The Work is Everyone’s: What I Learned from Seat @ the Table

Allison Lewis, Tracy Young, Nick Mehta and Emily Chang were among the speakers that wowed everyone. Photo Credit: William Mackie http://www.wmackieproductions.com/.

My body woke up this morning at 5:00 a.m. abuzz with the energy I got from last night’s Seat @ the Table. More than 300 people crowded into LinkedIn’s beautiful headquarters to talk about the facts and actions we can take to make tech more inclusive and diverse, especially for women. There were so many insights from our incredible speakers, it’s worth reading the full transcript when it becomes available. In the meantime, for me as host and moderator, here were some of the biggest themes I took away.

The work is everyone’s. We kicked the evening off getting to know our audience. It was mostly women, lots of individual contributors, ~10% first-line managers, a healthy number of directors, VPs or C-level executives and a decent number of Marvel universe fans :-) When I asked if the audience had ever felt the negative impact of a common Silicon Valley bias, nearly everyone stood up. But the important point here — emphasized by all of our speakers — is that this shows making tech more inclusive is everyone’s work. We all have biases, which means everyone plays a part in both the problem as well as the solution. Doing this work is hard but necessary, especially for leaders. And if the tech workforce is disproportionately male, then this work is disproportionately mens’ to do.

The data is sobering. McKinsey analyzed high performing companies — defined as having operating margins and market capitalizations twice as high as lower performing companies — and found that higher performance correlated to a critical mass of three or more women on the management committee. Yet Rachel Thomas, President of of Lean In, shared that in the Women in the Workplace study, when just 10% of companies’ leadership is female, 30% of women and 50% of men think their company has done enough. The other aha was around the concept of the “Frozen Middle” — the top of the organization believes change is important as do individuals but the managers in the middle are ‘frozen.’ They aren’t held accountable for change nor is the data shared with them to help them work toward change.

Being human matters most. It’s easy to lose sight of this in the broader conversation, but being more inclusive should be more than a moral or business imperative or that someone has daughters. It should be as simple as being good humans and nice to one another, reminded Emily Chang, Brotopia author. We should lead with our humanity and treat each other with basic respect and kindness every day. Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight, explained being ‘Human First’ is how he is building Gainsight.

Don’t forget passion! Tracy Young, CEO of PlanGrid, told a touching story about how losing one of her co-founders and best friends in her 20’s shaped that she only does what makes her happy. Life is too short to do otherwise. Allison Lewis, Group Manager at LinkedIn, shared it’s how she wound up in marketing research and found a career she loves. Being passionate about what you do also helps others advocate on your behalf.

Take small steps — we all have a responsibility. From sharing metrics with middle management to being more compassionate in responding to someone’s angry email to asking a quiet team member to speak up in a meeting, it is the collection of little things we do that add up to forward progress. Nick told the story of how even something as small as having over-the-ear wireless microphones for speakers at their recent annual 5,000+ customer event made women feel supported with intention. But at the very least, remember that we are all setting examples for the generation that follows us.

There was so much more than what I’m writing here. We’ll share the full transcripts and videos as soon as they are available as well as Lean In’s research. Most importantly, please share this with others so we can all start to create the change we seek!