsibility for the tasks at hand, to step in and contribute more fully and engages them in a way where their best ideas and input are brought forth. For perfectionists and control freaks like me, this can be one of the biggest challenges to overcome. Learning to let go and trust others is crucial to create the space for brilliance to shine.  Finding the balance is where this practice becomes an art form.

Vulnerability as Strength

The single most significant piece of learning for me has been around understanding how vulnerability is the key to success in any collaborative process. We've got it all wrong in our work ethos. We believe vulnerability is a weakness. We are afraid to admit we don't have the answer for fear of being seen as incompetent. Our need to prove our worth and value and the fear of shame all leads to creating separation.  What I have found over and over again in my  leadership journey is that when I am wiling to be vulnerable, share my true feelings no matter how embarrassing or weak I may be perceived, when I am able to truly listen to feedback and be willing to receive it without taking it personally, these acts are powerful beyond measure. This is a secret superpower that everyone possesses, but not everyone has the courage to enact.  It takes a willingness to fail and learn from your mistakes, to risk the shame that comes along with it.   But the rewards are bountiful. It's the quickest route to creating trust in any relationship or group process. It creates an environment where others feel able to open up and share their feelings, stimulating input, ideas, and solutions.  It allows us to be human, and realize that we are all in this together. It opens up our hearts and reminds us that it's not about the bottom line, or even the next big idea. It's about being in relationship; the learning and experiences that show us who we truly are.

Gratitude

I would not have had the chance to be in this learning process if it weren't for some pretty spectacular women.  I'm humbled by the experience of working in collaboration with women who have volunteered their time and energy for an idea I am deeply passionate about.  As challenging as it is at times for me, they always hold me up to my highest potential, give me honest feedback, defend me and believe in me.  Sometimes the best learning comes when others are courageous enough to voice their truth. I'm grateful for the opportunity to work with women who have the capacity to do that in a supportive way.  Learning to give credit and acknowledging your partners and team mates goes without saying, yet how many times do we just breeze over that?  Being humble, setting your ego aside, and letting go of the need to shine are unique aspects of collaborative leadership which are hard to learn, and hard to teach. For many of us, this is counter-intuitive to the competitive nature of business. But it's an integral part of how we operate as human beings and it's the key to collective success.

The Outcome

The proof is in the pudding they say. You might be wondering how this collaborative process worked out in the end.  We're still in the middle of it, yet what I can report is that we are successfully co-creating a first-time event which is almost nearly sold out (we still have a month to go), there is a buzz about it in Silicon Valley and support from far and wide.  As hosts, we will continue to practice these processes on the day of our event, as we co-host a day of deep dialogue for the multi-generational women leaders who will participate that day. We aren't attached to any outcomes. What we do know, however, is that our attendees will walk away having experienced collaborative process and leadership. And that alone will be a work of art.