Happy first day of 2013! I hope you all had a wonderful night celebrating the close of one year and the launch of another. I was lucky to spend it with some pretty amazing women I’ve met in the New York startup community who have become great friends over the last twelve months (Rachel Sklar, I’m looking at you babe…)
As I was reflecting on the year, I couldn’t believe how much I learned, who I met, and what I experienced in 2012. I launched a company, opened an office, raised venture capital, hired a team, got us national press in newspapers, magazines, and television shows, and helped some women feel amazing when they got dressed for work. This was a year of fitness achievements too with two half marathons and my first Olympic-distance triathlon. I also got some quality time with several girlfriends who have been in my life for over a decade, and had the opportunity to join the boards of two awesome nonprofits I adore: Interlochen Center for the Arts and Camp Interactive.
Confession: I have recently been accused of being exasperating online.
The charge, leveled by a former classmate with whom I have not stayed well connected, was that I only share the shiny, wonderful moments of my life on Facebook and he resented the apparent filtering I had applied to my not-so-shiny moments. After my initial thought subsided (“unsubscribe from my updates then”) his comment lodged itself somewhere on my things-to-write-about list and after considering it all week I decided to do so.
On July 8 I am going to willingly jump into the Hudson River. It gets worse, I’m going to get up before dawn, pour myself into a wetsuit (in JULY, remember), and jump into the Hudson River with 2999 other New Yorkers for the first leg of the New York Triathlon: swimming 1500 meters in open water.
Last year an incredibly powerful film was released called Miss Representation, a documentary about how women are portrayed in the media. One of the most powerful statements it made was that “you can’t be what you can’t see.” For example, for girls to dream about being astronauts or presidents or software engineers they need to see female astronauts, female presidents, and female software engineers in books, movies, and television. (Instead, the number 1 career aspiration for young girls is to be royalty because mostly what they see are princesses.)
I was thinking of this phrase in particular today because it is Mother’s Day, and this Mother’s Day is the first for my big sister, Stephanie. She has the most beautiful 10-month-old son who is the smartest, happiest, smiliest, most perfect baby ever. No, I am not biased. It’s factually true. Trust me. What makes my sister an amazing mom could fill ten blog posts, but what hit home for me was that, for the first time, I could see up close and unpolished what it meant to be a mom. And it blew my mind.
A few weeks ago the NYU Stern Undergraduate Women in Business board of directors participated in an improv training session, led by a former-actress-turned-communications coach. This session grew out of an ongoing conversation I’d had with the ladies following their March conference, wherein they had expressed discomfort with speaking up and asking for what they wanted. (Here’s the blog post I wrote following that conference if you’re interested in the background story.)
Life is hard.
I can say that with utmost clarity. Startups are challenging, yes, let that go on the record. And relationships take work and money can be difficult to manage and probably all of those platitudes are true.
But when you strip all of that away, when it’s just you and the people you love and you are facing uncertainty in matters of life and death — true, end-of-life death — and it just breaks your heart to play out any of the possible scenarios ahead, well, those are the moments that make you want to break a stack of plates. And then maybe jump out of an airplane from 10,000 feet. And then tell the next guy in a hoodie who is “crushing it” to just shut the f up.
Two weeks ago I spoke as part of a workshop for the Undergraduate Women in Business conference at NYU Stern School of Business. The workshop was called “Necessary Conversations” and the overall theme was how to grab a seat at the table, speak up, and have the conversations that matter — whether pitching for an investment, negotiating a raise, giving difficult feedback, asking for a mentor relationship, you name it.
It seems undergraduate women at NYU Stern are facing the same difficulties that women at many top business schools face: they are underperforming their male peers, in large part because they hold back in classroom discussions. When digging deeper they realized that female students prefer to speak only when they are absolutely confident in their answer or when they feel completely prepared to enter the debate. They tend to take longer to raise their hand, have shorter and more concise comments, and often self-edit to manage their out-of-classroom image. As a result, these totally awesome women are losing ground before the game even starts.