WOMEN WHO INSPIRE ME IN THE SILICON VALLEY
Coming from Paris, I’ve been in the Bay Area for a year now, lucky to be advising startups and VCs.
People always ask me 3 questions as being a woman and ex C-suite executive :
1) What about gender and parity in the Silicon Valley?
2) Can we succeed if we’re not in the Tech world ?
3) What have you learnt from the new Female Founders generation ?
I have spent a lot of time in the last months meeting people – VCs, founders, headhunters. My initial surprise was the imbalance in gender in executive teams and VCs partners. When I worked in New York, every day you would meet women leaders in corporations, media, and agencies. But here in San Francisco, there is still a movement to achieve gender balance at the top.
1) Parity is still a challenge. But women collaborate and play a huge role to make companies aware and take the relevant actions.
I have heard a lot of stories from young and bright female founders. They met VCs asking to have their own assistant attend the meeting to help them understand, or concluding the meeting mentioning they would talk to their wife…
The good news is that Alumni, whether from PayPal, Google or Facebook, or even 500startups, have built great networks supporting each other, and backing young startups founders.
Sukhinder Singh, Google and Amazon alumni, named in all list for « women to watch », is the amazing Joyus founder, a video shopping platform for women.
She has also created the Boardlist, an online talent marketplace that connects technology company CEOs who are looking for qualified board director candidates with women who are peer-endorsed for private and public tech company board service.
And guess what ? When asking a man, he’s got three names to give for candidates, when asking a woman, they give fifteen names. It’s just a question of network and trust.
As Sukhinder, Twitter alumni, Katie Stanton (now CMO of Color Genomics) is also a business angel, She does a lot to connect women according to their skills and passion in life. She’s very much engaged for women and leadership, in all fields from politics to science. And her twitts are read by many women as inspiring their daily life, encouraging them in their own battles.
Nyna Pais Caputi is the CEO/Founder the Expat Woman. She also a blogger and speaker on gender violence.
Her monthly events enable young female founders to pitch and connect with VCs and Business Angels. All of them build a trust relationships, with an informal frame to guide conversations.
On a personal note, I must say the three of them, leaders, but also mothers and engaged women (being speakers about parity and diversity), took the time to welcome me with a conversation full of insights for a new comer.
I will always be grateful to them to have taken the time for me. In my turn, I welcome new entrepreneurs or executives in the Silicon Valley, and I’m happy to share my learnings.
Female VCs are also role models.
Some female VCs have put forward the fact that they want products and services to impact people’s life and request a balance between male founder and female founders.
I’m sure you have read surveys that show their performance as VCs is better than only male VCs firms.
Shadi Mehraein is one of them, she co-founded Rivet Ventures. She was born in Iran, has lived in NY, and could speak to you about finding your purpose and the power behing female perspective. She aims at empowering women and have a positive personal impact.
So diversity is always a challenge. But we are lucky. In the Silicon Valley people come from all over the world – China, India, Eastern Europe, Latin America.
Female business angels and VCs embrace diversity and are essential to build women’s confidence in what they can achieve.
And fortunately, there are also male VCs sharing this approach. Lo Toney is an amazing partner at Google Ventures.
Some women play a key role in big companies, evangelizing employees.
Parity is not a something you can be trained at. You just can be aware of your own cultural biases (wether as a man or a woman).
I met Denise Young Smith , VP, Worlwide Human Ressources, Apple, at the « leaders and daughters » event organized by Egon Zehnder. A big part of her job is to encourage initiatives, and also make sure to track progress with metrics enabling to go in the right direction. She reminds all of us, that the CEO and his top management are role models.
We have spoken about inspiring women, investing, mentoring, coaching, sharing their learnings.
If most founders in the Silicon Valley are engineers, and most people you meet in meet ups or in Uber pool work in tech, the question is :
2) Indeed can we succeed not being in the Tech world ?
I have been depressed listening to Steve Blank in a conference, asserting that any MBA had not any worth after 5 years and should be even perceived as « toxic » in a company.
A famous speaker at Hive Data Annual Summit, PhD in computer science, was saying the same about any computer science MS or PhD, as machine learning and AI. have evolutionized what can be taught in the last three years.
It seems that we need to continue to learn every day and that for our life time.
And it also seems that we have no other choice than being excellent at what we have chosen to be.
Kim Scott is a. successfull coach and writer.
After many years with great managers such as Sheryl Sandberg (when at Google), but also seeing miscommunications in a lot of teams, she has decided to share her insights about management and leadership. She has written « Radical candor » that helps you to become a radically candid leader through quick, in-person feedback conversations with your team. Run to purchase it as and inspiring and full of learnings book.
Anne Lecat is the CEO and Founder of Les Lunes, a fashion house. Her stylish and comfortable clothing made from bamboo, with sustainable operations, has already 3 free standing stores in the Bay Area and sells globally on line.
She’s embracing diversity, she has grew up in Ukraine and has lived and worked in China. More than clothes, she proposes a life style, helping each woman to feel comfortable with her own body, to feel good and have a great self esteem. Go to Fillmore, my prefered store, she might even welcome you, as close to her customers.
Diane Miles is an operating partner, CEO TSG Beauty.
After an amazing career at Bare Escentuals, Perricone MD, Benefit and Dior (LVMH), she chose to guide founders to scale their company, helping them to build high-growth, best in class brands.
And looking at the latest deals she has led for beauty corporations, we must underline that she has kept her promise.
She’s not a woman in tech but she’s innovative and daring. She knows everything about the beauty industry and works in San Francisco, with a global approach.
Allisson Duncan is the Founder and CEO, Amplifier, which helps philantropists and social enterprises become more strategic and impactful. She has scaled proven solutions to some of societies toughest challenges. And she’s involved in women rights for sure, and parity. And if you meet her, you’ll stunned by her energy and drive.
All of them are great role models. They’re successfull in what they have chosen to be their path. They share their learnings. All of them are mentors if not investors.
It’s possible to be accomplished in the Silicon Valley, even if not being an engineer and working in Tech.
Let’s talk now about the new generation of Female founders.
They are daring leaders, know how to listen to their instincts, and are building out strong teams.
3) I’ve learnt an immense amount from startups founders.
I am fully aware that even with the greatest engineering or computer science brains, it is essential that a startup founder must also understand what is the best for the user or customer.
Secondly, the ability to scale fast is a key asset for a startup thinking about taking their product global.
Thirdly, the ability to be surrounded by the talented people is essential, identifying where founders need advice and expertise.
I’ve noticed female founders are particularly obsessed by « the customer experience » for the best.
They also have no hesitation to sign the right partnerships (without losing their vision, ambition and values) at the relevant period for the company, which enables them to grow faster.
Lastly, they’re « self aware », and take the right talented people to help them on topics that are not they’re strengths.
Sali Christeson has founded Argent for women at work. She’s making functionnal clothes with attitude. She aims at changing the conversation (and your clothes), equiping women the push the envelope and take their steat at the table.
When I met her, she had just her first line ready and already signed a partnership with Wework, planing conferences about Fintech, helping Millennials to manage their financial life. The second time, I met her at her new pop up store in San Francisco.
I love the attention to details : pockets for iphone and cards inside the jacket, reversible trousers to travel. Things move fast with Sali, and she has chosen a female designer as a co-founder !
Jude Sue Fulton is a Designer Founder. She as created Mosss for. home design, simplified.
Disrupting all other platforms. She understands the mobile experience, and that Millennials want to choose their furniture, not to just trust an interior designer. They want their home to be unique, with their own style and a great experience. Believe me, she’s about to build a sophisticated and engaged community, and a powerful tool using computer vision, and she’s on her way.
Zornitza Stefanova is the Founder CEO at Boomerang. She has also very well understood the luxury ecosystem, and how to better engaged with prestige customers.
Mixing her tech skills and mobile expertise, with the deep understanding of the luxury industry, enables her to communicate the relevant messages to VCs and brands, wherever she is, San Francisco or New York.
Three founders, all of them disrupting what exist to create value, but first and foremost thinking « customer experience » and having an impact in women’s daily life.
I’m honored to have met them, and it’s a pleasure to have conversations with them. Each time, I learn something new, with a fresh new eye.
Yes, women can live in the Silicon Valley. And they show an amazing solidarity, every day, for the best.
Being different helps to go further.
I’m convinced that diversity is a strength. Creativity and Innovation are at stake.