What Rogue Women Can Teach Us All
Co-written by Patrick West, Wicksie Tu, and Maggie Covet
On May 7, 2019 high in the SAP Hudson Yards building is their NextGen space lined with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the entire West Side of Manhattan was an event called “Rogue Women". Our team at Be The Machine helped VentureFuel and Rogue Venture Partners “celebrate, connect with, and learn from the trailblazing women who go rogue to forge new paths and make the impossible, possible". It was a new venture that garnered nothing but positive feedback for over-delivering on its promise to connect women in business. 150 attendees an 39 panelists were a blend of powerful VC’s, major agency heads, start-up founders and marketing innovators and for all those who were not there, below are our Rogue Women learnings.
Climbing the corporate ladder is a concept and path that has been drilled into our minds. However, women already know their rungs on the ladder aren’t the same as the ones men get to grab. Maybe “climbing the ladder” is just an outdated metaphor. More than one presenter at Rogue Women used the word “pivot” to describe how her career path to a top leadership position happened. Former SVP of Univision Liz Blacker (former SVP Univision & EVP iHeartMedia) and Kristen Cavello (CEO, the Martin Agency and AdAge’s exec of the year) both shared key moments when they realized just climbing would only get them so far. When key opportunities were presented, they pivoted in a new direction. Which sometimes meant taking a risk and leaving something behind because not everyone dreams of being the boss but dreams change. These ladies spoke about opportunities that came their way and the moment they chose to seize those opportunities despite not matching their original career vision.
Sandra Lopez of Intel said it, “culture trumps strategy.”
Traditional C-suite title holders may roll their eyes but top generals in the US military agree. There's been a major critical shift in the past 20 years to get heads of major organizations to prioritize culture. Like our US generals, many of these Rogue Women have risen through the ranks not because of the existing culture but in spite of it. They know best how to shape their team communication, decision-making process, and action plans after being loyal soldiers for years. If a smart, committed team feels empowered and respected, they will produce winning results.
We all hope events and meetings go so well that conversations happen on their own but Rogue Women left nothing to chance with a built-in activity for the sole purpose of networking. Right from the opening coffee session, all participants were given creative tools that made it clear ideas would be exchanged. We found the round table sessions were a perfect way to end the day and to make those lasting connections we might have missed. Any type of meeting, tradeshow or conference could take a major lesson from Rogue Women in fostering an atmosphere of sharing going beyond business cards.
It’s easy to look up to women at the top of their careers and aspire to be in their shoes one day. We’ve all been to conferences and events that feature women with impressive titles and resumes, what is less common is showcasing women who are still trying to break ground. It’s inspiring to see passionate female start up founders speak about their tireless efforts to see their ideas come to fruition. Their leap into entrepreneurship and narratives of struggle are well-deserving of spotlight and come with learnings as valuable as seasoned industry leaders.
If Melanie Strong ,VP/GM of Nike Skateboarding, decides to join a speaker’s bureau, book her for your next event. Aside from making herself available to everyone for hours and bringing the new Nike commercial to kick off the conference, she shared a very strong message that should resonate with any organization. She openly recalled of sexism and harassment that were entrenched in the company culture. But her point was beyond bad bosses, Mel theorized that only in moments of corporate stress such as a recession or a major PR issue does a company truly look inward and enact change to fix problems. She said “I woke up on January 1 this year praying for a recession.”
When a company is making money and enjoying positive media coverage, then it incorrectly assumes all is well. Yet the rampant sexual harassment at Nike always existed, and was always ignored. Mel’s personal experience at Nike is one just about every type of organization can apply to their own situation. Problems are there if you dare to look and empower people to address them. Waiting for issues to grow and explode isn't just bad, it's wrong.
A panel lined with leadership in innovation from vastly different industries all took a moment to talk about failing. A natural part of innovation failing. It is simply an inevitable consequence of the innovation cycle, but how we deal with it is something we can control. Too many conferences champion great, big case studies of success- this panel took a moment to remind the audience that when we fail (and we will!), the critical way we need to handle it is with speed. In the tech start-up world, “failing fast” is common biz talk but we don't often get to see big hitters from ad agencies and corporate brands on panels emphasizing the importance of embracing failure. Learn from it fast, conceive your next step fast, and act fast.
On the final question of the day, the panelists for “Forging Your Path” were asked to name the person that most inspired them. Each and every woman named her mom and each one had a unique and interesting story behind her answer. It's important to remember we are all human and part of that are influences outside the workplace. While we were all there to talk business, our family and those close to us play a major inspirational role and many of the speakers are moms themselves. These peeks into their personal lives painted a bigger picture of how strides can be made in and out of the workplace.
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