Seat @ the Table 2019 Highlights

From L to R: Martina Lauchengco from Costanoa Ventures, Nancy Douyon from Uber, Ariel Cohen from TripActions, Chris Louie from LinkedIn, and Keri Gohman from Xero. Photo Credit:

There is always something truly inspiring about the energy at Seat @ the Table. Perhaps it’s being in a room full of people who share a mission or that our speakers routinely make us laugh and think. Last night was no exception as Ariel, Chris, Christina, Keri, Nancy, and Rachel lit up the evening with data and stories that pushed us on how we can all do more to create the equitable world we seek.

Here were some of my highlights.

Live the Values You Seek

This came up again and again. It’s the difference between talking the talk versus walking the walk. While we all know showing by example is more impactful than laying down the law, each of our panelists highlighted how they practice this to great effect.

Ariel’s company, TripActions, is growing extremely fast — 5–6x a year. They have more women in leadership (as a percentage) than they do women employees (>50%). It wasn’t because they mandated diverse slates, it just happened as a result of how they started. When we were walking to dinner Ariel reflected, “We were moving so fast, we had to bet on everyone’s potential.” So diverse teams can happen organically, but it requires a culture where the perception of potential is equitably applied.

Nancy regaled us with tales on how she fearlessly used constrained resources at Google as a way of testing theories on product adoption in remote areas of Africa. When asked about her high expenses (the wrong question) she reframed the conversation around company strategy and avoidance of a major reputational brand mistake if she hadn’t done her research. She asserted the business principles she was fighting for and eventually earned special recognition for her once questioned efforts.

Shift Conversations from Diversity & Inclusion to Belonging in High Performing Teams

Chris works with hiring managers every day. Partly inspired to ensure no one ever feels like he did as a ‘quota’ mandate back when he was at Lucent, he grounds his conversations on bringing in talent first and foremost to meet business objectives and values. How will this person add to your team’s ability to think of new ideas? Will your candidates exhibit the values you seek to promote as a team? The conversations start here before moving to things like experience and skill and naturally build the foundation for a more diverse slate of candidates.

Keri shared how despite being an extremely effective leader, she had some sharp edges — in the boundaries she drew around her personal and professional life and in the standards she held herself to. She spent a lot of energy projecting perfectionism that she thought was why she was successful. But when a senior executive reminded her, “You know, we are friends,” it began a journey of her letting her whole self come to work. She let her and others’ personal life be a part of who was at work. They hung out. She stopped trying to have every answer. She would make a point of leaving by 5:00 p.m. so everyone would go home. And suddenly, her team loved her so much more, they pushed their teams do even better, and everyone contributed more because there was space to feel like it made a difference. By letting go, she made her managers feel a greater sense of belonging and her teams — and she — improved performance so dramatically, it’s totally changed her as a leader.

Mind the Small S#!t

We dealt out “Deal Me In” cards which had specific tips for how to create more equitable workplaces. I read mine out loud (see above) because it’s one I know our firm could do better at. I had so many people come up to me after the event and ask for a copy of this exact card because it was such a frequent occurrence, including Christina, who sits on LinkedIn’s executive staff and was just asked to take notes this week, and a Sports Medicine doctor who shared people often ask her because they just assume she’s a nurse or trainee.

Rachel’s data from the LeanIn.Org Women in the Workplace Report talked about how most women eventually consider leaving their employers because of a “death by a thousand cuts” — the microaggressions that are easy enough to get past on a day-to-day basis but eventually make us question if we’re in the right place. No one can prevent or protect against every microaggression but by raising everyone’s awareness around bias or politely suggesting a more equitable alternative, we help people learn how to do better next time.

And for the Moments When You Feel Like an Imposter

We asked the room of more than 200 how many feel like they are an imposter. Most of the room stood up, including many of the most senior and experienced leaders. It was a great reminder for everyone to remember how many people share this feeling. If you’re one of those who feel like an imposter, you’re not one, you’re simply human. And if you’re lucky enough to not feel that way, realize that the words you say and actions you take can have a dramatic effect on how someone feels about themselves.

Christina Hall from LinkedIn

Christina shared her story of how the executive chairman of Intuit — who she didn’t know well before she sent him an email — not only immediately took time to encourage her to apply for the CPO position at LinkedIn, but he then called the CEO of LinkedIn after their chat to advocate on her behalf.

That’s advocacy and bravery in action, two important lessons I hope we all take away from the night. The evening is always a reminder of how simple actions can make a big difference. And if you’re moved to take action yourself, here’s a follow-up workshop on how to be an effective ally to try:

Let’s all keep making change happen!

View all pictures from the evening here.