Women in Tech, a Book for Guys With Eva Helén
Today, we have Eva Helén and we’re gonna be talking about her upcoming book Women in Tech, a Book for Guys. We’ll also get into some of the themes and advice within the book, such as how men can be an ally for women in the workplace. A really great (and important) conversation to have.
If you’d like to pre-order the book, you can do so here.
Listening time: 33 minutes
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Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. And you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we have Eva and we’re gonna be actually talking about Women in Tech, a Book for Guys. Actually, I love the title of the show. But more importantly, I love the subject matter that we’re going to be covering. Because it’s been important to talk about for last 100 years. But you know, we’re, we get around things, we get around to things in America and on our own kind of schedule. So it’s good that we’re talking about it now. It’s great that we’re talking about it now. So Eva, would you do us a favor, the audience a favor, me a favor and introduce both yourself, but also introduce this topic.
So thanks for having me. Yeah, so, I came over to the United States half a lifetime ago. And I had just finished my university studies in Stockholm. And I was at the time up on the barricades fighting for women’s rights, and working for a recruiting company that was focusing on placing women in high positions. And I had written about mentorship programs in large Swedish organizations, and so on. But I landed in Silicon Valley, and got my first job in tech, doing international sales, and forgot all about this. And during the next 20 years, I started and ran some software companies in the enterprise software space. And it was, you know, an amazing journey.
But I never really felt that I was deeply affected by the differences and the gender gap between men and Women in Tech, because I was running my own businesses. But it kind of changed as our last company was acquired. And also, I think it has to do with kind of growing up and getting a different perspective on things. So I then about four or five years ago, started on this ah, kind of returned to where I started, and started to talk to a lot of women to try to figure out where they were at and what obstacles they were meeting. And that led me to the work that I’m doing right now.
So let’s start with some basic questions. What have you seen in the change? And let’s just go into like the last five years, what have you seen that we’ve gotten better? Because I know that we can go back historically, and just talk about everything that we’ve done wrong, and and that would take us two or three hours to kind of go through the laundry list of everything that both men have done wrong.
And just we’ve done wrong in terms of not investing in STEM and investing in Women in Tech, etc. But I’d like to start with, what have you seen that we’ve gotten right? Like, where have you seen some cases where you’re like, you know, what, I like what we’re doing here, this company’s doing this programmatically or the city’s doing something programmatically that, that we might not reap the rewards for another decade or two. But we’re starting to it’s there’s we’re starting to kind of turn the corner and see some positive things.
You know, I think that’s, it’s i think that that’s the correct approach. I love that. I, like you said, there’s so many things that we could have done better, perhaps. But my approach and everything that I’m doing, and the approach that I have in every single conversation is really let’s focus on the things that we’ve done correctly, let’s focus on shining a light on the stories where things are done in a positive manner.
So there’s, there’s numerous things that have been going on over the past five years. I think one big one is role models. We didn’t have role models to the same extent five or 10 or 15 years ago, and that is both, you know, women role models that other women can look up to. So where I walked into an organization, you know, many years ago, there were no women to look up to. Now, that can change so a person of color or a, you know, a woman can walk into an organism And maybe there’s somebody higher up, maybe there’s somebody on the board, maybe there’s somebody on the leadership team, maybe there’s somebody just higher up in their own part of the organization that they can look up to. So they see that it’s possible.
But then it also is really male role models, men who are doing the right things who are leading the way for showing that this is possible. And that’s, you know, that’s, those are the stories that I’ve really seen. And that I’m trying to lift and show that it’s okay, even if you’re just doing the smallest thing, just make yourself a role model on show and talk about, talk about it with other men and women, this is what I’m doing. Maybe it’s somebody supporting a partner’s sister, a, somebody who’s close to them in the organization, and we forget about and we have traditionally forgotten about shining a light on all of those people that are doing something small, because all of those things matter.
And I think that, you know, like five years ago, or maybe even more at this point, storytelling became like the big thing. And through storytelling, it’s it sort of gives us, I don’t want to call it an excuse, but it gives us that ability to start talking about even the small things as great stories. And that’s probably the biggest change over the past five years, the way I see it.
So a few follow-up questions. One is, let’s start with some basic stuff. What can men do to be great allies? At this point, you know, you, you know, I run into this, I know, you run into this with your work. You’ve got you. Okay, so we’ll split men into a lot of different kind of, kind of sectors, if you will, you’re gonna have mandor just kind of be massages, and there’s nothing that’s going to change that. That’s just going to be the way it is yet another cohort, that’s probably close. And we’ll Okay, well, maybe there’s an education play there to kind of get them over some type of cluelessness.
But then I believe there’s a swath of men that want to do something that might already be doing things quietly, or maybe even not so quietly. But they want to be great allies, who see the benefit they see. Yeah, they just they know, it’s not just the right thing, but they know it’s great for the business. And, and, and they want to be great allies, when you’re interacting with them. Because Oh, we’ll just skip the misogamists and clueless people. When you’re dealing with men like that, what’s your best advice and saying, okay, here’s the seven things, five things, you know, here’s, here’s how to be a great ally, for women that are coming up to the system.
Do you mind if we don’t skip the two painful ones?
No, I don’t mind at all. I’m comfortable talking about
No, because the thing is that, you know, in the work that I am doing, so let me just, you know, I’ll take you back a step. So when I started having all these conversations with women and understanding where they were at, I thought it was strange that there weren’t more men part of this conversation. So I started running events called Women in Tech events for guys, where men, you know, would show up on their own, but I would also ask women to come, come and then bring a man along. So we actually always had more than 55 60% men in the audience. And I would really, you know, shined a light on, talked to men on stage about what were they actually doing? How are they supporting women? What was their level of willingness? Tell me some stories about it.
But as I had done that, and then I wanted to get more of these stories, I started interviewing a lot of men, qualitative interviews and collecting all that material. And of course, I got like a bell curve. And a lot of the people that you want to focus on the ones that are sort of, you know, they want to do something, but they’re not really sure what to do, the majority are in that category. Yeah. But I want to make sure that we don’t judge or criticize anybody. Not the people who are at the very sort of the lower end of the spectrum, because it’s a question of not having the right motivators.
So for somebody who’s that, that that person who is very reluctant to change or fears that you know, women or minorities are going to take over their job in the workplace. For them, it’s really a question of finding their motivator. Is there anything that might motivate them? And that you can find that through discussions and once they, so bombarding them with statistics and data is not going to help. They’re just going to turn around and walk away. But once you start talking about, you know, do you have anybody who you care about is there anybody who’s, you know, doesn’t look like you who you’ve ever cared about?
And they’re like, Yeah, well, you know, there was this kid in high school that, you know, I helped out. And I’m like, Okay, how does that make you feel? Well, that was pretty good. Well, then this is the same thing. So let’s not ignore those people entirely, but rather, sort of respect them for where they’re at, because there’s a reason why they’re kind of stuck.
So and then the clueless ones are, they’re typically not as clueless as we think. It’s the same thing. They’re somebody who is, could you think of like, okay, every time we start talking about anything, diversity, inclusion, equality, they turn around and they walk away.
And they’re in you think that they just don’t want to. But often, it’s because they’re just not comfortable. Right. Right. And so
They don’t want to say the wrong thing. I mean, that’s what I found with some of the, in I told you about this D&I conference, I programmed in June, and when I was talking to corporate people, and this happened with kind of I, oddly enough, it happened with white people both, you know, both male and female, and they’re like, I just don’t want to say the wrong thing. I’m like, yeah, I’m pretty sure that there’s unless you’re really, really out on a limb here, I don’t, I don’t think there’s a wrong thing. As much as you know, if you’re learning something, you can always couch it as I’m on the beginning journey of learning some of this stuff, you know. People will meet you there. But, but there is, I did discover that on my own, that there is a real fear of saying or coming across the wrong way, which I, it’s foreign to a personality like mine. But but but I understand that,
Oh, it’s a huge, it’s a huge fear. It’s a huge fear. And I think that for those who are afraid of saying the wrong thing, and I find myself if I’m standing, you know, I’m a white woman. So if I’m standing in a group of, you know, there’s a lot of women of color around me. I will never make assumptions. I won’t make statements, but I’ll phrase things as questions. Because I am also afraid to say the wrong thing that might be interpreted in the wrong way. And I do say the wrong thing very often. And I say, and I say, Oh, you know, oh, maybe that was not the right way that I’ve maybe let me rephrase that, or I’m sorry, or how did you interpret that, but I always, like, turn it around through a question. And, and sort of say, Well, did I come across the wrong way? or How did you? What did you think when I said that? And so I understand the fear that men can have in these conversations, because I often try on purpose to put myself, you know, maybe outside of my own comfort zone. But if you start with a question rather than a statement, then you don’t have to worry about saying something wrong.
It’s it’s funny that you mention that because my framework is similar. It’s in working with anybody that’s different, right? So one of my friends, she was telling me about non-binary, I said, Okay, hard stop. Act as if I know nothing about what you’re about to tell me. And just Just tell me like, well, I want to just, I’m gonna be on the shut up mode. And I want to listen. And you just tell me the bit. And then I’m going to ask questions.
And some of them are going to probably be very rudimentary. But I’m going to ask questions, because I’m curious, I want to understand what’s going on. And then third, I’m going to try and put something into action. Wand to try and do something with that. It might be telling somebody else about it. It might be, you know, it might be, you know, talking to other folks that are non-binary in that example, and finding out more, like finding out more like learning, again, kind of, I’m listening, I want to you know, I, I love the way you phrase that I’m not gonna assume anything, I’m not gonna throw out assumptions. I’m just gonna listen. And I ask a bunch of probably a dumb question.
It’s so it’s so easy for all of us to just think that we’re so smart, but you’re really not, you know, we don’t know. We don’t know anything until somebody has told us the way it is. And so
100% and usually, that’s like 10 times, you know, you need not just that one perspective, you need a multitude of those perspectives to then kind of start pieces together. But even then, I mean, I love that. It’s oftentimes attributed to Einstein, the older I get the more I know that the less I know, or something like that, that. You know, it’s like he opened up his brain and like, oh, there’s just all this stuff that I don’t know. And I think we’re like that, you know, I again, I think that dealing with D&I and dealing with women in tech in particular. It’s, there’s there’s a whole lot that we haven’t even parts of the onion that we haven’t peeled yet.
Yes, we I agree, we’re scratching the surface. And and I think that the more sides of the onion that we can scratch on, the sooner we’ll get to the core. And so this, you know, this approach of sort of putting men into different character prototypes and saying, you know, if it’s this kind of guy, then he should be doing this, or if it’s that kind of guy who should be doing that, but not assuming that the safe message is going to work for every man. So to get back to your question of what do we do with the ones that are saying, I really want to help? What can I do?
I mean, there’s obviously, you know, a million things, but it’s things like starting to bake, the way that you and I are comfortably talking about diversity and inclusion, that doesn’t happen in the boardroom, or it doesn’t happen in the team meeting. So starting to kind of not talk about it in those terms. But just making sure that people feel a little bit more included by doing the simple things that we hear about all the time. So referring back to what a woman said, she, you know, Julia said this in our last meeting, can we bring that up again? Let’s hear from her one more time, or, you know, Bill, what did you think about what Julia said? I mean there’s very simple things that you can do to be a direct ally.
But there’s also things that you can do to be an indirect ally. And that is sort of saying to a woman, perhaps, how can I help you? And maybe if you have some sort of relationship through work, if you’re working on the same team, and a woman says, Well, I don’t know, I can’t get this communication through to our manager. Then with her permission, perhaps going behind the scenes and working but never going behind the scenes and supporting a woman without her permission. That’s it, you know, that’s, go ahead.
No, I love this idea, because I use the word consent, but it’s the same concept, it’s with your consent, or with your permission, I’d like to, you know, explore maybe a mentor relationship, you know, again, with your, your, your asking, you know, which I think is, you know, most of I would say most of men’s problems, probably are rooted in the fact that they, we, I, haven’t asked for permission. We just assumed things and done things.
And again, probably some of that, is just historical, or maybe there’s even something that’s, you know, genetic in that. And some of it’s just not being thoughtful. Not thinking about lobbying. Not having empathy, and not being taken about the other person and how it’s gonna make them feel one way or another. And so just so I use the word consent, like use permission, but I believe if the definitions are correct, I believe they’re similar. In you just ask, it’s too easy at this stage in our lives. And careers, it’s just too easy to ask the other person. Hey, I was thinking about this. Is this a good idea? And if it’s not cool?
Yes, exactly. That’s fine. Yeah. The other thing that is a very easy thing to do, is to not just admit, but kind of to say, say, I’m an ally. And what does that mean? Well, you know, I heard, I listened to this podcast, and they were talking about how men can support women, that’s an ally move. So you as a man can go into your, your company and say, Oh, I was listening to this podcast, you know, it’s really interesting.
They were talking about this and that, and even a step further proactively seeking out an event where they’re, you know, which is like a networking, maybe not a networking, but like a more formal event for women or a webinar where they’re discussing something like this or a woman, women to group or something. I just did a presentation at women in sales, Utah. And there were as many men in the audience as there were women, which was fantastic. It was such so nice to see how many of them and I said, Well, here’s an opportunity for you to go home and to work, go back to your team and to go back to your company and say, I actually went to this event which was, you know, supposed at an event for women, and then people will hear about them. They’re like, Oh, my God, this guy is actually paying attention. That’s great. That must mean that he intends to be supportive. Right?
And then the next step is to become just like you were saying, a mentor. And that one I can talk about for a long time. So I want to be mindful, but I’m just gonna say two small things. One is, like you were saying, always reach out and say, “How can I help?” Mentorship doesn’t have to be something that you commit to for six months or a year, right? It could be solving or helping or listening to something for just like, it’s just like a project.
You know, it’s it’s a, it has, its two or three discussions. It’s something that needs to be resolved. But as a man, remember, you’re not there to solve the problem, but rather, listen to what the woman is saying, because she probably has the solution herself. She just needs to talk about it. The other thing is, there’s a lot of corporate culture still. And a lot of places in the world. We’re having mentorship without a formal mentoring program is a no go.
So if there’s any doubt in your mind that you are not doing, you know, the right thing, or that it may be frowned upon? Or that somebody might question why you’re mentoring somebody else who doesn’t look like you then go to your HR, or to your whoever it is that’s in charge of these things. Maybe it’s your CEO, let’s say, Can we please organize a mentoring program I want, I need it to be formal, in order to be able to support this person. That’s very important. And one step beyond that. There are some cultures where there is a partner who’s sitting at home, who is wondering who this person is that, you know, the worker, the worker is coming back home and talking about all the time. So if there is a formal mentoring program was a sheet for the third party, bring it home and say, This is what we’re doing at work. This is why I’m going to be talking a lot about this person, because we are actually I’m actually mentoring him or her right now. And I think that is so important, like the transparency, just so that there is no friction for the person who wants to help somebody else.
I was gonna ask you about that, in terms of the dogma, around mentorships, at least historically, in corporate America seem to be that and again, this could be male to male, male to female doesn’t matter. It’s, it’s like a long-term commitment. And I like that you shut that down. And it’s a kind of marriage, we’re going to, we’re going to this is we’re gonna for three years, we’re going to meet weekly and have coffee and work through all this stuff. It’s just like, so 1980s of a thought process. But I also wanted to ask, as you’ve been researching this and talking to people. Do men fear mentoring, or working with women in this way because of some irrational sexual harassment thought?
Unfortunately, I think so. Yes. Not all the time, of course not. But there’s some very, very simple measures that can be taken to that. That’s all like, out of the equation, then, you know, you know, the simple things of meeting in a public place sitting in the cafeteria, instead of behind a closed door, office, meeting during work hours, as opposed to after work. Having it like I said, like a formal program so that there is a formal program, I don’t mean, this is a format that you have to follow.
But it’s, it’s also there’s some consent or permission that’s baked into what you’re talking about. It’s like, Listen, I’m going, I’m going to do my best to help starting with listening. But why don’t we Why don’t we make sure that we do this, you know, where you’re comfortable and uncomfortable, let’s do it more in a public place. Again, not afterward, not at a bar, you know, not, you know, not in any of those things to where you don’t run into those issues. And I love your idea of not just the formality, but also communicating that formality to your family. So that there’s no, you know, there’s no, there’s no signals that can get crossed there.
It’s just, it’s, it’s all about making it easy, right? We want to facilitate this. We want as many people as possible to share their subject matter expertise, if that’s what somebody else was after, or sharing their experiences over long periods of time or sharing, you know, I have a great story in my book where there is a man who says, Well, I’m just creating this safe space where this woman can learn, like, you know, make her voice heard and argue for the things that he believes in without the fear of losing her job. But he really I mean, creating the safe space that’s like key for mentorship and for sponsorship as well.
It’s that’s absolutely necessary. And it has to be safe, not just for the mentee. But more maybe even more so for the mentor, right, because they can’t leave these, you know, partnerships, which is what’s built, even if it’s for three weeks, there will always be a connection there. They can’t lead that out of fear. We don’t want that. And so that’s where, you know, professionals work in HR or anything like this, they really need to create that framework around and make it official so that people are comfortable helping, like I said, others that they don’t want normally just meet at the bar after work.
It’s funny, it’s funny years ago, I went through a trustee Institute to learn how to be a great director on a board. And the woman there, Alice Korngold, the one that she was running it, she said, Listen, for the guys in the room, here’s one of the things you can do to be helpful when you have women on your boards is don’t leave a meeting, don’t leave a board call, without making sure that you, Hey Janet. We’d love to get your take on some of the things that we’ve talked about today. Like, even if they don’t talk up. Even if they don’t speak up. Again, this is 20 years ago. So it’s a bit dated.
But even if they don’t speak up, it’s it’s asking for permission. It’s asking for, hey, is there anything else that you’d like to add? Or is there something that maybe we got wrong, while we were discussing X, Y, and Z? It’s pulling it’s it’s it’s it’s asking them to kind of be a part of the conversation, I think that’s a safe space that you’re defining, again, which helps men think about that cyclist and don’t leave a call or don’t leave, you know, conversation without asking other people to make sure that their input is heard. And, you know, doing that in respectful and pull away.
The last thing because I know that we only have so much time, but because you’ve been on the frontlines of this for so long. I know you’re at the point now where conversations are great about this, but you’re also probably wanting to see more intentionality and more action around these things, these initiatives. What do you see in terms of companies that are doing it and doing it? Well? And you know, what do you what are you inspired by when you see that? Okay, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, we’re talking about this, now we’re starting to see some of the fruits of that labor.
So, I am starting to see, you know, and have a lot more covers it. Okay, so the one thing, there’s a big difference between the corporate and corporate initiatives and the employee resource groups and the structure that’s being built out around diversity and inclusion, which is so important. And I can see that there is there, you know, a lot more happier employees in I want us, I mean, I haven’t looked that much at like the very big companies. But I can see a lot in the mid sized companies in the tech sector, how they’re able to recruit more women and minorities, because culture is at the forefront.
And they call it culture or, or you know, the value of the people. And so that didn’t exist before there was not a place for those types of discussions. It was all about, you know, it was all revenue-driven. And the understanding that culture and people was the main force and driver behind the revenue that wasn’t discussed the way that it is now. And the younger generations, they won’t even consider working at a company if the company does not have the values that they align with. And I think, you know, values around people and culture need to be very kind of well thought through and where they are. People from different backgrounds will be attracted to that workplace so they will naturally get a diverse workforce. But the commonality is that people hold on to the same values. And I love that I think that’s it’s a, it’s beautiful. And it is just very, we’re very early on in that journey. And the companies that are struggling with attracting women and minorities often don’t have an outspoken sort of, they don’t have an outspoken sort of way that they’re not talking about their culture and their values, they’re still very focused on talking about technology,
Or stuck, or they’re stuck.
Yeah but it’s the old way they talk, this is our technology, this is our product. This is why we’re so great. And yes, we have all of these perks. But, but it’s really, I see that the ones that are winning, they’re really great talent right now are the ones that are outspoken about culture and values.
It’s, it’s funny because I see the same thing in candidates that they’re looking for opportunity, but they’re looking for the right size and the the trajectory of opportunities that are looking for the right environment to grow. And I also see something that’s really fascinating to me, is, candidates making a decision, I don’t want to have to teach this firm. I don’t want to be you know, the first say female tight, you know, engineer, female lead engineer, you know, when it were already to a place now, I don’t want to have to teach them because I don’t want to push the boulder uphill. I’ll go somewhere else, where it’s too easy to go somewhere else and take my talents somewhere else, where it’s already appreciated. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. You know, whereas maybe 20 years ago, or 30 years ago, maybe there would have been Yeah, okay. You know, I, I, I’ll be the first female engineer, but there’ll be others that will follow me, you know, it’ll get easier. And it’s that the other people under 40 candidates under 40. I just don’t see that. That willingness to go, you know, what now?
Well, exactly. Well, well, I didn’t really have that option. Yes, I didn’t have that option. I was the first or the only every single time. And it was it wasn’t until sort of the later part of my career where I would actually start working with women. And that was, it was amazing. It was so great. It was so different. And so I don’t blame the younger generation at all for having no, no, not at all.
Nor do I. Lastly, before we roll out, the book is obviously Women in Tech a Book for Guys. It’s on Amazon, and everywhere else that please people can find it. Yeah.
It’s not available quite yet. But there is. If you do, go to my profile on LinkedIn. Eva Helen. Then you will be able to find the link there to preorder the book, which is going to be available within the next few months.
Awesome. Well, this has been wonderful when you and I could have talked for another hour or so. That’s always the way I look at these things. So thank you so much Eve for carving out time for us.
Thank you so much.
Absolutely. And thanks for the RecruitingDaily audience for listening to another podcast. Until next time.