Stop Managing Your Career and Start a Company
First, a full confession. I have not read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In.” I do have her book on my Kobo e-reader. I will read it this weekend. My fellow tech CEO friends highly recommend it. I know I am going to love it too.
But my unintentional avoidance of “Lean In” (my “leaning out”?) goes even further. I was conveniently invited to a private summit at my alma mater, Harvard Business School, last week to hear Sandberg talk. It would have been so easy—a 15 minute trip from my office! But I did not go.
So if reading Sandberg’s book and hearing her talk would be really fun for me, why am I not taking the time? Protesting that I am too busy is a red herring. I suppose it is because I am already a convert and am working on “Lean In: The Sequel.” Or maybe “Lean In: The Reality Show.” No, not a broadcast or book. No, not career or life management advice for women. No, not additional documentation of the institutional biases that are very real and very profound. Women don’t need a clock to tell if it is day or night. I am sick, sick, sick of all the words. I don’t even like adding to the din with this post!
What do I deeply crave? Exactly what Sheryl advocates: Action. By whom? Women. To do what? Well, I have a bias of my own. Namely, if you are super ambitious—be radical and forget your frigging career. Acknowledge that it is almost doomed from the start. Just look at the real corporate leadership diversity stats, sisters—climbing to the top is unfortunately still a fantasy game.
But let’s take all our talent and potential down the street. Let’s start and invest in companies. Yesterday. Let’s start awesomely big companies and powerfully deploy big dollars. Let’s stop expecting men to appoint us to seats of power. Let’s create companies where careers can simply be built, rather than painfully “managed.” Where we can roll out our own level playing fields. That is not the job of moribund existing businesses or even that of VCs and male-led startups. It is ours, to promote ourselves into those positions of power and company creation. I crave activism, but if we can’t have “Title 9 for Startup Capital,” we can pool our own resources and create “Lean In: The Reality Show.”
I have three sons, but if I had daughters I would find it downright criminal that they could not possibly cite an inspirational “household name” female tech-company founder as their role model. My sons can riff male role models off in their sleep: Jeff Bezos, Tim Westergren, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Ben Silbermann, Jack Dorsey, Perry Chen, Bill Gates. When I was a girl my inspirations were figures of remote history like Madame Curie and Eleanor Roosevelt. Who has really replaced them? For today’s girls, these ancient names should be complemented by the heroes of our time—the people who really write the rules of our world in 2013.
Those are Entrepreneurs.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, when I was busy not attending the Sheryl Sandberg talk, I was actually sitting on a rogue, but associated, HBS panel of alumni who convened 50 or so fellow alums from across the country to talk about “Changing the Paradigm: Invest in Women.” It was a private conversation, but I got permission from the organizers—the Women’s Venture Capital Fund and one of their LPs, Beth Horowitz—to share the inside scoop. There was a clear consensus on the following:
1. There is no shortage of women entrepreneurs.
2. However, women entrepreneurs do need to:
—think big: big ideas, big goals, big markets
—be aware of the inherent biases when going to pitch to VCs
3. There is no shortage of good ideas. It’s really a matter of matching women with capital by breaking down barriers.
4. We also need more women VCs in decision-making roles.
5. Women investors can do more than invest; they can open doors for women entrepreneurs to other investors, and to the male power players to which they have access. So, they can be valuable, powerful connectors.
6. While there’s a social activist element to our passion, this is an economic issue. Women who can create jobs and economic growth are being blocked and need more efficient means to access capital.
7. HBS can better prepare women to be investors and entrepreneurs, and should have more female protagonists in the teaching cases in this space.
8. The time is now, and the women of HBS can make a difference.
The last point was pretty landmark for me. Harvard Business School is rapidly evolving from the place it was when I graduated—it was, alas, a peak year for producing management consultants and investment bankers. The school today is concretely reflecting the really dynamic area of our economy: entrepreneurship. I have a front seat on that Harvard action as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the school. I can tell you that the joint is jumpin’. But as the only person (that I know of) in my own graduating class to join a startup, I’ve never had a lot of access to other like-minded HBS alumni. I believe that we started to organize meaningful action and collaboration last week right there in the Charles Hotel. No moss will grow under that group of women…how very HBS! You could even call this post the first stake in the ground.
I deeply believe that business trumps all other institutions for effecting change. Business leaders can create the world we want to live in. We have speed, power, and resources unlike government, nonprofits, and universities. But all serious business change starts with…startups. Women simply have to be there at the foundation. By the time we are left managing our careers, it is far too late.