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Women@Inflection: PBWC Conference


As part of Women@Inflection, we recently had the opportunity to attend the Professional Business Women of California’s 25th Anniversary Conference. Women@Inflection is a community within the company focusing on improving the opportunities for its employees and providing resources for women at Inflection. Similarly, PBWC provides opportunities for skill development and networking as well as encouragement for women at all levels to achieve their ambitions and work toward gender equity in professional settings. The PBWC Conference gave us a chance to hear from some of the most inspiring women and men in the world. These amazing speakers included Leymah Gbowee, Boyd Varty, Sallie Krawcheck, Leeza Gibbons, Carolyn Buck Luce, and Congresswoman Jackie Speier. We are bringing our learnings back to Inflection and sharing them with you in hopes that they spark some inspiration for your own professional development and corporate diversity initiatives. Here are some of our favorite lessons from PBWC 2015:

Why Are Organizations Like Women@Inflection and PBWC Necessary?

As the opening keynote session explained, there is still a lot of work to do to achieve gender equality in the workplace. This is especially true in our own community. In Silicon Valley, men earn 40-73% more than women with the same level of education. Furthermore, only 14 of California’s top 400 companies have female CEOs; a quarter of these companies don’t even have women on their boards. However, only 17% of professional women aspire to be leaders in their field because they tend to think the costs outweigh the benefits. That means representation from nearly half of the population is left out of influential decision making at top companies. It also shows that there are underlying issues that have made it unappealing for women to even pursue positions of leadership. The good news is that these issues are now in the public light and companies, such as Inflection, are actively working towards a more equal workplace. Investing in organizations like Women@Inflection is an incredibly important step in providing the resources and support needed for women to advance in their careers. In order for these internal organizations to be successful, there needs to be support from the overall company and executives.

Sallie Krawcheck’s 5 Pieces of Advice for Women in Business

Sallie Krawcheck is the Chair of Ellevate, a global professional women’s network that has invested in 400 top-rated companies around the world for advancing the roles of women. Prior to starting Ellevate, she was the president of Global Wealth & Investment Management for Bank of America and the chief executive officer and chairman for Citi Global Wealth Management. Sallie shared her top five pieces of advice for women that she learned throughout her career as one of the most senior women on Wall Street.

  1. Say “yes” – Always raise your hand for new opportunities.
  2. A woman’s biggest asset is herself - Invest in yourself and always negotiate for yourself when you have the opportunity to ask for a raise. What happens if you don’t? It can set you back because men tend to negotiate from their very first job.
  3. Your network matters - Who you know is what you know. Your next business opportunity is more likely to come from your looser connections than close friends. It’s important to find a sponsor who fights for you when it comes to making decisions about hiring and promotions.
  4. The intersection of women and power can be enormously powerful - Women have the power to impact change. The number one reason women take a job is for meaning and purpose. In fact, 90% of women want to have a social impact. By pairing passion for social change with capital, women can contribute to drastic changes by investing in companies that align with their values.
  5. Resilience is the secret to success – Hard work is not the only key to being successful. Resilience is equally important, and perspective is the secret to resilience. Always remember that your worst day is equivalent to someone else’s best day.

Boyd Varty: Ubuntu Africa’s Most Important Teaching

Boyd Varty grew up on a safari in South Africa. His home was where Nelson Mandela was sent to rest and recover after his 27 years in prison. However, the lessons he learned from Mandela were just a small piece of the amazing experiences he had growing up in the African bush. Spending most of his life surrounded by wildlife, he aspired to be an explorer and apprenticed with a renowned tracker from the Shangaan tribe. Varty explained to us the idea of “inner tracking” is to help build a deeper connection to not just each other, but to the world. He does this by using African storytelling to describe the idea of Ubuntu, which means, “I am because of you.”

As Varty explains, humans are made up of two parts. There is the Essential Self, which is our DNA, true nature, and our sense of purpose. Then there is the Social Self, which is so overly developed it often overtakes the Essential Self. Therefore, we have to learn to reconnect with the Essential Self by cutting away our social conditioning. As an exercise to demonstrate this, Varty had us turn to the person next to us to introduce ourselves and get to know each other. However, we couldn’t use any of the following: name, age, marital status, occupation, education, where we live, or our position in our family. Obviously at a business conference this was pretty difficult. However, what we learned was that by cutting out all of those topics, we got to know each other at a deeper level much quicker.

The second lesson that Varty taught us is that humans are the only species to constantly override our body compass. Our body compass is the way we use our internal emotions to guide us in our decision making. Varty used the example of waiting to get into an elevator; the elevator arrives, the person already in the elevator makes us feel uncomfortable, but we get in anyways. In the animal world, this instinct of un-comfortability is incredibly important to survival, but as humans, we’ve been conditioned to ignore it. Varty taught us how to get in touch with our own body compass and follow it moment to moment. Try this exercise for yourself - sit down with your feet firmly on the ground, think of one of your best memories, see what reaction you notice within your body, then put a name to this feeling so you can recognize it in the future. Now do the same thing again, but think of one of your worst memories. How do you know if your body is actually warning you against a bad decision or if its anxiety to try something new? Varty showed us the “Arm Thingy,” where you hold your arm up and someone pushes down on it while you say one thing that is true and one that is false. Your arm will be stronger when you say the thing that is true.

To learn more about this, check out Boyd Varty’s book, Cathedral of the Wild.

Do you see a frog or a horse?
Do you see a frog or a horse?

Marilyn Tam: The Happiness Choice

Marilyn left her abusive home life in China where she worked as a child laborer, moved to the U.S. by herself, and worked to put herself through college. She has held positions as the president of Nike and the vice president of Reebok, where she helped reform the use of child labor. She now shares her personal experience to help others. Tam believes that there are five decisions that will take you from where you are to where you want to be, and that you can take happiness into your own hands.

How can you choose happiness? Tam believes there are five decisions we constantly make that impact happiness. These include decisions about money, body, relationships, spiritual life, and community. A person is happiest, healthiest, and most successful when they are making a difference, taking care of themselves (physically, mentally, and spiritually), and have loving relationships. However, this all starts with figuring out your life’s purpose. Whether or not you are engaged and passionate in the work you do can affect each of these decisions. Here are five questions Tam suggests to help us find our life’s purpose:

  1. What makes you feel fulfilled?
  2. What makes you feel happy and at peace?
  3. What would you like to be remembered for?
  4. Is your work fulfilling your life purpose?
  5. Are you committed to participating in contributing to your company’s mission?

What do you do once you figure out your life’s purpose? Tam says that we already have the assets we need to achieve our dreams. We simply have to leverage what we have to make our dreams a reality. Research and make your goal(s) actionable by determining what steps are required to achieve them. You can accomplish your dreams by making decisions that align with your principles. Every time you are making a decision that impacts your goals, follow these four steps:

  1. Assess the situation.
  2. Ask questions - Is this in line with my life purpose? Am I prepared to take the risks for this? Where do I get the resources and support? How long is this going to take and am I prepared if it takes longer?
  3. Be flexible while you keep sight of your goal.
  4. Enjoy and learn from the process.

To learn more about this, check out Marilyn Tam’s book, The Happiness Choice.

Creating a Culture that Encourages Diversity

We closed out the day with a Power Panel to discuss the important of creating a diverse culture in the workplace. It included a very open conversation about the effects of inherent biases in the workplace and how many of us don’t even realize it. However, to build a company that incorporates diversity, it’s essential to be aware of these biases and how they may impact employees. One of the best quotes from the discussion was, “culture eats strategy for lunch,” meaning you can implement a strategy to increase diversity in your company, but if your culture does not encourage diversity, then your strategy will fail. At Inflection, we are incredibly proud that we have built a culture like this. We value diversity in all forms, maintain transparency at all levels, and promote an open dialogue. We encourage discussions about how to continually improve our diversity within our organization because we are aware that these biases exist. As the panel shared, “the world is too competitive and too disruptive to not take advantage of all talent.” If you’re interested in finding out your own biases, try out Project Implicit Social Attitudes, funded by Harvard University. We recommend sharing it within your own company to create a more transparent conversation about diversity and biases. We can all work together to move each other forward by investing in ourselves, investing in others, and creating a workplace that fosters diversity.

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TAGS: event, events, learning and development, professional development, team, women, women's initiative