Once upon a time, when a person looked in a mirror seeking truth, he or she looked long and hard enough to see beyond the superficial image to the person behind the glass. The popular emphasis on “selfies” abounding on social media makes me wonder—are people really looking at themselves or their actions anymore?
Do they like what stares back at them when they take a good look?
As many people in Silicon Valley are aware, the Ellen Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins gender discrimination lawsuit served as one big question mark over the current-day practices of many of our most prominent and successful businesses. Human resource departments are quickly reviewing not just their policies, but also their dedication to equal and fair practices in light of the charges of sexism.
Despite Ellen Pao’s failure to prove her case, there is still an undercurrent of disgruntlement by women that perhaps they may never break into what has become a high-tech “good ol’ boys” club. While I am an avid supporter of the energy and commitment to success that has made Silicon Valley a global icon, I also see plenty of areas where there is room for improvement. And one of those is the concept of mentoring, especially by women, not necessarily for women.
What’s the difference? In my experience, one of the biggest challenges for any woman who has “made it” to the top of an organization is to reach out and include more women. In the past, that was often due to quotas and tokenism. Only one woman at a time became part of the executive team, for example, so it became a zero-sum game if she recommended another, because that virtually guaranteed her replacement. As a result, many women jealously guarded their coveted title and salary in a win-lose scenario, with no interest in lending a hand to a deserving candidate.
With all the criticisms aimed at the male members of the venture capital community and other high-tech firms, I wonder if we should lay equal blame on the shoulders of women like myself. After reaching the executive ranks and going through a successful IPO, I decided to step out of the fray and run my own business consultancy, leaving the next generation of women in Silicon Valley corporations to succeed without any benefit of my lessons learned. Those that stayed in the high-tech world may be so busy juggling their professional and personal priorities that mentoring doesn’t make it onto their calendars at all.
Many studies have shown that boys tend to play team sports more than girls, starting at an early age. Perhaps boys learn skills and attitudes that make it easier for them to ask for and give advice to each other later in life without perceiving someone with a complementary skill set as a threat. While women may have good communication skills, I wonder if our view of the world develops in a different way. Instead of inviting others to join in a successful journey, we give all our attention instead to mastering the difficult road to riches. Heads down, we push our way forward, get to the top, bask in our success, take our selfies—and then forget to help the next young woman. After all, it’s our own ability, savvy, and skills that got us there in an all-man’s world, right? Wrong.
Male presidents and CEOs hired me and gave me chances, which is still the case for most women today.
Good ones take a chance on the best candidates, stand back, and let them prove their abilities, regardless of gender. So before we decry how sexist and discriminatory Silicon Valley men are, let’s look back in the mirror and see if we are now doing all we can, as women, to help others—both talented young men and women.
Today, my mentoring takes the form of writing about thorny issues facing Silicon Valley, but I include the concept of mentoring from the older generation to the younger throughout my novels. I can look in the mirror now and take pride in sharing my experience and perspective through a proven, centuries-old tradition of publishing, yet add the twist of eBooks, blogging, and social media to reach out to the next generation. I keep my fingers crossed it will make a difference.
So, next time you feel tempted to take another selfie, ask yourself—should you focus your attention on someone more deserving, instead?
(This article originally appeared on Balcony 7 Media & Publishing’s SaucyJaw.com)