Last week, I wrote up a situation of a friend of mine who was enduring gender discrimination and harassment in “Is Your Culture Fostering or Mitigating Gender Harassment?” The company she works at is not a startup, but coming from my point of view, it’s important to start culture early to prevent gender discrimination later.

Last week’s article was largely the set-up, where today, I’d like to share what’s worked for various companies as well as share some points from my former business school professor taking a look at the grander subject of discrimination with some focus on the gender bias.

To get some more professional insight, I wrote to one of my former business school professors, Brandon Smith, who specializes in workplace dysfunction. In fact, he runs The Workplace Therapist. He provided a couple points to look out for when joining a company.

  • Recruit People With High EQ. Per Brandon Smith, EQ directly translates to greater cultural and gender awareness and sensitivity. Not to mention, people with high EQ can “sense” when people are growing in discomfort. The higher the level of “analytical” ability necessary for the job, the higher the probability of recruiting a group with low EQ. Note, it is not impossible to have both high analytical ability and high EQ, it is just more uncommon. As a result, bad environments re: sexual harassment include (but are not limited to): Engineering, construction, IT, finance / IB, medical offices, and my favorite for the irony, law offices.
  • Recruit People With Diverse Backgrounds – age, gender, ethnicity, etc… Brandon Smith has seen this as a solid strategy that causes smaller blips as people try to navigate working with different people (small accidental offenses), but it will prevent a culture of certain behavior being “o.k.” (Ex: if you recruit all frat boys, you’ll get a norm of frat boy behavior, etc…).
  • Hiring Who We Are… Creates a Dangerously Homogenous Workplace. Ray Hennessey wrote in Entrepreneur.comWhen Company Culture Becomes Discrimination” about a lunch he had with a midwest financial-services firm where the execs were all physically fit. “Health is a big part of our culture,” the CEO told Ray. “If you don’t work out outside the office, you won’t work out inside our office.” When you do hire like this, though, you obviously start to not only weed out those upfront, but your culture is then self-sustaining — good and bad. Ray also talked about the importance of hiring diversity not just in the way to satisfy laws, but also to promote diversity in ideas and innovation. This is largely a generic case of discrimination/ bias in the workplace rather than gender-specific, but it can foster an exclusivity club (like the “boys club” at my friend’s workplace).
  • Champion for Flexible Policies and Encouraging Workplaces. Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software, champions better staffing/ recruiting efforts that not only find the right candidate for the role, but the right company culture for the candidate — see her article in Parsons believes candidates (especially women) should look join companies with flexible work policies and encourage qualified women to stay in the workforce. 
  • Finding the Right Mentor/ Mentee Relationship. To say “create an open, inviting environment for safe communication” would be easy, but a little hard to implement… mostly because of trust and the ability for a mentee to truly open up. This is why a strong mentor/ mentee relationship can be a great way for women, for example, to openly communicate about what is happening at work, good or bad. However, the right mentor should be someone high up the corporate ladder, so if there’s a problem, action can be taken. In a Harvard Business Review article “Why Men Still Get More Promotions Than Women“, HBR dives into how men form more bonds with senior execs, whereas women tend to build relationships with middle management. And of course, come promotion time, those with higher ties get the more frequent bumps… and the cycle continues.
  • At the End of the Day, It’s About Balance. The Fiscal Times has an article on how men and women are different in the workplace — “How Men and Women Differ in the Workplace” (pretty straight forward, right?). Biologically, we think differently from male to female and vice versa. For example, New York research group Catalyst found that women leaders are typically judged as more supportive and rewarding, whereas men are judged better at behaviors such as delegating and managing up. The theme of the Fiscal Times article was that men and women create balance in the workplace with complementary skill sets and ideologies. For a proper working company, there should be balance in the workplace through complements.
I was/ still am a consultant with focus in supply chains. That, is a very male-dominated industry, and following my post last week, I spoke to one of my former bosses about the topic. He was intrigued because it’s definitely an area he and the company are trying to address in not only recruiting talented women, but also retaining them. I wouldn’t say it’s an ongoing struggle as much as it is an ongoing initiative. As much as culture is a largely sustainable machine, it needs to constantly undergo refinement and adapt to the needs of the organization. 
Corporate culture can indeed be a sticky area where gender, age, race discrimination is left untouched and ignored. So it’s important to start instituting the right policies early as a startup before the culture of the company is so large and ingrained it’s difficult to make drastic changes.
What are your thoughts on discrimination and bias in the workplace? What policies, steps would you implement in the company culture to prevent discrimination?
(Image Source:
Okay, I’m switching up what I’m going to write about today. Straight talk. This is more of a serious issue and one that I don’t personally have a ton of experience in, but one that I’m aware of and that I want to curb the risk of as I build companies – Harassment. Yeah, the big “H” word. And of course, I’m speaking of harassment in the context of the workplace and the culture from which employees could, sometimes, continue to cultivate.
Here’s a bit of the situation and set-up:

I was speaking to a great friend recently on the phone who is working in a largely woman-dominated industry, but her office is mostly male. Since she’s joined the practice, she’s encountered a number of harassment-related issues and gender-stereotyping from her superiors. Not one to let these types of things go, she had a talk with HR to intervene and mediate. Since the mediation, her colleagues have, for the most part, backed off much of their remarks; however, there are still some issues that linger. Alas, she’s learning from this as her first “real job” post-academia and will likely move on in the short-term.

Now, I’m not going to say all the finer details of what was said, who did it involve, but if we step back and just look at discrimination and really just this environment where employees don’t feel safe or comfortable, I think we can peel some layers to understand the traps. As an entrepreneur, I think one of the single greatest and most exhilarating parts about building a company is giving opportunities to others via jobs and creating a culture. I look forward to instilling values and a vision of what the company represents and how to use the company as a vehicle to make a greater good in the community. As such, as we look at my friend’s situation from a general perspective, this is critical to study and understand to foster the right culture in my own organizations.
So below are some thoughts…
  • Her male colleagues said they didn’t know they were treating her (and other female employees) that way. It’s likely that when this behavior continues, it’s then “ingrained” as part of culture and less of a “big no-no”. That is, they’re oblivious to their actions, and in some ways, “don’t know what they don’t know” – this is where an underlying culture is starting to take shape.
  • The HR rep said that this is the first she’s ever heard of this. However, many of my friend’s colleagues have rallied around her voicing the same sentiment. In fact, many have stated they’d like to move on. This seems to point to the common notion that many women (and men) still do not bring up these types of issues. Obviously, situations are highly complicated, and you can’t just point fingers and ask why people don’t “step up”. However, if no one does, this behavior just keeps going.
  • There’s a male new-hire at the office, too. He hasn’t mentioned or noticed anything in regards to the harassment. My friend is apprehensive about bringing up specific details as she doesn’t want to paint the practice in a negative light “just because of her”. My initial response is that he may not notice because as she’s said, many issues happen in the background. If he’s never wary of it, he’d never know. Worse, as this “boy’s club” continues and if this new-hire gets absorbed into it, the same behavior can start to permeate into his own behavior. Thus, the cycle/ culture continues.
  • It’s no doubt stepping up and speaking up can be difficult for women in these situations. However, I wonder if the male new-hire has noticed, and maybe it’s even harder for the male to speak up. That is, in a male-dominated office especially in the higher positions, could speaking out as a male be actually harder? Maybe we shouldn’t look at it as “harder” but appreciate the difficulty and courageousness of whoever does speak up.
  • For a practice that has been running for so long, culture would be hard to change from the top-down. As they say, “can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. I’ve found that sometimes, you need outside influence or some watershed event to occur in order to install change quickly at the top. However, a longer-term, sustainable play would be to instill the culture from the ground-up (if not middle management). Having new-hires, for example, band together can be a powerful force. I feel that this should be better taught in schools to be comfortable to work together on these fronts as they enter “the real world”.

Culture can be one of a company’s greatest assets and maybe even a sustainable Competitive Advantage, and it’s hard to form the right culture from the start sometimes. There are some ways to be very explicit in forming the culture, like writing values and missions down, while there are a number of silent cultural cues that can be difficult to recognize and indeed consistently practice. What’s important is the team from top to bottom being engaged, and practicing a high-degree of safe work environments. Additionally, leadership should be adaptable to recognize or be shown when things are awry and course correct swiftly.

I’ve reached out to a former business school professor who specializes in “workplace dysfunction” about the situation. I’m still waiting word for his response, but I’ll be sure to share what he thinks. So I’ll save that for Part 2 to come next Wednesday (10/29) in addition to what I’ve seen as effective cultures for mitigating “harassment-blind” cultures. The above was some of my personal observations, so I’ll conclude next week with the “how to fix and prevent”.

Till then, what are your thoughts about how culture can both mitigate and foster a harassment-unaware culture? If you were my friend, would you tell your male new-hire colleague? 

Recently, I got a chance to sit down with the President and co-founder of IRUNURUN, Travis Dommert. Met him walking down the street of Piedmont with a friend. I actually yelled at my buddy from 200 yards away. It’s funny how things work.
Anyways, great guy with some deep thinking. We talked a little about irunurun, especially sharing some experiences from Body Boss, and how he and his team are pivoting slightly towards building more sustainable habits after watching how users were tracking and engaging in their run-tracking platform. Now, irunurun is…

IRUNURUN is a performance and accountability app designed to help people and organizations achieve through focus, consistency, and accountability. 

If you’ve been reading my blog regularly or at least ​a few articles, you’ll know my interest in psychology and passion-pursuits. So Travis and I had a great talk, and it made me think more about building sustainable habits. But there was this one idea that really hit me and made a lot of sense — the Gap vs. the CHASM.
I wrote about Getting Over the Gap previously, but I hadn’t thought about the follow-up CHASM that exists. It makes sense. That is, getting over the gap is really tough, but getting over the chasm is REALLY, REALLY TOUGH. Crossing the chasm is consistently​ doing (vs. just doing) and can be referred to as “mastery”. This is where many people, I’ve seen not make it over.
I’ve seen entrepreneurs take the plunge and just after building an MVP (or oftentimes more than), watch traction not quite be where they dreamed, and they call it wraps without actually trying to find out why or how to pivot. There’s a saying to “fail fast”, but don’t quit prematurely. I’ve seen others find the financial burden of jumping off the original gap​ (and off a full-time gig) quickly swimming back to the full-time safety net. I don’t see enough people really endure and knock through walls where challenges exist; instead, wanting to turn back around. I’m not saying I’m not one of those to have turned around in some points, but maybe this opens my eyes on how to succeed.
Real back-of-the-napkin stuff right here… See the CHASM? It’s huge. Have your five steps grounded in your WHY to reach mastery
Travis described there being five stepping stones to help get over the chasm… each, anchored in a bedrock of some purpose — the “why”. I think my business school professor for an Innovation class would be thrilled to hear me say this. The five stepping blocks are:
  1. ​Clarity– What’s the goal? What’s the purpose? Who’s the team? Etc. This is mostly living and breathing and will need to adapt over time.
  2. Rhythm– Build a cadence that is sustainable, and sticking to it. I like to reflect on this story about how a guy did a “life hack” by getting up everyday at 4:30AM for 21 days. Except, he didn’t do it everyday straight. Instead, he focused on the weekdays because he knew that he couldn’t sustain early days on the weekends.
  3. Accountability– Who are you accountable to? For me, I’m accountable, largely, to me and I can usually drive my feet towards a goal. However, accountability can also come from work colleagues, friends, saying publicly you’re going to do something (like buddy Matt performing 100 asks for 100 days).
  4. Reinforcement– What enables you to consistently achieve what you need to achieve? In some ways, this can be the incentives. Lean more on the intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivators most will say.
  5. Leadership​ – In many ways in entrepreneurship, this can be you and kind of you alone. However, you can also lean on mentors and co-founders or even idols to lead you. Though, it’d best be someone or some example that you can have some direct interaction with.

​The five steps are from Travis, but the rest was in my terms of understanding. Let’s see if I got it right when he reads this (and potentially corrects me). The biggest stepping stones that I find people having trouble with is in Rhythm and perhaps the bedrock of their Purpose. Whether it’s finding time to workout in the morning, building a new business, or any other transformation, it’s imperative to find the balance that works for you (Rhythm). Part of that may include taking a step back and uncovering what it is that really drives you, not just motivates, but really DRIVES you (Purpose/ Why).
** As an aside and for bonus points, I thoroughly enjoyed Simon Sinek’s TED talk “Start with Why“. Good talk on what really drives people, and it’s not the “what” that a company does, but the “why”. My good friend Michael Flanigan, Co-Founder of innovation leaders Covello, recently shared his thoughts where in the [near] future companies will all need to have a humanizing element to be successful and sustainable.
What are your thoughts about the five steps to overcoming the CHASM? Are we missing a step? 
READY? FIRE! AIM… source:
I’ve long known that I can be impulsive and highly engaged when I’m passionate about something. In one anecdote, I was helping a friend move and we were working on taking apart the bed. I immediately started to remove the screws and bolts until my friend just lifted the frame and showed it was a simpler operation. In startups, I’ve been hooked on an idea and gone door-to-door that afternoon with businesses to test the idea.
Then more recently, there’s the awkward opportunity where I open an email up, and start writing all sorts of incredibly deep, probably overzealous, and yet genuine message. It just so happened to span several hundred words long… whoops! Having a “ready, fire, aim” mentality is dangerous. Being that way at 2AM is a whole other level. As “How I Met Your Mother” showed, “nothing good happens after 2AM”.
I was talking to an entrepreneur buddy recently about my overzealousness, he laughed, and said that it’s a common trait amongst entrepreneurs. It can be good, and it can be bad. Some reflections from this most recent experience and how to embrace and mitigate this mentality:
  • Can Impulse Be Sustainable? Everyone gets excited about something new from the get-go. However, is that impulse something that you can be excited about for weeks? Months? Years? Building a startup can be fun and in some ways, impulsive. However, the stamina required to continue a startup against the emotional, social, physical, etc. drains can be tough to overcome.
  • Co-Founders/ Trusted Mentors Can Limit the Risk. I’m not a fan of being a one-man band (solo-preneur). I’m somewhat doing it now with a new idea (I’ll share later), but it’s a long, lonely road. Being highly passionate and with a “ready, fire, aim” mentality (I’m calling it RFA from now on) doesn’t quite let me bounce ideas or have a great yin to my yang. Especially when it comes to having a technical partner, I’m nowhere as productive. My co-founders at Body Boss always gave great feedback, and there was always at least one person who played devil’s advocate. This really enabled the team to bounce ideas and think customer-oriented, design-focused, etc.
  • Passion Gives You Some Serious Freedom and Creativity. Like in my more recent passionate outburst, it can be hard for me to contain. It comes from a deep place within, and sometimes, that’s a really great thing. It can be highly inspiring for others while also incredibly liberating for you. Most people tend to hold back what they say or perhaps lack the words to put their thoughts into words (or actions). Being able to share can be an amazing way to share with others how you really feel. As a leader, this can be a powerful motivator.
  • I admit – I don’t always KNOW what I’m doing, but I BELIEVE in what I’m doing. True story. Building Body Boss, for example, was a great learning experience. I didn’t necessarily have “formal” sales practice in the past, but I could really feel what needed to be done. Everything from building and managing the pipeline to creating campaigns for outreach (to be known later as “drip marketing”) was all bore out of feeling. I’m certainly a man of conviction!
  • Don’t Overwhelm Others With Your Passions! Winston Churchill once said, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter”. As I write my blog posts and crazy emails, I realize that I can be incredibly intense with how much I write. In fact, I’ve been called intense by a fair share of people. Oftentimes when I write a lot, it’s because I just sat down and started tip-tapping on my keyboard. If I take a little time out to think and let things digest, my words can be more concise and much easier to consume for the reader. In face-to-face settings, I need to work on listening more than speaking, even if it’s a passionate subject. Read: I should practice brevity and “passing the stick”.

Reflecting on my past, it’s clear how passionate I can get, and how they can quickly lead me down many paths. However, it’s important to temper those passions and that “ready, fire, aim” mentality with the right balance of conciseness and analytics. Analytics meaning being able to think holistically about areas and critically. Till then, I’ll need to also remember what my triggers are and put in the right stop-gates to mitigate sending crazy-long letters at 2AM even if they’re well-received. *phew* Write to the right audience! Or more generically, know your audience!
What are your thoughts about being passionate and the “ready, fire, aim” mentality? How would you practice a little patience and stem off potentially long diatribes to the wrong people?
The 2nd Annual Mobility LIVE conference put on by the Metro Atlanta Chamber took place September 23-24, 2014
Last week, I attended the 2nd annual Mobility LIVE conference in Atlanta hosted by the Metro Atlanta Chamber. The two-day event included some of the largest enterprise players in mobility, especially those in Atlanta. It was a great experience to hear what some of these companies are addressing current and upcoming concerns, how mobile has changed the field, and where they see the next opportunities. Not bad, considering I went there for some inspiration and general understanding of the potential customers across the table if I were to build a B2B technology play.
While stepping into a number of sessions and meeting many great big whigs, I took copious notes to try to remember all that was said and shared in my Day 1 Recap and Day 2 Recap posts. (I have to admit, I don’t recall taking notes so vigorously in school as I do in these types of events or meeting with entrepreneurs or clients.)
Given about a week to digest, I’m back to share what I believe were the five recurring, predominant themes shared by mobility stalwarts including Michael Zeto(former founder and CEO of acquired-Proximus Mobility, now at AT&T), Margaret Martin(founder and CEO of Merlin Mobility), Michael Flanigan (co-founder of Covello), and many more.
  • It’s the Age of the Consumer. Or rather, “consumer driving the experience” per David Wilkinson, VP of Global Channel Sales for NCR. Retail (physical) and online sales channels… social media outlets… mobile messaging… massive rise of on-demand services… consumers are connected more than EVER at incredible pace. With this comes incredible power for consumers to drive experiences in omni-channels and ability to quickly connect – buy or not buy. Corporations (big, medium, small, everyone) are all trying to reach the end-consumers meaning consumers at the end of the day, they’re all vying for OUR business. They’re vying to be relevant in an increasingly transparent world.
  • Everyone’s Hesitatingly Excited About Mobile Payments. We’ve tried this mobile payment thing for years – Google Wallet, Square, PayPal, etc.. NFC is a big thing across the oceans to the east and the west. Bitcoins are… well… Bitcoins. What’s the difference now? Well, really, the difference occurred a month ago before Apple announced Apple Pay. Per Anthony Gallippi, co-founder and Executive Chairman of BitPay, Apple has a way of creating markets and exciting massive markets around new products and services. Everyone in the room is excited to implement quick-set-up, mobile pay solutions in retail, and Apple is seen as a key to educating and influencing consumers to be more comfortable with the notion of paying with the phone. They see incredible potential to be able to change the retail landscape with these options including the chance to empower retail employees for upsell and consumer experience opportunities as well as increasing receipts through faster, easier check-outs.
  • Big data = Big Problems + Big Opportunities. Everyone laughed when Matt Jones, GM of Mobile at Home Depot, was a jokingly uneasy addressing security concerns (recent data hack of millions of consumer data). Everyone is after more data about consumers. In today’s world, “for relationship marketing, the key is marketing at SCALE” per David Christopher, CMO of AT&T. What drives our behavior, as consumers? Who are we connecting with, and who do we trust? Companies are looking for data to understand consumer behaviors to be able to reach consumers at the right time at the right place with the right content. It’s all about context – that’s the movement from current social media tools and marketing automation. And with all of this data about us and how to reach us comes the big concerns over security and privacy…
  • Social enterprises are big opportunities, but not attracting the innovation. I read an article the other day about how there aren’t enough companies tackling “big problems – little b, little p” – see the MIT article here. Well, the small problems are only small because most startups are looking to build the next Snapchat or WhatsApp to make some obscene 100 quadrillion dollar exit. There’s meager investment in non-profit areas and solve problems of the “unexotic underclass” as the article writer puts it. There aren’t enough startups looking to bring technical experience and innovation to help meaningful causes. Atlanta is home to some fantastic social enterprises including the American Cancer Society, Points of Light, and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. There was a hackathon component to Mobility LIVE to hack tools and solutions for the three aforementioned organizations. It’s amazing the problems they have or the problems they were trying to solve. They seemed rather “simple” from a technical perspective, and yet, here they were asking for help. My take is that there just isn’t enough money to steer towards innovation at these incredibly lean organizations. Not only that, but they’re spread so thin locally, nationally, and globally while continually trying to raise funds to help support existing initiatives. The non-profit world is hard, but there’s big opportunities here to bring some more talent to solve these “big problems – little b, little p”.
  • Everything is social. Everything is mobile. Everything is cloud. Everything is everything.You’re probably thinking: “What the heck is he talking about?” I’m talking about how everything is converging. Much like I said before, worlds are connected across the physical and digital realms. Big data analytics is giving companies better insights into consumers. Drones are about to take-off (literally and figuratively) and deliver packages from Amazon probably equipped with mini-cameras to watch our every movement. (Okay, that one might be farther away.) However, that phone you might be reading this on is the gateway for evolution. It’s allowing all of us to connect socially, purchase instantly, and communicate constantly. Soon, we’ll only be a few clicks away to buying digital goods across continents thanks to digital currency. We’ll be served up coupons as we walk into retailers. We’ll have way easier times putting together Ikea furniture thanks to augmented reality from innovators like Merlin Mobility. Everything is becoming more and more intertwined so that it won’t be too long that things won’t necessarily be “cloud” or “social” or otherwise. It’ll be answer choice D) all-of-the-above.

Perhaps kind of like in stocks, what you hear is a good stock, the opportunity to strike is already gone. In this case, what the presenters and speakers talked about, they’re working on those opportunities already. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to hear how much mobility has really affected our everyday lives and how flatthe world is really getting (I haven’t read the book to borrow the term).

Also, Atlanta is in a great place for this continuing evolution. We’re very much becoming an incredibly connected city with innovation highlighted by large companies headquartered here or nearby, and spearheaded by a massive entrepreneurial movement. Number 5 in “app intensity” via CTIA. Number 3 city for young entrepreneurs via Forbes. 28 companies in the Fortune 1000 call metro Atlanta home + 4 elsewhere in the state of Georgia (see Metro Atlanta Chamber site). There are way more data points, but those are just some quick indications shared at Mobility LIVE that highlight not only where Atlanta (and Georgia) sit in Mobility, but also the opportunity for Atlanta to continue to influence the evolution.
How is your company addressing the above five themes? What are some other themes you’ve seen in mobility that I didn’t mention?