Author: Jenn Steele

My thirty-five cents on tech and sexism

Chromosome X
Chromosome X (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you read any common tech blogs, you’ve noticed a bit of an explosion over sexism. There was the stuff at TechCrunch Disrupt, the brouhaha over the Business Insider CTO, and, while not strictly tech, the New York Times article on gender discrepancy at Hahvahd Business School. A bunch of folks have talked about how we need to sit up and take notice – and they’re right.

I’m not jumping on that bandwagon, though. I’m going to write about my personal experiences and preferences.

For anyone who hasn’t been following me for a while here, a bit about my background: I went to MIT. I used to run legal IT departments. I changed careers and went to HubSpot, and then spent two years at Amazon. Somewhere in there, I got an MBA from Simmons School of Management, the only all-female MBA program (can you say VERY DIFFERENT from everywhere else?). Recently, I started as Head of Growth at RecruitLoop. Experience in all sorts of male-dominated environments? Yeah; I have that.

I have experienced (many) vendors presenting their entire sales pitch to my 2nd in command just because he was a man and I was a woman. I have experienced doubt about my tech chops at every turn. I have experienced being “the little girl who spends our money” until I nailed my MIT diploma to the wall. I have experienced being told that I was hired because I was pretty and had curly brown hair. If you name the gender cliche, I’ve probably experienced it.

In all of this experience, I’ve come to some conclusions:

  • I would rather deal with juvenile, overt sexism than subtle dismissiveness. 
  • I would rather work with a bunch of idiots who I can call on their bullsh*t than work with a subtly higher bar than my male colleagues have.
  • I would rather personally start the “that’s what she said” jokes than be judged by every little thing I do.

In other words, in the “brogrammer” culture, I can call people on their crap. In the subtly sexist culture, what exactly do I have the ability to call out? In the “brogrammer” culture, I can just be the chick who will kick the crap out of you if you’re an ass. In the quietly sexist culture, I have become the whiner no matter how I approach it. Someday, the brogrammers will grow up a bit. The quiet ones, however? I’ve never seen any of them change. And working in a quietly sexist culture has been one of the most demoralizing experiences of my career.

I realize not all women have these preferences. I realize not all women are hard to overtly offend. I realize not all women can easily say, “Dude, did you REALLY just go there?”  I realize not all women will do shots, play flip-cup, and drink scotch. And that’s okay.

As I said at the beginning of the post, this is just my preference. My personal aim is to help my company achieve an inclusive balance, which includes me and anyone else who would be an asset to the team. I’ve read enough studies on gender diversity to know that this must include women. So, as others have already said, we (as an industry/culture/world) need to figure this out.

Valuing employees

When RecruitLoop and I were in our final stages of negotiating, we started talking about value. About how my primary concern was feeling valued by a company. Talking about value on both sides honestly is probably what got us to the point where we had an agreeable situation for both sides – we knew where we stood, and both sides could see that we considered each other valuable.

The day we got to a verbal agreement, something surprising happened. They asked for my home address (something about lawyers needing it for the docs), and then, a bit later, sent me an email that said:

Ben at the front desk should have something for you (and your husband) tonight  🙂

Just to set the stage, it had been a crazy day. It was my husband’s birthday, I had a flat tire that I had to replace, I was talking to someone I knew from high school about working at Amazon, and I had just verbally accepted a job offer. When I got the email, I was sitting at my desk playing stupid computer games in order to take a much-needed mental break. I usually wasn’t home that early, but (thanks to the car) I was this time.  I looked at my computer in confusion a few times, grabbed my keys, and headed down to the front desk of my apartment building.

As I approached the front desk, Ben (our fantastic concierge) pulled out a wine bag and said, “It’s not from me.”

I may or may not have thanked him. I was shocked. Stunned. I looked in the bag and realized that there was a bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir in it. This meant that they had actually listened to some of our social conversation when I mentioned that wine was one of my hobbies, and that Oregon Pinots were my favorite.  And then they had done something that seemed magical – they managed to get a bottle sent to me the very day that I verbally accepted their offer.

To put it mildly, I felt pretty darn valued at that point :).

What they don’t know, however (until now, of course), is that this gesture was beyond perfect for me…

At one of my law firms, the management team would constantly talk about what employees wanted. We wanted to figure this out, since it would help with morale and retention. Could we ask the partners to give out bonuses, or would more salary help, or whatnot. During these conversations, I’d always say this:

It would mean more to me if the partners gave me a bottle of wine than a bonus. In giving me a bottle of wine, they’d show that they knew what I valued and demonstrated that they value me in return.

Interestingly, I never got a bottle of wine from the partners. But I got a bottle of wine – my favorite kind, no less – from RecruitLoop. Demonstrate that they value me? Nailed it.

There’s a big lesson in this for me. It’s that it’s really not that costly to truly show employees that you value them. It takes attention and a little bit of time, but it’s not that hard.  And while it may not be hard, showing value goes a really long way.

My new job.

winding road
winding road (Photo credit: infraredhorsebite)
“I’m looking for a company that I can live and breathe.”

That’s what I was thinking when I started looking around for a job. As you know, I want to fall in love with my company, and I had sadly fallen out of love with it. Working all hours was feeling like, well, work rather than like something I was excited to do with my Saturday morning. I was tired of seeing exhausted, burned-out coworkers, and I was especially tired of seeing the same thing in the mirror every morning.

I considered staying in Seattle, but I wanted to get back into startups. Or at least take the next step in my career so that I could eventually get my dream job: a role with an early-stage startup that could really turn into something big. I honestly thought that would probably be in operations (11 years IT + >4 years marketing + a lot of people management + MBA = uh, operations?). So I started looking for operational roles, hoping to get enough experience to get hired in ops at a small startup someday, and I started looking in the Bay Area, since there was a HUGE concentration of cool jobs and companies there.

I concentrated a lot on LinkedIn for my job search. It was the first social network I joined back in 2004, and there were a lot of great postings there. I searched for stuff in the Bay Area, and applied to a few roles. At one point, LinkedIn showed me a posting for a Head of Growth role. Okay, so I wasn’t really looking for marketing – I didn’t even have a resume prepped for pure marketing – but I clicked through to the job description.

Something about that job description excited me. Near the end, it asked for HubSpot skills, and I just had to click to apply. I was between meetings, so all I sent was my LinkedIn profile – no cover letter, no CV.

They got back to me right away, and the dance began. It was a series of Skype calls, Google hangouts, coordinating odd time zones, a special project, and a breakfast meeting (when I was down to interview at a different company). And then it was a matter of negotiating. And negotiating some more. And negotiating a little with my husband :).

And at the end of the day, I found my company. The one I can live and breathe. The one that I am so passionate about that, after working there one week while trying to find apartments, I was literally pining away for it upon having to come back to finish my last month at Amazon. And not only did I find my company, but I found my dream job as well – Head of Growth is exactly that role in an early-stage disruptive startup that I didn’t think I’d be lucky enough to find yet.

Hourly RecruitmentI’m excited to say that I’m joining RecruitLoop as Head of Growth.

I could tell you what they do, but then you wouldn’t go to the website, and I think they’re cool enough to visit :). Let’s just say that after interviewing probably hundreds of candidates in my career and working with the annoyances of crappy recruiters and “bounty hunter” types who just throw people at you, I think that what RecruitLoop does is brilliant.

Here’s why I’m so excited:

  • It’s a disruptive company. After having so much fun with disrupting things at HubSpot, I wanted to do it again.
  • RecruitLoop has a mission I truly, viscerally believe in. I have felt the pain that they address.
  • An exciting job – I love growing things!  Companies, people… anything but plants.
  • A group of cofounders with whom I felt an immediate connection. This was vital, since we’ll be working very closely together.

All in all, it’s a company that I can truly live and breathe. Words cannot adequately express my excitement.

Next Stop: California!

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, one o...
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, one of California’s most famous landmarks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Confession: this is going to be an annoying blog post. It’s really a teaser, where I tell you I’m moving to California at the end of August, but I’m not quite yet announcing what’s going on.

Oh, and my husband is coming with me, so I’ll just get that bit of speculation out of the way immediately. 🙂

I will tell you a few things, however (and use bullets, since I think in bullet points):

  • I am not staying at Amazon.
  • I am RIDICULOUSLY EXCITED about what comes next.
  • I have already fallen in love with my next company.

A few more details, I suppose, might be in order:

  • If you’re in Seattle, I’d love to see you before I go! I’m throwing a house-cooling party on August 16th – let me know if you want the details.
  • I am going to miss Seattle. Fantastic food, weather that sucks much less than Boston, and some of the best coworkers and friends I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. And the view of Mt. Rainier from my living room didn’t hurt, either…

At any rate, stay tuned for my post late next week – I personally think the next bit of news will be quite exciting! 🙂

Are you in love with your company?

I know it's not Valentine yet but I'm full of ...
Photo credit: Wikipedia

I have a confession to make: I fall in love with companies. And when I do, I obsess about them. I read back blog posts. I stalk employees and founders. I gather as much information as I can about them and subscribe to their mailing lists. If I’m in touch with people from that company, I occasionally pull out past emails and cuddle up with them at night.

Okay, maybe not ACTUALLY cuddle up with them at night, but you get the picture.

I often fall in love with the company where I work, and even after I leave some companies, I maintain my obsession. I pull out my old HubSpot sweatshirt (that says “we bleed orange” on the back) and wear it when I’m feeling blue. And you will pry my Kindle out of my cold, dead hands (not that I’ve left Amazon, but I just wanted to make that clear).

Being in love with my company gets me through the rough spots. Nothing is perfect, and sometimes I have tough days. You know, when I’ve overslept, been yelled at three times, and had my computer crash all before 10am.  When I have a chance to catch my breath after a rough spot, I can step back and remember why I fell in love with the company, and it provides me with a much-needed attitude adjustment.

When I was in legal, I wasn’t always in love with my company. I was, however, massively in love with the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA). My love of ILTA got me through the days when water poured through the server room or the SAN crashed hard. And then that love just wasn’t enough any more and I moved to HubSpot.  After I’d been at HubSpot for a while, I realized it was just like being at an ILTA conference EVERY DAY. The difference between being in love with an organization that had a yearly conference and being in love with a company where I worked was, well, night and day. My energy level quadrupled, and my tolerance for crisis went off the charts.

I have to ask: Are you in love with your company? When you step back from the day-to-day BS, do you love it? Do you still believe in your gut that your company’s mission is right? Are you obsessed with your company’s future?

If you’re not, why are you still there?

Does your staff feel safe?

CSF-Safety Vest & Triangle Kit
CSF-Safety Vest & Triangle Kit (Photo credit: redi-medic)

I was recently reading an article about why Agile implementations are failing (yes, I’m a total geek), and it got me thinking about safety. I haven’t thought much about safety explicitly (beyond being an Amazon Safety Czar for my floor, which is different from emotional safety – I have a bright orange vest :)), but now I realize how important it is for your team to feel emotionally safe at work.

If your staff doesn’t feel safe, things might get pretty rough.

  • They won’t trust you or your company. Everything you ask them or tell them goes under a skeptical magnifying glass and is hyper-analyzed. They may become hyper-critical
  • They’ll probably start looking to leave. Honestly, the moment I stop trusting my company, I brush up my LinkedIn profile and start checking TheLadders for likely postings.
  • They’ll stop telling you things that have gone wrong. They’ll be scared of your reaction and will delay telling you any bad news for as long as possible. For me, this is a nightmare situation, because I sincerely value the opportunity to work through issues WITH my team.

I’ve been thinking of ways to identify when folks don’t feel safe, and I’ve come up with the following:

  • Defensiveness. A few years ago, I found myself getting weirdly defensive whenever I received any feedback. I thought I’d gotten beyond a lot of defensiveness in college, but it was back with a vengeance. In retrospect, I firmly believe it was because I had stopped feeling safe with my boss. Because I expected to be attacked, I responded defensively to everything.
  • Lack of communication. Sure, sometimes folks are just quiet, but if you start not finding out about things that go wrong until MUCH LATER than they knew, guess what’s probably happening?
  • Work ethic nosedive. Heaven knows, I have no issue with Facebook use at work, but if a geek stops producing and never seems to be looking at work stuff, you probably have a problem. It’s most concerning to me when I see a shift and can’t come up with a reason for it (e.g., burnout or home “stuff”), since it could be a safety issue.
  • Crankiness. Do you have a geek who just seems to be a sourpuss? Okay, so they might just have dealt with a cranky user, but ongoing crankiness may be a sign of a safety issue.

I haven’t been thinking about this issue for long, so I’m sure I’ve missed things. What other safety warning signs are there?

Managing stupid(ly)

Astronomical Clock
Astronomical Clock (Photo credit: simpologist)

A few years back, I realized I was killing my staff.

I thought I had found the ultimate in productivity. In order to manage my completely ridiculous inbox, I found a system.  Each night, I’d leave the office late and go wait for the bus. While I was waiting, I would use my trusty Blackberry to clear out my inbox. I would merrily send emails as follow-ups, delete things, and set myself up for a pretty darn productive next day. Hey – I’ve always loved the concept of Inbox Zero (even though practicing it in Outlook is pretty much impossible). This made me, well, happy.

I’d go home, make (well, order) dinner, and relax, knowing that I was prepared for the next day.

And then something really annoying would start happening – my Blackberry would start going off. My team, fresh from their own dinners, would start replying to my email. Being a rather Type A personality, I’d then feel the need to read the email, which kind-of messed with my evening, but I got enough email from others that it didn’t mess it up that much. I’d ignore the email until the next day (except for urgent ones), and go to bed.

The next morning, I’d walk into the office, perfectly chipper because I knew what my day entailed. On my way to my office, I’d do my usual check-ins with my team (my office was at the end of the hall, so I did morning drive-bys).

Oddly, I found exhausted people who would immediately ask me if their response was OK, or expect me to have responded to their responses.

Sometimes I can be a bit slow, but after a few weeks (months?), I realized that my team was stressed and becoming less productive.  I eventually even realized it was my fault. When I was replying to email after hours, they assumed I expected them to do the same. Sadly, they were already working enough, and I wasn’t expecting it. But I was the manager, and that’s what I was doing.

So I stopped. It was downright painful to have to come in each morning with a full inbox and deal with things I could have dealt with the night before, but the change in my staff was worth it. Their stress levels went down, they eased into their mornings, and they became more productive because they stopped working stupidly.

Here’s the thing with being a manager – YOU are the mold. You are what your team attempts to replicate. If you work stupidly, they work stupidly. If you work late, they work late. If you answer email at all hours, they answer email at all hours.If you manage stupidly, you’ll eventually kill them with stress. Or at least lose them to your competitors.

It’s easy to manage stupidly. Are you managing stupidly without realizing it?

Working stupid(ly)

burning a candle at both ends
burning a candle at both ends (Photo credit: Mayaevening)

I have a confession to make: I’ve been working stupidly. For a while now, I’ve been working all hours. Sometimes I start at 5am and end at 7pm. Sometimes I put in 60 hours and then work another 10 on the weekend. Sometimes I get up in the middle of the night and check my email.

Quite frankly, this is DUMB.  I realized how dumb when I started at 9am and left at 6pm a couple of days last week and then did NOT work more at home.  You know what happened when I did that? I was more productive.  Yup. I got more work done at a higher quality when I cut time OFF my day. I spent last week producing a kick-butt set of graphs and various other analyses that are going to make up a foundational document for my role.

At the same time, however, I felt horrendously guilty. There I was, waltzing out of the office at 6 to go home, read a book, and recharge, and there my co-workers were, still in the office. Still toiling away at their desks.  Even knowing that I’m a better asset when I restrict my hours, I felt awful leaving.

I know that restricting my hours makes sense.  When I restrict my hours, all sorts of things happen:

  • I am able to work crazy hours and get crazy things done during emergencies, because my tank isn’t empty.
  • I am a much smarter person! My insights are brilliant, my documents beautifully written, and my analyses are razor-sharp. (Well, smarter, better, and sharper, anyhow.)
  • I am easier to get along with. I don’t snap at folks as often.
  • I understand what my co-workers are saying much faster.
  • I have a better attention span.
  • I have time to geek out reading all the new leadership books and resources. 🙂

I’m hoping that, by writing this post, I can stop being dumb. I can stop buying into the cult of overwork and be more valuable to my company, my co-workers, and my spouse. I also secretly (well, not secretly any more) hope that my co-workers read this and start leaving the office at sane hours, but I need to realize that I am responsible for my own actions. Therefore, I need to leave the office at a reasonable hour, limit working from home, and STOP BEING STUPID.

Making effective business arguments

I know, lame title.  But I recently had an experience that reminded me that it’s not easy to make an effective informal business argument, and I wanted to record some of my take-aways. Note that I’m not going to tell you whether I’m the person who may or may not have made some of the errors below :).

Argument
Argument (Photo credit: andrewmalone)
  1. Think about timing. Running up to someone and saying, “Hey! Here’s this great idea!” may not be the best plan, especially if your proposal is going to turn his world upside-down. If you have a Really Big Idea, ask to grab a cup of coffee or schedule some time on his calendar to run something by him so that he doesn’t lose an hour unexpectedly the day before a big proposal is due.
  2. Watch how you start. “I’m about to tell you about this completely awesome idea because I’m awesome,” (well, or something like that) isn’t a great way to start talking about your idea. “Hey, I think this thing will rock for <something she cares about> and I wanted your thoughts,” is a much better way to come at it. Telling her you’re awesome out front will probably gain you an eye-roll and an unreceptive ear.
  3. Always remember WIIFM. Honestly, your target wants to know “what’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) immediately, if not sooner. If you’re asked, “How does that help my department?”, your answer really shouldn’t be, “It doesn’t.” Because you know what happens next? He’ll say, “No,” and instantly work on finding counter-arguments. (More about that in an old post On Feet.)
  4. LISTEN. That’s in all caps because your target will be much more willing to listen to your thoughts on your proposal if you, in turn listen to hers. She might even have great ideas that build on your proposal or that will massively help you make your argument to others, and not listening means that you’re hurting yourself. You’re running this by her in order to get her opinion, so listen to it. Which leads me to my next point…
  5. Never–ever–be disparaging. You’ve probably worked, “That’s dumb!” out of your vocabulary (okay, fine, I’m still working on that one), but you need to realize that telling your target that something will be easy for his team (when you don’t actually know how his team’s systems work) is equally disparaging and frustrating. Likewise, belittling his arguments (no matter how dumb you think they are) will only tick him off, which will guarantee that you lose him as a listener, partner, and advocate.
  6. Please don’t yell. Yes, your idea is WICKED exciting, and your voice might get loud because you’re excited. But try to remember to breathe and not to yell. Especially if you’ve ignored points 1-5, yelling just makes listening to your argument a miserable experience, and your target will be less likely to listen to your other ideas in the future.

I’m sure I’ve missed some. What are other ineffective ways to make business proposals?

Jumping on the “WTF Yahoo!” bandwagon (re: working remotely)

I realize that pretty much everyone is writing about the Yahoo! work from home debacle (hi Jim!).  Just in case you’re living under a rock, here’s the salient part of the memo:

Image representing Yahoo! as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.

I’ve heard lots of good and bad points about this, but several things just boggle my mind. Here’s my list.  In order to attempt to be entertaining, I’ll start each point with my actual knee-jerk thoughts.

  • “Well, there goes your recruiting.” I have to admit that I didn’t quite understand the work from home (WFH) culture while I was at law firms, since most firms have a pretty strict not-working-from-home policy for non-lawyers (we’ll get into the nightmares of that haves vs. have-nots culture some other day). Now that I’ve worked at tech companies (HubSpot and Amazon), I’ve realized that being able to WFH or work remotely is an essential part of recruiting top talent. Your candidate for kick-butt lead engineer needs to take care of his mom in Tuscon? Let him work from there 3 weeks a month. Or permanently. He’ll work better with an easier life, and you don’t miss out on his awesome talent.
  • “Dude, if people aren’t being productive remotely, MANAGE THEM BETTER!” I don’t think Yahoo’s primary problem is with remote workers – I think it’s with craptastic managers.  As Jim points out, “Effectively managing remote workers requires more effort and overhead.” Well, yeah, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it. To me, it doesn’t sound like the problem is with remote workers, but with crappy managers. This is an awfully expensive and ham-fisted way to save your bad managers’ jobs.
  • “If you need to lay people off, lay them off. Don’t do this BS that makes you look like you’re managing in the stone ages.” Yeah, so I went to a kick-butt business school that made it really clear to me that remote workforces and the ability to WFH is truly the wave of the future. It doesn’t mean that you have to go to business school to realize that this is a giant leap backwards in modern management practices.  I mean, do we not have videoconferencing, phones, planes, instant messenger, and the ability and money to use these?
  • “Yes, face-to-face has kinda neat value. However, if your employees don’t value that enough to come in more regularly, you have a culture problem.” If your culture lacks the collaborative spirit that makes employees value corporate visits and coming in regularly, you have a larger culture problem. Ticking them off by instating this policy isn’t going to fix your culture.

I realize that very little of this hasn’t been said already, but I just had to contribute to the discussion.  Am I right? Am I crazier than usual?