Hey Girl

On Being a (Young) Woman in Technology

I woke up at 6am for a call the other day only to open my email and be greeted by a note from a senior sales executive. It opened with a condescending, “Hey girl,” and proceeded to outline how I wasn’t being aggressive enough with bringing a new product to market and that I should call him so we could discuss further.

First time for everything.  I didn’t know if I was more taken aback by being called slow and passive or being addressed as “hey girl”. for women in the industry, I’ve often been called too aggressive, unduly assertive, or bluntly that I need to work on softening my tone.

Shocker – I wasn’t in a rush to call him. In fact, I never did.  However, I quickly responded to note that in fact it was his team that was causing the delay, and that P.S. – in the future, “Alyssa” worked better than “Hey girl.” This interaction is similar to many I’ve had and unfortunately seems to be the norm amongst my female colleagues.

  • I’ve been called a “Hot ginger,” which would make a “great draw” for a marketing event.
  • I’m referenced as “the mobile girl” more times than I can count.
  • I’ve been asked if I’m going to be late because I might need time “for a mani pedi.”
  • I’ve been told that big opportunities were given to me because they need folks on stage who “aren’t old white men.”
  • I’ve been propositioned by senior staff members – both directly and, on occasion, in writing.
  • I’ve been entirely ignored / talked over / interrupted in technical discussions, seemingly presumed not to have either a valid opinion or any relevant knowledge.

I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be a “woman in technology” – I’ve wrestled with a lot of different questions on both the macro and micro levels.  I’ve spoken with my boss, my family, my boyfriend, my therapist, my friends, my colleagues, my executives, attended conferences, and begun thinking critically about my own daily experiences.

A few things I would like to share:

  1. I’m not alone. I’m humbled by women like , , Sheryl Sandberg, , and many others whom I follow and from whom I try to learn. There are a lot of women who have navigated these waters before me. They put on conferences like the and . They form groups like , and . They host lunches and seminars and try to help elevate others. These have become sources of strength, knowledge and relationships which inspire and humble me.
  2. It is hard. Harder, different, difficult, awkward, and challenging. First step to fixing anything is identifying the problem. One problem is that simply being a woman brings additional barriers, navigation, and hassle towards making a contribution. It is harder to be heard, harder to know what’s appropriate, harder to form relationships, and harder to get ahead.
  3. There are no easy answers. Every situation is nuanced. Depending on my mood, the background, or the lead up, my response to an insensitive  comment varies significantly. Sometimes I smack the person, sometimes I make a joke,  sometimes I launch into a discussion, or sometimes I do nothing. I have never reported anything to an HR department. I don’t know where the line is, and the line seems to change. I look at examples like Elen Pao and wonder if I’ll get support or become the victim of even more jokes and remarks.
  4. I think most people are well-meaning. That doesn’t mean it’s not wrong. I don’t think those who have made a hurtful comment, hit on me, or been inappropriate are ill intentioned. Insensitive yes, but they aren’t trying to be pigs. Maybe I’m young and naïve, but I believe that most people are using phrases as terms of endearment, ways to break the ice, or occasionally even as a compliment.  That doesn’t mean the comments aren’t  hurtful, or damaging. It’s okay to call them out. Acknowledging the damage is the first step in repairing it.

I’ve wondered at times why I am so fixated on the topic – can’t I just add value, work hard, and not think about what gender I am? Why do I care so much?

I realized that what gnaws at me is bigger and more important than just what I am experiencing as a woman. I believe that there is damage being done, and I’m worried that I’m contributing to something negative. Certainly there is a lack of female presence, but there isn’t enough diversity – of any kind. Technology is being built by a group of people who are from a very small – and insular – subset of our society, with limited viewpoints and narrow set of experiences. I believe that the technology we are building as an industry – which is quite literally building the future – is not particularly good – or as good as it could be.

Furthermore, how will I participate in change? What will my contribution be? I struggle with integrating my own sense of self – my character – in the technology world.

I often marinate on teachings from my own Jewish upbringing as well a pivotal moments in history. One of my biggest fears is that I will be a bystander- that I will not participate in the work of making the world a better place.

It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work [of repairing the world], but neither are you at liberty to desist from it. -Pirke Avot (2:21)

I’ve resolved not to be a bystander.  I won’t behave correctly every time – I won’t engage with every comment or person, but I will not be silent. I’m worried there will be negative consequences for me. I’m worried it will make people uncomfortable. I’m worried it may stunt my career advancement, and I’m worried I’ll be wrong.

The only way I know how to move forward is engage and speak up. I do so on a macro level because I think it’s important to have diversity in our workforce, in the work of building the future.  I do so on a micro level because frankly, I’m sick of being the only woman in the room.

Desperately seeking Susan to design better software

Desperately seeking Susan to design better software

The future of software requires a stronger feminine touch.

Good news, in software companies, women are easier to find as employees nowadays.  The bad news is that women are not placed in the driver seat to influence software design, interaction and value delivered to their customers — which may be why some new business software feels like it’s 30 years old. For enterprise and infrastructure software to keep customers happy, they desperately need a woman’s touch in design to improve profitability..

In the US, women control the purse strings, estimating a total purchasing prowess of . This goes beyond buying grocery and retail items – whereas major consumer facing technology companies and services like Sprint have acknowledged the lipstick economy. Sprint has revamped marketing, packaging, and contextual appeal, and then grew their business  after their 2013 about face with . This lesson is one that the software industry needs to pay attention to, and the first step is to get more women into software product management roles.

Breaking into the wallet

Appealing to women is not answered by changing the price to be impulsively attractive and packaging to be pink.  It needs to understand that women think about products differently. Women think contextually, and make decisions upon our personal experiences and lessons learned, weighing community opinion, common knowledge, emotional reactions and trust in a very non-linear manner. Women are very much masters of unstructured data abstraction that is often explained as women’s intuition because most times seems illogical.

Breaking down the mental model for purchasing, women’s point of view, women heavily value product attributes that are greatly under-designed in software – especially within Enterprise (B2B software), Infrastructure/ Platform software and Software delivery services.

Women need to connect with the software, and often it’s through these techniques:

  • personal trust and transparency with product
  • product community and their personal contribution impact
  • an engaged and guided product usage experience
  • personal emotional recognition
  • usage time commitments and capabilities
  • personal results for using product (the reward)

Time for more Femmefluence in software design.

According to , women’s complex decision making extends the sticking power after purchase, and more likely to share with others. Talk to any software CEO, and product sticking and sharing power is what they constantly seek to grow their revenue stream.

“Women remember more and differently than men do, so talk to both her emotional and rational sides and acknowledge her attention to detail. Layering emotional decision-making opportunities with rational information will increase purchase intent and will have strong “sticking” power. According to Nielsen NeuroFocus, the female brain is programmed to maintain social harmony, so messaging should be positive and not focus on negative comparisons or associations.”

My bet on the winning enterprise and office software will have a predominant feminine touch in design, engagement and reward. Want to start now? Answer these questions to identify your breakout path:

  • How can software acknowledge the user’s emotions? How can that emotional connection improve quality of work?
  • How can the software interactions evolve based on the different times of the day? Living in a multi-device world requires software to be smart about human capacity and expectations.
  • How can the software have a close and personal connection with the user? Designing the engagement to be a trusted experience, and providing more insight than asking the user to give is key.
  • How can the software tell the user exactly what they need to do to achieve their goal? I am personally biased with this point as I’m from the enterprise world, where reports are made for managers, and end users only get a dashboard of what’s next for them to do. I think every professional should know how their work contributes to the bigger picture, and the software can become their trusted source for keeping them on track.

Bringing in empathy, compassion, trustworthiness into software design can create high loyalty high dependability with every user, and differentiate your product at the emotional level as well as tapping into higher profit margins.

The dollar and cents about feminine software design

Not saying that men can’t think about emotions and identify a path of engagement that “clicks” with the user’s heart and the head – but that’s what these complex software categories are often missing. Consider how business driving software solutions could interact differently, and how that design could improve the software company’s business.

  • What is the abandonment rate from the download of the software to the distribution of the software to the end users? If your revenue derives from usage (read subscription model) this could be the financial justification to get more engaged.
  • What is the retention rate of new customers to returning customers once the contract terms expire? The cheapest way to grow your customer base is to keep your current customers. If the retention rate needs improvement – is it because the software didn’t deliver what was promised? Create a connection with the user? Get the user to be successful themselves?
  • What is the cost difference between attaining a new customer from a referral compared to your standard marketing lead acquisition spend & conversion ratio? And, how many leads do you get from customers compared to general marketing activities? If the company is spending too much on sales and marketing, perhaps investing into the product relationship with the customer is the appropriate next step.

Women in the software industry

Recently, DOL reports that there’s a – whereas there’s over 536,000 of us women employed full time. , too.

So the big question, is: what are women doing within the software industry?

CNNMoney analyzed the hiring within the tech industry by job function – and the data pointed that women were often the business moms as . The next job functions popular with women ranged from professionals, sales, and management all in the 20th percentile.

There are numerous articles placing attention on the lack of women within engineering roles and executive roles within Silicon Valley. insightful statistics collected by Tracy Chou, a software engineer at Pinterest researched 131 tech companies and found o. And the gender imbalance is even found with and who are twice as likely to leave their post then men.

Product design and Product Managers

Drilling deeper into the roles, I asked a technology industry executive recruiter to go through his database, and let me know what was the ratio of women to men within the product management role.  After tracking 120 product managers, his statistics brought attention to the problem – it’s a 1:6 ratio of women to men product managers (16.7%) which is less than what Tracy discovered within Software Engineers. I ran a similar unscientific analysis of product managers within my LinkedIn network and found 4 women out of my first 40 search results. Telling, isn’t it?

The “Seeking Susan” Challenge

If you are a leader within a software company, and the above dollars and cents makes “SENSE” to pursue a more feminine approach – start by looking at your product design team. If it’s not gender balanced, be creative on getting a woman’s perspective heard to accomplish your business goal. Likely, they’re ready to lean in, and can contribute a very profitable perspective.

I welcome your comments and insight to this topic.

~ Tara Spalding

If we build it, they will buy it…

I’m a product manager by nature and profession, so today in a slight departure from life in Silicon Valley – I’m going to talk about building products in Silicon Valley. Carl Sagan used to talk about, ‘ … billions upon billions of stars…’. And likewise we have billions upon billions of ideas floating around in the ether above highway 101. Everyone thinks that they are about to create the next big thing. And if you follow tech news, there are many big things that even receive several rounds of funding, before falling over. In my opinion many of these fail because they did not consider the most important step in product development: What is the problem? If you are not able to articulate a problem statement, and what your snazzy resolution would be – then you are going to run into trouble.

This means there needs to be some research done with your core audience, and I mean talking to actual people not reading industry analysts or guru reports that you can get online. Take your idea and meet with your existing customers first. They will provide you with one view – which is usually biased more towards their specific needs with your product line. But, you will have some customers that are thinking about the future and where their systems and processes go next, and they will provide you with valuable input. The next step may be more challenging, because you need to locate core audience that is not an existing customer. These folks are potentially your future customers, and they can give you another perspective. Perhaps they are struggling with a similar but different problem than what you previously focused on. Listen to these people, because if you are trying to expand your market, you need to bring fresh faces aboard the customer train. AND, do not ever leave out your field sales force, if you have one, that is. If your product requires direct sales, you should run your plan by the field, including the Services team, because they provide you with a third perspective. They are constantly beating the bushes for new logos, and can help you with input from prospects, and what they hear about the changing issues for companies in your field.

I realize that for many this should be product management 101, but I have rarely seen this done very well, and usually there are several products that a) never get released, but syphon budget and resources from revenue generating product lines, b) get released and never get sold, because the customer does not ‘get’ how the product will help them, c) reflect negatively on the company brand if a big marketing splash was made, and then the product is suddenly withdrawn. And yes, there are many other factors that affect the success or failure of a product – but it always boils down to what problem are you solving, and is that a valid problem. I have seen software organizations go into tailspins because everyone got caught up in the brilliant idea excitement and had a science project percolating in development which did not have real funding. I have seen posters, graphics and expensive product videos get built – even when the product has no true release date in sight. And, in the end, all of this harms your core product lines that are generating solid revenues. So product builders beware! Don’t be taken in by the next shiny object without doing your due diligence on the research side!