Reflections from Women’s Leadership Day at Dreamforce 2015

I am struggling to write this post because I am not sure of the relevance. Many women have written and continue to write about equal opportunity and pay of women, particularly within the tech sector. I have purposely stayed out of these discussions and most other gender related industry conversations because I didn’t want YOU to notice I was a woman. Now, even as I write this post, I know that concept sounds ridiculous. I am obviously female, but I have not wanted me to define me as a woman or for women’s issues before they considered my brain and what I could bring to the table.

A former CMO described me as full of vim and vigor. In my 20′s, I took pride in my passion, but learned quickly (actually, it took me over ten years to put this into practice) to place a lid on those extreme high and low emotions if I wanted to climb the ladder in the corporate world and make my mark in a male dominated tech industry. I have been running away from emotion for several years-allowing feelings to fester below the surface in exchange for detachment and compartmentalization. I move on. I adapt. I accept the challenge. I have discovered I do not necessarily want to be ‘The Guy,’ but the guy ‘The Guy’ counts on-or in this case, the woman.

Perhaps, as a result of recently reading The Innovators by Walter Isaacson and my eyes being opened to the history of women in the digital revolution, I was (dare I say it?) more sensitive to the conversation around the Women’s Leadership Day at Dreamforce 2015. I hesitated to attend any of the sessions dedicated to the topic of women. I didn’t want to be a part of the male-bashing or female-bashing extremes of conversation. But I can no longer ignore the conversation. As a person who was part of the tech industry, now a consumer of technology, academic researcher, and mother of two tech savvy daughters, I am a part of the conversation too.

There is no denying there was a visceral reaction to the Lean In movement. I struggled then to write a review of the book that my husband was the first to read and discuss publicly. Even then I didn’t want to compromise the charade I had concocted in my head-if I didn’t acknowledge I was a female or discuss domestic issues, I could be one of the guys. I would then have a future in corporate America.

I sat in Dream Park yesterday watching Kara Swisher interview Chairman and CEO, Marc Benioff, and Salesforce co-founder, Parker Harris about the Salesforce priority of hiring and elevating  top female talent. I won’t dismantle the interview with my opinions or insert my own stories-a mixture of confabulations and truths influenced by my fear of not being enough. I found Marc and Parker genuinely think they have made strides in making women a priority for the future of Salesforce. The jury is still out on whether the changes being made by the fourth largest software company will have an everlasting impact. What struck me (and kept rattling around in my head all day) was Marc’s answer to Kara Swisher’s question about why women had not previously been a priority at Salesforce or in Silicon Valley. Marc said he was not aware of the disparity of issues until they had reached extreme conversation levels. He kept referring to the software industry as male dominated and created by men.

In fact, the software industry was created by women. Prior belief was that power was in the hardware and thus dominated by males and software or programming secondary and the work of a female. Despite the great talent and feats of Jean Jennings, Frances Bilas, Grace Hopper and others, it was not until Bill Gates struck the epic software deal with IBM that software took the throne within the tech industry. Our generation has given birth to amazing minds-some of them featured in celebration of Women’s Leadership Day at Dreamforce. It boggles my mind we still have these conversations about the differences between men and women in the workplace. Our world has changed so much, yet diversity and inclusion are persistent topics of unrest.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t think we can expect change if we only address the symptoms and not the root or fundamental issues. What I think each of us can do immediately is acknowledge and rewrite the history books to give credit to the females who came before us and forged the path allowing us to voice our concerns and passions. I don’t know if I’ll be embracing ‘I feel’ statements in the boardroom anytime soon and opt to wield patience and grace instead.

We need to share the stories of the females who have raised our voices. We need to share these stories with each other and our children. We owe it to the women before us. We owe it to those who will make be making the decisions long after we have left our offices.

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