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SuiteWorld 2019: Women in business talk failures, successes and advice

As part of the SuiteWorld dedicated Women in Business track, a host of women with backgrounds in the business world shared their advice for women in a male-dominated environment

Choose mentors who don’t look like you, always learn to better yourself and fail fast to move on are just some of the pieces of advice shared by female experts as part of SuiteWorld 2019’s Women in Business track.

Representatives from Enseo, Deloitte, Oracle and Alley to the Valley shared experiences with the audience, both about successes and failures, and shared advice on how women in the tech sector can work together to achieve parity.

As much as the technology industry is male dominated, which can make it difficult for some to progress, NetSuite’s EMEA vice-president Nicky Tozer said in some cases, being a woman in a male-dominated environment can be an advantage.

As someone who worked in a sales role in the technology industry in her early career, she felt being the only woman on the team helped her to make sales because customers were more likely to remember her, and more likely to ask questions about what they don’t understand.

“That’s not to underplay the gender gap,” she said. “But for me, it was always much easier to focus on what I could change and what would drive me forward, rather than what would hold me back.”

Recent research has found women believe their gender has helped them in their pursuit of technology careers. But it doesn’t come without its difficulties, and Tozer advised women to keep tabs on when they’re putting themselves on the back foot through typically female behaviour.

“You really have to learn how to adjust to [being a woman in a male world] and not just help everyone who asks you for help because you’re a woman and that’s what women do,” she said.

A common theme that ran throughout the session is the power women have when they band together.

Tozer explained the importance of the Women in NetSuite group for building relationships between women throughout the business and showcasing role models so those lower down in the company can have access to the women in leadership positions.

“There is lots of research that says one of the biggest things that hold women back is they’re not as prepared to ask for what they want as a man is in business,” Tozer said.

“One of the things I found most interesting about that was how inspired they were to see a woman in a leadership role. [The group] enables you to have those conversations and to listen to your peer groups.”

But helping each other out and talking to each other isn’t something women always feel able to do, especially in the workplace.

Deborah Perry Piscione, CEO of network Alley to the Valley, said she saw a significant difference in the way women behaved towards each other when she moved to a different part of the US.

After moving from Washington where she worked in government to Silicon Valley, she found the women had a different attitude, seeking to help each other as opposed to climb over each other to reach the top.

During her third week in Silicon Valley, she had a brief conversation with a woman in a Starbucks queue, which quickly snowballed into her meeting a venture capitalist and raising $5m in funding.

“All of a sudden, all these women were coming on to give unsolicited advice. One by one, these women adopted me to share advice, to share their knowledge,” she said.

Fascinated by “this new breed of women in Silicon Valley”, she launched Alley to the Valley to give women from different backgrounds and walks of life the opportunity to meet with the aim of helping them build a network and learn from each other.

Research conducted by Alley to Valley found that men are brought up to be competitive, first in sports, and then in the workplace – a workplace that was originally designed with men in mind. Girls, however, are more likely to compete with each other.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, and she used the #MeToo movement as an example of how women working together managed to make strides at a faster pace than ever before.

While this isn’t necessarily reflected in areas such as at board level, according to Piscione, there is a significant change.

“We’ve seen this enormous uptick in women creating their own funds and angel funds and building their own business at home,” she said. “What we knew is that this was not being reflected in the stats that were being shown.”

Claiming the “power has shifted”, Piscione said: “Some of the most powerful women and wealthiest women are not going to school, like Kylie Jenner and Cardie B, and are having such potent messages out there – right, wrong, good, bad or indifferent.”

This doesn’t mean the power of the individual should be underestimated, and Piscione encouraged those listening to start building on their own network and pushing for the changes they want to see.

Role models are extremely important when it comes to encouraging women to pursue a career in tech and stick with it.

So, what can we learn from people who are embedded in the technology sector and in other male-dominated environments?

The power of mentors

As well as finding role models, both in and outside of the technology industry, to help you choose your career path, having mentors can also be a big help when it comes to navigating the work environment.

Mamei Sun, chief of staff to Larry Ellison at Oracle, explained mentors “don’t have to look like you”.

Although there is a benefit to having mentors who come from a similar background, Sun said having mentors who weren’t the same as her helped “find blindspots”.

“They should be in different parts of the world, different sectors and industries so they can provide that full view you might not be able to provide for yourself,” she said.

To Sun, it’s important to find people who will share “hard truths” with you rather than those who will just pay lip service.

Suzanne Kounkel, chief marketing officer at Deloitte Consulting, said women often don’t feel like they have as many people who “have their back” as men do.

She claimed women need to “find people in your circle who you think will tell [you] hard truths, and do that for people in your network because it’s really hard to do”.

When picking role models, Kounkel added that rather than fixating on an individual, it’s better to pick special aspects of many people to build a “bundle” of aspirations unique to you.

“Say ‘I want to be a mother like this individual’ and ‘a market maker like that individual’,” she said.

When it comes to navigating your career and your day-to-day life, she had three pieces of advice: be proud, be bold and be better. She also said people should never dwell too long on a mistake. “Focus on two things – can I fix it? Can I make it better? And if I can’t, what can I learn from it?”

Women are more likely than men to spend a lot of time dwelling on decisions and choices, overthinking outcomes.

Vanessa Ogle, CEO and founder of Enseo, encouraged a “fail fast” mentality, much like in startups, where failures are seen as lessons people can adapt quickly from and move on. “Teaching women to fail fast is sometimes harder than teaching men to do that,” she added.

As a result of this, women are also more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome whereby they underestimate their ability – something role models and mentors can help to tackle.

Characteristics to adopt to ‘make a difference’

As part of her advice for the Women in Business audience at SuiteWorld 2019, Deborah Perry Piscione, CEO of network Alley to the Valley, suggested four ways people can change their outlook in order to make a difference both in their careers and in their lives.

  1. Shift your mindset: Piscione said many women can come from a place of “defence” in their career, especially if they’re in a male-dominated environment. Women often “start from a place of distrust” with other women, but it’s better for everyone to change this attitude and form partnerships, she said, adding: “It is so critical to take ourselves out of the defensive position and be part of the offensive.”
  2. Be transactional: Piscione emphasised the importance of both asking for and offering help. She said no one begins their day wondering what they are going to do for another person, and so asking for what you want and need, as well as being willing to offer others help, is “something you should be mindful of every single day”.
  3. Think about yourself as an entrepreneur: Take the emotion out of business transactions because “business is just business”.
  4. Build your female golf course: Using the analogy of a golf course, where traditionally men make many business deals, Piscione said women should always be working on their network and finding like-minded people to meet with on a regular basis to have discussions. “It just takes one person to start, one person to do things differently,” she added.

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