I recently had a chance to speak with pioneering Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor, Magdalena Yesil, about her new book, “Power Up: How Smart Women Win in the New Economy.”
Magdalena Yesil first arrived the United States in 1976 with two suitcases and $43 to her name. Today, she is best known as the first investor and a founding board member of Salesforce, the now multi-billion dollar company that ushered in the era of cloud-based computing.
In her new book, Power Up: How Smart Women Win in the New Economy, Magdalena shares her experiences as a woman in Silicon Valley in addition to sharing the experiences of more than a dozen other top women entrepreneurs.
In Power Up, Magdalena Yesil offers advice on getting credit for your work, managing sexual dynamics and owning career choices.
I recently had a chance to speak with the pioneering Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor about her new book, finding confidence, equal pay for equal work and her “delicious eff-you attitude.”
Why did you feel that now was the best time to write your book, Power Up?
Throughout my career I never let my gender be a focus point. It was neither a positive nor was it a negative. Being a woman was just the way it was.
A few years ago, Silicon Valley was facing the Ellen Pao case and there was a lot of discussion about women in technology and how difficult it was to be successful.
I felt I really had to come out and talk about my own success as well as the successes of the other women I knew so that young women would have inspirational and motivational role models as a counterpoint to the negative media stories.
I also wanted to share our collective learning—both positive and negative experiences—so that younger women would have a road map.
About 18 months ago, I wrote an opinion piece in USA Today titled “Coming Out as a Woman in Venture Capital” and it was a real turning point for me. For the first time in my career I was professing the fact that I was a woman.
I did this because I realized that ignoring my gender was not enough; I had to come forth and be vocal as a woman so that young women could have a role model.
What makes this book different than other women empowerment/self-help book?
This book is based on my career antidotes and learnings as well as those of 27 other women that I interviewed.
What I’m told sets it apart is that regardless of gender, regardless of age and regardless of whatever industry you’re working in, this book is highly inspirational and motivational for all readers.
It’s a counterpoint to all the negative press and negative messages about being a woman in tech. It’s filled with practical and actionable advice and learnings from my life experiences as well as those from others.
I am told that it’s also very easy and entertaining to read. Readers can relate to a lot of the stories. It puts in under one cover what a lot of women have gone through in their careers to be successful.
Do you feel like women now feel entitled to success because we have been denied it for so long in the past?
I do feel that people of all different ethnic and religious groups today more than ever before believe that ultimately there should be a meritocracy in the workplace. We should have equal pay for equal work.
In fact, this has been years in the making. It’s nothing new. But the conversation is a lot more in the open and front of us today.
I truly believe when we fast forward 15 years, gender will no longer be an issue. We’re making good progress today. We have more women CEOs at the helm of the Fortune 1000 than ever before.
We’re already making progress in breaking that glass ceiling. I am very, very encouraged. I do think that shedding the light on this positive development is very important so that we don’t discourage ourselves.
In the book, you talk about being in your career without so much of a focus on your gender, but rather your skills and talents. Do you think women now focus on their gender too much?
I do feel that when women focus on their gender it can become a hindrance. We start thinking, “maybe because I’m a woman I didn’t get that job offer, or maybe because I’m a woman I didn’t get that promotion.”
What that does is it puts us in a negative frame of mind. I think focusing on our skills and focusing on our achievements makes us better advocates for ourselves so that when we’re advocating for the promotion we ourselves are focused on our achievements and we can lay those out clearly.
If we do that, I do think that we’ll prevail and we’ll get the promotion and the raises that we want.
One of the things you talk about in the book is that confidence matters. Why do you think women “round down” their ambitions while men “round up”?
Without being a psychologist or sociologist, I can’t make an educated guess but I do know that women do this rounding down. I see it every single day.
Just recently I had coffee with a woman who has a phenomenal title at a successful company and has about 50 people reporting into her. But she was saying that she probably won’t get the next job up the ladder, she probably won’t get her boss’s job.
When I asked her why she thought so, she had all kinds of reasons—she felt she didn’t have as much seniority, she hadn’t been at the company for that long. She seemed to be only focused on the negative.
I said to her, “If you only focus on the negative yourself, everyone else around you will only focus on the negative as well. Why don’t you focus on the positive? Write down the 10 reasons why you SHOULD get that job.”
I think because we women are often
In chapter one you talk about your “delicious eff-you attitude.” What is this mindset?
My first engineering job was as a semiconductor design engineer. At one of my first presentations, I sat down with my boss and the engineering review team to present the semiconductor chip I was designing.
My project received a lot of harsh criticism and negative feedback. At the end of the meeting, my boss asked me how I thought it went and was surprised at how positive my reaction was.
“I think it went very well,” I replied. He was in disbelief at my response and hailed it as a “delicious eff-you attitude.” My attitude was an asset. I didn’t allow other people’s delivery to undermine the valuable feedback they were able to provide to my design to make me better.
I don’t know how I developed this “delicious eff-you attitude” but it’s really been a helpful aide for me in my career. Having this kind of attitude basically means you don’t let others ruffle your feathers with their feedback or when they make a negative comment.
Instead, you’re seeing the value of what that content is and how it can help you better yourself and better your work.
It’s about developing a mindset of not letting anyone’s opinion hurt you just because they’re delivering it in a negative way. Instead, you’re choosing to focus on the content and value of the feedback.I don’t know how I developed this “delicious eff-you attitude” but it’s really been a helpful aide for me in my career. —Entrepreneur, VC and Author, Magdalena Yesil, discussing her new book, #PowerUp. Click To Tweet
In chapter four you talk about why it’s “better to be a bitch than a victim.” Where does this idea stem from?
The word “bitch” is often used as a power word by people trying to disarm you. No one wants to be disliked, no one likes to be a bitch. So when a woman is called a bitch, the natural reaction is for her to say, “Oh wow! I shouldn’t do what I just did because that makes me a bitch.”
Bitch is a controlling word and we have to understand that. When someone calls a woman a bitch, the message is that they want to control her behaviour.
When these instances happen, we have one of two options. We can be in a position where we give up our power because we’re worried about being a bitch, but then end up letting others take control.
Or we can recognize the word for what it is and decide that we don’t want to go down the path of being a victim. Thus, better a bitch than a victim.
I personally do not like being a bitch, but really detest being a victim. I work really hard at my job and craft to allow myself to be a victim.
I think understanding that “bitch” is a highly manipulative word—someone is trying to manipulate your behaviour when they call you that—also helps us understand how we can take that power back when we are given that undesirable label.Bitch is a controlling word and we have to understand that. When someone calls a woman a bitch, the message is that they want to control her behaviour. —Entrepreneur, VC and Author, Magdalena Yesil, discussing her new book, #PowerUp. Click To Tweet
In chapter six you talk about networking and how we’re inadvertently creating a networking divide between the genders. How can women network more effectively?
I feel very strongly that a woman’s network is very important—we get strength from it, we get camaraderie. But most of the people in positions of power and influence are men, so when we start limiting ourselves to mostly women-only networks, we’re basically opting out of the networks that have the power.
I am very worried that women are going to start limiting themselves more and more to single gender activities. Even worse—men will be afraid to network with young women.
We as women don’t benefit from that. If we discourage men from networking with us, we’ll limit our own opportunities to interact with the guys who have the power.
Do you think women who have made it into leadership roles have an obligation to help other women behind them climb up?
I don’t think it’s an obligation, but it feels good to help those coming after us. You don’t do it because it’s an obligation, you do it because it’s a pleasure.
I feel that there’s nothing that would make a woman or a man feel better than helping someone behind them to come along. You feel very fulfilled when you can help others come up, you feel very validated for your life’s experiences.
When I was a kid, my dad used to say there is more pleasure in giving than in receiving and I thought something was really wrong with him. Now I get how correct he was.