She Means Business
There’s a new work order, and it takes women seated at the table to keep it. In a new book, social media maven Kirstine Stewart explains why.
Kirstine Stewart’s Twitter profile is perfection: succinct, direct, self-deprecating.
Sorry, Kirstine not Kristen … VP Media responsible for @Twitter’s TV, Sports, Music, Talent, Ent, News & Gov partnerships. NYC, SF, LA, DC, TO, airplanes
As a senior executive of the online social networking service that famously set the brevity bar at 140 characters, it should be, too.
But it’s the bit up front that engages you. With a name that is just a few letters off from Kristen, Kirstine Stewart lets you know that, “No, sorry…” – she’s not Kristen Stewart, the brooding movie star of the Twilight Saga film franchise in case you typed her name incorrectly into Google and landed there.
The book grew out of a talk Stewart gave at Rotman School of Business in 2013 and is replete with research findings and statistics to challenge the wearying ones we hear far too frequently about the scarcity of women at the top of every corporate org chart. By now, we’ve all heard at least a few variations on the theme that while the same number of men and women enter the workforce each year, a scant percentage of board or C-suite, top management positions are held by women.
A former broadcast executive, Stewart doesn’t just work for one of the most transformative technology companies of our time, she is a zealot for the promise of tech. She lives and breathes her brand. She came to the industry just two years ago by way of the television business, where most recently she ran CBC’s English services – remarkably, the first woman and youngest person ever to do so.
Her career trajectory is impressive. Starting as an over-qualified receptionist in the entertainment industry, she began her rapid ascent through TV distribution, learning quickly how to navigate all manner of shark pools. Her personal experience forms the narrative of the book, which details how she managed to drive forward and learn to lead while gaining fresh perspectives with each career conquest. Her impulse to compete, though, had to be innate.
While lauding Sandberg for the “important contribution” made to the discourse, Stewart distinguishes her own point of view from the Lean In brand of corporate feminism. Rather than focusing, as Sandberg does, on what women aren’t doing (or doing well), Stewart is more interested in what women do right. “For a woman to be as successful as a man,” Stewart tells her readers, “she shouldn’t need to act like one.“
Jean Davey would agree, although it’s hardly news to her. “What’s troubling is how little has changed in 50 years.” In her forthcoming memoir, The Only Woman in the Room, she describes starting out in the investment business in the 1960s when lunch was three martinis and the “old boys club” dominated. Davey, who was one of the first female licenced stockbrokers in North America, spent her entire career quietly setting herself apart from – and competing with – “the fellas” who consistently perceived her success as a series of lucky breaks.
Davey was recruited by the legendary banker Austin Taylor and eventually become the first female broker at Macleod Young Weir. She functioned in a meritocracy that applied only to men – an environment that women working in Silicon Valley today would recognize in a flash.
Something else that hasn’t changed is the truism that women are risk-averse – a trait that Stewart refers to as “the ball and chain that women must sever” to succeed in business. Stewart and Davey, although generations apart, both believe that deliberately plunging oneself into unknown waters professionally – making yourself uncomfortable – is the risk you must take in order to move ahead and break out of that stereotype.
“Technology has shifted power to the masses,” Stewart writes, and today “managing out” is the innovative way to lead. So walk away from the corner office, she urges, buy into your people and recognize that influence is the new power. “Get over yourself,” too, because holding back is a form of self-indulgence. “It’s what I told myself to get over my shyness,” Stewart says.
As a future leader especially, “You have an obligation to speak up or you’re abdicating responsibility,” says Stewart. “We all have different concepts of success. There’s no benefit to measuring everyone by the same standard.” Do it your way is the message, but work hard at it. And don’t feel you have to stick to a script.