The Evolution of #HerSeat

“In terms of next seat, I don’t really look at it as the next seat. Everything that I’ve done, at least over the last four, five years, has really just been an evolution of my seat.” -Patty Sheikh
Seat @ the Table at SAP’s Innovation Center in New York

Last week, we hosted our second Seat @ the Table in partnership with SAP’s #PurposeGen Week in New York City to discuss UN’s Global Goal # 5: Gender Equality. Like our first event, Martina Lauchengco, Operating Partner at Costanoa, moderated our hallmark panel featuring four incredibly talented leaders at different levels of management as they shared stories and advice to inspire us.

The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity but are the panelists in their own words as they shared their stories. It was incredible to hear the difference in each panelists’ experiences and their experiences compared to our previous panel in San Francisco — from the differences in how female led companies operate versus a male led ones to if work cultures on the east coast differ from those on the west coast. The conversation was insightful and encouraging to anyone who is striving to reach their next seat at the table.

The phenomenal panelists featured were:

  • Maureen Sullivan, COO, Rent the Runway
  • Sarah Bernard, VP Product, Jet.com
  • Patty Sheikh, Director Global Enterprise Sales, LinkedIn
  • Adaora Asala, Senior Product Manager, Flywire

You can also watch the full discussion here.

Q: There has been so much in the news about the push for more gender equality for women in tech that there is now an official backlash — typified by things like MGTOW [MIG-tow] — Men Going Their Own Way. How do women simultaneously lean into greater responsibility and manage some inevitable backlash with grace?

Patty: I’ll share a little bit about what’s happening at LinkedIn related to this. Luckily, our management team has seen, and has focused on diversity including and belonging or what we call DIBS. The starting point is not that we should do this because it’s the right thing to do, which has generally been where a lot of folks have this in their head like, oh we know that diversity is important. We know that having women in senior leadership is important. But you get the backlash from the people who don’t agree to buy-in. They know it’s supposed to be important.

The re-focus is to say, you need this to win. You actually need this, you need diversity. You need women. You need the ideas. You need everything there in order to be successful. That’s really hard to argue against whether you’re a man, whether you’re a woman. If you’re a senior leader, you want to make sure that you are getting the maximum out of your employee base and you’re able to drive your business growth as much as possible. I think the study that McKinsey did actually prove that diversity in the workforce drives better results. I think that’s where it starts for me. That’s something that’s really hard to argue against. It actually is not just about women. It’s about diversity in general and to start with, do you want to actually achieve growth for your business is a lot harder to argue than something that feels a little bit softer, which tends to be where we were maybe a decade or so ago.

Patty discussing what LinkedIn calls DIBS: diversity, including and belonging.

Q: Do you feel like change is afoot, or have attitudes shifted?

Sarah: Yes, there’s awareness that has shifted, but I don’t think people have the answers of what to do about it once they have that kind of awareness. We’re starting to give examples of products that were developed with one mindset and how the products are actually flawed without having multiple points of view. Certainly as you get into machine learning and there’s an incredible amount of actual manual inputs that you put into the system. It’s data at the end of the day, but these inputs can be diverse or diverse and your system’s only as smart as the inputs that go there. We’re holding products up to show the teams that are doing this in a vacuum and how much better the products could be if they had a more diverse group that was looking at it.

It’s a real challenge especially when you have lack of leadership up at the top that doesn’t see it.

Sarah acknowledged shifting attitudes is a challenge when leadership at the top doesn’t see it.

Maureen: We’re in a very opposite position at Rent the Runway in that we are very female. We’ve been a diverse company since we were six people. It’s not a new initiative for us. They didn’t wake up and realize all of our customers are female, we should probably have that management team. It’s really in the DNA of the company, which is really interesting for me as, only been with the company for two years, to see how differently we operate because of that and all of the good things that I think come out of it. To your point, Patty, the business demands it in some ways. We can’t be great as a company unless, I don’t think we would have achieved anywhere near what we have at this point if we didn’t have that diversity built in from the start. Our executive team is 75% female. I think our executive team, which is super rare, there have been four babies born in the last year, which is also super, super rare. I worked at Google and AOL, super progressive companies, but my boss was the first maternity leave he had managed when I went out on maternity leave, which he had managed giant organizations, but a direct employee where you get the FML-annoying email from HR, he’s like, what’s this? I’m like, ugh.

I feel very fortunate. The reality is though too, you’re never done. Jen and I talked about this a lot this year when a lot of the Uber stuff was coming out of just like, when we reach that magic percentage … at 50% female, everything’s going to be great. Or, 50% … you’re not done. We’ve had incredible metrics from the very beginning and I still feel like we have room to grow and develop around all of these things. I think from leaders, it’s really on us to have a constant dialogue and self criticism on how we can be doing it better.

Q: Maureen, a specific question for you because most of us have not experienced the difference between a primarily female-run organization and ones that are more typically male. How has it felt different? What have you noticed compared to the Googles and AOLs?

Maureen: You know, I think that most normal human beings that we want to work with, if you asked them, do you prioritize family first? Everyone’s going to say that, right? But I think for dual working parents, or single family parents, what that means on a day to day basis is a lot more complex. There not enough money or outsourcing capability or amazing people in your life or family members, just stuff’s hard. Things come up. It doesn’t really matter who you are, it’s a lot harder when you don’t have that support-net of financial resources or family nearby.

For me, personally, to be amongst a group of executives that understand that first hand, not just say, oh family’s great, but someone else in my life kind of does all of that, and I know about it and we talk about it a lot, but it’s not on me when an eight AM meeting gets called and that screws up my childcare for the whole day. I think it’s the most pronominal career experience I’ve had because I feel like it’s such a trusted environment and I feel like I can be my most authentic self. I feel understood. I think at the end of the day, that’s what this topic is really all about. People want to feel valued and understood and they can be their most authentic self. It’s going to have an impact on the business, the customer experience and on their career. I think that’s the bigger human issue.

In the fringe stuff, I just had babies, I’m in la la land, but I was reading the Nellie Bowles article on this whole thing and it’s almost like I don’t even want to give that … I mean, there’s a fringe group for everything. There’s people that think, who knows, right? I just think that so many companies and organizations I see are really making progress and I don’t want to do anything that scares away that dialogue. Because I think that’s what it’s going to be about. It’s never going to be a check the box, we’re done. We’re onto the next problem. I think it’s going to be a constant battle. A constant gut check for organizations, just like anything else. As soon as you feel you master it, it’s going to flip its head again and you’re going to have to be constantly gut-checking it. I see this as something I will be working on as a leader for the rest of my career.

Maureen describing her experience at a female- led company, “Everyone understands family life first-hand.”

Q: Adaora, one of the reasons I wanted you on this panel is because you don’t work in the panacea environment. What’s that feel like and how do you manage and navigate your environment, especially the male/female dynamic and other challenges?

Adaora: I have experience working in a company where the founding CEO was female and a lot of the execs were female. In some respects, you could feel the DNA, the thoughtfulness that made itself into the way we scheduled meetings. The holidays we acknowledged. What we celebrated. You know, the birth of a child to an anniversary, it was just really, really thoughtful. It was warm. But there were other issues that came with the monolith and approach of defining our culture.

I’ve predominantly worked in spaces where people would describe them as male dominated. I’m used to it. I went to MIT. I’m used to being the only, insert whatever identity in the room. I think the experience, at least my current company, it’s been really interesting because I actually work for a company where people would describe as predominantly male. The executive team is a lot of guys, but they’re very family friendly and I wonder if it’s because of the stage that they’re in. It starts for me to unpack this, we make assumptions, I think about what issues people would care about. What values specific identity groups would bring to the workplace. We just had a 360, or sorry, a fulfillment sort of at the company and one of the things that I rated really highly was that this is very family friendly inclusive workplace at least in that dimension. The other dimensions, not so much, but it was really interesting given that the leadership is predominantly male.

And maybe it’s an exception, I don’t know. I tend to not have the 1:1 association with having female leadership means it’s going to be more family friendly, although I also can see it certainly would most of the time.

Similarly, I think what comes to mind for me as we were talking about all of it in the workplace and the utopia of having more women present, but for me, that’s just one dimension of my identity. Having being part of a company where there’s women everywhere would be great if there were women of color, even better. If they were LGBT or more diversity that reflects in my experience, I think we still have to introduce more dimensions into the conversation about diversity than I think currently happens when we’re talking about women in the workplace.

Adaora “I think we have to introduce more dimensions into the conversation about diversity than I think currently happens when we’re talking about women in the workplace.”

Q: Patty, you were mentioning that LinkedIn tries to do this systematically starts from the very top, and it’s how a lot of things happen. Do you feel like they’ve done anything in particular that makes the workplace feel more safe and inclusive so whatever you identify with, you’re a part of, you’re feeling like you’re safe?

Patty: Yes. I can say, we haven’t solved it. I do see a lot of progress in particular, as I mentioned, DIBS, diversity, inclusion and belonging. Maureen said, just checking the box of 50/50 is not going to get you there. It’s the inclusion and belonging that actually aligns really optimized. I think what we’ve, at least started to do well, is really embedding that conversation within the company. Our senior leadership talks about it a ton. We do have resource groups. Every company I’ve ever worked with, luckily, has had resource groups related to different types of minority groups. I’ve been very involved in a lot of them.

That’s just step one. I think it’s really about the conversations that we open. When I talk about inclusion and belonging, it’s about allowing people to feel like their authentic self. Coming to work and not feeling like you have to leave your personal side behind. Whatever situation you have, whether it’s the young kids as we do, or aging parents, or whatever is on your mind and your life that you can bring that authentic self to work. That you feel like you can do that and you’re supported. That’s when you actually maximize.

I think, to your question, what are you doing to make that happen? A lot of it is making sure that we have a common language within the company to allow people to very clearly say, one, it’s a priority. It’s ingrained and embedded that this is from the top down. But also that everyone feels the right to say something if they feel something is happening that doesn’t align with the cultures and values that were set out to have.

Q: Since a number of you brought this up, just a quick show of hands among those of us here on stage, who feels that they can bring their whole self to work?

[Patty, Sarah, and Maureen raise their hand.]
Who feels they can bring their whole self to work?

Adaora: No, seriously, there’s a lot of me to bring. I’m not from this country originally, so there’s, I’m a woman. I’m black, which is a specific type of woman. My partner is female. I don’t drink coffee. I drink tea.

It’s interesting. Because identity is just multidimensional. I can bring certain parts of myself to the workplace at specific moments. I always think about it in this, I’m in a blizzard and I’m from the tropics, so that’s a huge deal for me. I’m in a blizzard and one of those really, really horrible ones where’s there’s no snowballs. It’s not fun. It’s just like you want to get in somewhere. It’s really dark and you’re just kind of wading through. The wind is coming at all angles. You see a hut. There’s a light in it and you’re like, oh my god, shelter. You start to wade towards this hut. Someone opens the door and it’s like a bunch of women. Yes! I can finally rest here. I’ve found my people.

You’re taking off your coat and just as you’re about to sit down, someone says something insensitive or racist or homophobic and it the promise of comfort is now broken and so you’re just like, okay, I can’t stay here. I’m going to put on my coat and go back into the blizzard.

You go back out into the blizzard and you’re wading towards another hut or a house with shelter and you find, oh my god. People of color. Brown people. You go in and just as you’re about to sit down someone says something homophobic or et cetera, et cetera.

For me, it’s this constant going in and out of huts. Sometimes you get to the point where you’d rather just kind of wait against it on your own, honestly. We’ve had moments when I think a lot of people feel isolated and unsupported and you tend to just go at these segments of life on your own. Until you get tired enough to want to find comfort and to want to find a sense of belonging in another hut.

That’s what it feels like for me to navigate through the workplace. I’m constantly going in and out of huts. Then you start to learn not to get too comfortable. You hope for, and you know, events like this and initiatives that I’m a part of and I see people running and the woman who’s helping women who’ve just had birth or who’ve been out of the workforce return to the workplace, so really important programs like that with the promise of a hut that can have space for all of you. I think is what kind of keeps me going. But, that’s really why I don’t get to bring all of myself to the workplace. That’s utopia I would love to start to imagine.

Q: Sarah, I want to take this to you because I think you’ve probably been the manager longer than anyone else on this panel, so you’ve seen a lot of different generations of work style and management style. A lot of what we’re talking about here is somewhat new, like in the last decade. Do you feel like you’ve shifted your style as a manager? What does safety look like over that period of time?

Sarah: It’s hard to say. I started out my career with a lot of ambition and a lot of confidence and worked for a company that was pretty male dominated. We actually had a rotation and men did one less rotation than women to get to the next level. It was just sort of the way that it was, I thought that it was kind of rotten that it worked that way but …

Then I started working for women for ten years. Those experiences because I was young, I took for granted and I just thought I’ll always be noticed for my skills and it’s okay if I just persevere, people will notice. It really wasn’t until I was mid-career that I was on an executive team where I was one of two women, but a very aggressive male culture. I was sort of shocked that this was going on at all. Friends would be like, what are you talking about, this is Silicon Valley, but I had never really experienced it from that point of view because I had been working with women.

At that point, I did start to think about my own image and approach to problems with that boss in particular, he had to explain to me. You have to understand that you’re totally different. Nobody understands you. Your approach to things are just foreign to them. It was awful, like afterwards I thought, that’s ridiculous. But then, it was actually a great understanding to have when I went into negotiations or was trying to influence the outcome of something because I realized, oh I’m not thinking like they are and I’m coming at this from a completely different angle. If I can understand that, then I might change my argument for, or approach.

It also helped me when I was trying to promote other women in my next company. I realized that when somebody is promoted in a company, and this is not the right way, but often, bosses have to stick their neck out for them and put themselves on the line for the person, so women have to work harder if they’re different and foreign for the person to feel comfortable sticking their neck out. Just having that conversation with people that, it’s hard for you to stick your neck out for this person because you don’t know what exactly what they’re going to do. That’s the discomfort that we should all be feeling.

It’s made me more strategic, potentially. Hard advice though.

Sarah explaining “You have to understand you’re totally different. Nobody understands you.”

Q: First, have you guys had advocates? Who have they been? How did they find their way to you? Do you do something differently as a result of that advocate advocating on your behalf?

Maureen: Yes. I was really lucky. When I was at AOL, a fellow colleague is here with me, we launched a platform that was called MAKERS, which was basically profiling, game changing women. Women who had really been pioneers. Different things, not just the very high profile stories that you know or kind should know better. But we really tried to unearth kind of unknown stories that we were petrified weren’t going to be told. We did a documentary film that was really the documentary film on the modern American women’s movement. If you haven’t seen it, you should see it. We did six other documentary films. I feel like even the little interactions that I have with some of these people, I felt like were a boost of mentorship and advocacy.

Board members at my former company, when I had a male executive, a male boss for a long time was incredible advocate for me and stuck his neck out for em even though we had very different styles. As you were saying, I thought, god, he really did. I didn’t know what I was doing half the time. Yeah, I think that’s something to look for as a female in the company that you’re joining. What’s the DNA of the leaders? Are the men there the type that would do that? It’s a hard thing to screen for, but you know, you probably could if you had a couple rounds or a few conversations, you could probably get a sense of that advocacy.

Honestly, Jen, my CEO now is my number one advocate. That was part of what drew me to the company is I could sense that, in her, how much she believed in me even though maybe on paper, I wasn’t the perfect fit for the role of the company, she had a gut feel as I feel many founders, many of you in the room are founders or are aspire to be founders, that’s the magic of the founder/CEO is that they do read with kind of their gut in a lot of ways. I feel very much the beneficiary of that dynamic.

I go to work every day, literally that’s all I want to accomplish at work is as many, many people feeling like, whether they directly report to me or not, that I’m an advocate for them. I, kind of, not that I’m unwise, but I am at our company and old lady, which made me feel like I needed to be a little more wise since everyone thinks I’m 100 as our company is so young and great. I think, big picture, work is important and we love what we do. I love our customers, but that’s not going to matter as much in the end as, did I make an impact on people’s lives and help them. That, to me, that’s what I strive to be every day. I fail a lot. I think when you’re really in the throes of trying to operate and get stuff done from being you took a new job, kind of out of your comfort zone, it’s even harder because you’re trying to approve and achieve and you kind of can forget that stuff.

The reality is, you’re way more effective if you can do all those other things.

Maureen: “Part of what drew me to Rent the Runway is I could sense that, in Jen, how much she believed in me even though maybe on paper, I wasn’t the perfect fit…”

Sarah: I went through a phase where I was promoted when I was pregnant to my first exec team, role. Right after I had the baby, it was crazy.

I went through a phase of having just a ton of confidence in these women who were having babies while they reported to me. I just pulled strings to let them work whatever schedule they needed because I knew that they were so productive and efficient and they were awesome employees to start. I had a conversation recently with a woman in the Bay Area who’s Indian. She had a man working for her who was going through a very messy divorce and he needed to relocate to Sacramento and work from home. She went to HR, because she felt like she needed to follow the rules and do it all by the book. They would not let her do anything with his schedule because they have policy.

She couldn’t do anything for the guy. I realized even as a woman helping women, I come from a place of privilege that other people won’t necessarily get to pull strings with, typically people of color or even men of color who might not feel that they can break rules the way that we were breaking them to help people get ahead. It’s a tricky problem. I like knowing that as a manager, if I have people working for me who are in that position, I can give them permission for that. But, a lot of people don’t recognize that.

Patty: On your question of advocates, I have been very fortunate to have some great advocates who have definitely raised my name when great opportunities would come up. I’m very thankful for that. If I think about who those folks are, it’s a lot easier to build advocates with the folks that you work very directly for or directly with. I had a conversation with a colleague recently who’s trying to get to that next promotion. What I realized was that he did have an advocate because he worked really hard with one person. When we talk about sticking your neck out, who are you sticking your neck out against? It’s usually a group, or at least in this situation, it’s a group that needs to come to consensus about who’s going to get that next promotion. Everybody has their person, or their couple of folks.

One of the things that I shared with him that I’ll share with you guys is thinking about, not only the advocates that you can build in the direct, but how do you make sure you set that advocate up for success when they are putting your name out? How do you leverage some of the skills that potentially lean towards women and others. Relationship building, working really hard, how do you find yourself using those skills to at least build certain relationship so your name is not foreign when that advocate is putting your name out there. Communicate the things that you do to people outside of your direct advocate so that you can make your advocate as successful as possible. Make it feel like they don’t have to stick their neck out. They’re like, yeah, I’m totally their advocate and man, everybody gets excited when I say their name. The way that you can try to make life easier for your advocate, especially the ones that work directly with you, I think that helps you in that situation.

Adaora: It’s a tricky one because I’ve always had the intuition to build relationships outside of my immediate teams. I think it’s because early on in my career, I was unlucky for a couple of years. I keep getting these managers who are, either really young and inexperienced so I’ll just kind of not see my productivity and my passion and commitment to my work as something to leverage. They say it as something to shut down or hide because of this side. I think we’re just kind of really odd.

In trying to kind of understand new businesses, any time I join anyone as a consultant, any time I’d go into a new company, I’d really try getting the lay of the land and understanding how there’s the org chart and there’s stuff that’s on the table, but how do things really work? I’m fairly good at that.

I’ve always been able to build relationships outside of my teams. Outside of one, my favorite manager in the whole world, is this white guy named Paul and he was a huge advocate of mine and really, almost ran defense for I think just really weird dynamics that were happening in our company and in our team. I was the only woman on the sales team and I was doing really well and so I think that inspired some interesting interactions between myself and the other guys on the team. I think Paul saw that. He was, really encouraged, really firming up my work, gave me really good feedback, constructive and praise when it was deserved, and kind of blocked nonsense that would happen around me.

I always saw to leverage my direct manager relationships in that way. But, I think I look young too, so I don’t know if that’s contributed to the experiences and relationships I’ve had with most of my managers, but as I kind of advance in my career, I’ve started to not see my manager as someone to become my sponsor and my advocate. I almost see them as someone, I need to do work. I need to enable whatever vision or operationalize whatever they, whatever the mandate is. But then I see other people in the company as a way to create sponsors and advocates for myself.

It might not be the right thing, but I’ve been constrained, I think by the level of comfort by the kind of managers that I’ve had. They’ve not looked like me. They’ve not had the same experiences. There’s not an immediate affinity. I was at a panel two months ago and there was someone from Nigeria. She was a young woman. She was trying to go into tech and I was like, Oh my god. Of course, I was excited. I think that’s natural for people to do. I think sometimes, we’re like, oh find sponsors and to the exec leaders we’re like, find people to mentor, but they’re already doing that. They’re just doing that for people that look like them that they see themselves in. With myself, working in technology and having most of my managers be white men, I hope someone sees this one day and thinks, oh she was totally wrong, I was totally advocating for her, but I’ve seen them gravitate towards people that look like them and sound like them.

Even women. I’m a woman of color. You’re a white woman from the west coast. For me, I haven’t come across the manager who I think has the perspective and value of making sure that they’re, just kind of like what you shared, if I can be of service or support or leverage my privilege to support different people, I will. I just come across people who default mentor people who look like them.

I’ve always had to build relationships outside of my teams. That’s served me well because when people talk about my work or my name comes up, it’s usually met with positivity. Makes it super difficult, this is where I have had a manager that wasn’t advocating for me, it’s made my life super difficult to make my life any worse.

Adaora “It might not be the right thing, but I’ve been constrained, I think by the level of comfort by the kind of managers that I’ve had. They’ve not looked like me. They’ve not had the same experiences.”

Q: Is there a difference between the East Coast and the West Coast? Ann is bi-coastal and she said, “I believe that women on the east coast in tech feel more empowered than the women in Silicon Valley.” Do you notice a difference? Are women more empowered here?

Sarah: I think I came expecting that. One of the reasons why I was so excited about going to Jet.Com is, it was out of Silicon Valley and how awesome is that?

Yes, definitely. I think women they haven’t had the battle scars that people in the Bay Area have had, necessarily. But I also see the tech has not migrated fully here. The tech culture and I’m in products so, product development is a very specific practice and we’ve been learning it over the last ten years and it’s gotten very well defined in the last five years in the bay area. That hasn’t necessary come up here, so I was also looking at the product approach and the way that companies think about technology. There’s still a lot of companies here that call it the digital group. Whereas it’s your business now.

What did surprise me is that the bro culture, I’ve run into pockets of it that surprised me when I read into it. I think where it has been with companies that are still very VC reliant. It was really in the start-up world that I experienced the same sort of tenor that I saw in the Bay Area, more so than big companies. But, big companies are a little bit behind in tech.

Maureen: We’ve made a lot of progress since AOL/Netscape days. I mean, long ways to go. During my time there, there was a lot of older people that infiltrated into AOL obviously following Tim. Listen, I grew up in the Bay Area and I haven’t lived there in 13 years. I’ve always spent a ton of time near my family is all there.

You know, I think the gal who introduced us, she said it perfectly. Industry led versus tech and the diversity of industry in New York. I think really does have an impact on that. I think there’s also some industries in New York that have kind of gone through this in their own evolution the way that the tech industry is right now. I don’t think that they’re experts or that they don’t have any amazing lessons for us to glean from, but it does feed, like the finance industry had more of this kind of type of radical type of change of things that were happening on the trading floor ten years ago, you could be arrested today. I do feel like New York has a little more sophistication around this topic and it’s not just so, in this little bubble where all of this is reverberating off of.

I don’t know. That’s not an angle that I thought about too much to be honest.

Maureen “Industry led versus tech and the diversity of New York really does have an impact.”

Patty: I know as we’re headquartered in California, my team’s there, so I’m there quite often and one of the things that’s coming to mind as you guys are talking about it is the diversity of New York. You talk about the industry in this, right? So if you’re doing tech here, especially at that start-up level, if you’re building something new, the people you’re surrounded with every day do very different things. In Silicon Valley, there’s really great things about being there because primarily people are in tech things and I think that that infuses itself into the different tech industries that are brought up in each city.

Adaora: I was trying to think. There’s a question in my mind, as you finished, I was thinking, what is the experience of women working technology any different than between west coast, east coast, or outside of, I mean the question of geography, it’s like … America has, you could argue that this country is probably one of the most diverse countries in the world. And its variances of people in it, you hear about the NFL and people kneeling, you know the stuff following the Uber scandal, the experiences are just as extreme and painful to hear about. I don’t see that, and I quite primarily worked on the east coast, and my experiences there as a woman, as a woman of color, we just had a woman who moved to Boston recently and she coined this OpEd on Medium that pissed me off. I’m following the Uber scandals and all this stuff about VCs and how they’re mistreating women.

She wrote this thing that say, if you don’t like what’s happening in Silicon Valley, you should move to Boston because we don’t have that problem here. And I completely lost it. It was the first, I mean I’d been reading about this stuff and trying to kind of, because it’s just bad news all the time, so I’ve been trying to go about my day. I remember when I saw that OpEd, I just lost it. I was in my PJs working from home and I just completely lost it. Because, to me, I think there’s an absence of nuance in the conversation about how it’s different for women, does harassment start to wane. When we talk about different types of beauty and what people are attracted to. If you’re a conventional attractive woman, which in America today, you can start to imagine what that looks like, you see enough commercials.

It makes sense to me that you’re constantly being harassed by the guys who are just programmed that way. If you don’t look like that, your experience might be different. If you’re a younger woman, your experience might be different. If you’re an older woman, your experience might be different. Geography, if there are men where you are, I don’t think that experience of being harassed is different. I think it’s more a function of kind of, and I hate to pivot this about who’s conventionally attractive or not, but that is a conversation that I think is missing some nuance.

We talk about East coast vs west coast, I’m like, there are men in both places. It’s messed up for everybody.

Q: One of the reasons why we call this Seat @ The Table is that it’s about everyone’s progress however they define it. What is the next Seat @ The Table for each of you and is there something in particular you’re doing to get there?

Maureen: I love my seat. This is the best job I’ve had in my career so far. We’re in the very beginning and there is so much to do. I’m perfectly happy with that seat.

I would say, I think for me personally, and I mentioned this a little bit earlier kind of being one of the older people at my company, I do feel busy, it’s always an excuse not to make enough time to give back or do something. I’m on a board of a non-profit, but it’s kind of BS. I feel like I have to be doing so much more, which is almost a crazy thing to say as someone who … my husband would be screaming if he heard me say that right now because we have three kids under the age of four and a half.

I know myself. There’s never going to be enough time. There’s always going to be a million career things, so that for me right now is kind of at the top of my list. Just figuring … making sure that’s not on the back burner and I don’t wait until certain stage of life to think that I’m qualified or have enough time. That’s kind of something that’s been on my to-do list and I hope I get done. Something more active. More actively giving back, not just an advisory role.

Sarah: Well, I just joined the board of Women in Product and it’s a brand new group, but I’m excited because they’re proving their place in tech with events that are about products. It’s not about how to do product, or what kind of organizational structure they need, it’s literally machine learning, analytics, we did one last week about computer vision. I feel like in Jet and Walmart, who’s our parent company now, it just lifted this lid off of enthusiasm with women. I’m definitely going to do that.

Those of us that are senior in product are having conversations about where does that role go? I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that because there’s not a direct path out of product necessarily. Some people become COOs, some people join venture capitalist companies and other will pursue CEO roles. I’m pretty happy with product because it’s diverse and unique. I’m starting to think about board positions.

Patty: We were chatting earlier about sort of sales strategy and operations has a lot of diversity within it. So far I have not found myself bored in any way. In terms of next seat, I don’t really look at it as the next seat. Everything that I’ve done, at least over the last four, five years, has really just been an evolution of my seat. It just gets some pillows and then it shifts. Then maybe I’ve got a recliner.

For me, I don’t see it so much as like, there’s that role that I want. It’s more about, there are certain things that I feel I have more or less exposure to and how do I make sure I continue to learn and learn all the pieces that I’ve had a lot of exposure to that will make me a better professional and better leader both from a content perspective as well as management teams.

Right now, a year into managing teams around the world and so, exercising that muscle. Still figuring out how to do that most effectively. As long as I keep filling those spaces that I crave to learn to make myself a better professional, what the seat really looks like, I’m not so fussed about.

Adaora: I’ve never really sought a single seat at the table. My career has almost had two parts. There’s a ton of stuff that I do outside of work: facilitating conversations about leadership, diversity and how to connect people doing really interesting work to the companies and the leaders that are committed to seeing our industry evolve.

As I continue to do that and thinking about seat at the table, for me it’s less about what happens during the day for me and more so what I’m able to enable for other people. There’s just not enough, I always refer to Paul, like white guy that was the best boss I ever had, there’s just not enough of him. If there are, we haven’t identified where they are. We haven’t activated them yet. We haven’t missioned them. For me, focusing my efforts on initiatives, programs, interventions to identify the allies, the sponsors, the people in the middle who are great managers who are thoughtful and already kind of doing it within their spheres, but could use some more actionable insight to be more impactful to the lives of people who are typically not invited to the table, that for me, I think is rewarding and how I’d like to spend the rest of my career.

Special thank you to our partners SAP Next Gen and Sapphire Ventures!

Rewatch the full discussion here:


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Photography Credit: Matthew Enbar