BostInnovation: Figure Out Who You Are, Ignore All The Rest

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By Melissa Ablett (Marketing & Events Coordinator, BostInnovation)

 

Today at Microsoft’s second annual Women’s Leadership Forum there was no cheer-leading about “girl power,” rather just powerful women who are making a difference.

Organized by Microsoft, MITX, the Commonwealth Corporation, and others, the NERD Center was filled with women (and a few very lucky, seemingly lost men) eager to attend the long line-up of speakers, panels, one-on-ones, and networking.

Sara Spalding, Microsoft’s Cambridge Site Director welcomed everyone to the event. “Last year, during registration, people were looking around nervously for who they knew. This year, people jumped in and were already talking.” She was also excited to share that, to date, the NERD Center has hosted over 60,000 guests at 800 events.

The day’s content kicked off with Susan Bates, CEO of Bates Communications, talking about the importance of women (and everyone) finding their own “CEO brand”. She cited a disappointing survey from McKinsey & Company: 53% of new hires are women, but only a measly 14% of Executive Committee level promotions go to the gender. The reason for this? She claims it’s because women have a hard time finding, developing, and expressing their personal brand.

Through the example of some amazing stories, she illustrated the need to analyze our life experiences to discover the pillars of our character that make up our brand. Then, she explained, figure out how to tell that story — the power of knowing who you are, and your unique leadership style will attract the people and opportunities you want in your career.

And while the examples of the PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi’s revolutionary personal brand of driving her company to live by the motto “performance with purpose”, or Meryl Streep growing her personal brand from serious acting roles to the fun she had in the $600M-grossing “Mama Mia” were intriguing, it was a story of local Communispace CEO Diane Hessan that the crowd loved.

If you’ve ever met Diane, you can’t help but have the impression she’s a tour de force. Why? Because she’s developed a personal CEO brand that embodies tenacity, confidence, and resourcefulness. Getting her degree in 3 years from Tufts because money was tight, Hessan decided afterward that an MBA was the way to go. She didn’t want a second-tier school, so she applied to Harvard Business School.

In order to get noticed, she filled out her application in calligraphy, and told the admissions office they’d better let her in because she was about to run out of money and be forced to move back home. Fast forward, and she’s the founder and CEO of Communispace, recently sold for a reported $100M to Omnicom.

With all of us in the room, fired up to discover our own brand (hopefully also worth $100M), the day continued with a plethora of incredible speakers. Jennifer Chayes, Distiguished Science & Managing Director, Microsoft Research New England; Susan Windham Bannister, President & CEO of the Mass Life Sciences Center; Elisabeth Bentel Carpenter, SVP, Global Support & Services at Brightcove; Teresa Herd, VP Creative Director, Staples; and many more.

One of the day’s many panels was “Boston. The Destination for Female Entrepreneurs” featuring TechStars’ Katie Rae, Apricot Capital’s Jennifer Lum, The Commonwealth Institute’s Pam Reeve, and Stephanie Kaplan of Her Campus Media. Between questions from the moderator, the Commonwealth Institute’s Pam Reeve, and the audience, all three women shared gender-based (and a wee bit of gender-neutral) knowledge:

On getting funding:

Katie Rae: “It’s a simple fact that many women don’t run in the social circles where the capital is — we don’t tend to play golf with VCs, we weren’t in their frat, and we’re not in their social club. So you have to be even more intentional in developing relationships. You’ve got to make a connection to get funded.”

Jennifer Lum: “Female entrepreneurs waste time preparing to hear a ‘no’. They cast too wide a net — find the investors who are going to be interested, and go after them.”

On finding the right employees:

Stephanie Kaplan: “They’ve got to be self-starters.”

Katie Rae: “To tell if someone’s got what it takes to be an entrepreneur, I use the ‘trash test’. Leave dirty coffee cups in the conference room. When they come in to interview, do they just stare at the cups, or are they proactive to get up and throw them away?”

On Boston:

Jennifer Lum: “Boston is welcoming – even more so than Silicon Valley. It’s an amazing community in all aspects, from investors to entrepreneurs, from schools to journalists.”

Katie Rae: “There’s an unbelievable history of women-backed businesses growing here. There’s also support system you won’t find other places, like the SheEOsWomen 2.0, and training female angel investors with the Pipeline Fellowship, now in Boston.

Lastly, the best piece of advice they’d received?

Stephanie Kaplan: “In every interaction, always be focused on getting the outcome you want for your business.”

Jennifer Lum: “A question from Sheryl Sandberg, ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’ I think about that every day.”

Here are some photos from the event:

» Read the full article at BostInnovation.