I am frequently asked “What is it like to be a Female Chief Technology Officer?,” and I try to ignore the question. However, after recently receiving my fourth gender-specific award (this time, Female Entrepreneur of the Year), I posed a question on Quora if anyone had ever hired or not hired anyone because of his or hergender. I only received vehement no’s in response–however I’m positive this isn’t the true picture.
Early in my career, I was the recipient of reverse discrimination–I was hired specifically because I was a woman. As there was a requirement for both internally maintaining and demonstrating product to the public, they had a preference–unwritten in the job description–for “someone customers found pleasant to look at”. While there were plenty of men I know who would have loved that job, I snagged it because I was the person best fit for the position.
Only 50 years ago, on prime-time television, millions of viewers tuned in once a week to seeNichelle Nichols, an African American woman,as fourth-in-commandon the popular series, Star Trek. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself counted himself a fan of the show, personally urging her to remain on the show when she wanted to return to acting on Broadway.
Recently, Nichols received the Comic-Con Inkpot Lifetime Achievement award–in no small part due to all the many people she inspired (myself included) to follow their dreams of breaking down barriers. When I asked her what it was like to be a black female actor in the 60s, she replied, “I am an actor–I don’t think about anything else.” Her later work as a NASA recruiter helped to bring more diversity to the program than ever before, culminating in our earliest female astronauts like Sally Ride, Judith Resnick and Kathryn D. Sullivan.
It’s hard to believe that 50 years after Star Trek, we still haven’t reached equilibrium in our workplaces. Questions of gender bias and harassment are still hot topics in business.
For large corporations, they give training on how to eliminate bias in hiring practices–but what steps can you take as an entrepreneur?
While some people consider this radical or controversial, I am a huge proponent of using “blind” applications for the first pass. Many applicant tracking systems (ATS) are set up to filter for specific skills, experience and other job requirements that you are looking for, which is good, but you need to take another step and remove any personally identifiable information from the application as well. This includes picture, name, volunteered gender and race information, hobbies, interests, location and the school a person attended.
All of these things can lead to unintended bias – for example, you may be more inclined to hire someone who attended your University over someone from a rival school.
After you have filtered through your submissions, but before your initial interview, I recommend doing both skill and personality assessments. StrengthsFinder, HackerRank, and Fingerprint4Successare among those I regularly use to evaluate candidates to determine both competency and behavioral style.
By utilizing empirical data to compare one candidate to another, it further removes bias.
At the third stage, candidates that have been selected through the first two come to have a conversational interview with the people they will be interacting with.
While it’s impossible to eliminate all biases–we are human–if you’ve done the job well up to here, you have the highest probability of hiring the best candidate at this point.
As NASA and Ms. Nichols found in the early 80’s, your candidate pool is only as good as your advertising efforts. Their hard work in recruiting led to a higher number of diverse candidates, however it was still a small percentage overall.
As far as, “What is it like to be a female CTO?” the answer is–“I’m a CTO – I don’t think about anything else.”
When Angelina Lawton ran communications for the Tampa Bay Lightning, she could never understand how a company with such an exciting product–professional hockey, for goodness sake–managed to be so dull when it came time to pitch potential sponsors.
Her frustration spurred her to start a boutique agency, Sportsdigita, whichspecializesin making flashy presentations for pro sports sales departments–“a movie-trailer for franchises” is how she describes them. Nine years later, executives at more than450 teams, stadiums, and arenas haveused her multimedia slideshows, called Digidecks, to sell everything from merchandise licenses to luxury suites, she says.
But now the pandemic haspostponed professionalsports seasons, and widespread protestshaveLawton’s bread-and-butter clients–the sales groups–lying low. To keep revenue growing and her company afloat,Lawton ispivoting to target customers in new fields from financial services to health care.
Work-at-home sales teams at all kinds of businesses must now figure out how to close deals from afar–and they can use all the help they can get.
“Covid-19 has opened up people’s eyes to remote selling and collaborating,” says Lawton. “Our product is perfect for that.”
When Lawton first started marketing souped-up sales decks to sports and events companies, the multimedia opportunitieswere obvious.Looking to sell advertising rights to the billboards in the outfield? Show a star centerfielder leaping for a catch in front of them. Marketing the luxury suites for your arena? Play clips of the games, concerts, and monster truck rallies that clients will be able to see up-close from the box.
In 2016, she decided to focus on the hard part, the software–andbegan selling it as a service sosalespeople could produce the digidecks in-house. The move put her into direct competition with legacy competitors like Microsoft PowerPoint, as well as subscription-based online software, such asPrezi. Even so, since pivoting to this software-as-a-service model, Sportsdigita revenue has grown over 200 percent, to $4 million in 2018, which putthe company at No. 1,993 on last year’sInc. 5000 ranking of fastest-growing private U.S. businesses. It ranked at No. 146 on this year’s Inc. 5000 series Midwest list. Today, 80 percent of the company’s revenue comes from software subscriptions, and the rest fromservices. Clients include the Los Angeles Lakers, the Philadelphia Eagles, and U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Now, with sporting events on hold and tensions high from weeks of protests, high-profile sports teams don’t want to be seen as tone-deaf amid the unrest. Like entrepreneurs across the world, Lawton was forced to rethinkbasic assumptions about her company and customers.
Her company has already made some early scores: insurerMutual of America, Cargill, the giant food conglomerate, and Jostens, the seller of high school yearbooks and class rings, have signed on as clients. They haveexisting libraries of media–salespeople can populate the decks with pre-loaded photo and video options from their ownexisting ads, and then present them in tandem with Zoom calls or other videoconferencing software.
Next, Sportsdigita is planning to add videoconferencing to Digideckas well, requiring new kinds of software expertise and putting the company up against the likes of Zoom.
For Sportsdigita, the new revenue has offset the slump in sports, andLawton says the company is once again on track with its pre-Covid growth targets.And her new clients? Their presentations may lack the same jaw-dropping action of their pro sports counterparts–but their infographics and bullet points are leaping off the screen like all-stars.
Want to keep up to date with all the latest news and events?