Women in business face unique challenges - one of the most discussed is the idea that femininity is a hindrance in the business world. I think it's actually a secret weapon, and I'm going to tell you a story to illustrate why:
As a young woman with a soft voice and an easy laugh, I've always found it quite funny to merge my both my business and personal lives. In my professional life, I'm startup junkie, online community manager, managing director of Girls in Tech 303, and a fitness consultant. In my personal life, I am training for a half-ironman triathon, and I recently packed up my entire life on the other side of the US and landed in the lap of the wild west. I'm generally excited and usually smiling. The package on the outside does not match the tenacity on the inside.
But let's be honest, Cat Stevens sang it best - "Oh, baby, baby, it's a wild world / It's hard to get by just upon a smile . . ."
I've had middle-aged salesmen drop their jaws in front of me when they learned that I was in charge of purchasing for the retail stores that I managed out of college. It was quite funny to see them look over my shoulder, hoping to get a glance of "the person in charge" only to realize that it was me. It happened so often that I made a rule about setting up accounts with potential vendors: if the sales guy can't wrap it around his head that he's going to be negotiating prices and terms with a 22 year old freckled chick - we're not buying from them, period. It was a good rule.
The guys that I ended up doing business with were good guys, and they taught me a lot about the specialty food and wine industry (the industry I was in at the time). Some of them even became good friends and mentors.
In 2007, a peer manager at one of my companies was promoted above me. I remember having a fight with that guy just after his promotion. It was about marketing - he wanted to dump a bunch of cash into radio spots and I wanted to get Facebook fans.
RADIO SPOTS!!!!!! In 2007!!!!!! JESUS CHRIST!!!!!
Facebook = Free, Radio = $$$$
Facebook = Millions of users, Radio = your grandma, sometimes, if she feels like turning on the dial.
I was jaded from this experience, for sure. I had better business ideas and report with customers and vendors, and yet jack-ass radio marketing guy got promoted above me.
For the next few years, I thought that being the bitchy boss was the way to go. I managed a team that ended up hating me for a year because I tried to "manage like a man" - I didn't get involved in the personal lives of my staff, I only cared about the bottom line, I was direct, and I tried hard to stop smiling. Seriously. How dumb. But I was reading books like "Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office" - books that advise women in business to check their femininity at the office building door.
As I look back on these two failures in my career, it is easy for me to see how I have become so successful so fast in the last few months.
Here's my secret: I decided that I don't want the fucking corner office.
I decided to do business as Kate Brown, on my own terms. Turns out, there are a lot of women out there just like me who are kicking ass and smiling all the way to the bank.
Here I am in SF with Adriana Gascoigne, founder of Girls in Tech, Ivo Lucas, CEO and founder of 24 Notion and Managing Director of Girls in Tech Portland, and Laurel Kaufman, Co-founder of AK Consulting Group (specializing in startup law), and Managing Director of Girls in Tech LA.
Look at how lovely and smiley we all are. These women aren't striving to get the corner office - they metaphorically own the whole fucking office building AND the company inside.
This January when I flew out to the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco to meet up with these wonderful ladies, I got to meet the top players in the tech industry, including the following kick-ass folks:
Leah Culver; Product Manager, Six Apart
Eileen Gittins; Founder & CEO, Blurb, Inc.
Sandy Jen; Co-Founder and CTO, Meebo
Lynn Langit; Developer Evangelist, Microsoft
Aaron Lee; Co-Founder, RedBeacon
Dave McClure; Partner, Founders Fund
I think that's why I like startups so much. Startup folks are too busy raising money, growing a company, and building something amazing. No one in the startup community wants the corner office - there are no corner offices to be had.*
*Unless you count the corner seat at a coffeeshop, the bar, or a flight to SF to meet with a VC. All of these count as offices in the startup world, but that's a different post, lol!