Nina Nets It Out

Perspectives on Leadership

Culture Beyond Equality

There has been much public focus and attention on the subject of equal pay – but in the seven years since the passing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, little has changed. Equality is a goal worth striving for – but the culture of business needs work before we can see more significant gains made.

2016 – The Year of Conscious Innovation

Often when we think of innovation, we call to mind those projects that fly below the radar within the enterprise, only to surface at some point to loud applause, fully formed and functioning. These are the make or break innovations that change companies or industries. In the 20th Century, these innovations were kept well away from the core business as they could not be easily accommodated within the functions, structures and business models of the enterprise – and would only be brought into full view of the world when the conditions were right. The pioneer of this model was aircraft manufacturer, Lockheed. Under the leadership of chief engineer, Kelly Johnson, the Lockheed Skunk Works produced many of the industry’s advanced projects including the first US fighter plane – the XP-80. But the Skunk Works had very humble beginnings – in a rented circus tent alongside one of Lockheed’s manufacturing plants. Its first project commenced four months before an official contract was in place and there was no official submittal process. Even the name of this mysterious innovation division was secret until: One day, [team engineer] Culver’s phone rang and he answered it by saying “Skonk Works, inside man Culver speaking.” Fellow employees quickly adopted the name for their mysterious division of Lockheed. “Skonk Works” became “Skunk Works.” The once informal nickname is now the registered trademark of the company: Skunk Works®. The Skunk Works model has been so successful that it is routinely followed by the most innovative of 21st Century companies. Google has Google X where self-driving cars, wearable computers and indoor mapping technologies have been hatched. Amazon...

Leveraging Female Talent to Drive Innovation

One of the most significant factors limiting the growth potential of countries around the world is the fundamental participation and engagement of women in their workforce. The second annual research study by Mercer on gender diversity in the workplace suggests that eliminating the gap between male and female employment rates could boost countries’ GDP by up to 34%.  How do we get there? We need to leverage the talent of women to drive innovation in our businesses – and this goes beyond lip service. It needs to become a strategic imperative. How Investing in Female Talent Produces Dividends To capitalize on innovative thought, businesses need to invest in a diverse workforce which includes funding, supporting, and mentoring female talent. These investments pay rich dividends for companies as a recent Babson College report shows that “businesses with a woman on the executive team are more likely to have higher valuations at both first and last funding (64 percent higher and 49 percent higher, respectively).” The Harvard Business Review report agrees that women are essential to growth and innovation: … employees who work for companies [that acquire and support female employees] are 45% more to likely report that their company improved market share in the last 12 months. And they’re 70% more likely to report that their company captured a new market in that time frame. Hiring a diverse workplace is the first step to harnessing female innovation, but businesses also need to foster women’s ideas. The Harvard Business Review further reveals that the “full innovative potential of women” remains largely untapped within corporations largely because the leadership doesn’t know how...

The Four Styles of Mentoring

People often picture a mentor as someone older or at least someone who has been in a particular business for a long time, but mentoring is not always about age or the number of years of experience a particular person has in a certain field. Instead, mentoring is about inspiring or helping another person, no matter the age or experience level of the people involved in the mentoring relationship. Kim Getty, president of Deutsch LA, an advertising agency which markets for companies such as M&M’s and 7up, talked in a recent article about how people of all ages can be mentors to others. She talked specifically about how younger people make great mentors. Getty, who also teaches journalism classes, said her students act as mentors, as they keep her up-to-date on trends in the media. She focused upon the four types of mentors which are essential for any professional. First, you need a Peer-to-peer mentor. This is someone who works in your field and who is on the same professional level as you. This person is someone you can turn to for advice when you are just frustrated or otherwise worked up about something at work. Second, people need a Reverse mentor. For Getty, this is her students. Overall, it is someone younger and newer in the industry, someone who can give the seasoned professional a fresher outlook, and at times this the person who can explain new terms or gadgets which might be essential to the success of the company or the individual. At the beginning of someone’s career, he or she will be this type of mentor,...

Five Steps to Building a Responsive Organization

Transforming a business is hard work. It requires a vision and a program. It means shifting and reallocating resources. It’s about asking hard questions and listening to the equally hard answers. Transformation is both strategic and tactical – and for many organizations, it is exhausting. The challenge of transformation, however, is not about arriving at your “transformation destination” – it’s about building resilience in your business so that change becomes part of your business DNA. Because the kicker here, is that change never ends. But hasn’t this always been the way? Hasn’t change always been part of our business and professional lives? When venture capitalist, Marc Andreesen suggested that “software is eating the world”, he brought a sharp focus to a movement that had been brewing for decades. Building on the learnings arising from the dotcom bubble, a new generation of internet companies are building “real, high-growth, high-margin, highly defensible businesses” – and the reason is that the technology finally works. And accordingly, software is revolutionizing not just the way that a company does business – software increasingly IS the business. The fact is that almost every organization was designed to deal with a world that no longer exists. … most organizations still rely on a way of working designed over 100 years ago for the challenges and opportunities of the industrial age. Team structures support routine and static jobs. Siloed, command and control systems enable senior leadership to drive efficiency and predictability at the expense of free information flow, rapid learning, and adaptability. Software companies by their very nature, however, live in this new world. As Tom Goodwin...

Great Tech Doesn’t Guarantee Innovation

Throughout my career I have seen some amazing technology come to life. I have been fortunate enough to have worked with some of the great business leaders of the 20th and 21st Centuries, witnessed their creativity and ingenuity first hand, and watched as those innovations have transformed industries across the globe. But for every success, I have seen dozens of failures. For every brilliant idea, I have seen many fall at the first hurdle – or progress, limping towards an uncertain future. I have seen many leaders also rise and fall on the back of their idea – some have been able to taste success. Others continue to search for it. And as one idea, leader, team or organization fails and falls, another rises to take its place. The momentum and energy that sustains innovation seems to readily transfer from one project to another and one person to another. It is as if the role of innovator comes with a certain yet necessary degree of amnesia. We forget the pain and heartbreak of failure on the journey towards our own success. More often than not, our successes are built on a string of smaller failures which we learn from and improve – so this idea of failing before succeeding tends to make sense to those with an innovator’s mindset. In Silicon Valley, this approach to failure has been popularized and optimized under the term “fail fast”. But in the risk averse environment that many of us operate, even failing fast can carry a negative connotation that lasts long after the project fades. Writer, Rob Asghar suggests that “failing fast”...

Take Steps to Crack the Glass Ceiling

We still have some way to go before we can honestly claim to have shattered the glass ceiling. That invisible barrier between minorities and women that prevents access to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder still requires our attention and action. The Economist’s glass ceiling index for 2015 reveals that the United States ranks below the OECD average, behind Germany and Australia and well behind countries like Finland, Norway and Sweden which rank highest. The Glass Ceiling Index combines data on higher education, labor-force participation, pay, child-care costs, maternity rights, business-school applications and representation in senior jobs. It draws on data from a range of sources including the OECD, European Commission, World Economic Forum and others. Each country’s score is a weighted average of its performance on nine indicators. The interactive version of this chart allows you to see how the weightings can modify the results, showing how that a focus on specific factors can transform a whole country’s performance. You can hover over each country to delve into the figures for each country – and when we do this for the US, the data is revealing – especially when we contrast it with some of the other countries in the list. Let’s extract the data for a few countries: USA Canada Britain Finland Higher ed gap 5.0 11.3 2.2 12.9 Participation gap -11.5 -7.0 -11.4 -2.5 Wage gap 17.9 19 17.5 18.7 Exec positions 42.7 36.0 34.3 32.0 Board roles 21.2 18.3 22.6 32.1 Childcare cost 35.1 29.3 45.7 22.5 Paid maternity 0.0 8.0 11.7 14.1 GMAT exams 38.3 38.5 27.4 53.6  Women in parliament 19.3 25.2...

New Horizons

This week I start in a new role as Chief Product Officer, leading global product and commercialization strategy for NTT Innovation Institute (NTT i3). NTT i3 is the Silicon Valley-based open innovation and applied research and development center of NTT Group. I will lead the development and commercialization of NTT i3‘s groundbreaking platforms and solutions aimed at today’s Digital Businesses. You can read the full press release here. This is an incredibly exciting time to be stepping into this kind of role – one I see more and more leading businesses creating. We are living in a time where our lives are increasingly connected – not just in terms of people and devices, but also “things”. We used to think of these as trends, like the “internet of things” or “social networking”. But the truth is, they are now our realities. The technology that we use consciously or unconsciously shapes the way we live, not just how we live. It is this that excites me. As Srini Koushik, President and CEO at NTT i3 says: Like all major drivers for change, the interplay between technology and the evolution of human experience is complex. Just as the first human societies were shaped by their use of tools—the technology that we are inventing now is re-inventing us. This new role will be a challenging and exciting one. It will require invention and re-invention. Leadership and innovation. And I look forward to sharing my insights with you...

Women Who Lead

We hear a lot of talk about gender inequality at all levels. From the board room to the call center and everywhere in-between, we seem to have a problem. This is particularly in the technology field where qualified women are abandoning the industry in record numbers. In 2014, “big tech” got together to analyze the situation, releasing a report that showed that men outnumbered women 4:1 – or more – in their technical sectors. And we’re not talking “old skool” tech companies here – we are talking Google, Apple and Facebook. Collectively we are facing a huge challenge. Not only do we face the challenge of attracting women into the science, technology, engineering and math fields (STEM), once they are there, we have trouble retaining them. It’s an issue of culture. As I have suggested previously, we need to put a STEM in STEM for Women. Laura Sherbin, director of research at the Center for Talent Innovation sums it up: It’s a really frustrating thing. The pipeline may not improve much unless women can look ahead and see it’s a valuable investment. But the news is not all bad. Monique Thorpe has created a website that showcases and celebrates the real worlds of women. There are already dozens of interviews of business owners, innovators, artists and activists. In fact, they come from all walks of life. Some of these women are early career. Some are executives. Some are following their own paths. Earlier this month I was featured as one of the women who lead. But there are plenty more. Take a few minutes to read the stories of...

The Three Ms of Mentoring

Mentoring is one of those strange, unknowable beasts. It can be hard to do, difficult to explain, but can have enormous benefits for all involved. Both mentors and mentees find significant value in the process – but it’s more like a dance and less like a business relationship than you might imagine. And in today’s multi-level, matrixed organizations, finding just the right mentor-mentee relationship can be like finding a needle in a haystack. For women in particular, the challenge is even more complicated. Studies show that women find it more difficult to find mentors – and a LinkedIn survey of over 1000 working women indicated that 20% of women have never had a mentor at work. Over the years, I have been a mentor and have, in turn, been mentored. And I have come to realize that there are three clear elements that need to align for mentoring to be successful. I call them the “three Ms”: Match-making: In many ways, mentoring is like dating. What you are looking for is a “match” – and this goes far beyond whether you “like” someone or not. To have a successful match – on both sides of the mentoring equation – it is essential that you find someone who is actually interested in the mentoring process. If you have been matched through your work, then you might find there is just not the level of commitment you want or need. Ensure that your mentor-match has the time, focus and interest that you expect or need. Mentality: Do you know – or have heard about your mentor-match? Do you respect their experience...

Putting a STEM in STEM for Women

We often look at the world of tech startups through rose colored glasses. After all, these companies are the future IBMs, Oracles and SAPs – long-lived, large scale organizations that have generated not just large returns for shareholders, but massive value for customers, employees and partners. Yet despite their obvious focus on future value building and innovation, startup tech companies have a startlingly poor record when it comes to hiring women. Ann Hoang from STEMINIST explains: Women make up less than 40 percent of the workforce at Apple, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter, and no more than one-fifth of the technical workforce at those companies. Blair Hanley Frank takes this further, citing “a 2011 study found that 15 percent of women who graduated with an engineering degree did not go on to work in engineering, while another 20 percent entered the engineering workforce and then summarily left for another industry.” Clearly there are not just factors that prevent women from taking up STEM related roles – there are also factors that drive them elsewhere once they have them. Lynne Y Williams refers to this phenomenon as IT’s vanishing women. “A 2004 study by the National Center for Women & IT revealed that a large number of women who already occupy upper-level IT-related positions are leaving the industry at a startling rate, with “56% of technical women leav[ing] at the ‘mid-level’ point” (Ashcraft & Blithe, 2010) of their careers, a rate almost double that of equivalent male colleagues.” Williams calls out the “hostile, macho culture” in the IT workplace along with isolation, lack of opportunity and support from and...