Each month we introduce you to an inspiring leader using their voice to advance women in the workplace. We're committed to changing the narrative about women and leadership.
I started my company The Memo LLC in the fall of 2015, because I saw a gap in career development for women that looked like me and/or who had similar experiences being a woman of color at work. We offer career tools to help prepare for your seat at the table. Over the years, I realized an even bigger gap in the career and business guide genre that continuously missed the mark on intersectionality. And as the late Toni Morrison said, “write the book you want to read.” And on August 20th, my debut book The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table with Hachette Book Group was released.
I view the work I get to do as a privilege. Meaning, creating space for black and brown women is legacy building in my opinion. If many of us lean out of the work place then it stops us from participating in important conversations that desperately need our diverse perspective. And, with us at the table we can lean into our courage to make it better for the next woman of color. In regard to the book, I think it came out at the perfect time. It’s time we start centering our experiences around us, because we are the future of work.
I believe gender equity is important, yet, I believe racial equity is equally important. Most gender based initiatives in the workplace benefit white women first, and then trickle down to women of color—it’s time we are part of the monologue and not just the dialogue.
I hope we will lean into our courage and articulate our worth and quantify our value. If we want leadership positions then we need to strategically build relationships that will position us for a leadership win. Additionally, learning to ask for what we want. We can’t be ambivalent about our careers.
Women 2.0 focuses on gender, diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. Through media, programming and consulting we work with women and people from other underrepresented groups advance their careers and grow their companies, and we work with ecosystem players like investors and employers to make sure systems are in place to support those individuals.
The top qualities in my opinion include decisiveness, resolve, the ability to mobilize, empathy and humility, with the last two being crucial.
I've been working in this space for almost 15 years, and it's given me what I call practical optimism. We've seen several times over public surges for improvements and rally cries for increased representation, and with each surge we've seen a few baby steps forward, and then mostly a plateau. However, in the past two years their has been a global mobilization around the general issue of gender equality like I've never seen, and like some may not have seen since the 60s and 70s or even prior. And it's brought with it real movement in the right places, albeit slow. The fact that we're seeing so many women on the ballot for our own 2020 elections, and several major leadership roles around the world being occupied by women is amazing.
I absolutely see a real focus on bringing women into venture. I’ve only been on the VC side for three and a half years, but in that short time, efforts like AllRaise and FoundersforChange have put a stake in the ground on what change should look like. I myself notice how much diversity matters to our younger entrepreneurs as they build their companies, and they likewise notice it for firms wanting to fund them. They’ll make comments about a partner meeting if there are no women and how it feels very old school. I’ve likewise seen a concerted effort to bring more women in at every level of the investment process. It will take some time for more women to move into the partner ranks, but the seeds of that shift have been planted.
For the boards I sit on, I’ve noticed I give people space to be human; they don’t have to put on their “act like a hot shot for the VC” game-face on. It makes a really big difference in the quality of information I get from a team if they are trying to report only their best or if they’re willing to share uncomfortable things they need help on. When you’re on a board, your guidance is only as good as the information you receive, so the more authentic the information, the more you can help. For women in senior leadership positions, I will say it is not a cure-all for high performance or building out more diverse teams. The single most important thing is for the CEO to practice values and hiring that in and of itself feeds diversity without having to make it a mandate. That’s the ideal.
Leadership by example is the single most effective thing I’ve seen at creating equitable, inspiring workplaces--or inspiring others to do so, which is what we focus on at Costanoa. It is amazing to me how many well intentioned people say all the right things but then act differently relative to what I know their intentions to be. That means people need a lot of self-awareness and colleagues around them who are willing to be a balanced and honest reality check. Second to that, creating mandates for diversity in hiring slates really does make a difference as does saving a seat for a diversity candidate, even if hiring takes a little longer.
Early on in my career, I was working in finance, and buying work clothes that I didn't particularly love or find flattering. When I got home from a long day at the office, the last thing I wanted to do was browse for blazers online. There’s this myth that all women love to shop, which just isn’t the case. And even if spending time buying clothes isn’t a top priority, that doesn’t mean they don’t care about good style or looking elegant.
My mother worked in high fashion throughout my childhood. She really opened my eyes to the power of costume and how much wearing the right clothes can not only change the way others see you but the way you feel about yourself each day. At 27, I quit my full time job in private equity to start M.M.LaFleur because I wanted to make women’s lives easier. Instead of considering getting dressed for work a chore, I wanted to reframe it as a secret weapon that can transform the way we feel be helping us feel our best.
At MM.LaFleur, our staff is over 80% female. Our male colleagues inspire me every day with their commitment to our mission of celebrating female professionals. We’re a young team, but we’re building a new normal where all genders work together to create an environment of equality and respect. I’m determined to be part of a generation that speaks up so women can thrive, rather than just survive. We are all in this together. One of the most important decisions I’ve made as CEO is to offer 12-week parental leave for mothers and fathers. Equality is something we need to fight for at every step of the career journey.
One of the best qualities I think a good leader should embody is to treat people with kizukai. I’s a Japanese word, and one of M.M.’s founding values. The closest translation I’ve come up with is “empathy in action.” When you treat people with kizukai, you make room for the whole person, not just the employee. It’s our way of saying “bring your whole self to work.” There’s a belief in corporate America that treating people with compassion doesn’t lead to results -- but nothing could be further from the truth.
Challenge yourself to stop over-analyzing, over-thinking, and over-preparing. I am not saying that there shouldn’t be preparation, because diligence is rewarded -- and I am a big believer that hard work and showing up pays off. But give yourself permission to be more daring, take action and try new things.
There was a convergence of events: Having spent time in retail, technology and marketing I was aware that people were constantly using their phones to shop and that the shopping journey had changed. As well, I was aware that teens and young women were using their phones to send pictures of their outfits to their friends to get advice on what to buy or what they were wearing everyday. I’m firm believer that technology, if used properly, can enhance relationships so I decided to create a platform for people to share photos but in a safe, honest and positive environment. Essentially, do what you’ve always been doing but in a better way.
I think parenthood is a challenge, or the perception that women are the ones who have to stay home and “parent”. Once you have a child you are not seen as a high performer anymore - which is not true, obviously. Another challenge is that there are mainly white men in leadership positions as people tend to hire and promote people who look like them. Many of the leadership profiles that are used in business are based on men so women don’t have enough profiles that match their skills or characteristics. We need more women to help other women rise up and succeed. More diversity at all levels is just better business.
I see young kids now (I have two teenagers, a boy and a girl) and they just don’t have the same barriers as we did, they see things so differently and are much more open and accepting. If we can keep focusing on getting more women, and women of color, at all levels in business I believe we can have gender parity. But it has to be at all levels - all the way up to the C Suite and the Board. But this includes the work of both men and women. We need everybody working on this, not just women.
I fail at things all the time, and I believe that these are important learning experiences... so I’m learning all the time! It’s hard for people (including myself) to wrap their mind around the idea that “failure is always an option”.
In any case, some of my most important learnings have been related to people and leadership. It varies from small things like the value of showing people your sincere appreciation, to bigger things like the ramifications of working with close friends and family. We have to remember that business is people. Understanding people allows you to do well in business.
Well, there are certainly the obvious things like patriarchy and other systemic challenges. But there are some not-so-obvious things also, which are sometimes self-imposed.
We live in a society with impossibly high standards that cause women to feel guilt and shame in ways that hold us back from our full potential. It’s a very recent journey of my own that has caused me to examine my internal challenges. Wrapped up in that is what it means for us to “have it all”, and our impressions of what it means to be successful at work and in our personal lives. I think a lot of women struggle with this.
Ha, it’s hard to say what’s effective considering that we still have a such a long way to go. But one critical thing I have learned is that it’s usually a waste of time trying to change the minds of people who don’t share our beliefs.
So, I’d say what’s been most impactful is bringing together a community of people with a shared understanding around what the future can be.
To own your decisions and listen to the feedback. It is only a misstep if you don’t learn from it. Otherwise, I think of it as a step forward, a step to a better and stronger you.
Women are not all the same, therefore, the challenges will vary depending on the personal circumstances of each woman. But as a group, we oftentimes feel that we need to prove ourselves beyond any doubt; that there is no space for us to make a mistake. That can lead us as women to be reluctant to take “risks” with our careers. We need sponsors, champions, who will reach out to us to share their stories of how they took “risks” — how they made mistakes and came out stronger from the experience. Women also need sponsors (both men and women) who will tell us about being comfortable being successful and being ambitious. As we get more senior in our careers, we need to reach out to the next generation of women, tell them our stories, and encourage them to find their own definition of success.
The most effective tactics are the ones that are genuine and built into the culture of an organization. That is why I have a strong belief in the role that managers play in leveling the playing field for women in the workplace. Managers make day-to-day decisions that directly impact how people experience an organization (who to hire, who to give a new client to, who to bring to an important meeting, who to highlight to leadership as the next star, who to promote, and how to pay their people). Any initiative aimed at increasing representation and inclusion of women in the workplace must include an active role for managers. They have to be the champions of a culture of inclusion in the organization and they have to be held accountable for the experience of ALL their employees.