In 2014, when the World Economic Forum calculated that it would take until 2095 to reach gender parity, it seemed to be an appalling prognosis. There are powerful female CEOs and leaders around the world. Women have secured the right to vote in gender conservative nations like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Things seem to be progressing in favor of women. But just a year later, the World Economic Forum offered a grim update to their forecast: at the current rate of progress, gender parity will not be achieved until 2133.
Since today is International Women’s Day, it’s the perfect time to evaluate the pragmatic goals and real steps we’re all taking to level the playing field between women and men. This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #PledgeForParity. Men and women who make the pledge will vow to take a concrete step in the direction of gender equality, including in the workplace.
In honor of International Women’s Day, we sat down with Anne Raimondi to discuss the challenges women face in corporate leadership roles and how to take real action to overcome those challenges both personally and within an organization. Anne is currently SVP of Strategy at Zendesk, a company that provides customer service and engagement software.
In her role, Raimondi “is in charge of making sure everyone works well, and gets along, and is happy” working at Zendesk.
Can you tell us about your career and why you think it’s important to empower women in leadership?
I’ve been so fortunate in my career in having mentors, both men and women, who have helped move my career forward. So I’m passionate about giving back.
One of my favorite stories of someone that’s really helped me at a moment in my career when I needed it is about a gentleman named Gary Briggs, who is now the CMO of Facebook. I worked with Gary when we were both at eBay. I was in a product management role and he ran a big marketing team at the time, and he was just someone I admired from afar. I had a few great interactions with him and there was a moment when I thought, “I would really love to have an internal mentor at eBay.”
When I thought about the leaders who I admired, Gary came to mind. Both in terms of how he conducted himself at work, but I also knew he was a passionate father of twins and being a good parent was something I really cared about while I was balancing a career.
So, I made the move of emailing Gary out of the blue and just saying, “Would you be my mentor? Just one coffee or lunch once a month, and I’ll come with an agenda and I’ll share what I’m doing.” And I was so nervous when I sent it, because I thought, “He’s so busy, why would he say yes?”
Less than a minute after I hit send, I got the nicest reply from him that said, “I would love to do that and I’ll get it on our schedules.” It made such a big impact to me, and I think about that when people reach out to me now asking for time or advice, of always erring on the side of saying yes to help somebody. That was the moment that was really impactful to me.
During your career, what have you seen as some of the challenges in supporting women and helping women move into leadership roles?
From what I’ve seen and experienced, there are two main groups of challenges for women in progressing in their careers. One, is a set of personal issues, which I think all comes down to an issue of confidence. Are women confident enough in their ability to take on that next role? The second group are professional challenges that I’ve seen affect many women in their career at a certain time in their lives, when they’re getting more responsibility at work and more responsibility at home. And that period of time, be it a few years or a decade, can be particularly challenging.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve personally experienced as a woman in a leadership role?
After I left eBay, I was getting calls from people asking me to refer great talent for new opportunities. At first, I was consistently referring men and women equally. About 5 years after I left, it struck me one day that I was referring men and women at a different rate.
A number of the women that I had been a mentor to, or I had worked with, weren’t actively looking for the next challenging opportunity. Whether that was because they had kids and decided to work less, or they were happy in their current job, they actually didn’t want to take on the next challenge.
And that’s when it struck me. What do we do for women in that period of their lives, and how do we make sure, moving forward, that we continue to refer people who have talent and potential at an equal rate for new opportunities?
Why is supporting women in leadership important?
I think supporting women in leadership is important for reasons that are validated by data. First Round Capital did a ten year study of their investments and they found that founding teams with at least one woman on the team were 63% more likely to be successful. I mean, that’s huge for start ups, but it’s also a big signal of what makes all teams successful.
There was a second study by a woman named Anita Woolley in Science Magazine. She and a group of researchers were studying what makes teams more intelligent. One thing researchers found was that equal time was given to all members of the team and their ideas. The other thing they found was that members of the team were particularly aware of other members’ emotional well being, and could understand how someone was doing whether they verbalized their feelings or not.
And those two traits, while I’m not saying that women have them more than men, women tend to excel at those skills; making sure there’s equal participation and making sure they’re sensitive to how other people are doing.
So the idea that having women on a team increases the overall intelligence of that team, we should all want that, men and women, since so much of our work is done in teams.
There are a number of women in leadership programs to support this. Could you share some things that don’t work in these programs?
Things I’ve seen that haven’t worked are when companies think “successful company x does y for women, so let’s do that”. Since Google is a successful company, or Apple, or Facebook, and they provide a program for their women, we should provide the same program for our women.
I think looking at a company’s stage in life and the challenges faced by their particular employees is a much better way to develop or adopt programs that work.
Why is investing in women important for Zendesk?
Developing women is a high priority for Zendesk because we want to be successful. We want to grow. We want to serve our customers well. And we think one of the things we’re doing well is investing in our talent and, in particular, our very talented women.
An important initiative of our corporate social responsibility team has been supporting women in technology. There are a large number of community organizations and nonprofits that we partner with and that’s part of our culture and corporate DNA globally; to support women in engineering in particular.
And last but not least, something I’m really excited about since we’ve embarked on partnering with Everwise, is that the conversation on the executive level about how to support women and their careers has been rich and thoughtful. This is an executive team that is not yet a balanced mix of men and women, and yet everyone is equally passionate about advancing women’s careers at Zendesk.
To learn more about EverwiseWomen and women-in-leadership programs, register for our webinar on 3 Reasons Why Women-In-Leadership Programs Fail on March 15th, 2016.