Saturday, February 16, 2008

Better Supervisors is What's Needed, but in the Meantime What Can You Do

Catalyst is one of my favorite independent research companies for working on understanding women at work. A long time ago they realized that the battle isn't about equality in the work place it's about presenting a business case on the benefits of having a diverse work force.

They recently completed a piece of research looking at women in high-tech jobs. Challenges appear to be in their relationship with their supervisors - their supervisors aren't available when needed, they don't listen to suggestions, and they don't give feedback.

The research comments that women join companies but leave because of supervisors. Come on companies, think about this cost. I haven't yet dug into the absolute results but I wouldn't be surprised if women had the same challenges if their supervisors were female. The role of being boss is a tricky role, with so many demands being made of you. It's always sad when it's simply good management that is the problem. However it does run a little deeper.

In another piece of research Catalyst report that managers have a harder time giving feedback to women than men. I have tried to communicate this to many women that we have to work harder at providing an engagement with our bosses that makes it easier for them to give us feedback, without this feedback we have a harder time progressing.

  • Be direct and ask for feedback about a particular project or behavior. Ask clarifying questions as feedback is being given to help them fine tune their feedback.

  • Even if they say, 'You did Great', ask about how to improve next time as you want to get better at X.

  • Change your behaviors to respond to the feedback, and then confirm that you're improving

  • Send an email ahead of a meeting to say you will be asking for feedback on a certain project, behavior to remove taking them by surprise.

Another path is to get feedback from others, however we have to consider what we want feedback on, ask the right questions, and make others comfortable in giving feedback.

  • First think about what it is you want feedback on

  • Now consider, specifically what aspect it is you want feedback on.

  • Brainstorm several different ways to get feedback and from whom. Ask a friend to help you brainstorm.

  • Follow through on taking action on getting feedback from someone.

  • Say 'Thank you', and seriously consider what they tell you and how you can respond to their feedback.

I know this is a lot of work for us to do, when if we had fantastic bosses we wouldn't need to put in the extra work - well listen, our bosses aren't going to miraculously be better at listening and giving feedback over night so we have to take steps ourselves. And when we become bosses we have to make sure we take time to put into practice what we want from others.

Companies need to be learning about these strategies to improve the technical work place for women because a diverse work force is a more creative productive one.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Your Phone Video Clips in Overheated Symphony

I love media projects like this that take aspects of real life from around the world and creatively assemble them for a larger audience enjoyment. There is a film festival about to start in England called Birds Eye View (March 6-19). One creative project they have running is to collect phone videos (40 second to 4 minutes) submitted by women to their site. On March 9th Sarah Turner (film editor) will edit the clips to produce a film called Overheated Symphony. The film will be shown at the festival and then posted on their site.

What a fascinating project to get insights from women around the world - so many voices to listen to. I can't wait to see what they come up with. Video is being used much more now not only in casual home postings, but also as a medium to post comment to blogs or video postings. I'm curious to see how well video takes off as a feedback mechanism for companies. In my work as a user researcher we have known for years that a power video clip of a user having difficulties can impact a team to respond more than heaps more research and numbers. How will the use of video feedback to companies empower, or not women to impact the products they want? What types of skills will companies need to understand free form video feedback? Given women are known to be better at interpreting non-verbal communication will they be better judges of content? There are some interesting times ahead in the use of video.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tipping Point Reached, More Women on Web than Men

It's not particularly clear where Advertising Age got this fact but they're saying that 2007 was the year where there were more women on the web than men. However given what I've seen on recent data it seems absolutely feasible.

What does this mean? Those developing and marketing software online really need to think differently for mass market appeal. Let's take video online which seems to be building huge popularity, more women are now watching clips online. Like men, women say the most watched topic is News. However their second choice varies, with women preferring movie trailers and music videos and men preferring amateur videos. Now I'm not making the point that people producing video content need to think differently, I asking you to think for a moment if technology companies are male dominanat, there's a chance they have more types that have a tendency to prefer amateur videos to high quality, emotional movie trailers and music - hmmmm.... how do these preferences manifest themselves in the experiences of the products they build or the way they market?

I first read about the increase of women online on Michael Bloch's web marketing blog and must credit him with having posted an article over a year ago on how to market to women on the web. It's a short article but pretty practical, and he comments on the importance of the influence of trust on female customers, and trust can be built better when a company can demonstrate female involvement in the company, like women listed in employee listings. Another business rationale to diversify the workforce.

Imagine if all tradeshows considered a woman's perspective: Women's Day at the Auto Show

So what do I think of women's day as a theme for the Chicago auto show? I think now they've really internalized the fact that women influence car purchases significantly that their business strategies are starting to change. They've realized that 85% of car buying decisions are influenced by women, women buy just over 50% of cars, and yet only 25% of the attendees at the show are women (Foxbusiness). If this is a show to excite the market of potential purchasers then they need to increase that percentage. They've dropped the price of entry by 50% for women on Women's day which was Tuesday, and booths presented seminars, trainings and sessions for women on buying, leasing and car maintenance, and thought of additional attractions to improve the environment which included things like spa treatments. The nail treatments might be a bit obvious and almost tacky, but heck, honestly sometimes we do fall for such things, it's. Also the event actually deserves some credibility by collaborating with which is a website that supports women in the purchasing of cars (awesome site by the way).

Even though its being entered into because of the business and not out the goodness of equality of their hearts, I'm going to say - Good for the auto show planners, an improvement over last year. I hope the event is an appropriate increase in support, and I sincerely hope they keep trying to figure out how to appeal to women.

Imagine if every large tradeshow or event truly understood the power of the economy of women and thought about how to reach out to tap the market how different business would be. It's not just women as buyers, but it's that female chain reaction of having more women in industry, in businesses, in decision making positions, to influence product creation that appeals to the audience. Do we need to have formal women's days at events? It makes me feel uncomfortable having always been in male environments in school and work to want a 'special' event, however considering how women at work benefit from formal networking opportunities versus casual relationships, the idea of formalizing an event that appeals to women offers the same benefits as formal networking opportunities in that it creates a safe environment with known expectations of what to do, and what's expected of you.

I want to see more attempts to engage with women - remember it's all about moving dollars from our pockets to their business pockets, it's not about equality, I simply want them to earn their money and for me to enjoy the spending experience and be happy with what I get. Win - Win - how hard can that be?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Stay informed with the GigaOM show

Now before I review the next site you should know that I don't watch TV, we don't have cable at home, and the only time I really indulge in TV is when I'm alone in a hotel room then I love to surf the channels. However one online area that I hadn't been clued into was Internet TV, that is TV like shows made especially for the Internet, and I know I haven't yet explored what's out there but I did come across The GigaOM show. I thought it was an informative show on technology with good presenters, good content, and cleared up some of my missing information about hot topics. If it's beneficial to you to stay informed on what's happening in technology at more than a headline read depth, then definitely take a look at GigaOM. They update the show once a week on Thursday, and run time for the show is 15 minutes (and can be podcast too, except that would probably take me more than the 15 minutes to watch the show to set it up, find my cables, charge my device, and then remember to have the device with me when I had time to watch it - am I the only person that is challenged in that way?).

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Women Superstars Are Portable, Men Less So

This is a point in my blog where I wonder if I'm deviating from the theme of my blog or actually iterating to fine tune the theme. I am personally motivated to encourage change in how technology can provide women with an improved quality of life whether it's for pleasure, work, balancing life, family, etc. I have been trying to focus on the pleasure and fun because there are many other sites that comment on how best to balance work/family etc. However to encourage technology companies to consider an audience so unlike the gender makeup of most technology companies requires a shift itself to be more attractive to women to want to join it. So this then leads me in the direction of wanting to include in my blog articles and commentary on why it makes business sense to improve the gender make-up in companies.
In Harvard Business Review this month there's an article on the portability of superstars in the work force by Boris Groysberg, it's a second article pulled from a large data set. The first article had findings that showed it was extremely hard for a superstar in one company to transfer to a new company and still perform at the same outstanding level. However the new article has looked at gender differences and determines that women can move successfully between organizations. There were two primary reasons, first, women have stronger external networks, which they've developed because internal networks can be harder for them to develop. This means when they switch companies they weren't as dependent upon that internal network for their success compared to their male counterparts. The second reason is that women are more likely to way up the environmental factors of moving to a new company: culture that is open to female talent, openness to individual style, and impartial performance measures, this contrasts to a man moving to a new company for financial rewards.

Take aways:
Developing an external network is important, for people who are starting their careers it's developing it outside their group, division, or organization if a small company.
A woman who is second guessing her intuition on whether to force herself to make a move based on compensation if she feels it's not a good fit should probably go with intuition.
A company hiring talent needs to consider how it operates to considered an environment where individual styles can florish. I say operates because I can imagine how a company could try to convey that individual styles are supported, but without the reality to back it up the high flyers recruited in will not continue to rise.

It's bizzare to read the short summary on the HBR site because it's so rare that I've read an article where it's highlighting what women do that men can learn from to be successful in business!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Wake Up Business, the Women Are Already Here

I've been planning to make a post here at some point that highlights the need that businesses need to play closer attention to women and their influence in the world today. However it's always hard to know when to do the pointing, I have gut intuition that it's a good thing but where are the facts. A new book has been published, titled "Why Women Mean Business: Understanding the Emergence of our next Economic Revolution" by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox and Alison Maitland. As the title suggests the book pushes the agenda that it's not a women agenda issue but a business issue to pay attention to. In a sample chapter they quote research completed by Catalyst that demonstrates that companies with a higher proportion of women in their senior teams outperformed those companies that had lower proportion of women. Women also dominate 80% of spending decisions. According to the Consumer Electronics Association women spend $55B of the $96B that gets spent on technology. There was an article on an Australian site recently that also showed that Women are the decision makers in the purchasing of houses as well, and more women are buying their own houses – the social balance of who has spending power is changing on both big and small purchases. So much change in the power of the female consumer and yet we have to see proportional changes in how companies are managed at the top levels.

I intend to get a copy of the book to understand their research and perspective more throughly, but it is motivating to consider what they layout in chapter one as a new time and place - women have finally been working alongside men in workforce for a couple of decades now, and women have also have increased their spending power, and women around the world are critical to the workforce unlike any other time - if companies don't wake up and figure out how to adjust their business attitude and method of operating to address their audiences then they will fall short.
We need to see more women making it onto board of directors, where we are pitifully represented. I was encouraged last month by seeing the new board member for Apple was Andrea Jung who is CEO for Avon. Now of course board members don't exactly influence product strategy but imagine a company like Apple who is known for trends thinks to harness the sensibilities of a female leader of a company that is completely targeted at the female population - interesting conversations might happen in the smoke filled room. Microsoft's announcement of it's new research lab in Boston also announced the director of the lab would be Jennifer Tour Chayes, who will be the first woman to head up a Microsoft research lab. I believe many of the large companies are trying to figure out gender issues but are not sure how to turn the corner - strategy corners are perhaps easier to turn than culture corners?
I'll take a look at the 'Why Women Mean Business:..' book and post a review later.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Pitch like a Women at Women 2.0 Open Mic Session

When I started this blog I wanted to call it Web 2.0 for Woman 4.0, as I head towards that age this year I really feel that there is this tremendous opportunity for more businesses to adeptly position more technology at this band of life and be successful. At the same time I realize that technologies are being developed predominantly by guys and they might not be of the right mind set to get creative in the this lucrative space for Women 4.0 (plus or minus).

I am excited to see groups like Women 2.0 get established to support women in the development of ideas and the nuturing of startups. To quote the quote on their site, “every day, 420 women go out and start their own businesses — twice the rate at which men do so. And these businesses are growing revenue, profits and jobs faster than business as a whole.” — Margaret Heffernan," - there is tremendous innovation going on by women, and why shouldn't more of it be in the technology sector? I've watched panels on blogs such as Y-pulse that highlight CEOs who are barely out of school (both male and female), the cost of initial entry into a web-based business is so low that fledgling sites can exist and refine themselves before the big costs hit. More women need to embrace the lower cost of entry and give it a try.

Women 2.0 has Pitch 2008 coming up. This is an opportunity to network and get feedback on your napkin ideas - what are you waiting for? Take a moment to submit your idea, and make it more than a mental moment, what's the worst that can happen?