Last week, I wrote about Carol Snell, a Silicon Valley boardroom veteran who last month joined the board of Push Technology, a UK-based application development services provider. That post focused on what, in Snell’s view, has and hasn’t changed over the years for women in technology. As enlightening as that was, it was only a portion of the value that Snell is adding to the discussion of gender-related issues in technology.
For example, I loved Snell’s response to my question about what qualities or characteristics women have that make them especially well-suited for a career in technology:
Women listen better, we’re more caring, our DNA is more nurturing—it’s just who we are. So we tend to make better leaders, in a lot of cases, because it’s less political for us—it’s more about teambuilding. So I just think women have a nature about them to be more particular, and more detail-oriented. I’ve seen that time and time again as I’ve built organizations over these last couple of decades. It never fails. I think with this whole thing of men vs. women, sometimes we forget the fact that there’s a DNA issue here. We were born this way—we were born with different characteristics. The stigma we had to get away from—our parents and grandparents saying a man did this, and a woman did that—I don’t think that’s true today. But I do think there are some intrinsic characteristics that are just going to be there, because of who we are and how we’re made. And that’s OK.
I asked Snell if there are areas within the technology sector in which women are likely to be more successful than in others. She said we’ve entered an interesting era in that regard:
It’s all about this creative piece that’s going on—the way we’re moving in social media is a whole different technology spectrum than what you and I grew up in, with classical enterprise software. Women have this great creative flair, and there’s lot of marketing talent and creativity that’s needed for the success of these social media companies. Look what Apple did—they hired the CEO of Burberry to take care of their retail operation. That’s an interesting dynamic, and an interesting move. It’s because her background was years and years of being creative and selling to the public, and having figured that out. That’s a great example to me of how women are often better suited in some of these jobs that are more consumer-oriented, than being back down at the operating system level. I think it takes a special kind of woman who wants to work at that operating system level, and a lot do, by the way. A lot of women work in QA in technology, because it’s a patient, calm, tedious kind of a job, and they’re good at it, and they don’t mind. But I think in these senior creative positions, a lot of women are going to be better at that than some men might be. It’s an up-and-coming space, where we’re going to see more and more women have a huge impact.
I asked Snell if she could give one piece of advice to a young woman who aspires to have a career in technology, what it would be. She said it would be to make sure she builds a mentor network:
Mentors are the greatest thing. Without them, I look back on my life, and I think how I would never have done as well if I hadn’t had somebody to bounce ideas off of. And I’ve mentored a lot of young women over the last 10 or 15 years, as well. I just think building a network of great mentors is very, very smart.
So does it matter whether a mentor for a woman is male or female? Snell said she’s “a little biased” in that regard:
I’ve been a mentor to a lot of men, and they all loved it and preferred it. Most women, at least that I have been in contact with, want a woman mentor. But let me tell you, I had two men who I thought were just so instrumental in my career. Maybe that was because there weren’t that many women role models in what I was doing, that I could actually get the help from. But early in my career, these two men were invaluable resources to me, in helping me grow. Today, the way I see it is that men prefer women, and women prefer women. I say that with the caveat that that’s my biased view from Silicon Valley.
Snell had a final piece of advice to share—don’t be a complainer:
I’ve never been one of these people who sit back and beat up the nature of the beast, and said, “We’re never going to get ahead, we’re never going to do this or that.” I absolutely never in my career have whined or complained. I’ve never felt like I was not paid equally compared to my male counterparts. I feel like I’ve been given huge opportunities—I was on a great, fast-track career path. Sometimes I want to say, “Oh, hush and stop whining. Do your work, and there will be a good outcome here.” It’s an individual thing. If you want to do it, you can do it. People get on me, because I may be too much of a Pollyanna about that, because they say women aren’t paid the same. Well, I was. I was a full-time CEO last year, and I was paid exactly what anybody else would have been paid with my kind of experience.