Leaning Out vs. In
She’s the author of “Lean Out,” a collection of essays that chronicle the experiences of women, LGBTQ folks, and people of color in the start-up world. In contrast to Sheryl Sandberg's widely read Lean In, Elissa’s main message is not that women (and other groups) need to change their behavior, but rather it is the companies themselves that must change to be more inclusive of these groups that are "leaning out" because of marginalization.
As former Google employee Jamesha Fisher told Fast Company, when she landed in the Bay Area, she became aware of a systematic stigmatism for being both black and female, which made her feel like "the odd egg." She had to work to develop a support circle of peers and mentors, in part through social media, so she could feel more a part of a community.
In the micro, Elissa’s evocative personal vignettes about her own experiences are shocking. The disregard for her talents, the targeted bullying, these barriers that exist belie our expectations of companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook.
From my view on the edges of the industry (I live in the SF Bay and have consulted with dozens of local tech based clients) my impression was that start-ups and tech giants were leading the way, in terms of including diversity groups—I was wrong.
One of the baseline tools I bring clients is to re-orient with other perspectives in mind. If the perspective of your target/partner/customer would improve how you approach your objective, it’s critical to obtain and accept their perception to open collaboration. Recognizing another’s perception isn’t agreeing with it. I don’t agree with a lot of things I experience, but I do accept that someone else’s reality was formed in a different environment; and that matters in ways that create wonderful opportunities.
Our institutional and personal cultural perceptions tend to revert back to a comfortable setting similar to a compass—in the case of the Silicon Valley, the archetype of Brogrammer with Mark Zuckerberg as its poster boy or “white male nerd” is celebrated and actively sought out by Angels and VC’s.
While Silicon Valley plays lip service to diversity, the real hard work comes in actually improving the culture of an organization. That improvement requires discomfort, mistakes, patience and a guide. Elissa suggests that there are many ways these companies can move past giving diversity “lip-service” an easy first step being for companies like Google to open offices in the places where they can find a more diverse workforce, cities such as Atlanta and Oakland.
Illustrating this, Elissa’s stories exposed my own dis-perception of diversity. I realized my experience was shallow and white male (hi, I’m a white dude) based…and sometimes dismissive of other experiences; and I know better. She talked to us about Squinky. I had no idea who or what a Squinky was, I immediately judged simply based on the name. That position, is completely wrong, dismissive and unfair to Squinky. Elissa afforded me the chance to see the “lean” and evolve. I’m thankful to Elissa for coming on Popping the Bubbl, and for her wonderful book.
Beyond her book and the ideas she is bringing to Silicon Valley, Elissa herself is a passionate advocate and recruiter at Kearney, Boyle and Associates connecting underrepresented candidates with companies looking bring diversity to their workforces. Elissa is also available and excited to give talks on her book, if you are interested in booking her, please reach out to her agent. @ElissaBeth can also be found tweeting about entrepreneurism, start-ups and leaning out!