The glass ceiling is not just a myth, and today’s guests are living proof that it not only exists but that it is also possible to break through it. Lisa Schreiber and Myrna Soto are both successful executives in each of their fields. Lisa is the Chief Customer Officer at BlackLine and Myrna is the founder and CEO of Apogee Executive Advisors, LLC. They join host George Randle to discuss the realities of being a woman in a male-dominated industry, or in any industry for that matter, trying to climb up the ranks. Both women also share their views on how companies should approach diversity, equality, and inclusion in the workplace and where the focus should be when hiring and promoting talented individuals. They also discuss how women should handle difficult conversations on compensation and employment to not shortchange their own qualifications. Tune in to learn more!
Listen to the podcast here
About Lisa Schreiber
As a member of the GoldenGate Software Executive Team, Lisa contributed to the growth strategy for all of the areas of the start-up, including growth from 40 to almost 500 FTEs, ~30% annual sales increase, and international expansion, leading to acquisition by Oracle. Selected by Charles Schwab to serve as CIO at U.S. Trust, leading the company through repatriation of the Trust Accounting System.
Lisa oversees the CSMs who support the customer with Oracle products and encourage consumption and upselling and was named #1 team in helping to drive sales by Oracle Key Account Directors. Transformed the GoldenGate Software support team into a 24×7 team that achieved a 94% customer satisfaction rating with a 96% renewal rate.
Over 3 years, Lisa automated and re-engineered the Oracle NA Renewals team and returned $66M to Oracle to redeploy in other areas.
Lisa accelerated automation of GoldenGate Software support services, resulting in reduced call volume and mean time to resolution while keeping costs flat, and created a self-service automated knowledge base. And she built Schwab institutional applications to a SaaS offering that served 5,700 independent investment managers, accounting for 11% of revenues and covering $234B in assets.
About Myrna Soto
Myrna has over 28 years of focused information technology/cybersecurity experience and accolades within various industries, including financial services, hospitality, insurance/risk management, and gaming/entertainment. Myrna founded Apogee Executive Advisors, and as the CEO, she provides a range of advisory and consulting services in corporate governance, technology risk, cybersecurity, merger acquisitions, and public & private board service.
Myrna serves on these boards: CMS Energy (NYSE: CMS) and Consumers Energy, Spirit Airlines (NYSE: SAVE), TriNet (NYSE: TNET), and Popular Inc., which operates under the brand names of Banco Popular, and Popular Bank (NASDAQ: BPOP). She is one of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) governance and board leadership fellows.
She most recently served as the Chief Strategy & Trust Officer for Forcepoint. Forcepoint is a global cybersecurity technology leader that operates in over 150 countries. She has served as COO of an award-winning managed security service provider (MSSP) focused on providing world-class cybersecurity operations to customers and partners. Myrna was also an investment Partner at ForgePoint Capital (Formerly known as Trident Capital Cybersecurity), focusing on cybersecurity organizations.
Before these roles, Myrna served as Corporate SVP & Global Chief Information Security Officer for Comcast Corporation and was responsible for all security & technology risk management for the enterprise. Her scope of responsibility included over 54 business lines within the Comcast portfolio valued at over 163B, with over 160K employees and an 800 person team.
Myrna also served as CISO & Vice President of Information Technology Governance for MGM Resorts International (formerly known as MGM MIRAGE).
This is an episode you’re going to want to take notes on. Two of the finest leaders I have ever worked with, Myrna Soto and Lisa Schreiber, two seasoned senior executives and amazing leaders, are going to talk to us about not only breaking the glass ceiling but thriving above the glass ceiling. We’re going to talk about what it takes to reach that level and what it takes to succeed and thrive. We’ll answer the question about what it means to be a great executive.
I have to make a confession first. Mike Sarraille and I wrote in our book in one of the first chapters that you can’t see talent. There are some exceptions to that rule. The exceptions to that rule are the two people that I have the distinct privilege of having on the show. I will let them introduce themselves, Myrna Soto and Lisa Schreiber. When it comes to leadership and when it comes to people that you walk in front of and you know you want to work with, these two are it.
We are going to be talking raw about everything and anything related to making sure that you achieve all that you can achieve regardless of your background. With that, let me say to both of you that I am humbled. I know we all worked together at one point. This is good stuff. I can’t believe my good fortune to cross paths with you. With that, I want to jump right in. Myrna, thank you so much for coming to us from the East Coast in Miami. I’ll let you introduce yourself first.
I’m the one that’s humbled to be in the presence of the two of you. I have to say that the time that we all worked together was one of the finest times of my career. I wish it would have lasted longer. Thank you so much for asking me to join. I know that when the request came across the transom, it was a no-brainer. I have to do this. I love the work that you all are doing. What you have done with Talent War is an incredible venture. I’m happy to be here to contribute.
Who is Myrna Soto? Myrna Soto is a technology veteran. I’ve had the pleasure of serving in a number of C-level roles up and down the technology stack. Most significantly, the last several years have been dedicated to cybersecurity. I’ve had the pleasure of working for many incredible organizations, including American Express, MGM Resorts, Comcast Corporation. Of course, the three of us joined forces at Forcepoint.
I also am a director. I serve on four publicly traded boards right now, all what I consider to be the critical infrastructure space with the exception of one. It’s been an incredible journey throughout the corporate ladder and into the boardroom. Now I’m doing a significant amount of independent advisory services and consulting alongside my public board service and private board service. It’s an incredible journey and a way for folks to build their portfolio. The board service is in the private sector.
I’m honored to be here. A little personal note about me, I grew up in South Florida. I spent the majority of my professional career away from South Florida. We can talk about why later. I’m happy to be back in South Florida in my hometown. Fortunately, even during this horrible pandemic, we’ve all remained connected through these virtual platforms. I’m thrilled to be here.
I appreciate you making the time. It doesn’t sound like you have much with all that you have going on. You’re supposed to slow down at some point and it seems like you’re gaining speed.
George, I have failed at retirement three times. I’m giving up on that notion.
I know that’s what’s happening with Lisa. I guarantee it. She’s going to be kicking ass and taking names at 102. Lisa, tell us about you.
Thanks. It’s great to see both of you. The time that we worked together was amazing. Myrna, you redefined for me what a chief strategy officer was. I use you as a role model every time I can talk to someone about, “We should do it this way.” George, what you delivered to Forcepoint and then your book and the way that you look at talent is completely groundbreaking, relevant, and makes so much sense. The rest of us all need to learn it. I learned so much. I apply those lessons now. I’m happy to be here.
As with Myrna, I’ve been decades into technology. I started there and I stayed there. I support the customer. My passion around the customer is that I support the customer I used to be in technology. I’ve held a number of C-Suite roles also. One time, the CIO of a bank on the East Coast gave me the customer’s view. Since then, I’ve been on the product side, developing that view and trying to support that customer. I love the space.
I’ve worked for big companies like Bank of America, Apple, Charles Schwab, Forcepoint where we all came from. I’ve had the pleasure of being around several people, several role models but not as many as I would have liked. They’re hard to find. Personally, I’m from Western Pennsylvania. The Allegheny Mountains, there’s nothing up there.
One of the best things that happened to me was that I was the oldest of three girls. I joke that I was my father’s oldest son. George, he was an ex-Army guy like you. He taught me a lot of these skills that you would have learned in Northwestern Pennsylvania, which have served me well because I’ve had to be self-reliant. I did not work in Pennsylvania in my professional career, just a small amount as an intern. The rest of it has pretty much been on the West Coast in San Francisco. That’s me.
It’s the best thing to come out of Western Pennsylvania and the best thing to come out of South Florida. I’m happy. We won’t go into the Dolphins and Chiefs playing, Myrna. We should be alright. I’m going to jump right into it. It’s a big pet peeve of mine and I know it is of yours. I hate having the adjective female in front of a leader or executive. It drives me nuts.
I was fortunate to grow up in the military. I don’t care who you are with or what’s under your uniform. I care that you have my back and you can shoot straight. I care that you can deliver on the mission. I’ve led large organizations. To me, coming into recruiting, I’m looking for talent. There’s no overlooking the fact that things are different for great female leaders.
To me, I end up overpaying as much as I possibly can to capture them. It’s got to have been different for both of you. Name a couple of big challenges about being a female leader. I know that people put that adjective there and they shouldn’t. I’ve worked with both of you. You’re leaders. That’s all that needs to be said and nothing more. I don’t need an adjective. How is it for you, Myrna?
I’ll share a few perspectives. It is unfortunate that the adjective has to be used. There is a deliberate nature in using the adjective to move the agenda forward. Throughout my career, being a female leader, some of the challenges were around compensation. Unfortunately, there was always somewhat of an assumption that my male counterparts were of higher value because they were head of household or they had children that they needed to support or whatever the case may be. That doesn’t mean that I would want to take anything away from them.
It’s an important thing as I talk to more and more up-and-coming young ladies that are looking to progress in their careers. We have to be mindful of the alliances and the allies that we have in many male leaders. George, you’re one that I’ll put front and center because you put it out there immediately to say, “It doesn’t matter. All I want is a competent and skilled leader that can get the job done and help us reach our mission.” Compensation was always a challenge. The other would be assumptions about being able to take on extra work or to lean into certain initiatives. Early in my career, one of the ways that I got into technology was I was a massive squeaky wheel about my needs for technology.
Truth be told, I was running a business unit at a particular organization and it was starved for technology. I kept on advocating for us to make some investments. In the context of what we’re talking about, I also found that the advocation of my male counterparts did not require as much energy as mine. When one of my male counterparts would say, “We should do this,” they’d be like, “That’s a good idea. Let’s do that.” When I say, “We need to do this.” They’d be like, “That’s going to be expensive. We don’t have the skillset for that. We don’t have the support for that.”
It required me to have to do this orchestrated business case. There’s merit to doing that. I won’t lie to you, it wore on me quite a bit that my male counterparts would say something in a meeting and it was adopted. I would say something and they’d be like, “I don’t know.” Fortunately for me, I was able to overcome all of that, be a little bit of a squeaky wheel, and get some attention. A lot of those male counterparts ended up working for me, which was an interesting dynamic shift.
I don’t want to beat myself but in the timing of when I was going through this management accelerated program to become a senior leader, I know you’ve heard 1,000 people say this, I was the only woman in the group. It took a lot for my male counterparts to adopt what you’ve already stated, “I don’t care.” It took a while. There was a lot of skepticism. There’s a lot of like, “I hate to say this but you said no rules.” There was even a couple of like, “If she gets pregnant, she’s going to be gone for a while.” I was like, “Really?” Things like that would be amazing.
Unfortunately, some of that still happens nowadays. Decisions are made about opportunities, about assignments. Not everywhere. I have worked for some incredible organizations that have evolved from that. There were many times they were like, “Myrna, are you sure you can take that on?” “Hell yeah, I can take that on and then some.” It required constantly overachieving. If you do 100%, I’ll do 125% or 130% so that your abilities are ever questioned.
I worked harder but made less than everybody else. I didn’t know it at the time. I learned that over time. It’s been one of those things that in any opportunity that I have to advocate to make sure that doesn’t happen to this generation and the ones that are coming behind us, by far, I will push and question that biases. Why are you being biased about this? To be fair, we’ve come a long way. There’s been a lot of evolutionary thought leadership from a lot of organizations. We still have to be deliberate.
As far back as I can remember, there’s breaking the glass ceiling. When I think of you two, I think of the glass ceiling and then I see you two up here pulling people up over that ceiling. Lisa, was it the same for you?
Yes. I’m having a reaction to Myrna’s comments. I feel the pain and the difficulty. Myrna, we’ve easily left $1 million on the table because we weren’t paid well. I have to go back and compound it all. The problem is you never know. You never know what your colleagues are paid because it’s still secret and private.
George, leaders like you don’t let that stand. We can never trust what we’re getting paid. We have to know how to stand up for that and how to advocate for it. I often speak at the university level, helping students start to advocate for their first job and their first salary. How many times do you negotiate your salary, 4, 5, 7 times?
You’re never going to be good. You don’t do it enough and you don’t do it frequently enough. You have to become better at it and it has to become a practice. I’ll often teach that in my classes because if you aren’t negotiating for the little things, you’ll never negotiate for the big things and you’ll never negotiate for yourself. Probably, the hardest thing is to advocate for yourself.
To go back at Myrna and to listen to your comments, it’s painful for me because I remember those days. They’re less now because we don’t put up with that crap. We can call it out. We’ve done it. I was bumping up against that glass ceiling for a long time before I broke through. That’s what it felt like. It felt like it was harder.
I don’t know if I’d call it micro discrimination. All of these little friction points either slowed it down or made it extra hard on us that we couldn’t get there like everybody else, but we didn’t give up. It’s the tenacity in our backgrounds. It’s why we’re where we are. Do we have to work harder? Yes. Are we better for it? Yes. Myrna, we’re going to keep going. We’re going to try and share those lessons.
I can see a big change, especially in the company I’m in. It’s focused on fairness. In California, you’re not allowed to ask someone for the salary that they’re currently making. You cannot base any decisions off of their current salary because it’s probably wrong anyway. I hired an executive assistant. The talent acquisition person working with me said, “I’m going to try and find out where she wants to go.” I go, “No. Let’s find out what’s the job and what’s the salary band for where she lives. Let’s place her correctly in there. Let’s offer that to her to start.”
I don’t want to go lower. Let’s see if we can get to someplace that’s right for her, but I’m not going to base it off what she was making before. I have no idea if that was right or wrong. Most of the time, it’s too low. The other thing is I’ll often tell women to give themselves a 10% or 15% raise if they’re asked this question in other states. You need to take care of yourself.
I’m going to let you guys in on a secret about compensation. It applies to both of you that you don’t know. I shouldn’t surprise you this way, but it was interesting. There’s a CEO that you guys know and love that we all worked with. I love the guy. The offers were things that I had to craft. He was giving out good numbers. He started well. He came to me and said, “Do you think this is enough?” I said, “Matt, you better come big or don’t come at all because these two have a lot of choices. They are needed in this organization.” He was tilting his head and he said, “You got to help me close them.” I said, “Matt, first, I need to save you from yourself.” That’s the first thing that I had to do.
I thought he did well, but he was one of those people that, in my eyes, I saw talent. I have seen those things. Lisa, let’s make sure we come back to that. You’re right. In 12 to 15 states, you can’t ask about prior compensation. Women are still in trouble. What recruiters can do is you can’t ask about actual compensation, but you can ask about expectations. Lisa, you and I talked about this. Women are still likely to ask and say what that number is. You both said that there shouldn’t be a need for you to battle. I know that both of you have choices. You’re sought-after all the time.
I want to make one quick comment. There is an enormous conundrum. I love the fact that states have taken on to say, “You can’t ask about historical.” That’s good because there’s wage compression for women across the board. If you ask about that, now you’ve created a depressed baseline to manage that offer.
Women, unfortunately, slowly but surely need to understand their value and not fear making the comment they believe they should be compensated at. There are more data, elements, and people raise their eyebrows and say, “That person made what? I need to rethink how I look at myself.” There’s also a conundrum in the search process. A lot of the search firms will quickly price you out of consideration.
You sit there and say, “I know you can’t ask me, but here would be my expectations for a role like this, somewhere between X and Y.” There’s an immediate, “That may be a little too much.” There’s a little bit of an ecosystem challenge, not for all, but for some, that are continuingly to program people to think they need to ask for less. It drives me bananas. I’m happy to hear that someone asked you, “Is that enough?” That’s the type of attitude they would need.
You all know better than I do that there are a million reasons why that compensation is the way it is. The demand for great leaders is high. For the two of you especially, not only did I say, “I’m going to save you from yourself here,” but what you’re getting back in ROI for these two is way over what you’re paying for. Even if you were above market, people are looking at the individual versus what is the return on this leader? I watched the people that you lead. Your retention was up. Your talent was up, you’re making better hiring decisions.
Myrna, I know you are in the strategy piece. Lisa, I watched the client retention numbers come up and I’m like, “That’s what we needed.” What is the value on that? What I’ve tried to educate my peers is you’re not paying for talent by itself. You’re paying for the expected results that this talent will bring to your organization. That’s where the discrimination is. It doesn’t just hurt women, but you’re shorting your company because you’re being stupid. There’s no other way to put it. I often say that every problem is a leadership problem. The better leaders you have, the better solutions you have to those problems.
This is exactly the point. It’s the intersection between the talent someone brings to the table and their ability to feel confident and articulate it together. You also need an option. It can’t be only one job out there. You have to learn to keep your options open. LinkedIn needs to be updated. All that stuff needs to be relevant. When you need to argue it, you need to be able to come to the table.
I have a great story around that. I’ve worked for two private companies and one of them came forward and said, “Lisa, here’s your package. We’re going to give you this much ownership in the company.” It was incredibly small for my role. I had seen it ten times larger at the previous company that I was at. I said, “There must be a mistake. This isn’t right.” “No. This is it. If you’re with us for four years and we get an exit, you’re going to get a lot of money.”
I’m like, “No. You don’t have me at the right level. I don’t even need to see anybody else’s level. I understand how these things are structured. I understand my role. Everyone wants a customer success or a chief customer officer person who knows what they’re doing. I’m that person. This is my value. We need to change this number.”
It was a conversation I didn’t want to have, but no one was going to have it if I didn’t have it. I had to stand up. I had to pull myself together. I had to get my talking points together. I had to face it more than once. I got a 30% improvement on it. It wasn’t enough. I then had to make the decision to leave to get something else. All of these are hard, but if you don’t stand up for yourself, you’ll never get it. Myrna, have you had experiences like this?
I have. There’s one that comes to mind for me that your readers may appreciate in addition to what Lisa shared. I won’t name the company. Anybody that follows my career will probably figure out who it is. I had an incredible run with this large organization. I was with them for nearly a decade. When I first came into the organization, the offer and the package that I received, I thought, was competitive.
They were smart. They were relocating me. They had a specific profile and I met the profile. It was a long process. I felt that the package was competitive. I still asked for a bit more. I asked for a bit more because I was taking a big risk. I was leaving a secure organization that I was with. I was moving my spouse across the country to the other coast. I was on the West Coast at the time. I felt good about the entry point.
The learning I had was the reality of wage compression when you are at an organization for an extended period of time. One would say, “It is what it is and you got to make moves.” Unfortunately, it shouldn’t be that way. For my career, I know some of the moves that I made, I made it because the jump to another company allowed me to beat that wage compression and to be able to gain my value. In this organization, it felt good and competitive. Year over year, there were adjustments in equity and grants.
Where it hit home was when I got promoted. I got promoted to a corporate-level role overseeing the entire organization. This is a huge organization. I had to hire my backfill to take on my old role. I recruited the best person that I could get for that role. When that person’s package was put together, it was greater than what my package was five years into the role.
I said, “Absolutely not.” I said, “First and foremost, I’m not going to take away from that candidate. We’ll do what we have to do. Now you need to make it right. Now when you look at what I have done, what I have built, what I have put in place, and now we’re going to have this person step into that and continue to grow it, great. There is a delta here that I cannot accept. We either fix this or I’m going.” They fixed it. The bad part is that I had to ask for it. The bad part is I had to show my teeth. I had to come out and say, “If this is not fixed, this is a major dissatisfier. What you’re telling me is that you do not value what I have done. You’re valuing me by giving me a promotion. Wonderful. Let me pat myself on the back for that promotion.”
Going back to Lisa’s point, if you compounded the years, you’d say, “That’s a lot of money left on the table here.” I will admit, this may not be popular, but it’s not always about compensation. It’s about long-term incentives. It’s about equity in the company and your influence. At the total compensation layer, I took a pause and said, “No. This is not right.”
There are more leaders that would have said the following, “We can’t hire that person because he or she is too expensive.” I said, “No. Let’s hire that person for that package and now you have to calibrate.” If more people do that and drive that calibration, we’ll see fewer people dissatisfied and suffering from compression and making jumps and hops. There are still jumps and hops for growth and progression. That’s something that leaders need to consider.
I see it especially firsthand in the recruiting function. I see that compression. We can only give 2%, 4%, maybe best-case scenario, 6% raise. It hit me. When I walked in the door, we were what 40% attrition. On the sales side, 50%. Of course, I hear a rumor that’s still the attrition rate on the sales side.
No. That still has returned too.
Thank you. That’s a good point. That is a lack of leadership problem. We won’t name one of my favorite people on the planet. Lisa knows my blood pressure will go up. I had to deal with that where I stem the tide on attrition. I fixed the backfills, I took what it was taking us 90 days to hire somebody and brought it down to 22. In years 2 and 3, they were like, “You’re already at market.” I kept hiring and people on my team at a higher and higher wage and moving my team up, but it hit me. I’m like, “There’s a result here. You’re starting to take me for granted that you got me for a good price and then the compression starts.” You have got to face the same thing, Lisa, I know.
Yes. It’s one of the reasons people leave. George, you can do the calculus quickly on somebody leaving any role. Let’s say it’s a salesperson. How much does it cost to get a new one in if you had given them a fair amount of pay? A salesperson program or customer success manager, I don’t care what it is.
It drives me nuts. I understand that labor tends to be your biggest expense. One of the phrases that I have tried to teach executives when I’m working with them is they say, “People are our most valuable asset.” I said, “Frankly, good people are your biggest asset. Bad people are your biggest liability. Pay for good people.”
I’m going to switch gears because I want you two to educate me. I’m going to push the buttons here. I’m going to say it and then I’ll probably get all kinds of hate mail. I am not generally a believer in the term diversity. The reason I’m not is that I don’t look at diversity as anything other than the famous Patton quote, which is, “If we’re all thinking alike, none of us are thinking.” I’ve always gone after the best talent. I know at certain times that we’re overweighted and we start to see an organization gel. From a perspective standpoint, it’s not diverse.
How do you think that leaders should be approaching the topic of diversity? Now it includes a lot of things. We have to keep our eye on the business and we have to keep our eye on the talent. How do you think the right way to approach such a broad and volatile topic? What are some good ways to approach that as leaders?
There are two things. Myrna and I never want to be hired because someone thinks we’re good women leaders. We want to be hired because we’re talented and we’re great leaders. There’s no doubt in my mind that we need to fix the beginning of this funnel. Also, to be sure that kids coming through school at every level have equal opportunity, all kinds, all colors, all sexes, all of that to succeed, get a good degree, and get the experience because that’s a feeder into the system. To the extent that we limit that is a problem.
I’ll give you a quick example. I’m on the board of visitors for the Department of Computer Science at the University of Pittsburgh. As an alumna, this is part of my giving back. I’m often asked to help them with their hackathons. I am generally not a fan of all-women conferences. All these women go off to the side, have great speakers, and have all these workshops. If you want to work better with others, you need all the others in the room with you when you’re doing these workshops.
For these hackathons, the data has shown that women, especially women coming out of college, are often having a difficult time. The men or boys in the hackathon and that energy, whatever it is, is not working for them and they can’t bring their best talents to the table and exercise them. They had a women’s only hackathon. It’s one of the few times that I’ve endorsed a women-only event. We needed to get them started somewhere. There are times that I will support that thing. In general, I want to see everybody together and moving forward together. I want every side to learn how to work better with each other. Myrna, let me pass it to you. You have a ton of stuff on this.
There’s a red hue coming off the picture right about now. I’m looking forward to this one.
I could not agree more. I’ve got a couple of examples I’ll share with you all quickly. I don’t want the job because I’m a woman. I want the job because I’m the most qualified person for the role that just so happens to be a woman. I do think we need to be deliberate. I wish that the D in diversity was about deliberate inclusion. It’s about being deliberate about, “Let’s look around the table. Let’s be honest with one another.”
Historically, we would recruit and hire in our likeness. If women were such a small percentage of the population in Corporate America, undoubtedly, it would be a higher percentage of people whether they’d be white males or whatever. There was a higher percentage because those leaders would hire in their likeness, networks, circles of influence, and all of those things. I don’t want to recruit someone because they may be a person of color or a woman.
In my professional career, I had to be deliberate with my talent management and talent acquisition teams and say, “I want you to find me the most qualified individual.” However, for every non-diverse individual, I want to see ten diverse resumes. We’ve got to be deliberate. We ensure that we scorch the earth to make sure that we’re not just acquiescing to what we normally would hire. You’re right, George, in diversity, that D, is representing so many different things right now.
One thing that I’m going to get involved with is something that I used to do as an ERG executive sponsor at another company and I’m going back to support a population that I don’t even represent. That is a population of individuals with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities have the worst unemployment rate in a market where we’re fighting for talent and labor. There are skilled resources that, because of their disability, either they’re not known, they don’t get called upon, they don’t get an interview. That’s an element of diversity.
I have the pleasure of serving on several boards where I know the impact of diversity in the boardroom. In the boardroom, we’re setting a strategy for the company. We’re making big decisions about capital investments with our customers. It’s going to sound a little cliché, but we need to look like our customers. We need to represent our customers in the boardroom.
I will tell you a funny story. I won’t say who. In one of my executive positions, I was hired, got onboarded, performing. We had a strategic off-site session with all of the leaders. It’s not uncommon. It’s at a resort. It’s at a conference facility. In between sessions, the wait staff was coming in and resetting tables and picking up dishes. I recognize that a number of the ladies that were assisting with that were Hispanic.
I thanked them in Spanish and I asked them how they were doing in Spanish. There was a whiplash in the room. They turned their necks and they said, “Do you speak Spanish?” I said, “Yes.” They said, “Are you Hispanic?” I’m like, “As a matter of fact, I am.” They looked at each other said, “We had no idea.” That made me feel good that I was hired and promoted for my skills and my qualifications and not because I was going to be the person of color on the team. It also made me feel bad. Why did they not know more about me? Why did I not share more of my authentic self during the process? I immediately changed that.
The next time I got recruited, it was clear. They said, “I’ll be honest with you. We want a cybersecurity executive. We would love for it to be a woman because we don’t have a woman on the team. The fact that you are Hispanic, we love that.” I looked at them and said, “I looked at your leadership team and I’m skeptical of joining this company.” They said, “Why?” I said, “No one here looks like me, but they got me.” This is why we have to be trailblazers. They said, “It’s exactly why we want you. We want to change what we look like, how we act, and how we think. We would love for you to help with that talent pool to make a change.” I had a ton of respect for that.
Lisa and I had conversations about what the website looks like or not and who’s on it. These are tall tales about how companies value this subject. The fact they want to change, they want to lean in, that’s great, but we have to retain these people. We have to retain this talent. We don’t have to quote anything but we’ve seen it where we’ve created a high-performing diverse team, gender, ethnicity, you name it. There’s that inclusion piece. Inclusion is much more important than diversity. I’ll leave you with the deliberate inclusion. That’s my little cup of that.
I liked that. I love the deliberate. That is going to be a topic that I’ll touch on in another episode because I love the term. First of all, being a white male and being young in the military, your biggest problem is generally ego. It’s usually what gets in the way of everything. For most people, frankly. I don’t think it’s a male thing. In the army, it would surface.
I remember coming across this leader who was very much the best idea wins. In some of the missions that we would undertake, failure is catastrophic. Meaning people get hurt, people could get killed, whether that’s training or whether it’s on a combat deployment. I love that best idea wins mentality. When I start thinking, “Who’s around the table?” The question is, “Do I have the people around the table that are going to cover my blind spots or are going to bring a perspective to me?”
At the level that you’re both that, I would think that what you’re bringing to the table is you can’t get some of those bigger decisions wrong because you’re affecting 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 employees, shareholders. If you don’t have a way of covering your blind spots and having people shoot holes or bringing that different perspective, you’re going to be behind your competition in a big way.
I completely agree. I love the deliberate inclusion also, Myrna. This idea of diverse teams makes better decisions is so well documented and understood. I’ve now made it part of my management approach. In a meeting, I will often encourage, “I would love to hear from someone who has a different point of view.” I need to hear the other side or I’ll call them out, “George, what do you think? Myrna, what do you think? Sam, you haven’t said anything in a while. Is there another way to look at this? You have more experience here.” Encourage it and don’t just say it.
Myrna, there’s something else you said about the ten diverse candidates that you want to see for everyone. I’m friends with a lady who is the chair of the Department of Economics at a big university. She did a study on diversity. There was a lot behind this study. It’s probably unfair from an educational point of view how I’m going to summarize some of her great research.
One of them is if you want to build a diverse team and when you get two equal candidates, 100% of the time, you pick the diverse one. You don’t try to super qualify one over the other because that’s when you get into trouble. That’s when you get into stuff that’s not as important. If you’re working on that, you have two good candidates, diversity 100% of the time. It sounds challenging at first. When I first heard it, I was like, “I don’t think I want to leave it up to that kind of thing.” It’s exactly what you need to do.
That’s a great perspective. At the end of the day, we start with qualified. I’m a firm supporter of this deliberate inclusion and diversity, but I also care deeply. It’s better not to be popular about how my white male counterparts are valued as well. There are certain instances where companies are leaning in to meet this diversity agenda. Talent is talent.
There may be a white male that’s a rockstar. Let’s figure out how do we make that happen and how do we still create a diverse team around it? Maybe we got to lever in and spend a little more or get creative with roles. I have a lot of phenomenal white male colleagues that have been my sponsors and that had been my allies in the past. They’ll call me and they’ll say, “Myrna, I want to get on a board and no one is calling me. No one wants to talk to me. No offense but women are taking over.” Hold on a second. Let’s make sure we balance that out. That’s just as important. We can’t over-index to the other end. I love the two qualified candidates and diversity wins.
I solicited an email. In the Talent War Group, there’s Mike Sarraille and me. There are moments where we can redefine the term knucklehead. We had to find adult supervision and we found that in Karli Waldon, our President and COO. She’s much younger than me and she had some questions. For those readers, we had some people come in right before the show. Nayara and Michelle, we hired them as interns. They’re new graduates.
The thing I love about them is they’re creative. The thing that’s troubling for me to get used to is old dog new tricks on the guy switching over to Apple. I have to turn to them to help get me through the day. They’re patient. When you look at them and you meet them, they are amazing across the board and great people on every level.
This one was for you, Myrna. I wanted to ask her because for those of you that don’t know, between Nayara and Michelle, there’s so much that goes into these shows. They are two people that make it real. All I have to do is talk and not sound stupid. That’s my challenge. They’re trying to make me look better. The question was, Myrna, as a woman of color in a leadership position, who did you look up to? If you didn’t have somebody, how did you find those examples? There is a cap on what you can learn and model yourself through the people you’re around. Did you look in any particular direction? What was an accelerator for you as far as role models?
It’s a non-traditional answer. Part of it is and part of it isn’t. It saddens me when I go back and think about the early days of my career. We didn’t have anybody in the arena to look up to and say, “I want to be like her. I want to do this. I want to do that.” It came down to my upbringing and my parents. My mother, I love her to death, did not graduate from high school but yet she was an entrepreneur. She raised her children. She did everything she had to do to be incredibly successful in her regard.
My father escaped Cuba during the communist revolution. He came to this country with nothing. He joined the service. There was a program at the time for these exiles to join the service. He became a Green Card holder. He is my hero. He got into a number of the three-letter agencies that were doing intelligence missions to Cuba and things of that nature. I look up to both of them. One because he left everything and he made a tremendous career and life for himself and his family here from nothing.
My mother, circumstances being what they were, never finished school, yet she is a whippersnapper. They gave me inspiration because they both told me, “We do not want you to experience what we did. We don’t want you to have to go through the struggles that we did. Education is the number one thing.” We came from a modest family and did not have the opportunity to have a free ride and someone paying for my college education. I worked the entire time that I went to college and that was an advantage I had because professionally, it gave me a leg up.
When I graduated, I already had years of experience in the business world, and it gave me a leg up. The people within the corporate arenas that I looked up to were those that had similar backgrounds who made it. At the time, most of them were men, but many of those men took me under their wing because they were fathers of daughters. That was a tremendous impact. There were men in the corporate arena who had daughters and said, “I need to leave this better than how I found it so that when my daughter comes into the corporate arena, she will have different opportunities.”
There’s a huge dynamic around individuals becoming parents and when men become fathers of daughters. They sit there, they pull the plane up and they say, “I can’t be that frat boy because my daughter is going to be in this. I need to make sure that she has the same type of opportunities that I did.” That had an incredible impact on me.
Lisa, I’m going to ask you the same question. That probably makes me feel good. What makes me feel the most proud is when my daughter was hired into a sales position. She’s the first female on the team. One of the guys was older, with slicked gray hair, stereotypical sales. He had a grandson and he asked her because she’s the first woman on this sales retreat and said, “Why don’t you stay home and take care of your kid?” My daughter whipped it out and said, “Because my daddy taught me to work for a living. What did you teach?” I was like, “Yes. I said something that’s been remembered.” It’s great. I didn’t do so bad.
Lisa, you’re coming from Western Pennsylvania and have a degree in Engineering? A quick side note, in our book, we talked about the nine success attributes and things that determine success. You both show resiliency and drive but showing that early if you’re in western Pennsylvania, what gave you the drive? What was the role model? What were the things that pushed you the way that you ended up going, Lisa?
Some of it was drive, and some of it was luck. My parents were both in education, so they both had degrees. On my father’s side, his generation was the first one that went to school. My mother’s side was a little different, but they were both teachers in a small town and I knew from an early age that I wanted to go do something else.
It caused a little friction in the family because they wanted me to go to the State Teachers College and get a Teaching degree. My father and mother both gave me something. My father gave me a lot of resiliency skills. I can go out in the woods, and I can be self-sufficient. We were out there all the time. It didn’t matter the weather, situation or problem. We had lots of problems, we had lots of fun, but I learned how to solve problems.
With my mother, she was the only working role model I had and in this small town, not many women worked. She worked and took care of her family. When I look back on it, it was hard on her, but I learned how to do it. That’s all I started with and that when I went off to school, the piece of good luck was that I ran into my counselor. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t know.
I was in Economics and she’s like, “This computer stuff is new, Lisa. You need to take a class in it.” She was this hippie advisor. She had long flowy hair, wore peasant blouses, a long skirt, and she’s like, “You’ve got to try this computer science stuff and you also have to try French.” French was a problem. Computer science worked well and it changed the whole trajectory from my first semester that I kept going. I kept following it. I was going into places I didn’t have any background in or any knowledge of. Myrna, you probably did this. It’s your first job at a company.
I worked in New York City for a while. I had relatives in New York City but no one who was working for companies here. You have to plot your way through. In some ways, that experience of going through it on your own also gives you another set of skills, even if you don’t have a mentor or a role model. You have to find your inspiration or your knowledge wherever it is, even if you have to find it on your own.
I want to add something because what Lisa touched on is super important. As I mentor young ladies in the early stages of their career, I’m not saying it’s a requirement, but those are those chance moments where these opportunities present themselves to you and learning and growing are not always vertical. There’s that horizontal learning and opportunity.
I’m going to be a hippie for a minute. I truly believe in the karma of the universe. There’s a reason why you met that counselor. There’s a reason why she said that to you. There’s a reason why the things that we experienced throughout our career happened. Often, I find young ladies that are risk-averse. Lean into it. Take the chance. Apply for that job that you don’t think that you are qualified for. Men will apply for jobs that they’re 50% qualified for. Women will acquire jobs that they’re 80% qualified for. Let’s even that playing field because there is so much that we can learn by taking the risk and leaning in.
Can I add something?
By all means, you are going through a question that I am going to cover in the end, but I love where you’ve taken it. We have to come back because I heard a rumor, Myrna, that Lisa was this competitive basketball player. I’ve heard rumors about flying elbows and knocking people out of the paint.
We would call it respect. I needed some respect when I came down with that ball. I don’t need them on top of me. My father taught me that one too. It’s so funny that you bring that up. For one second, if I could run back to those points around stepping in and leaning in. I’ll often run into women who are about to apply for another job. They’re like, “I don’t know if I can do it,” and you must hear it all the time. My son is an adult. He’ll say, “I can do everything.”
No basis, in general, but all the confidence in the world, many of the women I meet are the opposite and there are two things that go there. Have you ever failed? There’s no reason you can’t take this on and if you don’t take on enough of a challenge, it will never interest you long enough. Soon, you’ll master it and you won’t be interested in it and you won’t move your career forward. This idea of taking these risks and stepping into them is so important.
There was a management role that I had on the team and one of my managers said, “A few people apply for it.” I said, “We know 3 or 4 other women we know in the organization who are better qualified, and they didn’t apply, so we’re going to knock on their door and ask them.” When I asked them, they said, “We didn’t think we were qualified.” I’m like, “It still happens.”
The risks go from lean into what you’re qualified for and the impact you can have. That’s one. Two, and this is not for everybody, but certain populations, is sometimes you have to pick yourself up out of your environment and get them comfortable in a different environment, whether it’s moving to another geography or industry. There are so many different things, but I’m with you, Lisa. I’ve told my mentees that in the past, the minute you’re comfortable, you’ve stopped growing.
Growth only happens when you’re uncomfortable. I was fortunate in writing the book, and I worked at HP. I got to work several times with Meg Whitman, not enough, clearly, because I was fifteen clicks down. The CHRO who I rolled up to was Tracy Keogh. She was the one that taught me the famous quote that we’ve used over and over. Somebody said to Tracy when she walked into an executive meeting. She said, “We’re glad HR is at the table.”
Tracy quipped right back and she said, “We are the table.” She set the tone for herself, but she also gave me an interesting quote. It’s like what you were talking about, Myrna, about being uncomfortable. She said, “So many people look at their careers as a ladder, when in fact, it’s a climbing wall.” Sometimes you have to go sideways or you have to go diagonally. Maybe you’ve got to go down to get around this rock and go the way. Myrna, I know you have a limited time, and there’s a couple of questions I get into and I want to leave you guys with final thoughts.
I sent you guys the question, so hopefully, you thought about it. You learned a lot. If you could go back to your 21-year-old, 22-year-old self, or whatever the age was when you graduated college, and give yourself advice, what advice do you give to up-and-coming executives? I want to know, what would you tell yourself first that might have made your career even better, easier or lessons that it would have been easier to learn or tell yourself right when you came out? Lisa, I’ll let you go first this time.
I wrote this down. I’m stronger and smarter than I think. When I graduated from college, my first two jobs, I took a backseat and listened to everyone else. Although I had great training, good decision making and I should have stepped up more and asserted myself more, I could explain the first seven years that way and I would have been further faster. I didn’t know what to do. I was smarter and stronger than I thought would have been my advice.
Myrna, what would you say?
I thought about this a lot. My advice to my younger self at that time would have been to be comfortable with pivoting. It’s related to my area of study. I am a Psychology major and ended up being a technologist. There’s a bunch of stories about how that happened, but I recall while I was going to school and working that I’ve got to finish this when I could have easily pivoted and adjusted my curriculum to do something different. We could sit here and think about what would have happened and I care a little less about that. I wish I was more comfortable pivoting earlier. I became comfortable later and that’s my advice.
When we look at going back to the rock climbing wall, I love that analogy, by the way. I’m going to steal it. When we looked at the rock climbing wall, I found myself at times reaching for that other rock above me, when I should have been much more comfortable and saying, “Forget that. Let me go this way. Let me go sideways a little bit and let me go down and around.” I probably would reach the top of that wall a little sooner. That would be my exact advice to up-and-comers. The last thing is to flex on being a very rounded business executive.
We tend to get caught in our subject matter of expertise and yes, we want to be the best that we can be in our subject matter expertise. Open yourself up even if they raise your hand and say, “I want to be part of this project, to learn about a different business function, and to have that well-rounded acumen across the board.”
Carly had given this and wanted to know about the sacrifices personally and professionally and giving tips. When I look at you both now and I’ve had the chance to work with you, I got to see the polished final version of tremendous leadership, communication skills. I did hear some rumors about team ball or streetball. I don’t know where that one came from, but a master communicator shared that one with me. If that story comes up, whoever owns that one, feel free to say it. What would you think as a whole, whether it’s females or males? It doesn’t matter.
What could they be doing better when it comes to diversity, driving results, taking good care of their people? I ask this from a leadership perspective because we talked a lot about the adjective and stuff. At heart, you guys are leaders who have always taken care of people, made hard decisions. You have failed, succeeded, and learned quickly. How can leaders be better in today’s corporate environment with it moving so fast? You guys are pros. Tell the rest of us. Myrna, you get to go first this time. What can leaders do better?
I’m a firm believer that what leaders can do better is to be much better listeners to their resources. We learned so much by understanding what motivates people. We tend to make assumptions about what motivates us. As leaders, we’ll motivate our team and it’s a poor assumption to make. Listening to more about what motivates people and where people have the opportunity. I love what Lisa does. When we have the opportunity to draw people out more, pull them in and say, “I know what that person has some perspectives to offer.”
What leaders need to do is they need to draw that out of people. They need to create a platform and an environment where people are going to feel comfortable and say, “I don’t agree with that. That’s not a good idea.” It’s not, “You’re wrong. You’re right.” Tell me why. They need to be much better listeners and it’s hard because we’re running at a fast pace. You’ve got so much time to get some input. Here are some things, being decisive and making that decision. It’s spending that quality time with your staff and your team. It’s critically important and it’s all about building relationships. It’s about trust. It’s about letting people know that you care about them.
I’ll never forget early in my career when I had employees come to me and say, “Myrna, you always ask me about my family. I’ve never had any of these people ask me about my family.” It’s so simple. It’s like, “How’s the family? Is everything okay? What’s going on?” You learn about what may be pressure, stressors, and whatever the case may be so you can lead the team differently as needed. I call it situational leadership. I’m sure you guys are familiar with that term. It’s an old term but definitely applies even now.
I have shared when I tried to mentor junior managers, up and coming leaders. It sounds like a snowflake to be coming from an ex-military, but it applied in the military leadership. Leadership is leadership. The environment is what changed. The situation and problem changed. To your point, Myrna, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
If you’re not invested in them, you’re going to be the smartest person in the room and we’ve all seen that a lot. People are the smartest in the room, but unless you care about that team, your leadership will never reach the level of potential. Lisa, what do you think leaders could be doing better? What do you mentor and coach to make leaders be the best that they can be that ultimately drives better results?
A couple of things, and Myrna, to go back on one of your ideas, or one of your comments that I completely agree with and love, this idea of becoming a broader and better business person is really important, the different kinds that you can pick up and then you can apply that learning. For example, in my career, I’ve been in technology, but I’ve run data centers, engineering, customer success, and sales. I’m able to pull those together, and now when I have to work with those teams, I’ve walked in their shoes.
It’s a different idea around diversity. Its diversity within the business. Maybe not diversity, in terms of culture but you need all of it to be a successful business person and also caring about the person. I’ve always had this warm touch and this strong business streak. It works well and we need more of that and we need more of that, especially now in the world with everything that’s going on. I think that’s important. I interviewed for that in the role that I’m in now. I wanted a place that had some of that. The other piece I leave you with is this. We’ve talked about all of our success. I did not tell you all of the mistakes. I’m sure Myrna had at least 1, if not 2. Mistakes are issues.
I’ll give you a quick one. I was at Apple. I was running all of the data centers worldwide for them and I had network ops. Network ops was not my strength and at some point, my boss took it away from me. I was never more mad and upset. He was absolutely right. It took me a long time to figure out that he was right. I was stressing about it. I was stretching. I couldn’t get there. The company wasn’t being served better. Things weren’t right and I had to recover from that professionally.
When I built that resilience, I could build that resilience on other things, but it took that experience for me. I can see it in others and I can help coach them. That makes me a better leader because now, when I see them fall, maybe they’re only skinning their knees. That’s a different injury. I had a much greater injury. It’s the recovery that makes the executive. It’s not that you had none. You have to have some.
I couldn’t agree more. I test for this when I interview people. We all want to talk about all our successes, all the great things that we did. The cliché, “Tell me about the time when you had a colossal failure and how did you recover from it?” We are reflective. Every single one of us has had those opportunities to fail and learn and adjust and do these things.
I couldn’t agree more. I used to do this fun thing in my Comcast. We used to celebrate failures. When people made a mistake or there was something that went wrong in a project, we called it the Coconut Award. We would award a coconut. The person would be required to keep it on their desk for the month and there was pride. People would go, “What did you get the coconut for? What did you do? What did you learn?” It turned into less about the mistake and more about how you adapted. I couldn’t agree with you more, Lisa.
One of the things is, I’ve had a lot of coaches and mentors. Both of you were neither to me. What you were to me and my function were examples of talent. Meaning I worked with you both where I could. We interacted and all of that. Watching and observing is something I don’t think people who are growing don’t do enough of. To your point, Myrna, sometimes it’s listening, but it’s also observing good leaders. I’ve had that privilege, so I wanted to thank you for that and coming on the show. You each get the final word. It could be on diversity, leadership, your careers, whatever you want to say because you guys are pacesetters. You’re examples, you’re models, and you’re kicking butt, taking names and I’m grateful for that. Who goes first? I’ll let you two fight it out.
As I’m sitting here, reflecting on our time together and all the things we’ve talked about, one thought I’d like to leave the audience with is that you need to both personally and professionally be in the right space. Personally, you have to work on that yourself. You have to find time for your family and the things that are important for you.
Professionally, you also need to find the right place and if you’re not there, you need to get out and find something else. There’s a lot of opportunities. It’s easier to leave a job than it is to leave your family. Don’t make your job more important. You can get another one. You need to market yourself well and know how to explain your experience. All those things, you can teach everybody, as a matter of fact, but you need to bring them together for a happy life. It’s trying to find that balance that happiness, and there’s a strength that comes out of it for both sides. Those are my final thoughts.
That’s a high bar for you, Myrna. You shouldn’t have been polite.
This is what happens when you yield, but it’s also a validator when you hear something like that from Lisa. What I’m going to share is similar and complementary to what Lisa said. It’s so important for us to align our values around who we work for and who we work with. With those values, we want to be connected to the mission-driven or whatever the case may be in the organization that we are a part of but to carry the flag for how you develop your team, yourself, and your work efforts. Values are extremely important.
Speak up. Don’t be shy. The era of standing back and being a wallflower is over. We need to be heard. We need our perspectives to be out there. We need to be authentic, politically tactful, and that would be one of my learnings for another show. We need to be politically tactful in how we express ourselves and how we share our perspectives, but silence is not an option. We need to be transparent. The same way Lisa said, “If you’re not aligned, there are other places for you to go. There are other places for you to be and to bring your value to.”
You guys have been awesome. Thank you both so much.