Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Opt Out or Quit?

When did women first get the idea that it was okay to "opt out?" It is such a delicate phrase, isn't it? It almost suggests that women will just step out on the balcony, for just a moment, and watch life events go on without her. Then, at some indeterminate time in the future, women might possibly "opt back in" and pick up where they left off. Easy as pie! Not even break into a tiny bead of perspiration.

Guys call it something different, don't they? They call it "quitting," as in "taking your marbles and crawling back home." Quitting carries a very heavy stigma while opting out does not.  Quitting recognizes the reality that when you leave, there is a gaping, emotional hole left behind. Opting out, on the other hand, carries the promise of "I'll be right back. Save my place for me!"

The key consideration is the motivation behind the "leaving." Women say they are "opting out" to raise a family which actually can result in up to two decades of absence, depending upon the family size. Or women "opt out" to take care of elderly or ill family members. The length of time required, not to mention the emotional commitment, could be sizable. The risk of a non-return is significant given that both the individual and the marketplace inevitably will experience dramatic change in the intervening years.

Other women argue they "opt out" of the traditional male-oriented corporate world because they don't like the traditional male-oriented leadership style they encounter.  But, who have they left behind to change that command-and-control hierarchical structure? Are they realistically expecting to be able to "opt back in?"

The difference between "opting out" and "quitting" is the mental frame of mind that the individual brings to the decision. That mental attitude is the juggernaut with which women must come to terms, if they are to navigate this transition successfully.  Women must recognize that, when you decide to leave, then you leave. Nothing stays the same after you've left a company or a job. You are naive if you believe you can come back and find that things have not changed. You have changed by your departure. The entity you left will have crafted itself around others in your absence.  Others will fill the vacuum you created by your decision to leave.

When guys use the term "quit," they recognize the finality of the change. They mentally pack away the previous status and turn their heads, hearts, and spirits toward the new endeavor. They mentally bring no baggage with them. That means they have created an empty slate on which they can write their new story, a new career, a re-invented life. That means they bring no false hope that their prior role will promise them anything. They pursue their new vision, unencumbered by the past. Only the future calls them.

Women will argue that "somebody should" hold a place for them for after they return from the family duties, just as veterans get promised a place to return after their service to their country. If we are realistic, neither promise serves the individual well. Each person is strongly redefined by their experience. We might better focus on building a growth-oriented economy with enough room and innovation to accommodate re-entry after major transitions.

But growth-oriented economies require that every person we educate become a productive contributor to that growth, one way or another. If we provide top tier education to both women and men, we need them to return something or to re-invest in future growth. How they accomplish that is infinitely variable. 

Some talented women understand the requirements of creating new enterprises that foster alternative strategies for career-pathing.  I've had the honor of interviewing many of those women leaders and have been introduced to many more.  There are women who are crafting another vision for the future. They have pushed their ship out to sea, leaving the security of the safe harbor behind, ready to take on new and exciting challenges.

"Opting out" does not quite cut it. In reality, it is just another way of "quitting."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and LinkedIn are among the top tier technology firms now announcing their Workforce Diversity reports, showing the overall percentage of women in the workforce, their shares in tech and non-tech fields, and in leadership.  The data does not cover actual wage levels, which inevitably show greater disparities.  Nevertheless, the reports tell us a little bit about why wage differences persist.

                                                            Women’s Share                                  
Company         Overall            Tech                Non-tech         Leadership
Microsoft        29%                 17.1%              44.5%              17.3%
Google            30%                 17%                 48%                 21%
Facebook        31%                 15%                 47%                 23%
Yahoo             37%                 15%                 47%                 23%    
LinkedIn         39%                 17%                 47%                 25%

If you read each report, you’ll see that each company’s HR leadership touts the many “programs” they sponsor to entice girls and women to become interested in their employment opportunities.  Clearly, those are having a marginal effect at best. Almost half of all women employed by these highly technical firms are employed in the soft-support sectors rather than in the top dollar/high salary/high-tech positions.  The highest overall employment share goes to LinkedIn which may be explained by its much higher percentage of women workers involved in non-technical areas: social media, marketing, finance, and human resources, for example.

The more sophisticated a technology firm, say Microsoft, the lower percentage of women overall and in technology fields within the company.  Microsoft has the lowest percentage of women in leadership positions of all of these companies.

Microsoft has 3 women directors out of a board of 12 people:  Dina Dublon, Teri List-Stoli, and Dr. Maria Klawe.  Microsoft has only 3 women among their top tier leadership ranks: Peggy Johnson, head of business development; Amy Hood, CFO; and Lisa Brummel, head of Human Resources.  Brummel had to release the mea culpa memos to the employees after Nadella’s interview with Klawe at the Grace Hopper event.

It is important that a firm has women in leadership, setting the example and the “tone at the top.” Dr. Klawe accomplished a great deal by directly and immediately challenging Nadella’s statement that raises will miraculously appear “for women.”  She disagreed with him, graciously, in front of 8,000 attendees, and her words echoed through the blogs-sphere for days afterwards.  Because she challenged Nadella, people went and looked at the data and discovered what we all know: women need “to ask” for equal compensation.  Women cannot wait for some “karma” or “Prince Charming” to give them financial self-sufficiency – not on the job and not in the legislative forum.

In January 2013, I wrote about several options women have for improving their financial competitiveness in the marketplace.  See:

It’s the same thing, again and again, for women pursuing angel or venture capital, or board positions, or scholarships.  If women don’t ASK for the opportunities, the opportunities will not miraculously appear --- by “karma.”

Learn how to negotiate.  Learn how to present yourself and your competencies.  Learn how to compete in the modern economic marketplace. This is something women CAN do. 


Friday, October 10, 2014

Curing Nadella’s "Foot in Mouth" Disease

“It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.  That’s good karma. It will come back. That’s the kind of person that I want to trust, that I want to give more responsibility to.” So said Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, in response to questioning by Dr. Maria Klawe, head of Harvey Mudd College, in an interview at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing on Thursday, October 9, 2014.

The good news is that everyone is pushing back on this archaic perspective.  And vocally so.  Nadella portrayed an anachronistic viewpoint that one of the “super powers” of women is that they can tolerate this kind of patronizing behavior from their bosses in the workplace.  Categorically, women are tired of having saintly behaviors attributed to them, while men contend successfully for the 100% of the salary scale by being mere mortals.

Nadella will go back to Redmond severely chastised, appropriately so.  He needs to stop sending apologetic memos To All Microsoft Employees and, instead, begin the long, hard task of looking inside the corporate towers of Microsoft and examining the exact payroll picture of women vs. men employees.  If there is 1% of disparity between any two people performing at peer levels, Nadella now has a responsibility of giving them back the KARMA they have already earned.

By the end of the year, Nadella needs to speak again to all of the women at Microsoft and all women who have aspirations to work in today’s technology field.  You need to tell them that “the system has been fixed” and we now can affirm that you will receive equal pay in this lifetime, not merely some promised time in the future.

It’s time for Microsoft to deliver.