Wednesday events promote women in the workplace

By: Vicki Hillhouse - Jan 25, 2018
Source: Union-Bulletin

Increasing evidence demonstrates a more diverse mix brings better collaboration.

Want to yield better results in business? Bring more women to the table.

Increasing evidence demonstrates a more diverse mix brings better collaboration, more ideas and ultimately better return-on-equity, said Jonathan Sposato, a 1989 Whitman College graduate, serial entrepreneur, co-founder of tech news site Geekwire and author of new book “Better Together: 8 Ways Working with Women Leads to Extraordinary Products and Profits” during a presentation Wednesday night at Whitman’s Reid Campus Center.

Sposato — who worked on the first Xbox released by Microsoft after joining the company post-graduation and went on to sell two companies to Google — is also an angel investor who has gone on record to say he will only contribute to businesses with at least one female founder.

“Women make phenomenal leaders,” he told an audience of students, faculty, staff and community members.

Positive self-talk

Seven hours earlier, a 120-seat sold-out luncheon of Women in Business created under the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce opened at Courtyard by Marriott Walla Walla with Alicia Keys belting the women’s anthem “This Girl is On Fire.” The kickoff to a quarterly series geared toward women and their growth and success in business and leadership started with an upbeat theme: “Positive Thinking, Positive Impact.”

Channeling positive self-talk to bring powerful results is key, a panel of three guest speakers said.

“It’s really simple: Every day I wake up and I say, ‘You know what? I’m happy to be here. I love what I’m doing. And I know what I’m talking about,’” said Clare Capps, the now retired co-founder of Capps Broadcast Group.

Gender equality the goal

Sposato’s book is directed at the business community in an effort to help bring about change and gender equality at a time when equal rights for women are still not guaranteed by the Constitution.

In a presentation moderated by senior gender studies student Alaina Jacobsen, Sposato outlined his own experiences thriving at Microsoft at a time when three of his bosses were Patty Stonesifer, who went on to become CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation before moving on to her own nonprofit aimed at solutions to poverty; Charlotte Guyman, now retired and a director at Berkshire Hathaway; and Lisa Brummel, who after 25 years with Microsoft is now co-owner of the Seattle Storm. 

Sposato called his four or five years in the Consumer Division under this leadership “the Golden Era.” “It felt more collegial, more collaborative, more communicative,” he said. And the company was putting out diverse creative products: Encarta, 500 Nations, Creative Writer, Fine Artist.

Sposato said the departure of women eventually ushered in an era of bravado. It had no villain or bad people — just a male-dominated framework that ended up taking over.

And it’s hard to overcome. Companies that fall to a point where they have 13 percent or 15 percent of women find difficulty attracting other women who want to be there.

Overcoming hardships

The challenge for women is very real, winery owner and entrepreneur Ashley Trout said. Women get 49 cents to every dollar for a man in venture capital funds, she said. A tidbit that gives more purpose than ever to lending operations such as Craft3, which operates a Walla Walla office. Norma Hernández, commercial lending systems manager for Craft3, said the nonprofit fills in the gaps when business owners can’t get funding from traditional lenders. Oftentimes they’re women.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hardship, she said. It’s more important to bounce back from it.

“When you look out there at who is happy and who is not happy, a lot of it has to do with how you take a punch,” said Trout, who started her own winery at 24, sold it and now runs two more, including the nonprofit Vital, whose sales support free health care through the SOS Clinic.

Steps to take

Sposato said companies with at least three women on their board of directors outperform those that don’t by 46 percent return on equity.

His book, he said, seeks to help those who want to have an environment more supportive of women.

He includes ways to do it: actively promote women, speak out against bias, remove bias against women when recruiting, listen louder, provide more family-friendly culture that doesn’t book meetings before 9 a.m. or send emails after 6 p.m., and embrace zero tolerance of harassment.

The gains for business can be obvious for those who take the time to notice, he said.

“I think 90 percent of this is paying attention.”

Positive attitude valuable

Positivity makes better leaders, YMCA Wellness Center director Theresa Peasley said. 

“Positive leaders empower others,” she said. “They don’t just take for themselves. They give you energy. Authentic positivity.”

Being that way is a choice and must be a daily exercise for success.”

“You’re going to feel fear. You’re going to feel anger. You’re going to feel sadness. But authentic positivity is feeling those things and not being attached to them,” Peasley said. “People don’t care how much I know until they know how much I care.”