Friday, April 16, 2010

Inspiration from Microsoft

Today I had the pleasure and privilege to attend an event hosted by Microsoft R&D in Israel. The event was entitled Women Think Next and it was organised in the best of taste, for a primarily female audience, to raise awareness for issues of women advancement in hi tech and to encourage networking which, as everyone knows, women are not good at. All guests were presented with personalised networking business cards and were asked to make it an objective to exchange them with other women, in the true spirit of networking. I cheated! I saved a couple to show you in the photo below. (You can see my name written in Hebrew on the upper card).

The event opened with a showcase video of a selection of Microsoft women, including one whose job was "Developer and Platform Evangelism" (what on earth is that ?) and another wearing a T-shirt on which was written "I'm not slacking off, my code's compiling". All these Microsoft women described how they enjoy life at Microsoft, friendship, networking,  flexible work arrangements and advancing in their career. It can be done, apparently. 

Of the range of impressive speakers at this morning event, two made a strong impression.

Dina Dublon, who sits on the Board of Microsoft (one of two women in the team of 9) and on the Board of Pepsico , amongst other things, gave one of the most inspiring talks I have heard in a long while. A little business, a little personal, a little good advice. Born in Brazil, and having served for many years as CFO of JP Morgan Chase, overseeing several important mergers during her tenure, she freely shared her advice for women wanting to reach and even break through the glass ceiling. Summary of her words of wisdom:

  • Be demanding: asking for what you want is much rarer among women than it is among men. Push for what is important to you. 

  • Perserverence: Dont quit when you are stuck. First get unstuck!

  • Own your own development: No one else will own your development as you do. Display curiosity. Men have problems giving critical feedback to women. Don't rely on others to tell you what you need.

  • Confidence: If you don't have it, pretend you have. Don't share all your anxieties when presented with a new challenge. Accept and give the impression that you are confident. Grow to be comfortable with yourself and who you are in your role.  Men have the opposite problem - they are usually over confident! 

  • Leadership is a matter of choice, not chance. 
Dina also shared her thoughts about how CEO's need to change, and I was gratified to hear her stress the importance for CEO's of  creating sustainable value, thinking long-term, creating cross-sector partnerships and practising an approach of Think Global Act Local rather than just paying lip-service to this way of running businesses.

The above advice was delivered with the assertiveness of a women who has experienced the challenge of  working her way up, and succeeding, in a male dominated environment, and with the charm and personal anecdotes of one who clearly holds much influence. Women like Dina help to give us confidence that our global corporations consider their responsiblility and accountability to stakeholders.

The other speaker of note was Yoelle Maarek. This bubbly young lady with an infectious personality and a very French accent talked about her work at Yahoo, and prior to that at Google and IBM. She has spearheaded some important innovative technology changes, such as the Google Suggest application which brings up all sorts of interesting options when you are searching for a term via Google. I tried this with Chunky Monkey and this is what I came up with:

Chunky Monkey daipers ? Well, there's a thing...

This event was a pleasant few hours in the midst of our crazy-busy lives, to sit back, reflect a little, learn a little and enjoy the company of old and new friends. A great initiative by Microsoft and one which aligns with their efforts in corporate citizenship. Wonder if it will get a mention in their next CSR Report ?

elaine cohen is the CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at   


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