Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech: “Get comfortable with power and using it wisely”, with Nicole Toomey Davis of Enclavix
Get comfortable with power and using it wisely — many new managers, and experienced managers, get tripped up by trying to use only organizational power and often fail. Learn the difference between leadership and management and invest in leadership skills! I coach women on understanding different kinds of power, I call it “Power is NOT a 4 letter word”, because so many people in general, but frequently women, think that power is a bad word. Without power of all types, nothing gets done! But power does not equal coercion!
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Toomey Davis, President and CEO, Enclavix, LLC and co-creator of the VentureWrench Startup Coaching Community.
Nicole is a serial entrepreneur and the President, CEO and co-founder of AI-software company, Enclavix, LLC, creators of the VentureWrench Startup Coaching Community, with a vision of high tech and high touch to help coach large numbers of entrepreneurs effectively. She has raised millions of dollars in angel and VC funding for her award-winning startups, sold her last startup to a public company, and has received over $1.2 million in SBIR funding for Enclavix and VentureWrench. Ms. Davis also invested millions of dollars in some of Utah’s most sophisticated tech startups during her tenure running the State of Utah’s high profile technology grant funding program. Ms. Davis holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Brigham Young University and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and is a published author, speaker and coach. She invites all entrepreneurs to join the no-cost VentureWrench Starting Coaching community, by visiting https://venturewrench.com and to take advantage of the curated VentureWrench Library available at Library.VentureWrench.com. Nicole blogs at StartupNotes.com about entrepreneurship and technology and is active on social media under the name VentureWrench.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
From the time I was a little girl, whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say “I want to be a Chemical Engineer just like my Daddy.” Although I loved math and science in general, unfortunately, when I took chemistry in high school I truly hated it. I reluctantly admitted this to my father, who told me that didn’t matter, but asked me what did I want to do. Well, I looked at the standard engineering fields, knew that I couldn’t be a mechanical engineer since I have no mechanical ability, didn’t want to wear a hardhat which ruled out civil engineering, so that pretty much left electrical engineering! Indeed I did get my BS in Electrical Engineering from Brigham Young University, which was an incredible experience, and then later an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. I’ve spent my entire career in the technology industry in both hardware and software, first on the product and strategy side, and now on the entrepreneurial side of the tech business.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
This is my second startup, both co-founded with my business partner and husband, Brad Davis. After we sold our first startup (DoBox), I worked for the State of Utah, running a grant funding program for sophisticated spinouts from our research universities. One of the big problems in economic development is how to mentor many entrepreneurs. In a state like Utah, there are more new entrepreneurs than experienced ones, so there aren’t enough mentors! Brad and I came up with the idea to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and especially machine learning, to help find the best information for entrepreneurs and make it easy for them to get the help they need to solve problems, answer questions and learn to bring capital to their business. So, working on one problem in state government led to the idea for our startup.
Our vision was to make it easier for entrepreneurs to be successful and to reduce entrepreneurial failure by helping entrepreneurs learn quickly! We proposed this vision to the National Science Foundation (NSF), and they funded us to the tune of $1.2 million over several years and multiple awards! That technology platform became our VentureWrench Library found at Library.VentureWrench.com.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I married Brad, he had already worked at or co-founded several startups. He wanted to do another one. I was very worried, we had both been working at successful tech companies with steady salaries. He said to me, “when you give a presentation to management for a new product, do you already believe in it?” Well, that seemed like a silly question, because of course, before I pitched a new product, I had to believe in it. He said that was the point of entrepreneurship — if you believe it, you just do it! Faster and more efficient! So my mistake was not understanding the heart of entrepreneurship. I will say that he sort of left out the issues of raising capital, building from scratch, potential failure and the like, but he has been right, faster, more efficient and more fun!
I have learned that I’m not really employable any more — the fate of all serial entrepreneurs!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are entrepreneurs serving entrepreneurs and our passion, and mission, is to help other entrepreneurs grow their business more quickly and more successfully. We want entrepreneurs to get the most out of their efforts — the highest “return on effort” possible. We are particularly unique that we add to that mission our extensive software capabilities and our software systems, including a long history with Artificial Intelligence.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As an entrepreneur, every day is new and exciting! We are focused right now on the growth phase, getting the word out that VentureWrench.com offers many no-cost and low-cost resources, including our extensive VentureWrench Library, which includes thousands of resources from a huge array of experts, all curated so that an entrepreneur can find the help they need very quickly! I also enjoy coaching a small handful of selected entrepreneurs, particularly around capital and culture, and that is super rewarding personally. We are just about to release our newest service to help entrepreneurs, which we call InvestorFind™. We have carefully curated information about thousands of active startup investors, and we can do a custom search for our coaching clients and help them find the “Perfect Investors” for them to help them raise capital more successfully.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
Well, I graduated from BYU in engineering in the mid 80’s. Remembering back that far, my class had 7 women, out of something like 106 graduates, so compared to that, we’ve come a long way!! I think there is a lot of great action happening in mentoring young women in STEM at earlier and earlier ages, and that is making a huge difference! Our two daughters are both planning to be biologists and they’ve had tremendous support. Our oldest daughter is already an undergraduate researcher in genetics at the University of Utah and was part of their “Access Program” for emerging women scientists. She receives fantastic mentoring and support and loves being part of STEM.
I think the next steps really are to address the issues in the workplace, starting with pay equity. It is simple for tech companies to fix pay equity (just raise the pay of women to match that of their male peers — why is that hard?). And then to separate compensation from salary negotiation skills and instead align compensation with contribution to the business.
Fixing the equity of opportunity and recognition in businesses is next. When you look across many people and many careers, it is often, although not always, the case that women believe that leadership and management will recognize their contributions and reward those contributions with opportunity without having to “beg” for it. Many men, although certainly not all, are aggressive about asking (and asking and asking) for raises and promotions until they finally get what they want. That disconnect in how different people and personalities are recognized and rewarded for their contributions is a big issue and I think contributes significantly to the the lack of diversity in the top echelons of companies. If tech and STEM companies fix these fundamental issues, I think we will see a lot more women, as well as more diverse leaders generally, rising to the top of their organizations!
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
Compensation and opportunity, of course, as above. And then the tech-bro culture that says that “staying at the office” at all costs is the most important thing. In Utah, our teams are very family oriented, so we work hard and stay focused all day, then go home and do other things that matter, at night. If there’s a crisis, of course, teams are committed. But when we travel say, to Silicon Valley companies, we see so much wasted time during the day — foozeball, ping pong, water cooler talks, you name it! It’s like you’ve got to show up in the day, but you’re only considered a star if you stay most of the night.
My father, a very successful global executive, once told me that most people can’t really stay focused on work 8 hours per day. What about 16?! Well, in the tech-bro culture, they don’t stay focused, they just waste time. This is particularly hard on anyone who wants to have a family or a life or outside interests and I think that one of the reasons we see women opting out of this culture is that they just get tired of it (and rightfully so!). When we started DoBox and got to about 20 people, we realized we had people with all kinds of diverse schedules, so we made “team time” from 10am to 3pm. Everyone had to be in the office / available (if they were in town) from 10–3 for communication and collaboration, and otherwise could flex as they needed for their actual life!
For many women, these unproductive extra hours at the office have a greater impact on their “real life”, but let’s face it, it’s bad for everyone!
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
The myth that it’s hard. Working in technology is exciting, it’s exhilarating, it’s incredibly creative and it’s about changing the world. One thing that research has shown is that young women are often drawn to the world changing and world improving aspects of technology — so I want to emphasize that as a real and compelling aspect of working in STEM. I can’t imagine a career that would have been as fulfilling as as career in technology.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Get comfortable with power and using it wisely — many new managers, and experienced managers, get tripped up by trying to use only organizational power and often fail. Learn the difference between leadership and management and invest in leadership skills! I coach women on understanding different kinds of power, I call it “Power is NOT a 4 letter word”, because so many people in general, but frequently women, think that power is a bad word. Without power of all types, nothing gets done! But power does not equal coercion!
2. Focus your career on organizations with a mission and vision that you really believe in. Life is too short to waste your time doing something that isn’t satisfying. And there are all kinds of satisfying leadership to pursue in this world! When you are doing a startup, there are always opportunities to grab that may take the company in a direction away from your values, and so every day we are making explicit choices to stay close to our values and vision.
3. Don’t be intimidated and don’t doubt yourself. You will make mistakes, everyone does. But a mistake, even a big one, is not the end of your career or the opportunities available to you!
4. Most people will have no problem following a woman who is a successful and capable leader, particularly one with a vision that is compelling. And the people who do have a problem shouldn’t be part of your organization! If you encounter people who won’t be respectful, when there is a problem, calling out the elephant in the room is often the best approach. When I was recruiting the leadership team for DoBox, our first startup, I interviewed a lot of men, and I would always ask “How do you feel about working for a younger woman?” Well, the men who choked on that were obviously not comfortable with it. But one C-suite exec, who we DID hire, just looked at me curiously, and said that he thought the company looked like a good opportunity and I seemed like a capable leader. He was a star for us.
5. Don’t worry too much that some people may give you opportunities “because you are a woman” and some people will deny you opportunities “because you are a woman”, but accept the opportunities that come your way and just dig in and shine, don’t waste any energy worrying about why you got the job, that just undermines you! My first professional job was an internship at Exxon in the power systems section at a Texas refinery. I was the only woman on the team, and was only 19 years old! But I loved it and had a fantastic experience, although I did realize that I wanted to be in high tech, not power systems for my career. On the humorous side, I did have to wear a hard hat when on the refinery, which I still have!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Get comfortable with power and I don’t just mean organizational power — seriously Power is NOT a 4-letter word, and learn to use it wisely. Build your team, be accountable to them and for them and be ready to fight for your team in the midst of corporate nonsense. But don’t think you have be like a man to succeed. People will know if you really value them and if you are really on their side, helping them to be successful.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Great employees are compelled by great missions — so make sure that even if your organization doesn’t have a great mission (in which case you’re looking for something better, right?) your team has a great mission. Also, remember Jim Collins, one of my Stanford Professors and my mentor, who says to “get the right people on the bus and get the wrong people off the bus.” If you want a great team, you have to great at hiring, and at firing and that can be hard for new managers. That said, make sure you coach before you fire!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have had many incredible mentors, starting with the (male) professors at BYU’s College of Engineering and Technology and beyond. One mentor who has been important to me is my father, an experienced leader and global executive, who always supported me. He also once told me that in some cases people would give me opportunities because I was a woman, and in some cases people would deny me opportunities because I was a woman, but that it would all even out over time.
That relieved me from having to worry about why opportunities came my way, because sometimes women and minorities women fear it’s a token or a “gimme”. I just assumed I was good enough and set out to prove it. And, he’s been right, it has evened out over time. (and yes, there were people who couldn’t stand powerful women in my career, but I just worked around them!). My mother was a mentor in a different way. She is an incredible manager and can seriously get things done and I learned that skill from her.
Another mentor who really stands out is Jim Collins (https://www.jimcollins.com/), researcher, speaker, author and one of my Stanford professors. I had the opportunity to co-author a case study with him at Stanford (https://www.thecasecentre.org/main/products/view?id=102228) and also be an early reader for several of his books, which was an incredible experience. He told me I should write, so I try! But he also said that “easy reading makes for hard writing” and I always try and remember that!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try to give back as much as I can, which has included working in State government to foster advanced technologies to help grow opportunities for everyone in our State and everyone touched by those technologies. My husband and I have two wonderful daughters, both of whom are emerging scientists and they are the greatest gift we can give to the world! But we also try to help others by making the work that we do available to as wide a group as we can, serving on boards and with non-profits. Our vision is to help emerging entrepreneurs get the best return on their investment — their investment of effort, time, money, passion, vision and life — that they possibly can. That’s a pretty unique vision in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I do not believe that “anyone” can be an entrepreneur, because, well entrepreneurship is very difficult in some ways (lonely, intense, risky etc). And I do believe we all have different skills and aptitudes because it really does take all kinds to keep the world revolving!
But for those who ARE interested in being entrepreneurs, I really want entrepreneurs to be ready to Learn, Learn, Learn!!! Successful entrepreneurship takes a careful blend of confidence in your own vision and a willingness to learn like crazy so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel!!! There is to much to create in bringing your entrepreneurial dream to life that you just can’t try and recreate what’s already come before. So I would love the “Learning Entrepreneur” to become a movement — and we are doing our part to support those Learning Entrepreneurs by making so many resources available! So share the word!!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Look Reality Right in the Eyes. Then, and Only Then, can You Make Good Decisions”. This was advice from my father, a seasoned global executive, when we were in the middle of selling our first startup. Selling a company is intense, stressful and uncertain and this Life Lesson helped me stay focused and be clear about reality which ended in a successful acquisition.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Well, I keep trying to encourage Jim Collins to come speak to the entrepreneurial community in Utah, but we’ve never made it work! So I’d love to see that happen!