Dissolving the glass ceiling: The path to the c-suite

Jennifer Keenan
President & CEO

Video Transcription

I'm going to drill down into uh some tactical solutions and suggestions that I found to be very helpful in my career for navigating either choppy waters or making self modifications and adjustments. So I have a high level overview.Uh I have a very informal presentation style, so it'd be a bit chatty and then also break down the suggestions that I have into a series of technical recommendations and then provide maybe about 10 minutes uh for Q and A. I've also included links uh to profiles in the back. So if anybody wants to connect afterwards and just as a heads up, this is not a pitch deck. So the slides are a bit more text heavy. I intend to provide slides or handouts afterwards in case people would like to review outside of the session or have to hop off. So right now, when we think about where we're at in the world, uh the landscape, uh what would be the purpose behind dissolving the glass ceiling? Why do we, why do we even need to worry about this when we look at corporate America or the private industry right now, women are still the minority uh overall as an executive or a leader, I typically like to focus on inclusion.

So men, women, they, however you identify your gender, we all need to be working together. So the global feel good message around including one another at the table. But the fact still remains that we are in the minority when it comes to board director positions, CEO roles as well as in the private market where there are even less women who are leading or running companies. So by not paying attention or not calling out the obvious that we're in this very small fraction, we fail. Sometimes I think in uh society or in business to acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do. That doesn't mean that we don't need to be positive. It just means that we have to think about what within ourselves. We need to alter as well as uh what in society or in training or in organizations, we need to change or modify in order to make progress and rise or raise other people up after this. After this discussion, if you'd like to look at a couple of lists, I provided some links in the deck, both for the private market as well as the S and P 500. Uh This is my first time doing this particular talk. Typically, I focus on topics like resilience and growth uh and then tactical trainings on agile or products. And otherwise, this is really my off the cuff.

Take on what I look at in the market when I think about investments and companies and growth and where I see the opportunity for change. I like to focus a little bit on a success story. Uh Before I drill into some more granular facts as well as my own story. I had this sincere pleasure a couple of companies ago working with MS Carol, H Cruz Carol is a executive investor. She's a board member for vain. Uh And someone that I worked with when I was still a product manager in a very large heavily matrix culture. Carol. Uh And I had the opportunity to directly work with her across the fence or in uh tangential apartments or departments, excuse me, because we were uh not just working on specific product lines as she was overseeing marketing, but also I had some off the side of my desk projects that I was leading in the company.

I had a very large difficult assignment that I was leading. And in the particular instance, there were a number of challenges how I got to know her as a person. Uh not just as a business leader or in a meeting or in passing, but uh was directly in communication with one another around a difficult incident. And this allowed me to broker a relationship with her and get to know her one on one, both as a leader uh and as a human or a woman executive. So it was through a business experience that I had that I built this relationship. And one of the reasons that the connection maintained professionally, I had a, a difficult moment and she was talking to me and she actually just straight out told me the truth. Now I know all of us in and when we're doing business in the world or brokering new agreements or uh out there conducting our own business development and building our lives. We all intend to be honest and direct and forthcoming. One of the qualities I appreciate in extremely talented leaders is the ability to break down a situation and just be very direct and say, here's what's happening and here's what I think.

And if I were in your situation, here's how I might approach that, that's not telling somebody what to do what it is is opening a door for a conversation around the environment and situation assessment, which is very important. I haven't worked with Carol in a few years, but I did have the opportunity to speak with her this past Sunday and I was so excited to reconnect because we also are both Yogis and have uh some, you know, hobbies that we share as well. And during that time in our conversation, I was congratulating her on some of the things that she's achieved over the last few years since we, we haven't connected in maybe like two or three years. Uh Also uh acknowledging some of the challenges that either one of us may have faced and some of the new triumphs. But uh the discussion really centered on the industry. Now, Carol's career is amazing to me and I see her as a success because she's been both in private and public corporations. She's navigated Silicon Valley successfully had three various start ups that she worked in and was acquired or the company was acquired by Coca Cola and then segued back into CMO roles. And where we actually crossed paths was at Cambia Health Solutions.

That uh ambition and that drive and ability to not just say yes to projects or lead uh within various components of your career, but also to be open to uh various business functions. So I broke down a couple of sound bites for people on the call and would like to share them with you and also a link to her bio in case you'd like to connect with her after she's somebody that I call upon or I've talked with at different segments of my career about where I'm headed, what I'm doing and also for direct feedback such as does this sound crazy or you know, what would you modify?

So, a couple of comments, yes, I can lead. So if you're approached with a project or an opportunity, you could be the CEO of a company now or you could be midst stage career at some point or another, everyone has an inflection point and changes. Right. So even the CEO S today of major corporations might decide to go into consulting or might become advisor or coaches for other people. So we all have different shifts in our career at any particular point. Those jumps that we make are empowered by, yes, I can lead or yes, I can do that. And then also be able to clearly say what is it that makes you valuable to a company? Uh These are both uh an attitude and a mindset that I share. I also would say a couple of call outs uh particularly in her career as you look at various segues or shifts between different industries, strong business skills, as well as knowing how to build value. So particularly in the tech world, if you're somebody that prefers to stay in private industry or entirely in start ups, uh that is perfectly fine. But if you're looking at an acquisition, uh you know, one of the roles that I function as a mentor or an advisor for other companies, you're thinking about your exit plan or is there an exit uh part of that strategy really is thinking about how you talk about yourself and what is your goal?

And in her case, she knew how to build value, right? And that was intellectual property for the tech and also being able to talk about it but was willing to hold various business functions. So an attitude of yes, but also being able to have a series of very specific skill sets that are handy or highly priced uh both within the start up world as well as in large corporations. Uh So articulating transferable skill sets is important but also being able to execute, right. So uh being able to talk about ourselves clearly and say I'm the CEO of a company, you know, my functional areas are XY and Z very important, but really have some evidenced examples of what you've made saved or built for a campaign. So using specific math in that discussion and also being able to tell that uh metric in a story or add it into the narrative of who you are and then last but not least have confidence. So know your unique value proposition and be uh willing to show up and smile and be present in those discussions. My experiences as a woman executive have varied. Uh So I'm about 21 plus years into my career right now.

Uh experience has spanned public private as well as not for profit environments currently. I mean, the private market in a raise for Zoya Inc. This is a venture that I started a handful of years ago. Incorporated in 2020. It is a private iot uh company focused on mobility, particularly for vulnerable communities or what is called assistive technology. I was inspired to start this company based on my own experiences with arthritis and mobility. I'm a very active person typically. And so I found a topic that I cared about and had experience with medical equipment, health care and came from an automotive family and was thinking about all the challenges that I have when I'm commuting outside of vehicles. So, hey, I'll start a company on this topic because we have uh a very huge opportunity in this country to add iot and uh as well as uh connected devices into our environment, particularly for women or vulnerable communities such as the disabled as women are that typically the decision makers and purchasing for uh for health care or for Children.

Certainly, there's a rise with millennials and beyond and fathers taking part in that. But I was particularly motivated by my own experiences and challenges in the environment. So caring about a topic or a subject that you'd like to amend particularly about by a health care issue or a personal experience can provide the energy and the basis alongside that I also had capital investments and uh assets that I had amassed as a 40 something year old woman.

I developed a concept in an MB A program and decided after, you know, just under 10 years in corporate America that I was going to go ahead and launch this company overall by MIT standards. If I look at what an exit is, I have about 12 plus. So that's both in entrepreneurship and, and excuse me, entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship. And uh some of that is social. So the earlier part of my career, the 1st 10 years I was in politics, nonprofits and so started a lot of social enterprises. A part of intra or entrepreneurship is social capital. So either way you look at it, having a network and having a mass several years, not just of savings, money, assets and otherwise, but also of uh friends, allies and colleagues allowed for an empowering uh launch, which happened in 2019 as I started in LLC. And then I actually converted the asset into C corporation and I've been working steadily on intellectual property messaging uh le a five person incubation board and I'm currently backing that company. I have been out pitching to IOT specific firms uh overall, when you look at the big picture, if you look at my linkedin profile or where I sit in the world in business or in uh even social ventures, some incubators, for example, are nonprofits and economic development engines typically are also a not for profit environment.

So I serve the world in private corporate as well as a not for profit venues. But typically they're all in uh all in line with the mission of generating profit or revenue for an ecosystem or particularly for one company. It could be for a transformative cu uh cure or it could be for uh my own products and services or perhaps somebody has a new social venture that they'd like to start. How did I learn how to do all of this. Over a 20 year span, I have had an impressive array of amazing executive leaders and industry leaders, uh advisors, stakeholders that I've been able to work with over the course of my career. Carol is one example, uh highly valuable and amazing example of a woman that I see as uh a stalwart advocate, as well as an enjoyable human to interact with. But I also have had a lot of mentorship from men. So the industries I've worked in typically are are male dominance, uh products in particular, uh the financial world venture and private equity typically are heavily male dominated fields. How did I develop the confidence or the ability or the vernacular in order to navigate?

I educated myself, I started out with a plan and I went through corporate leadership development. I had I achieved an executive MB A in 2018, I ran or, or self uh submitted for board director, self nominated. I put myself out there and allowed myself to be vulnerable. Receive feedback, oftentimes that's positive and sometimes it's not. And so when you look at new ventures and advisory, one of the values that I offer to the world is this whole career of having gone out, started various initiatives and taught others to do so as well. And from that I've learned from failure. I've also learned from one wonderful success. So I've spoken in front of audiences of 10,000 people. And I've had people almost throw tomatoes at me when I'm talking about an idea, these things all help each of us to become, uh strong and they also help, have helped me to develop a thick skin. So I don't run off of a stage or out of a pitch crying. If somebody, like, absolutely hates my idea. If I don't say the right words or I stumble, it's not something that keeps me up at night. That wasn't always the case as a young woman. Uh I've had various segments to my career. Uh much like Carol. In the previous slide, I had a product experience or marketing experience. I've had various segways, two steps forward and 21 step back uh where I, you know, segue into a different industry.

And perhaps I have to take a lateral move or take a contract all in all. When you look at the, the overarching experience, I've had to navigate a number of different communities of interest, a number of corporations and organizations, governments, private industry. And with that been flexible and open to feedback and developed a very succinct uh path pathology for resilience. So the biggest uh takeaway for me was how do I survive doing all this work by myself? And how do I take? What feedback is good and edit who I am and move that forward. Same processes that I might use in a company for building great products and services or serving empires, you know, or leading them. I have to listen, but I also have to choose when not to listen. That means saying yes and no. So definitely have a mindset of yes, but also know how to say no to opportunities that may or may not be useful for uh my career or helpful to other people. Uh Typically, when I exit, whether that's a role or a particular project or company, I have a graceful departure and I allow for extra time at the end. Uh If I were to interview a series of executives about one of my differentiating qualities, one of them can be calm during a storm. So I don't freak out if I'm in a meeting and somebody throws a book or, you know, quits on the spot.

These things sometimes happen in higher risk ventures as well as in corporations. Uh who am I as a person or where do I come from? I'm a natural born woman. I have a mixed or multi heritage background, various cultures and ethnicities. Uh I manage physical limitations with arthritis and other challenges. I'm completely mobile, but that takes up a part of my day. I'm also a first generation college student. So in my immediate family, I'm the only person that's attended university or achieved an advanced degree. I'm 43.

So I'm, you know, mid stage in my career, technical suggestions that I might have for anyone that's listening or after this talk, think about who you are. You are, you are what you think, just like people say you are what you eat. If you don't think you're successful, you aren't. If you think that you're amazing, you are, that doesn't make you, uh, impervious to any feedback or suggestions. It just means that starting with a positive mindset will take you where you need to go. Uh, career planning all stages is important. Uh, you can use a vision board. I've particularly just drafted out documents, you know, scribbling and thinking about pictures of what I want to be and where I want to go all in all that rolls into a plan. Uh So in 2018, when I launched my first company post uh executive MBA, I actually had a couple of plans and I ended up going in with a, a new ventures or entrepreneurial lawyer in a large firm and talking through the ins and outs just kind of bouncing ideas around. So I didn't wander off into space. So my suggestion here is plan your career and hold on to that plan and as life happens or a pandemic happens, make modifications. Don't lose your, don't lose your cool. Uh When, when you fail or you fall down or you don't have somewhere to go or there isn't somebody to ask for help, go back to your plan. Look for new leads on raising money and navigating the sweet seat and boards.

I've learned that if you only talk to women even though it can be a safe experience um in some communities or in venture or otherwise. Uh long term, it's not gonna help you with your career that also applies inside of corporations. Uh building allies of all genders is going to make or break your success. So typically having a large network of stakeholders and uh key leaders that are uh important for not just your elevating uh your own career, but also um friendship. So calling people and being able to talk about a problem or a situation that you are in when everything hits the fan will launch your career and take you to the next stage. They aren't always going to be able to help you, but sometimes just having somebody to listen is important because operating on your own is a very difficult space to be knowing the financials in the market. I recently had the opportunity to pitch for $80 million to a private equity firm. This is a handful of months back. I've never pitched somebody for $80 million. But what helped me get five meetings with a firm and in front of a group of people was actually knowing how to talk about finances and projections and where the market was going and having a strong handle on iot. Uh There were no questions or concerns about that.

Uh My acumen and it allowed for invitations back and probably will open doors in the future. Uh same thing for asking or navigating to a promotion development systems inside of corporations are very common. Uh La Loing is one in particular that I've used uh off and on leadership architects is a key tool set with language that can be purchased or licensed by an organization in the start up world. You may not have access to some of these tools. So having smart goals which can be leveraged on a sheet also helps executive education coaches have helped me a ton uh developing peer networks and joining professional associations that in the absence of having money or capital for uh any further uh self development can help uh provide a circle of women, men or otherwise that will provide you direct or live feedback so that you can modify your behavior or throw your bad ideas out and help you pull in some new positive energy.

A couple of groups that I found to be incredibly useful, uh in particular funding member of the fourth floor in New York City. Uh I participated for three years straight, you know, as a beta user at the very beginning, uh you know, dinners in New York with, you know, some of the founding members all the way up to and including, you know, peer networks and circles after we're talking about, you know, what introductions we can make connecting one another with, you know, venture opportunity, board seats and otherwise, uh for those of us that may be industry specific.

I might recommend sticking within your vertical and choosing an industry association where you can meet friends and seek their feedback off the cuff uh personal training, uh nonviolent communication and search search, excuse me, search inside yourself Leadership Institute. So uh knowing who you are and what makes you mad and what may get arise or trigger for you during any confrontation is a great way to be successful. It will help self manage. Uh Anytime somebody puts me on the spot and starts yelling at me about something, I typically find that to be a trigger. So when I find a confrontational attitude or mindset, I, I have a couple of tactics that I use within myself and one of them is grounding. Uh this, this is too out there and new age, that's ok, but usually involves a breeding tactic where I inhale and allow myself to kind of center so that I can address the challenge, write down the issue or be present in the moment and, and hear what the other person is feeling.

Uh nonviolent communication provides a series of tools uh that will allow you to change your language and sometimes also your demeanor. Uh There are youtube videos and also, you know, shows that you can watch on the topic. It's something that you can obtain, you know, from a library.

If you don't have the capital, go out and buy a bunch of books. Uh personal choices, yoga, physi uh focusing on my overall uh mindset, uh mind, body and spirits, brain health. Uh I've earlier in my life, gone through cognitive behavioral therapy. So for those of you that are a psychotherapist or don't know the language that's serving as your own therapist. It's learning a modality where you almost can serve yourself and you routinely train your brain to think in a certain way so that even you are operating under your own conditions, you're able to succeed and navigate your way out of a difficult spot outside of that spending time outdoors.

Some people call that nature Rx. Uh So I like to look at, you know, rivers and water and mountains. Uh And then I have hobbies like I love to cook. These are all things that one can do on their own time. Some of these things cost money, some of them don't, but all of them apply at all stages of anyone's career. Uh Just a call out to someone that I find motivational Sheri Floyd. She does a really wonderful job of inspiring women. Uh But also calls out the obvious, she has a very direct approach. I love this code at the top of string, which is ultimately women are responsible for, for their own careers and livelihood. So all these people that I've called out today or specific leaders like Carol, even though we just spoke on Sunday, I know that it isn't Carol's responsibility to fix or modify nor would I ask her to or I don't call upon all the, the men that I've worked for in my career with and say I need you to fix this.

I take responsibility for it and I go out and I build my own career. Uh I find in the world right now that there is a lot of challenge with gender, uh not gender identity necessarily, but how we describe ourselves and how we navigate what we consider to be an environment that has not reached parity. And one of the reasons I have been successful in my career is that I don't like separate myself from men or women. I think about people as humans. I acknowledge that they're men women or they, however they identify and I try to find a way to connect with each person and that has created a personal brand. So if you need three sound bites, uh Sheri I think does a great job of talking about building your own brand story and who you are as a person. What it's like to work with you? Your love story, how you feel about yourself? So, have you mentored people? Have you helped people get promotions? How you treat other women in the workplace will highlight to future employers or to investors whether or not you are worth the spend and whether or not you bring health or toxicity environment, the other is money. What's your relationship with money?

Where do you invest and where do you put your time? And do you ask for what you need? So high level takeaways, uh dissolving a glass ceiling is not something that happens overnight. Uh Given the percentages that we started with, it takes a lot of energy on a day to day basis to lead a company, especially in the early stages. Like right now I'm in a seed raise. So I have to focus on what is important every single day to move the needle to ensure that capital is coming in. And also that I'm generating opportunities to be successful for somebody. That's the ceo of a mature late stage publicly traded company. Some of the skill sets and tactics that I just described are still true, right? The day to day task might be different, perhaps you're, you know, in a board meeting, you know, and there are 20 board directors and then you're out presenting or you're on CNN the next day talking about the market. Um the underlying practices are still the same building effective support systems.

So whether that's family friends, uh a circle of people that you can call upon ensuring that your home environment and your day to day activities include people that are supportive, very important, uh maintaining a growth mindset and having resilience. Uh Some of the physical activities, behavioral activities, modifications and readings I provided have helped me to build resilience, hopefully they will uh for you as well. Uh Also having an ambitious commitment to self develop. Not everybody wants to be promoted, not everybody wants to be the CEO of a company. This talk or some of these suggestions are practice for people that would like to succeed, would like to step up or would like to build something new or would like to lead a global enterprise. Even on a, even somebody that's done uh uh or done board work or been in ac year old role for more than 10 years, typically has to develop themselves and seek feedback. Uh Case in point, I've been a part of an executive team before in health care where every single level employee within the organization had 365 degrees of feedback.

Despite any, you know, setbacks or challenges, open sharing around growth opportunities and where they might want to change or grow and what supports they might need from one another were a part of a standard meeting time and discussion that takes self-awareness as well as comfort and last but not least Q and A.

So outside of thinking about how we modify our own behaviors and our own uh needs. I wanted to provide time for every person in this call or anybody that's chosen to join, to ask me questions about my career, how I got to where I was or anything that might, they might find interesting. Hi, Karissa. So it says stop sharing now is an MB A or experience more important for getting into the C suite. And can you get there with, without an MB A? I think that you can get there without an NBA. Uh If you want to invent something new or try something new, you don't have to have the education. There are a lot of roles, jobs and leadership careers that require an MB A personally. I am very grateful that I went out and got an executive MB A. It improved. My financial competencies provided a language and a skill set that I did not yet have naturally acquired through corporate America and also built a network of stakeholders and leaders that I was still connected to. Can you give some specific advice around creating data to support your accomplishments typically in the development tools that I've uh leveraged in my career, whether that's developing another leader or myself, it includes uh categories for what I've produced.

So that's usually a financial metric or how many programs I've built or uh how many deliverables I've accomplished uh that, that is one way to measure an accomplishment and report an accomplishment and reported on your resume. Uh Another would be looking at industry intelligence.

So one of my skill sets is looking at piles of data around the market where the market is going and where investments make sense, right? So IOT being a great example, knowing that connected devices are a critical area and providing uh factual information based on market intelligence.

And other sources all across the globe. And then comprising that into three bullet points. In both uh both examples, you're using systems, tools and data that might be a mass from various systems and then digesting it or distilling it into 2 to 3 talking points so that you can easily describe what it is that you do, what you've produced or where you think uh where you think that you should have by using numeric information, Amanda, you mentioned grounding as a tool.

What is that exactly? And when do you find it to be most effective? Typically grounding for me uh comes from yoga practices or meditation. Uh I have uh done yoga since I was about 25 years old and again, 43. So quite some time, I've been on a number of retreats, I've been trained by Yogis uh from, from India who, you know, have taught me that Ishaan Sha. Uh So I've been schooled in this line of thought for a long time. And then I applied that to corporate America and development and official training, breathing and centering through meditation. Um or what in real time can be mindfulness requires a pause. So, on the, the tactical side, that's stopping what you're doing, closing your eyes or, or finding a quiet spot to sit or stand where you can do some deep breathing and think about the situation that you are in if somebody is being inflammatory. So if you're in a uh emotionally uh violent or we'll say uh a psychologically unsafe situation where somebody is argumentative or you feel uncomfortable. Uh Those are situations that you may just want to remove yourself from entirely, that somebody becomes angry during a meeting and you feel extremely unsafe.

Uh But in the instance where it's just a normal disagreement, which is when this is most effective, it's uh in the moment when there's a series of complex issues or challenges and your final decision needs to be clear and it also needs uh to be uh well founded. So uh a couple of examples I have about that, you know, choosing to start a company that's not an easy decision and it's not something that you do half hearted, right? Like going all in is a big deal. I talked with, you know, more than 12 people before I decided to do them. They're all people that have had multiple exits and very large careers. Uh I had uh a lot of time to think about who I was and where I wanted to go. And I did that through meditation. I've also had somebody blow up at me in a meeting because they just didn't like what I was saying. In that instance, I use deep breathing. There's actually a tactic you can use. Uh some of this is coachable uh or something you can purchase through membership like mindfulness training. You also can just go on uh a service or platform like youtube and just look up mindfulness or grounding that will allow for some familiarity around how to breathe differently in the moment when you feel uncomfortable. Uh also before a pitch or in asking for something difficult.

So another example would be I want to ask for a $20,000 raise. I had a conversation once with a boss or supervisor where I probably spent about a week researching what product managers make in the United States of America and how many of those people were women. And I sat down in my meeting to ask for a raise and here's how many product managers there are in the world. Here's how much money on average they make by geography. Here's how that varies. Here's where I'm at, here's how much education I have, I think I should get at least 10,000 more dollars all in all. It was a successful discussion. Uh Before that discussion, I had, you know, some time to reflect or think about uh who I was as a person and what I needed in order to survive. And I wasn't scared to ask for too much. Uh that took uh some amount of preparation factually, right? Having data, but also uh some amount of preparation to alleviate the nervousness that one might feel and asking for something that's way beyond what they typically would just receive any other questions. Ok. Well, I am incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to speak with all of you today.

Uh I'll make sure that the slides or the deck are available to you for your review again and very tactical uh or high level uh suggestions around modifications. I also would encourage you to take a look at the links that I sent uh in particular outside of Carol's career. Uh Certainly there's a hyperlink to look at Carol's background and the various segues that she's made. But there are, uh, links to the S and P 500 as well as the private market. Link out and look at some of the women's careers in there. Look at the decisions that they've made if my career doesn't uh, match something that you're aspiring. Uh So if you're not looking to go out and start a company or you don't advise others, uh, or want to be a CEO, that's ok if you have other leadership ambition, look at some of the other women that have gone out there and made their way in the world and reach out to them, uh, talk to them or learn about how it is that they got to where they're at and then borrow from the best.