Why do women stand in the shadows?!

Women in leadership

By the time I started MENTOR dna, I’d already produced 62 episodes of an all-women podcast for the University of Pennsylvania‘s Momentum Conference. My co-hosts and I featured Penn and Wharton alumnae from around the world. It was an incredible conference bringing thousands of women from our community together!

The stories shared in those episodes really highlighted why we all loved attending school in an urban Philly setting. There’s something really special about Penn.

Those conversations were rich, which inspired me to also speak to people outside my Penn and Wharton women circles. And here we are!

Most listeners don’t know that I’ve already spoken to so many women leaders, but as I continue on this journey, I’ve found a very common and unsettling thread… when I ask a woman to be a guest on my show, their first instinct is “What?! Why me!? I’m not talented/smart/special enough to be on your show! People don’t want to hear from me.”

And I’m not saying that I sometimes have to twist men’s arms to be on the show…but let’s just say there’s a LOT less twisting involved!

So what gives?! After so many years climbing the ladders across a multitude of industries, my girlfriends still have imposter syndrome?! 

I don’t necessarily have an answer, but will let this post serve as a reminder that we all have something to share. No matter the industry, the job, the educational background. I don’t care. We all have something to teach…and learn!

While you ponder that, here are some FANTASTIC episodes from incredible women leaders who said yes! 

Barbara Jones, Liz Leung, Whitney Gomez, Jane Mosbacher Morris, Courtney Reed, Susan Natland, Coco Brown, Alli Warner, and Deanna Lyn. 

Plan the work, work the plan

build apps on the edge

As I was trying to help my parents with their vaccine registrations, I was shocked at how poorly the app was developed. Certainly the state of California had to know that millions of people would be simultaneously hitting the app for weeks on end! 

This is a good lesson for any organization. Bring in experts if you’re in over your head. If you don’t have tech experts on your roster, bring one on. If you don’t have cybersecurity specialists, seek them out. Know what you don’t know and be ok with it. Barbara Jones and Fred Croshal both discuss in their episodes that no one knows everything, and if they say they do, they’re lying. Reminds me of a parenting quote: The younger you are, the more you know.   

The first mistake was that the county likely didn’t know the right questions to ask as evidenced by the $1.2M contract languages. Zero mentions of uptime guarantees. Security language consists of about 3 sentences. One mention of HIPAA in the entire agreement. One!

By having an expert in your corner, you’d know that the app developer wasn’t sophisticated enough to leverage any of Akamai’s offerings. As an industry leader, Akamai has led with edge computing since 2001. What this means is that they truly are the last mile, getting data and content to users as fast as possible. They’re the spokes to a wheel if you need a super simple visual. Customers at the end of the spokes, the “internet” at the hub. Akamai also offers a powerful and robust waiting room technology that keeps your customers happy.

In those early vaccine registration weeks, California residents struggled with the app that immediately had prolonged outages. Sadly, it was the only vaccine registration app offered at the time before the hospitals and pharmacies realized they needed their own solutions.

In addition to outages, the app was riddled with typos and grammatical problems, which made me wonder how safe my parents’ info was in their database. If you’re leaving typos on your home screen for more than an hour, how’s that code looking? So let’s look past the typos…what about the ineffective notification system and sad inability to handle the traffic loads?

I immediately wondered why California didn’t leverage local teach giants Ticketmaster or Fandango, who both certainly had capacity since live music and movies had been shut down. These two tech companies are accustomed to handling massive traffic spikes and protecting customer data. The reservation systems and fast edge distribution infrastructures exist – why reinvent the wheel? Makes ya wonder how these fly-by-night app developers won the no-bid contracts!?

So the moral of the story is what my Dad has drilled into my head since childhood. Plan the work, and work the plan. Leverage your network. Know when you’re in over your head and ask for help! 

Thanks Adel Zahiry for forwarding this article. Great read.

What first year board members should and shouldn’t do

What first year board members should and shouldn't do

Through my conversations with friends who serve on boards, we all chuckle when we think back to our freshman board experience. Most of the time, you walk into the room not knowing a single person, so it’s like the first day of middle school. 

Sage advice given to me was:

 

During your first year on a board, keep your trap shut...likely for an entire year....unless someone asks you a direct question or tasks you with something!

Now that I’ve served on numerous boards, I understand why.

Most boards rotate members every 1-2 years. Some have board classes with 2-3 people rolling on/off in the same time frame. Healthy board governance that I’ve experienced stipulates that board members have specific terms and only extend their terms under extenuating circumstances. As board members roll off, new members take their place, staggered across years. This way, board culture and the organization’s history get passed down through the classes. This is critical to ensure knowledge transfer as well as healthy cultural continuity and longevity. 

With new members rolling on and off, each board’s dynamic is so fluid  from year to year. Prior to joining a board, you’ve likely asked questions like:

  • How many committees are you expected to join? 
  • What’s the rapport with the CEO? 
  • How involved does the board get with the rest of the organization?

As the newbie, go deeper and take the time to get to know the personalities, working styles, and governance policies. Spend time with other board members outside of board meetings. Learn as much as you can about policies, history, board dynamics and nuances.

During your first year, you’ll most likely join a committee with more seasoned board members, so use those committee meetings as an opportunity to piece together the various decisions and strategies that have been introduced over time. Really take the time to understand the mission and vision of the organization.

After the first year, you’ll start to gain a really good feel for the board dynamics so that you can feel confident contributing in a productive manner. 

The role of a board of directors

old school board room

I’ve been a joiner and doer my whole life. I first was asked to join a non-profit board in 1999. At the time, I had little to no idea what serving on a board really meant. I just suspected that I was being asked to do a bunch of free work. And while that’s partly true depending on the organization and its makeup, over the past 21 years of board service, I’ve learned that serving on a board is much deeper than that. 

I’ve since served on a variety of boards and advised many corporate c-suite executives. My learnings are from both non-profit and corporate settings. 

The board’s job is to protect and uphold the mission and vision of the organization it serves. 

The board typically has one employee – the Chief Executive – and ultimately, the board’s role is to act as guardrails for the organization, checking and balancing the CEO’s decisions against the organization’s mission. A nuance that’s sometimes missed by someone new to board service is the natrual tension between the board and CEO. Oftentimes, the boards members know the CEO personally, but ulitmately, the board is the CEO’s boss. Nurturing a strong and healthy working relationship with open lines of communication is critically important and I’ll touch on that in a different article. 

Serving on a board doesn’t necessarily mean doing a bunch of work that the organization’s employees should be doing. Of course, organizations in early stages, fundraising mode, or in the midst of M&A activity will find its board committees very busy. During crisis times, the board’s role may shift into more “hands-on” coaching or even rolling up of the sleeves to do important work. But I learned from a wise advisor that the board “shouldn’t catch a cold.” This means that board members shouldn’t be in the day-to-day grind and decision making. They need to stay focused on supporting and guiding the CEO. 

When I served as board chair for the Wharton Club of Southern California, our mission was to establish and nurture networking opportunities for our 5000+ alumni and maintain a strong sense of connection to Wharton’s Philadelphia program. For the university, its main interest was to develop and maintain strong connections to its alumni for fundraising purposes. I deeply believe that an organization needs to provide some sense of connection or value in order for donors to come forth. It’s why Sally Struthers was so successful with Feed the Children. 

It was abundantly clear to me that through the use of technology, we could achieve both goals of serving our alumni with meaningful networking events to maintain that strong connection to the university and providing the school the important alumni data. This was the virtuous cycle we wanted! Of course, the university eventually could take it further, analyzing recency, frequency and monetary spend – basic customer lifetime value (CLV) metrics – to find alums more likely to be involved in capital campaigns, speaking on campus, mentorship, but that’s a separate topic and takes us into a deeper dive into what CLV means for a university. 

After a solid run on this software platform for ~10 years, 30+ alumni clubs around the world were enjoying more engagement and growing their networking opportunities. Unfortunately, the platform developer got into some spat (not sure!?!) with the university, leading the university to cut ties entirely. 

What now?! 

The university’s decision left our club in an interesting and challenging position. We were a standalone non-profit entity not directly or legally associated with the university, so we were free to make our own decisions. When the university chose a new software platform, they were keen on our club migrating as we’d been their key tech influencer across the globe. But the new platform didn’t have the basic features we needed to run our club – member directory, event ticketing, member discounts, an event calendar. 

IF the board wanted to uphold the mission and vision of the club to provide networking opportunities to our constituents, this new software choice was a non starter. However, we also appreciated the university’s position of wanting all of its clubs to be on a singular platform. 

The difficult decision was made to stay our current course, breaking away from the university’s technology transition. Our club and its volunteers had worked too hard to build up our membership, event calendar and networking groups and the board’s role was to protect our mission. So we did. And the club remains one of the most active Wharton alumni clubs in the world and it’s likely it will migrate back to the school’s tech given their platform’s feature expansion in the past 5 years. 

While serving on another board, we were faced with a CEO who started displaying traits and behaviors that weren’t aligned with the organization’s mission and vision. While subtle at first, the CEO became more brazen with misaligned decisions, direct threats and outbursts that were highly unproductive and jeopardized the organization’s future. Through months of heated discussion and debate amongst ourselves, with advisors and counsel, the board held firm that protecting the organization was of utmost importance. While this led to a tumultuous and emotionally draining season, looking in the rearview mirror so many years later makes it abundantly clear that the decision to transition the CEO was the right one. The organization continues to thrive, remaining laser focused on its key mission. 

Mentor DNA faviconKey points: 

  • A board’s purpose is to protect the mission and vision of an organization
  • A board’s job is to hire, fire and manage the CEO + nominate the most qualified future board directors that bring diversified thinking to the table 
 

Before you join a board, get really clear on why you want to join and what your role as a board member is.

 

Mentor DNA faviconResources on what the role of a board of directors:

Thanks for tuning in!

meesh pierce MENTOR dna podcast host15

MENTOR dna is a few years in the making. As Head of Product at  AutoGravity, a Mercedes fintech startup, I was inspired by my team and colleagues. However, my husband really pushed me to be introspective and look at our situation from the outside in. 

I was working long hours with 2 young kids at home. We had 4 nannies. I was juggling managing the home, the nannies, the kids, their sports schedules. My life had become an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. 

But I kept telling myself that I wasn’t done. I had so much more work life left in me. 

When I left AutoGravity, I’d already been serving on non-profit boards, including that of my kids’ school. I had a really difficult transition into “retirement” mode thinking “is this all I’m gonna do?!” 

Then God started laughing and made it abundantly clear that He needed me on that school board. We were in the midst of a large capital campaign in support of a multi-year construction project when a governance issue reared its ugly head. 

I spent the next 2 years “working” 50-60 hours a week through a very politically-charged environment. I learned more about people, governance, leadership, and the importance of having solid mentors than in the 25 years prior in my career. 

Simultaneously, my alma mater, University of Pennsylvania, tapped me to lead the tech committee for an all-women’s conference called Momentum 2020. I built a team of fantastic social media Penn girlfriends and we launched a podcast that showcased Penn alumnae from around the world. I produced and edited and received really positive feedback from the Penn community at large. 

Through my network, I’m blessed to know some really incredible leaders; people I turn to regularly for advice, collaborating on new business ideas, and investment opportunities. MENTOR dna is a passion project and will bring these people front and center to you!

As a board member, advisor, and mentor, I love what I do. As I speak to my friends on MENTOR dna, I hope that you have the chance to learn valuable lessons that these incredibly dynamic leaders share through their stories. 

Thank you!