By Renee Blodgett (Blogger, Down the Avenue) Clearly I don't get to New York often enough, by now I would have met writer and products guru Maya Baratz, who is currently working on new products at The Wall Street Journal.
She started out by asking the nearly all women audience at WITI (Women in Technology International) -- "How many of you are still waiting for your mentor? How many of you spend your time trying to prove someone wrong?"
Mentors were a common thread throughout her talk. It's not that she doesn't believe in having them, but if you can’t find a mentor, don't wait around to get ahead. "Waiting for a mentor is like waiting to follow someone else’s lead," she says. "Follow your own."
On innovation, she says, "Innovation is about being unreasonable and along the way you sprinkle it with reasonable."
She encouraged the women in the room not to be reasonable. "You don’t need to succeed," she says. We can fail. Women are shy of taking big risks and want to ensure they can succeed before moving forward.
Hear hear Maya. And to add to that, not only are women more afraid to fail, but they're more likely to hold back when they've accomplished something great. Many entrepreneurs will tell you to fail fast, early and often.
Failure is nothing more than feedback. And, when you do succeed, she encouraged, "don't just move yourselves forward, but move your female colleagues forward with you."
Taking risks was emphasized and re-emphasized. In other words, isn't it better to have a life of oh wells than what ifs? True innovation is about taking a leap of faith and that almost always means taking risks which can lead to failure.
"When you do fail," she adds, "speed up your recovery process. You shouldn’t spend your time reacting to failure. If you get stuck on the anger side, you’ll probably be stuck there for awhile. Leading a proactive life is dusting yourself off, getting up and trying again."
Women-led start-ups fail less than men yet women make up less than 10% of venture-backed startups.
The bottom line is that we don’t toot our own horn which makes us feel a lot more boxed in. We also don’t have role models to look up to....at least not enough of them.
It’s important for every one of us to tell our own story and get it out there, embrace what we've accomplished rather than be afraid of it.
She spoke of actionable things we can do now to further our lives. I can't agree enough that this is what it takes to grow. There's nothing truer than this (and having the our belief systems) to get ahead. We can have dreams and goals but if we don't get them down on paper and take steps to get there, it won't happen. When we have a little "win", it's human nature to own that win and use it as ammunition to move forward. It works for me.
I call them baby steps. Rather than think of the magnitude of the project OR all the potential obstacles that could get in the way OR the skill sets you don't have, just act. Baby steps are important because baby steps = action and action leads to results. It's a bit like serendipity versus having a strategy, where serendipity is reactive and strategy is being proactive, infused with passion of course. Ask yourself what action can you take to make things happen? Says a woman in the audience, "look at the way men talk about entrepreneurship -– it’s okay for a man to take crazy risks and put themselves out there." Another truism.
Yet, how many times have we all thrown an idea into the wind and received negative feedback? So have hundreds of other entrepreneurs. Success stories today had dozens and in some cases hundreds of no's before they got to yes. If it doesn't have immediate positive feedback, it doesn’t mean that its not a good idea. It may just mean that it’s new and it hasn’t been tried yet.
It's also okay for women to get tons of exposure and not just be okay with it but embrace it. I'm working on a photo book and have been turned down by a few women. Two very prominent women in the industry declined because they said they were "overexposed." I was in a bit of disbelief when I heard the response -- twice. Overexposed? Really? Would a man decline an opportunity and say I'm overexposed?
Are you kidding, I quietly thought when I heard the response. Deep inside, my reaction wasn't quiet -- it was miffed, saddened, disillusioned and frustrated. I also couldn't help but feel that important female voices and insights wouldn't be part of an important project. Moreso, as a woman who's struggling to get support and access to great people to make the project succeed, I thought, "Am I going to rely mostly on my male industry buds to help move this book forward in places I can't?" Again. (I had to say it, but yes, again).
We need to support and embrace women's journeys around us and there's no better way to do that than to be aware of their journey, where and how they're struggling and step in to help, even if its in a very small way. Baby steps. They matter.
It's also important that in the entrepreneurial process that we don't self judge ourselves but even moreso for women.
Obviously it's not the first time I've attended women events and conferences. I have been a regular at BlogHer since the very beginning, have been a member and attendee of various women organizations, attended an all girl's school and was active in 4H as a child which, while it wasn't for women only, there were predominantly girls in my club and the same applied to other clubs in my immediate area.
Yet attending WITI, a three-day event full of inspirational women in technology who are embracing challenges and hearing great talks like Maya's and others, is a reminder that while it's not easy out there and we may even recall some of the common mistakes we have made as we hear other stories, its freeing to talk about it and in the process, get feedback.
Feedback can lead to action. It's amazing that when we say things out loud, not only does it feel better, but it provokes us into action in some way, shape or form. At least it does for me.
Not once in that session did the word confidence come up, not that I remember at least, although it certainly came up elsewhere and throughout the three days. Women don't have enough of it. Period.
This post was originally posted at Down The Avenue.
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Renee Blodgett is the Founder and CEO of Magic Sauce Media. She is the Founder and Editor of We Blog the World. Renee co-founded Traveling Geeks in 2008 and has held advisory board positions on b5 Media, Cozmo Media, Toktumi, Radus, BlogHer, and PopTech. Follow her on Twitter at @MagicSauceMedia.