Two books and a movie were the highlight of this long MLK weekend. The common theme – ladies in business whose grit and determination can inspire anyone of any gender, age, race, political belief.
First, a couple of personal perspectives on opportunities. I was born and raised in a refugee camp, with all the stigma that goes with that. I spent years in a highly religious Islamic country even though I was advised it was not smart to take an assignment there as a non-Muslim. I have been to 70 countries and felt subtle and not-so-subtle digs. Bias and discrimination are everywhere.
But somebody told me early in life if you let these things bother you, they will eat you up. Navigate around them. So, even today I admire others who similarly navigate the cruel world. Sex, color, age, height, anything to make you feel different. You cannot change it, just smile and navigate around it.
Secondly, in researching my recent book, Silicon Collar, I found growing number of people with second, third, later acts in their careers. The job economy has become a series of concentric circles. The F500 only directly hires 10% of our civilian work force. But many more are hired at their first and second tier suppliers, in their services firms, in their franchises, on their platforms. Once you leave the corporate world there are plenty of opportunities in government and non-profits. In venture and start-up world. In the consumer world, there are small businesses our parents would have never heard of – in alternative healthcare, ethnic food, coaches and artisans of every stripe. We may not have the lifetime employment of our parents but we have exponentially more choice. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks over 800 occupations, and the book showed how new categories are emerging at a rapid pace with technology impact on work.
In my dealings with thousands of executives, I have also come to this conclusion: When they discriminate they give their competition an advantage by narrowing their own talent pool. Bigots tend to hurt their own businesses.
So, the opportunities for all of us are actually much much larger than we realize. Spend more time understanding this wide but confusing opportunity economy than fretting about bias.
The two books I read, Jumping the Queue by Michelle A Turman and Disruptersby Dr. Patti Fletcher come at bias and navigating around it from very different vantage points. Turman’s is more local, more in the nonprofit and small business realm. Fletcher’s is more global and covers a wide swatch of STEM areas – enterprise software, health technology, venture capital. Fletcher also has more data on bias in the boardroom and in the executive suite. But the books are not whiny. They show how to use mentors and how to fight for your corner.
Both have plenty of examples of condescending male bosses, relatives and colleagues. They shed light on two different concentric circles of the job economy I mention above. I found Turman’s book especially fascinating because she describes her own first, second and later acts – including being the youngest woman to dive the Titanic and the youngest female art director in Florida – and she is only now getting started. Fletcher draws from her wider network and profiles Sophie Vandebrook and her trajectory at Xerox, Liz Walker the first black TV anchor in Boston and Anula Jayasurika who graduated from Harvard’s joint MD/PhD program then chose to go into venture capital, not academic medicine – a major “betrayal” to the medical profession as she humorously calls it.
Over and over again you get the sense we are not in Kansas anymore
“Don’t say you want to empower me. You don’t own my power. I don’t need your permission to do what I want with it. You cannot get what is already mine. I’m already empowered.
I can say that; my grandmother couldn’t.”
“Years ago, the trajectory was: Work somewhere for a minimum of five years. Get the experience, then move on to somewhere else. That five-year minimum was because you wanted it on your resume.
Millennials do not think that way.”
Both authors are incredibly brave and share very painful personal experiences, and highs and lows in their careers (in contrast, my six books have shared only tiny details about my own journey). That’s what make them so readable. I also loved that both books are chalk-a-block with inspiring quotes – from the interviewees, Maya Angelou, Steve Jobs and even one from one of my favorite Styx numbers, “Come Sail Away”.
BTW I have had the honor to meet both authors. Michelle is married to Eric who I worked with at Gartner. Patti is omnipresent at SAP events. The next lady I describe I have a bit more of an obscure connection with.
I also saw the movie The Post. The two main characters – Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks) as editor of the Washington Post and Katharine Graham (played by Meryl Streep) as the publisher grapple with responsibilities and risks of running extracts from the Pentagon Papers, classified documents about US involvement in the Vietnam War.
No disrespect to Hanks, but the Streep character to me was way more poignant. Graham took over the paper following the suicide of her husband, who had succeeded her father. Sound familiar – the son-in-law got priority for the job over the daughter who had already been working there for years? The movie shows her balancing act with family and social commitments and the business. Shows her mentors and condescending board members who still don’t think she deserves to be the boss. It vividly shows the tensions she balanced.
I wrote about the Post in my book, The New Technology Elite. I interviewed Don, Katharine’s son. I could feel her spirit continue in the much more digital version that Jeff Bezos of Amazon then bought in 2015.
In one of the final scenes in the movie, the Supreme Court rules in favor of the New York Times and the Post. Executives from the Times come out and address the media. Graham instead walks into a crowd of young ladies who silently look at her in admiration. Go see the movie if only for the scene. It is director Steven Spielberg at his best.
So quite a weekend with so many inspiring ladies. And you don’t have to be female to enjoy these books/movie and benefit from them. It’s about ignoring all the bias around us and marching toward your own true north.
(Cross-posted @ Deal Architect)