Making the C-Suite More Human
I grew up in Bell Labs and AT&T, blessed with incredible bosses and mentors. Because of their recognition and support, my career, influence and impact took off rapidly. So, when I was asked to be on a special project (the kind that are special and not parking lots for people you want to fire but don’t have the guts to) in the Office of the President, I was very honored and flattered. Then reality hit.
For 18 months in top echelons, more of my time was spent doing PowerPoint decks in formats prescribed by multi-million dollar consultants who knew nothing about this new business, the Internet, building the team, architecture, network and services. Granted, this was a new space and educating the executives was required, even though having grown up with the “Internet” it was familiar and intuitive to my colleagues and me. But, I wanted to ‘do’ – to get started, to put some experiments together, learn, apply and iterate – the Bell Labs (Lean Startup) way, not the corporate way. Eventually, we got approval and were off to create our new business! And that’s when reality hit.
It wasn’t an issue of gender; it was an issue of humanness.
As I was getting ready to go and make this new service real, I was asked to stay in the president’s office. Most people would grab the opportunity. I wanted out and I wanted out fast. When I thanked them and said no, they seemed shocked! I said no because there were no role models. Which they immediately interpreted as no women, and that was why I should stay. But they missed the point – a key point for women as they reach the top – I didn’t want to be like them! None of them were people I wanted as a friend or family member. It wasn’t an issue of gender; it was an issue of humanness. And that’s when reality hit again.
I chose not to be promoted and hang out in the C-suite. I wasn’t willing to make the compromises necessary – not to my family, my friends, my principles and personal goals. Now, you can say that I should have because that’s how we make change and you have a good point. But one thing none of us get more of, is time. To me, my ‘work’ life is a time-impact trade-off, for the short, medium and long term, where impact is defined by how I am making the world better, tangibly and intangibly. At the time, I could have a far greater impact by creating this new service than by doing PowerPoint’s and playing golf (ok, that’s simplistic but you get the point). I opted out; I leaned out, and I’m so very glad I did.
impact is defined by how I am making the world better, tangibly and intangibly
If corporations don’t start allowing people to be themselves, men and women, to recognize the need for multi-dimensional human beings, then they will not be able to sustain success. Innovation and growth come from seeing, hearing, creating new and different perspectives – which means people with diverse backgrounds, ages, experiences, languages, ideas, and yes, genders. This is how we really understand customers’ needs, from their perspective, not our own, so we can create solutions for them, in their world, with their constraints and opportunities. To succeed in the 21st Century means a company must create money, meaning, profit and purpose.
This starts by making the C-suite a more human place for women – who may want to be moms, wives, friends, daughters, sisters. If we are able to do that, then we may actually be able to do that for men too – who may want to be dads, husbands, friends, sons and brothers. Until then, I believe we will continue to see the increasing demise those companies that can’t embrace the change – because they simply won’t be able to innovate and provide real solutions. We will see the rise of more nimble, agile, human-friendly enterprises that can. Is that good? I don’t know. It all boils down to priorities.