Diverse and inclusive cultures: What are you waiting for?

I can’t say that I was shocked to read the recent Uber scandal from a female engineer, Susan Fowler. But, I was sad to see Uber’s CEO and Board say they were “shocked” by these allegations.  The actual quote from Uber CEO in an all staff email was “abhorrent and against everything we believe in.”

Too many tech startups hide behind a series of excuses about why discrimination and bias persist in their companies. A common excuse is "we grew so fast". Another is “I didn’t know this was happening.” The truth is - it is your job as the CEO/Management team/Board to know, especially as you expand the company beyond your core team. Who you hire, promote, and reward sets the tone for your company and actually demonstrates “what you believe in.” But most Management Teams and Boards aren’t asking the right questions and aren’t committing to changing their own diversity and inclusion practices.

As a collective group, those of us at tech startups aren’t doing very well. Our leadership teams, our Boards and our VC firms are all woefully un-diverse and the pace of change is inadequate by most standards. Creating an environment where a female engineer is harassed and her complaints are ignored my HR and management repeatedly is intolerable and we need to turn our shock and outrage into actions and concrete commitments to change.

Why is this problem so intractable? I believe the main issue is that Boards, VCs and Leadership teams aren’t holding themselves accountable. Enough is enough.

Here are 5 actions you can take right now to change what your future looks like as it relates to diversity and inclusion:

1. Know your diversity numbers

You cannot manage what you don’t measure. Let’s start measuring our numbers, across departments, before we become Google and Facebook. It is a quick chart, trended over time, of Gender and Race/Ethnicity by department. Add in attrition rates by those same demographics, because this can be an early warning sign that you haven’t created an inclusive culture where diverse people can thrive.

As you put your next Board packet together – put this slide in there and commit to having a conversation about it with your leadership/Board team.

Inspired by: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/diversity-in-tech/

2.   What training can we afford?

Commit some resources (stage appropriate) to provide training for your managers. If you are a 10 person company bootstrapping, you don’t have a lot of resources, I get it. But if you are a unicorn growing like a wildfire, you do. Divert 2% of your food/snacks budget to training for managers on a regular basis. Smaller staff = smaller training budgets. If you wait until you are Uber size, you better have bigger pockets. Lawyers and crisis management teams cost a whole lot more than trainers.

3.   What does our Team and Board makeup say about our commitment to diversity?

It starts at the top – Diversify your Leadership team and Board. Make every effort to recruit people of color and women into your company and into Leadership and Management positions.

You will be in good company – many other tech companies are vying for the same executives you are, so be prepared to woo them with your commitment to diversity, inclusion, what role they will play in helping you get there. Be honest about where you are and where you want to go and why you need them. 

One founder I know of a tech startup that had a successful exit says that if he had it to do over again, he would start with a diverse Leadership Team from the get go. Let’s not continue to make his mistake over and over again – if you are starting out or just at the onramp of your growth curve, make this one of your goals this quarter. You can’t expect to have a company that values diversity if you don’t have any diversity making decisions at the top.


4.   Do we truly believe that diversity is worth investing in?

A core problem with many of the Leaders and Boards and VCs today is they aren’t on diverse teams themselves. Silicon Valley Bank just released some new numbers for how many women are in VCs and on Management teams and the numbers are not great.

Here’s another diversity breakdown of top VC firms. If you look at these teams, it seems like diversity is a nice to have, not a business imperative. But it does matter and research is clear that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams on all measures of success. Remind yourself and your company of the business outcomes that come with diverse teams. Not sure what those are or don’t really believe them – educate yourself. It is well documented that diversity improves the bottom line.


5.   Can we afford to do nothing this quarter?

Maybe it doesn’t feel like the right time. For most of us in tech startups we live quarter to quarter with very little wiggle room to lose focus. I’ve been there (I am there today). If that feels like your story right now, do a thought experiment about what it is costing Uber right now in the eye of this storm.

Can you afford to be the next Uber or Tesla? Think you won’t be as stupid as Uber? Maybe not, but without a diverse team building and shipping your products, you might miss important market segments and features that are important to your customers. Remember when Apple launched the Apple Watch without a period tracker when a large share of their potential market would have a period in her lifetime?

Without diverse teams you can’t continually ship products that appeal to your customers, unless you sell only to bro-grammers.


Is this a turning point for the tech industry to focus more on diversity and inclusion? I don’t know, but I do know, each company can do a few things on a regular basis to make a big difference for their own culture and team and chances of success. What are you waiting for?

Need more ideas for what to do to tackle diversity and inclusion at your own startup?

Visit: http://projectinclude.org



Nevertheless, she persisted

I watched my son's 7th grade rec basketball team win a tough match this weekend. And the MVP of the match was most definitely the only girl on the whole court. This girl was consistently fouled by the same big 13-year old dude on the other team. And she kept at it. Drawing fouls, heading to the free throw line and sinking her shots. 

What was astonishing to me were a few things:

  1. How tenacious she was - she kept driving to the hoop through 9 dudes - fearless and tough.
  2. She kept drawing fouls. She would take it strong to the basket no matter who was in her way. And she landed on the ground a lot. But got right back up again.
  3. She was clear headed enough at the free throw line to sink almost every shot.
  4. Only girl out there. And I've watched them all season and she is the only girl in an all boy basketball league. #Fierce
  5. Finally, and this is the best part, as she was walking to the free throw line for the 4th time in a row, she looked straight at the guy who kept fouling her on the other team and said "that's 4 in a row, 5 and you foul out." Loud enough so he could hear it, but not so loud that the ref heard. She was definitely not intimidated by him. And you know what, he fouled out pretty soon after.

What I love about this is her perseverance.

I was an athlete as a young woman and I credit my coaches and teammates for teaching me how to be good on a team and how to perform under pressure. And wouldn't you know it, there is a body of research that ties business success to experience with sports and especially for women. A 2014 study by EY Women Athletes Business Network and espnW found that 94% of C-suite women participated in sports at some point in their life, the majority having played at the collegiate level. And all of these studies point out that sports teaches communication, problem-solving, confidence and resilience, which are critical drivers of business success as well. You can read more on the study here

But this story isn't really about sports. It is about perseverance. Whether you are negotiating for a raise, dusting yourself off after a layoff, being the sole voice of dissent in a room of yes men, launching your own business or jumping back into the workforce after a hiatus - DRIVE TO THE HOOP LIKE YOU MEAN IT!

Image source:  This is a Book  by Demetri Martin

Image source: This is a Book by Demetri Martin


Because the road to your goals is long and winding. And your persistence will be the difference between making it or missing out.

I love seeing passion in my co-workers, in people interviewing for jobs and in people who want to "pick my brain" over coffee. Your tenacity can be infectious. Everyone I know who is successful in their own career is a fighter and playing to win. Don't let someone else hold you back, don't let failure define you. Get back up, get out there and fight for what you want.

This is especially true in negotiations. When you are negotiating for yourself at work, you are often raising a problem or issue to your manager. This is not easy and sometimes you can be seen as the problem. Women who negotiate are often penalized more than men. But that shouldn't stop you. Be prepared, have data to back up your ask, have allies, and most importantly, be persistent! No may be just their opening position.

You do not have to be a Senator from Massachusetts to persist when you are being denied. You can be a girl on a basketball court or a female in the boardroom. And your drive and passion is powerful. 


This post is dedicated to all the teammates and coaches I've had the pleasure to play sports with over the years. From junior high basketball and softball, to high school field hockey, lacrosse, and basketball, to college Ultimate frisbee, to my triathlon buddies, and my most recent old lady Futsal league!

From you all I've learned teamwork, collaboration, hard work, tenacity, losing with grace, what it feels like to win, how to get knocked down and get back up again and most importantly how to persevere. Thank you!

Girl Interrupted

We've all had those meetings where you say something and no one responds, the conversation moves on, and later on in the same meeting someone else takes your idea and everyone responds positively to it. Don't you hate that? 

I really do. 

I've been thinking a lot about this phenomenon lately. For us women in the workplace, this is not all in our head. It is well documented, here and here and here and here. Men mansplain, they talk over you, they take your ideas, they dominate meetings. And this can erode our self confidence and how we are seen by our peers and our boss. I hate to say it, but it can hurt your career trajectory. 

There are several concrete things that an organization can and should do to try to stop this habit from forming or for tackling it once it is in full swing. These include: 

  1. Make a no interruptions rule. Period. No interrupting while someone is speaking. Post it on the walls of your meeting rooms.
  2. Make sure everyone has time in the meeting to speak - go around the table or call on people who haven't shared opinions. 
  3. Provide unconscious bias training for all staff (and make attendance mandatory).
  4. Mix up meeting formats to allow for different personality types and styles to shine. Meetings don't always have to follow the same format - try card sorting exercises, white boarding, pair people up to generate ideas in teams. 

I've worked at places with some or all of these practices in place. Beyond organizational support, a very important component is also what you are going to do about it. You will be in a meeting (likely often) where your voice isn't heard. You need some strategies to try out and see which work for you and your company culture. Here are some I've used in my own manterrupted episodes (credit to Jessica Bennett for that phrase).

Find an ally
If the interruptions are epidemic where you work or always perpetrated by a few lone wolves, you can try to find an ally. Best allies for this are men who have some power in the room, but another woman can also be your wing woman here. The goal - have a signal that you can use to let them know you have something to say or that you are having trouble being heard. They can then jump in and say "Sarah has an idea we should listen to" or "I want to hear what Kelly has to say."

Be Subtle, But Take Credit Back
I hate to say it, but sometimes people don't know they are being obtuse and you have to point it out. Jump in right after the person restates your idea and say "Jeff, great idea, that is what I was trying to say 10 minutes ago. I'm glad you brought it back up. Here's my take on it." Maybe Jeff won't pick up on it, maybe he will. Either way, you are back on the board. 

Be Direct, Privately
Sometimes you have to nip this in the bud, directly. After an especially egregious meeting, take Johnny aside and tell him what you are observing. This can be awkward. Hopefully you have a good working relationship and mutual respect with this co-worker and he will hear what you have to say. At the very least, it may make him think twice in the next meeting. You can even try to make him an ally. Suggest he helps you get your ideas across in the next meeting!

Lobby for your ideas
Oftentimes decisions are made in side conversations or in smaller pre-meetings. If you are having trouble getting your ideas heard in a larger setting, nail the pre-meeting politicking. Have one on one meetings with key decision makers to plant seeds of your ideas with them. Ask for their support in the larger meeting. 

Pick your battles
Sometimes this is not the hill you should die on. If you find certain meetings or certain people just can't be changed, mix it up. Either start skipping these meetings, de-emphasize the importance of these meetings in your mind, follow up the meeting with key points in an email or find other ways to drive your agenda without fixing this problem. I have found sometimes sitting quietly speaks volumes.

What strategies have you employed to deal with being interrupted at work? Share your tips. 

Negotiating for Yourself at a Startup

I've spent most of my career at tech startups. I love the challenge of the startup environment - it is often fast paced, agile, and alive with possibility. And I've had to learn how to negotiate for myself in these types of environments, which are a bit quirky, compared to established businesses. 

I'm giving a talk next week at Portland Startup Week here for women negotiating for themselves in startups. I thought I'd share some of reasons I think negotiating at startups is so important. Hope you can join me and share your perspective. Register here


Here are some of my observations about negotiating at startups

At startups you wear many hats

In well established companies, the roles are more narrowly defined. At startups, there may not even be a job description. This means many things, but most importantly is that there are opportunities for generalists more than specialists to thrive in this environment. 

From a negotiation perspective, that means that you are often asked to do a lot of jobs (all at once). And you probably thrive on that if you are at a startup, but there is a limit to how many you can and should take on at once. And the more you say "yes", the harder it is for you to put on the breaks or ask for something to change. You've trained everyone around you that you can juggle multiple jobs and they will resist when you want to stop.

Accelerated careers for high achievers

I have found that startups don't have clear career ladders. They tend to start out fairly non-hierarchical and you are all lending a hand to get stuff done. Then, as teams form and leaders emerge, you have opportunities to run things and be a leader sooner than you would at a more established company. You can skip levels of hierarchy and end up a Director or Vice President without that many years of experience. 

This is great. You learn on the job and you are smart, so you can do it. But, without clear expectations of the role and you in it, sometimes it is hard to maintain that title in tough times. Just because no one else is there to lead the team, doesn't mean you should take it on. Make sure it is in your career path and that you have the tools and resources to succeed. Ask for what you need and keep asking so that your success is more likely.

Limited support and resources

Startups are usually cash strapped for some part of their journey. Whether you have VC funding or are bootstrapping, those dollars need to be spent wisely. This means most teams are running lean. If you just got a promotion to Director, it may mean you run a team of one or two people. This can be hard, you are learning new tasks, managing new expectations and have little resources to hire more people or to get trained yourself. 

But, it is not good for anyone if you fail. You can always make a business case for resources to be applied, if you are adding value to the business. It is critical that you understand what value you (and your team bring) in a currency that matters. Working really hard or long hours, doesn't really have meaning to the bottom line, but results do. Use what you know about the business to make the case for you and your team. 

Limited policies and procedures

On day one at IBM or Intel you are going to get a handbook with all the rules and codes of the company. At your startup, you'll be lucky if they have your desk set up that morning. You may even have to build it yourself! This means, there may not be performance reviews, salary bands or even job descriptions. This allows for a lot of creativity and agility in startups, but it makes it harder if you are trying to negotiate with someone and there is no precedent. 

If you are looking for a flexible schedule, they may have no experience with that. Want a raise, they may not be in the habit of having those conversations yet. Obviously, as the startup matures, all of these issues need to be ironed out (and written down). Think of your negotiation as paving the way for the people that come after you. Connect what is good for you (paternity leave for example), with what is good for the company (better employee retention when there are family friendly policies). 

Emerging company culture 

Culture is an important part of any startup. Startups are tripping over each other to have the "best" company culture around as a way to attract and retain talent. As norms emerge you may need to make sure your own needs are met. This can be difficult if you are a woman or a person of color, as we are often the minority in startups (tech startups especially). 

If you think about your negotiation as something that can improve or expand the company culture to make more people more successful, you can really connect yourself to a larger purpose. This helps in making the ask. If you are asking for the company meeting to not be at happy hour, because you have to pick your kids from day care, for example, you are not the only one has the same need. Even though startups are young, they quickly get the entrenched "we've always done it that way" vibe. It is your job, as someone who works at a startup, to push back on the status quo if it isn't making for a great business where you can be successful. 


The goal of all startups is to mature into sustainable businesses. Much of these growing pains are ironed out over new policies and procedures, new hires, people leaving and people just like you negotiating for a change at work that makes good business sense. Don't be shy, the startups need people like you!

I'll cover more concrete steps to successfully negotiate at a startup on Wed February 8th. Hope you can join me. Register here



Getting Psyched Up to Negotiate in 2017

When you are getting ready to ask for something at work, a raise, a promotion, credit for your work, etc., it helps if you feel confident.

The new Secret Deodorant commercial hits this spot on. It shows a young woman practicing her pitch in front of the bathroom mirror, trying different openings, asking for a raise, among other things.

Secret Deodorant Ad

Of course, the ad is trying to say that if you wear Secret deodorant you will be prepared. The truth is - you do need to prepare for a workplace negotiation and it goes beyond your deodorant. 

Here are some good preparation steps you can take to get ready to make the ask. 

  1. Really know what you want - what are you hoping to get out of this conversation and what are you flexible on. You can't get what you want if you don't know what you want. So do some thinking about what is important to you an your priorities.
  2. Gather as much information as you can. If you are asking for a raise, figure out what the salary ranges are for the role. If you want a promotion, come prepared with results of your work. Use what you know about who you are negotiating with to truly prepare for the conversation.
  3. Get psyched up - it is not easy to walk into your bosses office and ask for something. This is hard for everyone and women do get penalized more than men for negotiating. However, the more confident and powerful you feel, the better it will go. Practicing in the mirror, as in the ad, or role play with a friend. These tactics are great confidence boosters.
  4. Stick with it - you may not get the answer you want right away, but keep at it. Bring possible solutions and get creative. If you hear a no, ask follow up questions - like "when is a good time" or "help me understand the evaluation criteria" or "what do I need to work on to move up in this organization". 

What preparation do you do to get psyched up to negotiate at work?






New Years Negotiation Resolutions

New years resolutions are always on my mind at this time of year. My sons have resolved to give up sugary drinks and sweets. We'll see how long it lasts! Here are a few new years negotiation resolutions you can try at the beginning of the new year to set yourself up for better success at work. Give them a try and let me know how they go.

  1. Don't just say yes - say yes, AND. When you are asked to help out at work, this is an opportunity to negotiate. Instead of immediately saying yes, try to say "yes, I'd love to help out, AND I'll need some support staff time to take on that new assignment". A yes is always a chance to negotiate. 
  2. Salary isn't the only negotiable thing you should care about. Expand the set of possible options that will meet your needs. At review time, think about vacation days, interesting projects, remote or flexible work, new title. All of these things have value and are sometimes easier to get than more money. 
  3. Use what you know about your boss when planning your negotiation. Does he or she like to know what you are talking about ahead of your 1:1 or is it better to get them offsite for a chat? Use what you know about your boss to set yourself up for success.
  4. Be prepared for No. You won't immediately get what you want at work. Workplace negotiations take preparation and practice. Don't get discouraged if you hear No. Be prepared to ask questions and turn the No around. It may not happen overnight, but it is only January - stick with it and by Summer hopefully you got the Yes!

Happy New Year! 

We are always looking for good negotiation stories or to help you or your team out with your negotiation preparation and training. Contact us to discuss. 

Negotiating salary isn't the only workplace negotiation you should worry about

At almost every conference or workshop we run, we are always a bit dismayed to hear how many women think that negotiating salary is what negotiation is about. Pay is, of course, important. But to focus on pay, at the expense of all other considerations is foolish. 

Your entire package, salary, benefits, work schedule, work assignments, time off, teammates, how you will be measured, potential for promotions, and many other things are all important to a successful and rewarding job and are all also negotiable. 

By focusing solely on salary, you miss an opportunity to find important trades and a full package that is a win-win for you and the company. The best negotiations are those where multiple options are on the table and both parties are able to make trade offs based on their own value system and what is possible. 

Interestingly, the pay wage gap has less to do with women not negotiating about salary, and much more to do with women missing out on promotions along their career. Here's a recent research study that backs up this idea:  Gender Pay Gap Tied to Promotions

Next time you find yourself negotiating at work - think broader than salary and figure out what is really important to you, and ask for the whole package.