January 14, 2021

How to Get More Women in the C-Suite

There are 50 honorees listed in TopRank’s 2020 installment of Influential Women in B2B Marketing Who Rocked, and in addition to these amazing leaders, we at Renegade know that there are countless others worth celebrating for their contributions to marketing in the B2B world.

This episode comes from our recent livestream show on the subject, featuring LogRhythm CMO Cindy Zhou, Skillsoft CMO Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek, and Charlene Li, the founder of Altimeter, author of The Disruption Mindset, and one of the women on TopRank’s aforementioned list.

Tune in to hear these inspiring leaders and role models share all about what it means to be a woman in the C-Suite, what progress still needs to be made, and how we can all work together to get there.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • What we can learn from women in leadership
  • How to be intentional about gender equality, intersectionality, and more
  • What aspiring leaders should know right now

Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 223 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned

Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:00] Cold Open – From Renegade Thinkers Live
  • [1:00] Cindy Zhou on Female Role Models
  • [6:37] Charlene Li on Starting a Business and Imposter Syndrome
  • [13:55] Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek on Female Bosses and Mentors
  • [22:02] How to Respond to Microaggressions in the Workplace
  • [25:47] Is the Glass Ceiling Really Broken?
  • [31:05] Intentionality: How to Be Anti-Chauvinist
  • [37:49] Intersectionality in Leadership Positions
  • [42:13] Career Development Advice for Young Women

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Cindy Zhou, Charlene Li, and Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek

[0:00] Cold Open – This is Renegade Thinkers Live

Drew Neisser: Hey, it’s Drew, and this episode is from a new live series called, funny enough, Renegade Thinkers Live. It was so insightful and inspiring that we just had to turn it into a podcast too, and I can’t thank Cindy Zhou of LogRhythm, Charlene Li of Altimeter, and Michelle BB of Skillsoft enough for joining us to talk about their experiences as women in marketing and in the tech space.

Has the glass ceiling really been shattered? What intentional actions can people take to ensure women are being treated equally? What should current 30-year-olds, like my daughter, keep in mind as they develop their own careers? Enjoy your workout or pour yourself a drink and tune in to find out from these three inspiring leaders—you’ll be glad you did. I hope you enjoy the show.

[1:00] Cindy Zhou on Female Role Models

“In the tech industry, women account for about 25% of the workforce.” -@cindy_zhou #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Welcome to the 3rd episode of Renegade Thinkers Live, a show that promises to be long on marketing insights and short on over-hyped buzz words. We’ll be drinking in the latest tactics and the coolest gin — yup, this may be the only live marketing show that also features a gin tasting.  This show is being livestreamed via our friends at Restream and if you want to drink along at home, today’s gin is Salcombe Rose Saint Marie.

I’m your host Drew Neisser live from my home studio in New York City and as I like to say on my podcast, hello Renegade Thinkers. This show is dedicated to my daughter and all of the strong women that paved the way for her, including her mother who was a successful advertising executive, one of her grandmothers who had her own cable TV show in the 1970s datedly called Broadly Speaking, and a great grandmother who as an author and child psychologist was the featured guest of What’s My Line in the late 1960s. So, go get ‘em, Emma.

Each of our guests today have been on their own journeys and have stories to share about breaking barriers, coping with micro and macro aggressions, helpful mentors, and how they are paying it forward.

Since this is a show about breaking norms, let’s start in reverse alphabetical order with Cindy Zhou. Cindy is the CMO of LogRhythm and is joining us here from the Washington DC area. Welcome, Cindy.

Cindy Zhou: Hi, Drew. Hi, everyone listening to the session. It’s such an honor to be here. Thank you for having me.

Drew Neisser: Where exactly are you? You’re in Baltimore?

Cindy Zhou: Yeah, no, I’m right outside of Washington, D.C. in Maryland.

Drew Neisser: In Maryland, okay. So I have to ask, how many times growing up were you the last one called?

Cindy Zhou: Well, you know, Drew, this is the little story I’ll share. My maiden last name begins with a Y, and I never thought that I could fall further behind in the alphabet until I married my husband. I went, “Wow, that actually can happen.” I really appreciate you going in reverse order because that usually is not the case and I’m well accustomed to going last.

Drew Neisser: Oh, that’s hilarious. Did you have any moment where you said, “I don’t know, maybe I won’t take your name, you know?” But anyway…speaking of growing up, were there any female role models that you look to either during or after your school years for inspiration?

Cindy Zhou: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the key things that I learned at a young age is, you know, again, I’m born and raised in the United States. My parents are from Taiwan, and part of that immigrant culture is very much a very, very hard look at a work ethic.

That’s one of the things where I look to my mother, who worked my entire childhood. She’s still working. She should be retired, but she can’t stop. An entrepreneur always kind of breaking the barrier from that sense. When I was growing up, that wasn’t as common with Asian-American females at that time, being a working mother and trying to quote-unquote “juggle” work and home. So definitely, at a young age, it was my mother for sure.

As I continue my career, I’ll share this, too. I’m such a fan of female CEOs like Lisa Su of AMD. You look at what she has done, taking the company from the brink of bankruptcy five years ago and a sub-$2/share stock to upping it by 1300%. Now 90-some-odd dollars/share. Those are the women that I think we want to see more of to inspire our daughters and nieces and the next generation of ladies.

Drew Neisser: I love it. Thank you for sharing that. I’m going to have to read up on Lisa. Now, you spent the bulk of your career in tech, which is typically male-dominated. You were at IBM and Syniti and Level Access. Can you think of a specific example or experience, good or bad, that helped you grow stronger as a leader who just happens to be female?

Cindy Zhou: Yeah, absolutely. I think that there are so many situations that we encounter as women and women leaders in the workforce, particularly in a heavily male-dominated industry. I just shared this on another talk track where, in the tech industry, women account for about 25% of the workforce.

And then specifically, you look at where I’m at in cybersecurity, that number drops to actually just under 20% per some recent studies. I’m sure all of us have encountered many instances of what you called earlier microaggression, little kind of snips here and there, but I definitely think that as I continued in my career, one of the key things is when you start to see that you’re making a difference—and those are things that you probably don’t realize as you go through your workday. But when other women and other minorities, not just minority women, start to come up to you and say, “I really appreciate that there is someone who doesn’t look like the typical executive that’s actually out there and speaking and making a difference.” Those are the moments that make you say, “Yeah, I’m doing something good here” and you can make a broader impact.

Drew Neisser: That’s awesome. You’re a role model.

[6:37] Charlene Li on Starting a Business and Imposter Syndrome

“You're never going to be ready, it's never a good time, so why not now?” -@charleneli #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Speaking of role models, it’s now my pleasure to introduce Charlene Li, the founder of Altimeter and a New York Times best-selling author of The Disruption Mindset. Charlene is joining us all the way from the West Coast in San Francisco, right?

Charlene Li: Yes. Good old San Francisco.

Drew Neisser: I looked at the founding date of Altimeter—July 2008. And by the way, when I actually bought Renegade from Dentsu, it was October 31st, 2008. I know what it meant to start a company or own a company in 2009. It was insane. Was there a moment or two in 2009 when you were asking yourself, what were you thinking?

Charlene Li: It was actually a very interesting time because people were cutting their marketing budgets and communications budgets and turning to social media, saying, “What can we do with this?” And so we were growing like gangbusters. My oh, heck moment in 2009 was we need to hire more people, where are we going to find them? It was a little bit different circumstance. We were just incredibly lucky in the timing of what we were looking at and what we were doing.

Drew Neisser: You know, I don’t think luck had anything to do with it. The fact that you were into 2008, and it’s funny, social media actually saved our firm at that period of time, too, because if you were early in it, you were an expert. Now, I’m curious—you were at Forrester for 9 years, what gave you the courage to start Altimeter?

Charlene Li: I was running out of options. I loved being at Forrester. I loved being there with the colleagues and the work that we were doing. But I was realizing, having been there for so long, I had done all the roles that I really wanted to do. I didn’t want to go back into management and so, of course, what do I do? I leave and start a company, which is like the ultimate management thing to do.

But it was more about creating a firm that had the vision and the values of what I wanted to create and do the research in a much more holistic way about what was causing disruption in business. That’s really what motivated me in the end. It wasn’t even a desire to, like, control my environment or have independence. It was to do the kind of work and to be surrounded by people who want to do similar types of work.

Drew Neisser: Well, I’m guessing you were incredibly successful at Forrester and had a tremendous amount of confidence in your ability to perhaps bring a client or two, but just get going. And so you’re I think you’re understating a number of things about yourself and where you were, but it is a big leap. Do you have some advice—and I’m sure you’ve been asked this question—for other young women who are thinking about going out on their own. Is there a good time? Is there an experience path or something that, when you talk to younger folks who are considering a path like yours?

Charlene Li: I really emphasize: You’re never going to be ready, it’s never a good time, so why not now? I’ve talked to so many young women who say “Yeah, I have this idea, but I did get a few things done first.” I’m like, “What are those things? Is it to, like, paint your house? What is it?” It’s usually, “But I need this experience, I need these things,” and that’s not true.

The best way to actually start a company and learn how to start a company is to start a company. And secondly, join a startup, be part of a founding team really early on so you get hands-on experience. You’re going to make so many mistakes, so I think that the best preparation for me was going into this knowing I was going to mess up a lot, I was going to make a ton of mistakes, and to surround myself with people who could give me really honest advice about what I was doing wrong to hold up that mirror to myself.

It definitely helped to have a little bit of money in the bank, so I didn’t feel this pressure to make bad decisions early on. I had that little luxury of time and space to be able to do experiments, to take risks, to go out of my comfort zone. So that was absolutely key.

Drew Neisser: Well, there were many things that you said that I’m going to unpack. Number one: When you start a business, the number one reason a business fails is they run out of money. So, yes, make sure you have enough money in the bank or investment to start. Number two—it was interesting. I heard a bit of… I know my wife talks about this a lot, who’s very successful, but always sort of felt like a little bit of imposter. I wonder if at any point in time did you feel: Am I really this good? Should I really be doing this? I feel like men sort of when asked to lead, they just do it. They go, “Well, I can do this.”

Charlene Li: I have imposter syndrome all the time. Even now, I’m starting new businesses and new ideas and new things and like, “Is anybody going to care? Is this valid? Is this interesting?” I have to tamp that down and just put it out there because even if it’s not, at least I put it out there to find out if it’s going to work or not.

It is this constant drumbeat of being the perfect student, especially being a woman and growing up Asian-American. You got to be up there. You’ve got to be perfect, because if you don’t, people are going to throw tons of rocks at you. It’s this idea that I can not be perfect. I can be just average sometimes or even fail and it’s going to be OK. I think of confidence as coming from knowing that regardless of the outcome, I’m going to be okay, and that’s a key thing to develop knowing that I’m going to go into a situation. I went into starting Altimeter thinking, “You know, it’s a 50/50 chance I’m going to fail and it’ll be OK. I’ll find something else to do.” The embarrassment, I’ve got to get over that and just be okay with it.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I love that. It’s funny, as you were talking—and Michelle we’ll be with you in just a second. There was one thing that you said that there’s never a right time. I was reminded, I’m listening to Barack Obama’s memoir and it’s amazing because he’s the narrator, so what he says sticks in your mind a lot. He said when he visited Ted Kennedy in 2006 thinking about running for president, Kennedy says to him, “It’s not the time. It’s not about when you’re ready, it’s about when they’re ready and the time picks you.”

I think, as an entrepreneur, sometimes you just force that opportunity. You have to take a chance on it. All right. And I love the fact that it is a good idea to try to make some mistakes, get them out of the way early.

[13:55] Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek on Female Bosses and Mentors

“What Caroline Taylor did at @IBM impressed me, that's for certain. But it was what she did outside of IBM that impressed me the most.” -@MichelleBB #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Michelle is the CMO of Skillsoft and the star of Episode 196 of Renegade Thinkers Unite. Hey, Michelle, how are you?

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek: I am very well. Thank you so much for asking and thank you for having me here. It’s great to be here, especially with such an esteemed panel that you put together.

Drew Neisser: You know, you’re all amazing. And I’ve spent 45 minutes with you on a podcast, so it’s going to be tricky to balance it all. But I’m really curious—you spent some time at IBM just like Cindy did, and you were most recently the CMO of Watson during Ginni Rometty’s reign. I think I recall that you came in through The Weather Channel and you probably had a male CEO. Was there a difference for you personally when suddenly I’m working for a woman CEO?

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek: You know, it’s really interesting, Drew. In my lifetime, I actually haven’t worked for so many women. In fact, most of my experience, I’ve worked for men. It’s probably because I’ve been in tech. That’s not a great excuse, but it just is the reality. At The Weather Channel, yes. If you have the app, it’s the great one. We’re expecting a major snowstorm here in the Northeast. You never leave weather.

But I was thrilled when I got to IBM to have the opportunity to work with and for so many amazing women. The CMO of IBM, Michelle Peluso, she was really inspiring and she changed the face of marketing at IBM. She had been the CEO of Travelocity and the CMO at Citi. But, you know, coming back to Ginni, what really inspired me about her was just the way she told stories and the way that she brought customers into the conversation.

One of the things that I will always remember, and perhaps even more now than before, is that she talked often about the fact that our reality is rooted in change and disruption. Rapid change, because IBM, you know, they’re pretty familiar with that. It’s a 110-year-old company, and they went from tabulation to now Cloud and AI and Quantum. It’s a company that’s always shifted. And we know change is constant, but I think now the rate and pace of change, especially as we face one of the biggest global crises of our lifetime, is forcing everyone at every company and at every level to rethink the way we work. I just remember Ginni talking about that and advising us to recognize and differentiate between what must endure and what must change. She always took a very customer-focused view of everything and it’s something that I’ll never forget about her or the way she ran IBM.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s interesting. As you were talking about her, I was thinking I was lucky enough to be on a Duke call. Mary Barra, who is the CEO of General Motors, happens to be a parent of an undergraduate, so she gave us an hour of Q&A. I was really kind of blown away. I just felt so comfortable with her as a person who simply was good at what she did and it’s just like the ego was sort of left at the door. It was kind of a remarkable thing. Anyway, I’m curious, you mentioned Michelle Peluso—were there any other role models or mentors that were helpful for you along the way?

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek: Without a doubt, and Cindy, I will tell you that the first and most important woman in my life, the person who had the greatest impact, is my mother, Betsy Katz-Veneziano. She was a single parent and she was a female pioneer in the field of technology. I mean, she started her career, and I won’t tell you how many years ago she’ll be really, really, really upset if I did, but she started her career as a NASA programmer, and then she went on to hold so many executive-level product management product marketing roles in tech. But what amazes me now is that she still works to this day. And yes, she’s taken a step back, but she loves what she does, so I see real parallels in that path.

But there’s also another woman who came into my life, believe it or not, at IBM as a mentor and a guide—because IBM’s a big place—and a friend. She oversaw marketing for global markets at IBM. Her name is Caroline Taylor. And look, what she did at IBM impressed me, that’s for certain. But it was what she did outside of IBM that impressed me the most. She believed in a purpose-driven life, so she worked with and had IBM work with an organization called Stop the Traffik, which is about preventing human trafficking. The work she did there is really what inspired me to want to do even more with everything that I’ve been given. She always believed that we have to take our talents. We have to use them as a force for good.

It’s interesting because, Drew, when I say that she’s a mentor, she’s still my mentor. I actually reached out to her last month to get her thoughts on something that I personally had been grappling with. I mean, look, we are in interesting times in our organizations, so my question to her was, how do we move organizations through times of significant change, especially as people start to fatigue?

She gave some really great counsel to me. She said, number one: “Stay relentlessly positive.” I thought that was really interesting—stay relentlessly positive and remind people of why they’re doing what they’re doing. Number two, she told me, “Make sure that people are invested in the company’s future, that they can see their path.” And the number three, and this was perhaps the most impactful, it was “Be empathetic and try to look at change through the lens of the people with whom you’re communicating.” That has been incredibly powerful because we’ve seen people with their children, we’ve seen people in spaces where it’s very difficult to have video on. I think we have to really do a much better job of being positive, making sure people feel invested in being empathetic.

Drew Neisser: Come on in, Cindy and Charlene. I love that summary. It’s funny, I just did a solo podcast and one of the lines I liked that I wrote for the show was that the era of the “all business” businessperson is dead.

One of the things that’s so wonderful about what’s happened is that our lives and our work lives, our home lives have just completely intersected. If you’re not empathetic, you don’t have a chance. You know, it’s funny, I’ve had Renegade for a long time and I know more about my employees and their lives than I ever did and it’s so wonderful. And they know my dog really well because he shows up on every 3 to 4 o’clock call.

The pathing, that’s a term I actually heard the other day from a CMO because the question came up, and I thought it was interesting. This was from a female leader: How hard can I push right now?—which was really an interesting question, and I think it was not just a question that any leader would ask, but I felt like she was asking and there was a little bit of “As a woman right now, can I push?” One of the other women responded by saying, “You know, you can have conversations right now. We all have to destress everything. We have to figure out a way to pull the stress out. We have to be empathetic, but if you want to help people get through this, talk to them about the future. Talk about where they’re going. That is a lot better than putting pressure on them.”

[22:02] How to Respond to Microaggressions in the Workplace

What you can do is you can get angry about it, but I think more importantly is channeling and harnessing that and to say, ‘Yep, I'm just going to prove you wrong.’ -@cindy_zhou #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: I’m hoping you can share something from your career that was sort of blatantly chauvinistic, that just made your jaw drop. You’ve got to be honest here. Who wants to share one story? Come on. Well, all right, I’m going to call on you, Cindy, because you and I had a conversation about this at one point.

Cindy Zhou: I’m happy to share. This is early. I was still in college and I was working for a multinational corporation. It was MCI back when I was still in college. It was a multi-lingual call center that they had in Arlington, Virginia for customer service. I was there as a trainer, and you get escalation calls in customer service. And again, keep in mind they serviced a lot of different cultures. It was a gentleman who I took an escalation call from and the first thing he said to me was, “Isn’t there a man I can speak with?” It’s interesting, right? That was early on as a leader during my college days and of course, later on, I think other things happened as well.

I’m sure some of this we’ve all encountered as women, too, but just a few years ago—the company and the person shall remain nameless—but let’s just say, it was a very senior leader at a company I was at, made a comment and said, “That Cindy, she’s a smart cookie,” like it was a surprise. I would hope that for most people who make it to a VP level at that point that wouldn’t be such a surprise. But it’s little things like that. What you can do is you can get angry about it, but I think more importantly is channeling and harnessing that and to say, “Yep, I’m just going to prove you wrong.”

I think a lot about Angela Duckworth and what she wrote in Grit. I’ve heard her speak a few times and she was like, it’s that “I’m going to show you” and really use that to your advantage to power you through. I think that these things will never stop happening and it’s how you react to it.

Drew Neisser: Right. So Charlene and Michelle, are you ready to share anything in particular, a little moment of indignity or…?

Charlene Li: Yeah, sure, I’ll go. I remember a time when I was on a live radio broadcast. I was at the time covering gaming and I made a comment and the host really didn’t like my comment and he goes, “What would you know? You’re a girl.” I just went, “Well, let me tell you about some research and this is what we found. Yes, girls actually play games. I’m a gamer.” So it’s just like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. We’re having this conversation still?” I find it just so interesting that when I go to conferences and I’m signing in, especially if my husband’s coming with me, they assume he’s the professional, he’s the person signing in versus me.

So just getting those assumptions, assuming, “Oh, you’re wifey. You couldn’t possibly be the person who is the speaker or the professional person checking in at this point.” I think these people get kind of a chuckle out of it, but I find those great educational moments for somebody to say, “Yeah, I am the speaker.”

Drew Neisser: Yeah, “Here’s a copy of my book. I think you’ll enjoy it. The best-selling book that I’ve written—many best-selling books.”

[25:47] Is the Glass Ceiling Really Broken?

“Women were consistently rating themselves as less disruptive than their male counterparts, even when they have the same capabilities and mindsets and behaviors.” -@charleneli #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: I like to do this every once in a while, and I’m going to say, hey, Google, what’s the glass ceiling?

Google: Here’s the definition of “glass ceiling”: An unofficially acknowledged barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities.

Drew Neisser: So, let’s talk about that. We’ve got a vice president coming in who is a woman, we’ve got a Treasury secretary who’s a woman. Are you feeling that the glass ceiling is breaking everywhere, and that the opportunity is—are the floodgates open?

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek: I’d love to start with this one, because I actually just did a little bit of research on this. I think there’s been tremendous momentum, but I actually worry that in this particular year, we’ve lost some ground. One of the biggest challenges that’s, I think, facing the advancement of women is how many have actually left the workforce in response to the pandemic. You’ve got schools that are closed, or you’ve got kids who have resorted to remote learning.

It seems from the data that so many households are actually reverting to some of those traditional roles with women serving as full-time caregivers. CNN did a poll I think this past September and found that 617,000 women left the US workforce in that month, compared with only 78,000 men. And half of the women who dropped out are in the prime working-age between 35 and 44. I will be honest; I worry that this is not just setting women back right now but could set future generations back as well.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I read the same thing and it’s a scary moment.

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek: It’s troubling.

Drew Neisser: It is. It also, as a leader, if you have women with kids at home and the challenge that they’re facing is so different than someone who doesn’t. I mean, my wife and I talk it about all the time how happy we are and lucky we are that our kids are grown up and in the workforce so we don’t have to deal with that.

You’re right, Michelle. That’s going to create a new era because when they decide to come back, where are they going to fit in, and so forth? I’m curious, from Charlene and Cindy, in your perspective, do you see this progress that has been made resuming?

Charlene Li: Yes, I definitely see this, there’s been progress, especially with some of the laws that are, for example, in California, requiring that you have underrepresented people on public boards. So, we’re making progress and it’s becoming more acceptable, but there is still a huge backlash against women in power positions.

In my research, I found there was a disruption gap—that women were consistently rating themselves as less disruptive than their male counterparts, even when they have the same capabilities and mindsets and behaviors as their male counterparts to be disruptive. There is a premium put on women, again, being part of the consensus, fitting in, not breaking the norms, not pushing out there. To the person asking “How far can I push? How hard can I push?”—if I’m the only woman in the room, if I’m the only person of color in the room, I’m not going to feel very comfortable pushing, but we need people to push.

I think the equivalent of the glass ceiling is the bamboo ceiling that a lot of Asian women, for example, are seeing. We’ll talk about intersectionality, I hope. We’re seeing progress made, but there is still so far to go.

[31:05] Intentionality: How to Be Anti-Chauvinist

“AI systems are trained by human beings and the data is gathered and captured by people, so we have to inject diversity of thought, perspective, and people into the solutions we build.” -@michellebb #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: I learned a lot this year, a lot of new words. One was intentionality and the other is intersectionality. I think we should start first with intentionality because it comes to being anti-chauvinist or anti-patriarchy. What do you think men need to start doing or stop doing to help level the playing field? Easy question. Who wants to go?

Cindy Zhou: Yeah, I’m happy to share. I feel very fortunate I’ve received—many, many of the mentors and supporters throughout our careers—we’re in a very tech, male-dominated industry. Both Michelle and Charlene can attest to this. Without the support of men, you can’t get to where you’re at.

And that’s the thing—I think that there are so many amazing men who are mentors and etc. to us that I definitely don’t want the conversation around #metoo etc. to start alienating them because this became a topic in another panel that I hosted for women in cybersecurity, where we want men to feel comfortable in mentoring women. I think part of it is just giving chances. Don’t go do the boys’ activity event just only asking the men to go to a football game. There’s plenty of us who like watching football, too, yours truly included. So it’s one of those things where just think about including, even in a social aspect, start there. At the big projects, give a female employee a chance to participate in it, start small. I think that that’s really where I think those opportunities come along and then they start to open your eyes and mind to wow, there’s a lot of talent across the organization.

Drew Neisser: I just want to acknowledge the one thing that you started with. You set up a group of women in cybersecurity and helped to host a panel, which again, I think is a proactive activity. Charlene, do you have things to add to this? And again, this intentionality, this idea is it’s not enough to say “I firmly embrace women and I want them to succeed.” If you really believe in this cause, you have to do something. You have to take action. So what actions, Charlene, are on your list?

Charlene Li: First of all, just look at the numbers. If you look at your entry, you’re probably pretty even in terms of gender and at each level going up manager, director, VP, executive, you see women falling out. That ratio is always the case in almost every single organization, so be really aware of how you’re promoting people.

A key thing that men can do, any manager can do, is to be very clear what are the criteria for advancement? When you look at the actual job requirements and what’s written down and what actually is needed, those are oftentimes two very different things. Men will oftentimes see those criteria as guidelines, and women will see them as requirements. With a chance to volunteer themselves, they may not even think that they’re qualified when they actually are.

This is one of the most important things, early on in the career, at the very beginning, really cultivating the idea of what is your next step going to be in your career? Every manager should be asking that but taking especially a strong interest in women knowing that this is a problem in almost every single organization, that the advancement ladder, the women to drop out of it so quickly right in that very first level.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. It’s amazing and I just want to point out, so in 2019, one of my guests said, “I love your show, but you need to have more women CMOs on the show.” So, we did a count of the 52 and realized, oh my gosh, it was over 30 [men]. Not intentionally, it just happened. I had to intentionally say, “We’re going to have 50/50 in 2019” which we more than achieved. But you had to say, “I’m going to do it.” So I’m just curious Michelle, anything to add to that in terms of intentionality?

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek: I think that everything that Cindy and Charlene said is absolutely true. I come from a male-dominated world. Cindy, I took down a note, when you were talking about cybersecurity, I came out of the field of AI at IBM and women makeup only 22% of the global AI workforce. And then, Charlene, that number, as we know, gets smaller as you move up the leadership ranks. It’s really, really important that women are represented, and I think we all have a responsibility to do that.

And in the field of AI, let’s face it, that is an actual reflection of who we are as people because the systems are trained by human beings and the data is gathered and captured by people, so we have to inject diversity of thought, perspective, and people into the solutions we build.

If we’re not intentional in our decisions about who will build these systems and how we get more diversity of thinking, not just women, but across race, ethnicity, orientation, physical and intellectual abilities—today is International Day of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities—and so I think that we’ve got to be thinking about this far more broadly than women.

But I would agree that we need to make sure that we’re giving women a seat at the table. I will say this sort of in a final remark. I’ve been very fortunate. I have been in male-dominated fields, but let’s face it, I’ve had men who have lifted me up and offered me opportunities, and so I am very grateful to the men with whom I have worked because they have seen something in me because it’s only been recently that I’ve had the opportunity to work for a woman.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, thank you for that. It’s a really interesting and challenging thing. As you were talking about the AI, it occurred to me. You know, there are lots of articles that we’re going to be hiring using AI tools. You’re absolutely right. If it’s men writing those tools, just like it was white men writing those that AI for facial recognition and as a result is really bad with recognition. I imagine that the systems that are reading resumes and so forth could, without even trying, have some bias.

[37:49] Intersectionality in Leadership Positions

On Intersectionality: “Be very intentional about how you put strategies in place to recognize it, address it, and then move forward with it.” -@charleneli #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Let’s move to intersectionality, and that’s Cindy and Charlene, you being both women leaders and of Asian descent, you get a special word and you get a special kind of discrimination that I wonder if you’d like to share or talk about it all.

Charlene Li: Sure.

Cindy Zhou: Go for it, Charlene.

Charlene Li: Where to begin. I think, again, there are certain stereotypes that people have about women and especially Asian women at least, that you are quiet and meek and you’re there to serve. So many around that, and also that, if you are aggressive, you come across as a “tiger mom” or a “dragon lady.” All of these things I have been called. All of those. You can’t win. Whether you’re leaning in or you’re sitting back, it’s being discounted against you.

The thing, again, is to try to have people see you as a full person. Bringing all of your characteristics into an environment is really key. But the other thing also, it’s so easy because, being Asian, it’s easy to slip into that model of minority. And just as hurtful in some ways is when people say to me, “I don’t see you as Asian” because you fit this model of what women should be versus their stereotype of what Asian is like. That’s just as debilitating because it’s not fully recognizing that I am this whole person, that you don’t even see this other part.

It’s a very complicated story to tear apart and I keep coming back to being aware of this, being aware that there is intersectionality is the first part. Be very intentional about how you put strategies in place to recognize it, address it, and then move forward with it. It can be a strength for the organization.

Drew Neisser: Cindy, anything to add on this one?

Cindy Zhou: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with everything that Charlene mentioned. Particularly, so many times I go into a meeting, and not only am I the only woman, I’m the only minority in the meeting and at the table. I think part of this is—I will add that I’ve typically found that the majority of these kinds of more blatant discrimination situations, they actually happen with fellow Asian males. Some of it really is cultural.

I had a similar experience to what Charlene mentioned even earlier. I was on a business trip to Hong Kong and I brought my husband along. Meanwhile, the Marriott Rewards Platinum is my name, my suite, and yet the person showing us to our room is like, “Oh, and here is the office area where Mr. Zhou can work.” It’s like, “Hmm, okay, that’s interesting.”

But again, I think some of that is on how do you—again, you can’t control what people say to you, but you can control how you react to it. I do believe that one of the key things that help and I encourage all women, not just Asian women watching this broadcast is, really hone in on your speaking skills.

Go take classes. Go practice speaking, practice presentation. The more you can articulate, the better you can articulate your point, the more confidence that gives you. Then that actually starts to gradually shatter that impression of the Asian-American woman as shy and not talkative and will quietly and silently go do the work type of stereotype. Really practice those speaking skills and take those opportunities.

Drew Neisser: I love that. I think it’s great, really great advice.

[42:13] Career Development Advice for Young Women

“Even if you're a student in school, even if you're early in your career, you are a leader simply because you see the opportunity for change.” -@charleneli #RTU #podcast Click To Tweet

Drew Niesser: We talked about Mary Barra, we talked about Lisa Su, but there are 37 out of 500 CEOs on the Fortune 500. And that number is up, which is crazy. Let’s talk about how we’re going to fix this.

We got one thing—work on your people skills, your speaking skills, but let’s get real—how are we going to really fix this problem? We’ve got a generation of leaders. I know my daughter is listening, probably on Facebook. And by the way, she just turned 30 this year and got engaged, so yay! Over Thanksgiving. What do you wish someone had told you when you were 30 as it relates to your career development?

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek: Oh my god, I think we could have a whole series on this one, I really, really do. Look, I’ll give you a couple of notions. I wish early on I had a mentor. I wish I had somebody who had been there to guide me, who might have experienced some things that maybe I was going through and that I had to help sort of guide me and better understand the role and the skills that were required, because I didn’t have that. I sort of had to muddle my way through.

Along those same lines, I became a leader in an organization far, far too early. I wish I hadn’t taken on a management role as early in my career as I did. I think we have to do such a better job of preparing people to become first-line managers. I think we have to invest in them in their development. Because talent is so important in organizations and the experience that you have in the workplace is often defined by your manager, that’s somebody who is helping to shape your career and bolster your skills.

I owe you a big apology to the people who worked for me early on because I wasn’t the best manager. Well, it’s one of those things where I think we have to do more to prepare people for leadership roles. I would say find a mentor and really hone those leadership skills and become a team leader first before taking on management. When you become a manager, really go out and seek those skills that are going to help you not only be a better contributor to the organization, but better to the people who you serve, because frankly, in a leadership role, that’s what we’re here to do. Serve the people who work for us and make sure that that they’re maximizing their potential.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. Yeah, it’s interesting because I hear different things. One from Charlene earlier we heard “Just throw yourself in there and you’ll learn along the way and you’ll make a lot of mistakes.” And you would have preferred maybe making a few less mistakes, maybe getting training there. I’m curious, Cindy, what is your take on looking back at your 30-year-old self? What would you wish someone had forewarned you or talked to you about to help you along on your career?

Cindy Zhou: I’d definitely go back to honing in on speaking skills. I think that is just a skill set that will serve you in any situation, whether it’s professional or personal. I will steal a line from another CEO that was on one of my panels for cybersecurity, Avani Desai of Schellman. She said, “No is a complete sentence.” I pass that along.

Drew Neisser: I love that. I don’t know if you’ve read the book Never Split the Difference, but it’s a great book on negotiation. I highly encourage anybody to read it, particularly at a younger age. He uses inflection and “no” very well. But you’re right, it’s a complete sentence. Charlene, how about some advice for your 30-year-old? The purpose of this show was to foster the next generation of leadership. Let’s get them on that leadership road.

Charlene Li: I would say play big. I wish somebody had said to me, “Go big. Don’t cut yourself short.” Imposter syndrome and everything. Maybe I’ll just settle here or there. I have young kids; I can’t do it all. If somebody had just said to me, “You know, you can go big, you can play big. Never cut yourself short” and just given me that shot in the arm, I think I would have been in a different place now.

That’s what I say to young people. Even if you’re a student in school, even if you’re early in your career, you are a leader simply because you see the opportunity for change. To Michelle’s point, you may want to bite off a smaller piece of change to get your teeth around rather than try to change the whole world, but never stop thinking that you can be the person that can make that difference and then think about how big that difference could be.

I see so many young men talking about the big plans, big dreams, and I so admire that. I wish I had thought that way. I wish I’d given myself permission to go and play big. That’s what I would say to young people in their 30s, at any age. Even now, it’s not too late to start. Play big.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I’m curious if any of you or Amy Cuddy fans and her notion of not quite fake it til you make it, but just convince yourself that you can. It’s that positivity and that optimism that you all talked about early on. You just have to believe that you can do this. That wasn’t a question in there, but feel free to embellish.

Cindy Zhou: We can power pose.


Charlene Li: I think what happens is, we are so realistic now. I mean, we as women, we’re practical, we get things done, we make that to-do list. We’re the people who are balancing a gazillion things at the same time, keeping all these plates spinning. It’s what we think we’re really good at and what we get rewarded for. I would say, if anything, reward yourself for going out there and thinking about the things that you are doing now that make you incredibly uncomfortable.

So often, we are the ones who set the foundation, keep things running. We’re not the ones that blow things up. Take the opportunity to say, “If I could blow something up, if I could disrupt something, change something for the better, what could it possibly be and why couldn’t it be me?

Drew Neisser: It’s a really interesting question. I want to go back to something that Michelle was talking about, as you wish you had a mentor. I wonder, I remember when I moved to New York in the 80s, went to JWT, they had a training program to teach us the business. And there was training all along the way. I don’t know in this world if training from a leadership standpoint really exists anywhere. Have you seen it? Is it happening? Maybe you as individuals are doing it, but where are where would a young woman learn leadership?

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek: Well, you can certainly come to Skillsoft. I don’t know if that was meant to be a commercial, but we have a leadership development program that we’ve actually built in partnership with MIT SMR. You know, it’s really interesting because when I think about leadership— and I think about management different than I think about leadership, right? I think everybody has the opportunity to be a leader. It really is important to give people the tools so they do feel confident, so they do feel they can get ahead. But I also believe that we’re not doing enough to equip people with the tools they need.

I agree with Charlene. I would love to see younger women taking more risks, being bolder, not worrying as much. We still seem to fall into, I think, there’s still this notion that if women are excited about something, if they are risk-taking, then they’re emotional and they’re overly passionate, and, you know, that’s just how women are.

I think we have to dispel so many of these notions, but I think part of it, too, is that we’ve got to give women the tools to feel confident. It’s not just those durable hard skills that we learn in our job, but it really is some of those, what I call, “power skills.” I don’t like the term soft skills, but power skills.

Cindy mentioned it. Communication, collaboration, agility, resilience, perseverance, those things. How do you instill a sense of confidence and purpose in people so that they are willing to take those risks, so that they do go after what they want and they don’t sit back and say, “I wish I had done X.”?

Drew Neisser: That’s really great advice. Who wants to bring us home? Charlene.

Charlene Li: Yeah, I just want to build on that. In lieu of having a mentor, one of the most powerful things you can do is surround yourself with peers who are going through the same thing. You get some women who are in your workplace or people from school, whatever it is, meet on a regular basis every two weeks, once a month, once a year even. But go deep and talk about it. Be vulnerable because these are people you trust, but really explore these areas because it does two things.

First of all, you realize everyone’s in the same boat, you’re not alone, and that’s incredibly powerful. The second thing is, because they have gone through the same issues, they can tell you how they navigated it. It’s not about giving advice. It’s really about hearing how other people have navigated these issues. How did they learn to become a leader? How did they increase their management skills? How do they deal with these interpersonal skills that are so difficult to learn on the job? Find your peers, create a circle around that, and really support each other.

Drew Neisser: I knew you could bring this back to Ben Franklin. I knew you could do it. Franklin set up, when he was a young man, he’s 24 years old in Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, a young tradesman as a printer, he set up what was called The Junto. It was a group of like-minded, hard-working—they were all male because that’s how it was at the time—and he used that network to change Philadelphia, but also read all the things that he wrote, to give him input, to test ideas.

Build a network. I think that’s a great place for us to go. It also allows me to plug CMO Huddles, which has been a wonderful network, at least for me to learn from CMOs.

I want to thank Cindy, Michelle, Charlene, you’re all incredible individuals. You’re all mentors. I hope that some of the listeners, both now and later, will take advantage and reach out and talk to you about your experiences. I want to thank Salcombe Gin. Man, tasty sample. I mean, I never expected when I asked I’d get a little thing like this. Thank you for that and Restream for beaming this show out to the world.

Show Credits

Renegade Thinkers Live is produced by Melissa Caffrey and Maya Todd. For show notes and past episodes, please visit renegade.com, home of quite possibly the savviest B2B marketing agency in New York City. I’m your host Drew Neisser and, until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.