DBL Partners’ Managing Partner, Cynthia Ringo Quoted in San Francisco Chronicle

"Lean In" Shows the Disparity Between the Number of Men and Women who Hold Leadership Roles in Major Businesses

San Francisco Chronicle
March 18, 2013

DBL’s own Cyn­thia Ringo adds her voice to the Cheryl Sand­berg “Lean In” debate in the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle.  The key to more women in lead­er­ship posi­tions is ear­lier expo­sure to math, sci­ence and busi­ness train­ing, she says, and to form­ing tighter bonds in col­lege that extend after grad­u­a­tion, when busi­nesses are get­ting off the ground.

Orig­i­nal arti­cle by Angela Swartz

With her new book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” Face­book Chief Oper­at­ing Offi­cer Sheryl Sand­berg clearly hoped to spark dis­cus­sion about female ambi­tion and oppor­tu­nity in the work­place. She might not have expected her obser­va­tions and pre­scrip­tions to bring her the kind of crit­i­cism she’s received for hold­ing women to stan­dards, both per­sonal and pro­fes­sional, that many see as unattainable.


But what­ever one’s reac­tion to “Lean In,” it has brought into focus, once again, the dis­par­ity between the num­ber of men and women who hold lead­er­ship roles in major busi­nesses. It’s a real­ity faced by many female heads of Sil­i­con Val­ley star­tups, both new and veteran.

They have seen the issues that Sand­berg has raised play out in their own expe­ri­ences, and though they can’t pin­point one sure­fire solu­tion, many agree about the need to form sup­port groups, seek out role mod­els and get more girls inter­ested in math and sci­ence earlier.

Ann Scott Plante, 29, co-​​founder of Wello, a video-​​based work­out web­site started in July, said her goal as a female exec­u­tive is to make high-​​achieving women like Sheryl Sand­berg no longer the exceptions.

It’s worth call­ing out sit­u­a­tions where it doesn’t seem like a level play­ing field,” Scott Plante said. “We should aspire to do every­thing we can to play with the boys and make a more friendly envi­ron­ment for women.”

Work­place parity

A look at recent data on the topic of work­place par­ity in upper ech­e­lons under­scores Sandberg’s con­cerns. A 2012 report from exec­u­tive search firm Spencer Stu­art points out that top lead­er­ship posi­tions are still over­whelm­ing held by men.

The slow progress is dis­cour­ag­ing,” the report says. “Women now account for just over 17 per­cent of inde­pen­dent direc­tors, up from 16 per­cent in 2007 and 12 per­cent in 2002. Nine per­cent of S&P 500 com­pa­nies do not have any female direc­tors.” A mere 21 of the For­tune 500 chief exec­u­tives are women.

Matthew Bid­well, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of man­age­ment at the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, wrote an arti­cle for a Whar­ton busi­ness school pub­li­ca­tion on gen­der seg­re­ga­tion in man­age­r­ial roles. He focused on pro­fes­sional women enter­ing the work­force, and found that fewer who fin­ished MBA pro­grams chose investor-​​type jobs, because those posi­tions require more stereo­typ­i­cally male attrib­utes and attitudes.

At least at lower lev­els, I found the pos­i­tive thing is that women aren’t being dis­crim­i­nated against,” Bid­well said. “But at the same time, man­ag­ing stereo­types is harder than man­ag­ing discrimination.”

Cather­ine Wol­fram, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at UC Berkeley’s Haas Busi­ness School, stud­ied the “leaky pipe” the­ory, which says that women aren’t stay­ing in posi­tions long enough to rise through the ranks. Her study found that 15 years after grad­u­at­ing from Har­vard Col­lege, 28 per­cent of the females who received MBAs were stay-​​at-​​home moms, while only 6 per­cent of those earn­ing med­ical degrees left their jobs, sug­gest­ing the busi­ness world is less female-​​friendly.

Stereo­types persist

For women in lead­er­ship in Sil­i­con Val­ley, nego­ti­at­ing the path to their roles has been a con­stant learn­ing expe­ri­ence, some of it unpleasant.

Jamie Walker, 30, CEO of online health com­mu­nity Fit Approach, is releas­ing the fit­ness class app Sweat Guru this spring. She recalled once inquir­ing of a panel of ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists how many female star­tups were in their port­fo­lios. One pan­elist responded: “We’re not look­ing at whether you have boobs are not.”

It wasn’t really the com­ment, but the reac­tion that was trou­bling, because peo­ple just thought it was funny,” said Walker’s co-​​founder, Alyse Mason Brill, 29. “Even when we go into busi­ness meet­ings, there are sub­tle things, too — like you can see them look­ing at you and not tak­ing you as seri­ously because of your fem­i­nine traits. I think we’ve seen the way to push through this is to not back down.”

Lynn Jurich, 33, co-​​founder of Sun­run, a home solar com­pany, said her first job out of col­lege, in 2002, was at a ven­ture cap­i­tal firm, Often, peo­ple she dealt with were sur­prised she was in her position.

One time I was going to inter­view some­one for a posi­tion at the com­pany and he said, ‘Oh, I already have cof­fee, I’m all set,’ ” Jurich said. Another time, “I was on the company’s pri­vate jet and the pilot would say, ‘Your dad must own the company.’ ”

Myth of balance

Deeply ingrained gen­der stereo­types clearly play a part in the dearth of top women lead­ers. Tend­ing to be the pri­mary care­givers for chil­dren, women are often pulled away from the work­place, thus lim­it­ing access to demand­ing cor­po­rate jobs.

But not all agree it has to be a hindrance.

Mon­isha Perkash, 38, is CEO of Lumo BodyTech, a Palo Alto com­pany that received $5 mil­lion in Decem­ber for its back pos­ture prod­uct Lumoback. She says that the notion of work/​life bal­ance being a zero-​​sum game for women — choos­ing work or chil­dren — is a myth when it comes to lead­ing a com­pany. She said she’s been able to bal­ance being a par­ent and run­ning her own startup because she estab­lished con­ver­gence between her work and her per­sonal life.

Many women agree that hav­ing role mod­els is vital for advanc­ing to top posi­tions. Online per­sonal shop­ping startup Stitch Fix’s CEO Kat­rina Lake, 30, who just raised $4.75 mil­lion, said it gets lonely as a CEO because you don’t have peers.

DBL Part­ners man­ag­ing part­ner Cyn­thia Ringo, 60, said some­times she feels like the Lone Ranger in the male-​​dominated invest­ment world. She believes that young girls need more rel­e­vant expe­ri­ences — through math, sci­ence and busi­ness train­ing — to gain the cred­i­bil­ity to move for­ward into CEO-​​type positions.

Progress in Europe

The Spencer Stu­art report points out that Euro­pean nations have seen much more progress in diver­si­fy­ing their top busi­ness ranks. In fact, com­pa­nies in the S&P 500 now trail the top com­pa­nies in Nor­way (40 per­cent), Fin­land (27 per­cent), Swe­den (26 per­cent), France (22 per­cent), Den­mark and the Nether­lands (18 per­cent), tying with Ger­many (17 per­cent) for the per­cent­age of females on their cor­po­rate boards. Some of these nations have adopted reg­u­la­tions or set vol­un­tary tar­gets to increase these numbers.

But some women are leery of change through regulation.

I’m torn when it comes to the gov­ern­ment get­ting involved in this prob­lem,” said Lau­rie Yoler, a vet­eran Sil­i­con Val­ley tech­nol­o­gist. “Clearly it’s not hap­pen­ing on its own, so the ques­tion is: Is reg­u­la­tion a require­ment” to make it happen?

Sophia Yuan, 27, founder of fledg­ling res­i­den­tial rental prop­erty mar­ket­place Platsy​.com, said she believes change needs to hap­pen organ­i­cally. It’s too dif­fi­cult, she says, to man­date inter­nal morale.

Chang­ing behavior

So what can be done?

Penn’s Bid­well sug­gests that employ­ers can reduce the work and fam­ily con­flicts many women face with more flex­i­ble work sched­ules and access to day care. They can also present job descrip­tions in more gender-​​neutral terms.

Katia Beauchamp, co-​​founder of the com­merce plat­form Birch­box, which has 300,000 sub­scribers, says women lead­ers can rein­force their own effec­tive­ness. Each time they present to ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists in par­tic­u­lar, she said, it’s impor­tant to focus on how they plan to cre­ate demand for some­thing new and change behavior.

Yoler says that bet­ter media rep­re­sen­ta­tion of engi­neer­ing jobs is one of the keys to chang­ing the num­ber of women who are attracted to engi­neer­ing and com­puter sci­ence degrees, the kind of edu­ca­tions that lead to tech­nol­ogy careers.

Films like “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tat­too” fea­ture women in these fields, she points out, but the major­ity of career women rep­re­sented in the media are seen in the roles of doc­tors or lawyers rather than hackers.

Diver­sity of thought

Yoler believes it’s impor­tant to have more women in executive-​​level roles for rea­sons essen­tial to good busi­ness. Women can add a diver­sity of thought and strate­gic insight, she said. They may also offer a dif­fer­ent cus­tomer per­spec­tive, and often bring a dif­fer­ent kind of man­age­ment style.

Perkash agrees, say­ing that more com­pa­nies have to real­ize that “to be com­pet­i­tive, you have to be open to half the work­force if you want your com­pany to do bet­ter. Oth­er­wise, (they) will be miss­ing out on a big part of the talent.”

Until then, she sug­gests a route she has followed.

My advice to women is that entre­pre­neur­ship is a good route to take to try to have it all,” she said. “They won’t hit glass ceil­ings because they can make up the rules.”

Angela Swartz is a free­lance writer. E-​​mail: business@​sfchronicle.​com