Job Title: Founder and CEO, Weeva
Years working in the tech industry: Unavailable
Company website: http://weeva.com
On Weeva, and the company mission:
Weeva helps people collect and preserve shared experience. We have an online collaborative platform that makes it easy and fun for people to work together to collect their favorite memories and photos around a person, place or topic that they feel passionately about. Once all of the stories are collected, the Weeva team turns them into beautiful coffee table books that people cherish.
We work with all sorts of clients on a large variety of projects. We’ve created everything from school yearbooks, to family cookbooks, to life celebration books to company culture books.
Due credit — on working for companies with a history of progressive gender values:
I have been privileged to work for companies such as IBM and LendingTree that valued female employees. IBM had a long-standing value of respect for the individual and they aggressively promoted women. Ginny Rometti is their current CEO, the first in the company’s history and one of the few women to run a Fortune 100 company. I always felt that IBM was focused on getting the job done, and I rarely felt that gender was an issue for me. I was more likely to encounter it in working with customers. I worked mostly in IBM’s transportation, retail and financial services sectors, all of which were male-dominated at the time.
LendingTree was a very young company when I worked there and our main focus was on serving customers and delivering the brand promise. The company hired plenty of women in important roles, and valued and respected their contributions. We had an excellent executive team that worked well together. Again, gender was rarely an issue.
There have been women such as Jan Ryan who have provided mentoring, but in my case, most mentors have been male. I’ve been fortunate to have people in my life — both men and women — who want to help Weeva succeed. Mentors play a large variety of roles, ranging from cheerleader to opening doors, to helping with strategic decision-making. All of these can be important at different times, and you have to know who can best provide the type of support you need for the given situation.
On calling out inappropriate behaviour:
Where I’ve most strongly experienced issues is in simple communications — men will more often interrupt or talk over women. They might not acknowledge a good idea unless or until a man happens to say the same thing some time later. This used to happen in grad school, and for a long time it left me wondering if I was not articulate enough in expressing my ideas, or perhaps I introduced them too quickly into the conversation. I now know that this is a very common experience amongst women. If it happens these days, I will very likely call it out.
On creating gender balance:
We need to be careful not to make men the enemy. A few bad actors shouldn’t be able to color the whole group. At the same time, we need to recognize that hidden bias is just that — hidden. It happens to both men and women and people can’t deal with what they can’t perceive. Part of the challenge is making it ok to uncover and talk about the bias, and in that conversation find constructive ways to resolve it. Men and women will move forward together, or we’ll end up with the opposite imbalance.
On the challenges of women founders fundraising:
Yes, this is an area that is challenging for women and minorities, but it is a challenging arena for everyone, white men included. What makes it harder for women, is that investors pride themselves on pattern matching, and unfortunately that can extend to the person pitching. They are used to seeing young, aggressive white males, and that is a comfortable pattern for them. People — women, minorities, older — who don’t fit the pattern are easier to reject. I know female founders who could not get funding until they got male co-founders, whom they secured for just that purpose; they insist it was the decisive factor. Who can say?
I used to handle M&A for LendingTree, and you are constantly looking for reasons to sort between the very large “no” and the very small “yes” pile. People are always going to feel more comfortable with people more similar to themselves and who adhere to the patterns that have made them successful in the past. Investors will readily tell you that they make decisions based on the quality of the people and team — how does one decide that? I’ve had M&A colleagues who’ve never managed or built anything tell me that a management team that’s built a $100M business is not good enough. Really? What’s their criteria? It’s a gut thing, a pattern matching thing, and their experience is often not diverse or inclusive enough to recognize the merit in businesses that don’t match the dominant pattern. For many, the bias is hidden vs malicious.
On the bias against female-facing innovation:
The other issue is that women may perceive unmet needs and opportunities that serve other women; men might not be able to relate to the importance of these insights and therefore the power of the business idea simply because they don’t encounter them directly. Great ideas might not get funded because male investors can’t relate to the concept.
On mentoring young women, and the problem with ‘perfection’:
A persistent issue is that women can be perfectionists, wanting to have something 100% buttoned up before moving forward with a plan or idea. This can cause them to be slow and cautious. We work a lot on ‘don’t let perfect be the enemy of very good.’ It’s better to move forward and get the benefit of experience than to wait for perfect.
The moment at hand — on optimism at the changes within the culture:
Yes. The fact that the Access Hollywood tapes reveal the “typical locker room talk” of at least some men, and the #MeToo movement has made it perfectly clear that women’s individual experience is actually the collective experience makes change possible. Now that it’s not strictly personal, but cultural, it’s far easier to deal with. Women AND men can see the bias and double standards more easily, and now that we can see it, we can deal with it.
Also, younger generations, have lived in a world with relatively more gender equality from the start. They think it’s normal. As they move through their careers, I expect there will be more gender balance.
On how women can continue to effect change in industry gender politics:
Make allies of men; point out hidden biases in a constructive way; hold everyone accountable for honest, candid, respectful and productive conversations that accelerate the achievement of valued goals.
On one book that every Founder, CEO and Senior Executive in America should read:
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. This is a very important book for both men and women seeking to find their greatness.
On the project title, Women Who Tech Are Dangerous:
Not sure about “dangerous” — are we? Determined, yes; Enterprising, yes; Irrepressible, yes; Striding ahead, Shattering barriers, Powerful, Formidable, all seem stronger to me.