I am Fjorela, a student of Masters of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Free University of Bolzano in Italy. As part of a project funded by the European Social Fund, I was given the unique opportunity to visit Silicon Valley for six weeks in order to get an insight into ways of doing business in the world leading hub for high-tech innovation.
In particular, I had the chance to do a month-long internship in the Marketing department at FirstRain. From the very beginning, I was warmly accommodated and walked through the team’s overall responsibilities and upcoming projects. What really impressed me was how much people cared to make sure my experience in this start-up would be as beneficial as possible. They involved me in different meetings and group activities and were always asking about what I was doing in Italy, curious to hear about my impressions on the differences between European and American culture.
FirstRain is characterized by a very flat organizational structure and the team appears to be enthusiastically committed to a common goal while making the working environment a great and fun place to be in. I felt that particular attention was given to diversity, which is seen as a valuable component and is reflected in the team composition. I was unexpectedly invited to celebrate the end of their financial quarter, which offered me the unique opportunity to witness how much passion and love people can feel for what they are doing while still finding time to have fun among colleagues. During the party, I had the chance to eat and drink with the whole company, getting to meet people from all over the United States. I even got involved in a Sumo Wrestling match! “It’s an intern tradition” – they said…
Overall I consider this experience to have been extremely valuable and positive both from an educational and personal perspective. I had the opportunity to learn new tools such as Salesforce, which may turn out to be useful for my future career, and got an extensive picture of how start-ups work in the Bay Area. Moreover I was able to get some insights and real life examples of management in highly innovative environments as start-ups tend to be, where the decision making process is very quick and people have to constantly adapt to new circumstances. I consider myself very lucky for having been part of such a great and motivated team and for having had the occasion to create contacts and discover potential future career opportunities.
Yesterday, CEO Penny Herscher took the stage on the Women of the Channel West’s Power Panel with other female leaders in the tech industry: VMWare’s Laurie Evans, Symantec’s Jana Valenti and Google’s Francine Geller, to help women understand what the next big trends are in tech, and what they need to know so they can best position themselves for success.
While each woman had a different take on what the most important skill would be going forward—financial fluency, coding, or something else—they all agreed that it was important to be as well-rounded as possible. Each one of the panelists stated that their companies don’t want someone who is specific to one skill—they want a generalist. Lay a good foundation and it’s easier to climb farther.
They strongly emphasized having a plan, but being flexible enough to roll with the punches. Laurie Evans put it beautifully when she said, “Have a plan. But if life zigzags, that’s OK—just hang on for the ride.” All of the zigs and zags will give you the experience you need to both decide what it is that you want to do, and prepare you for anything that may come your way. Find strong mentors and form partnerships that will endure no matter the twists and turns.
Their advice boiled down to a few powerful statements: Articulate your vision. Enlist allies. Remain fully present. Be joyful. Be authentic.
The Hindustan Times ran a full-page feature on FirstRain CEO Penny Herscher today, in which she opened up about leadership and empowering women in business. As a longtime leader in Silicon Valley and advocate for diversity in the workplace, Penny has a lot to say about each of those topics. Some choice excerpts from the question-and-answer article:
“What is your best decision so far as a leader?” “My best decision would be hiring the team that I have now.”
“I really look up to Indira Gandhi. She was the first woman leader of such a large country. She showed that women can lead, innovate and become most inspiring leaders of the era.”
“My advice would be that don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t. Do what you want to do and be what you want to be.”
Read the entire story here!
The panel agreed that the most effective aspect of stiletto networks is that they are truly helpful to the women involved. They’re not a place to vent or complain; women come up with a concrete action plan and challenge each other intellectually as they navigate being leaders in the male-dominated fields of both Law and Tech. As Kathi stated at one point, “We interact with the world differently, and that’s OK. And it’s good to have a network of people to think through it.”
As Penny highlighted, it’s precisely for this reason that FirstRain has made a concerted effort to have a diverse leadership team: when you assemble a group of people with differing opinions and experiences, you end up being much more creative as a group—and more effective. As stiletto networks grow and empower the women involved, everyone—including businesses—benefits.
All of the panel discussion really boiled down to one idea, whether it’s women helping women or women interacting with men. Patricia said it perfectly—that empowering women is “about relationships—baby steps, and building relationships. It’s not going to happen overnight. You have to be in it for the long haul.”
We’re excited to announce that Penny has been invited to speak at the Ark Group Women Legal Forum on Wednesday, Feb. 5. The Women Legal Forum is advancing the increasingly important dialogue on gender diversity in the legal profession, while illustrating the business imperative for the retention and succession of female leadership.
Penny will take part in a panel discussion around the themes of the book Stiletto Network: Inside the Women’s Power Circles That Are Changing the Face of Business. The panel will focus on shedding light and sharing insight on models used in business that the legal profession can learn from and adopt.
For more information on the Ark Group Women Legal Forum and to see a complete list of speakers, please visit http://usa.ark-group.com/events-details.aspx?eid=142.