Bringing Empathy To Tech And The Workplace: Inside Day 2 Of The Girls’ Lounge @ CES 2018

 While this year’s conference will likely be remembered as the year that Alexa made its way into every gadget you can imagine (connected showerhead, anyone?), another theme came up again and again in conversations from the conference center to cocktail hours: Attendees figuring out how to respond to issues of workplace equality and respect are turning to the value of so-called “soft skills.”

Here at The Female Quotient we say first came IQ (Intelligence Quotient), then came EQ (Emotional Quotient), now comes FQ (Female Quotient). FQ is all about bringing value to those “soft skills” that are traditionally associated with the feminine, such as empathy, nurturing, and collaboration. Whereas previous years the subjects of all the buzz have been the innovators or the shrewd growth hackers, this year might be when the importance of valuing “soft skills” finally gets its moment in the CES spotlight.

Nowhere is the value of “soft skills” and bringing traditionally feminine qualities to tech and the workplace a more central theme at CES than in the Girls’ Lounge.  Here’s a roundup of the panels from Day 2, with an eye towards  the strengths that women bring to workplaces in tech and beyond.

Fearless and Personal: How Brave Storytelling Paves The Way To Equality

Day Two kicked off with women in entertainment discussing the challenges they’ve faced in careers in a particularly male-dominated field, and the ways in which they’ve honed their intuition and bolstered their confidence to share their stories in the workplace.

Check your apologies “I realized I was apologizing a lot in the beginning… I was supposed to be the boss, but for some reason I felt like I couldn’t be direct. And then I realized what I was doing and I thought ‘Why on earth am I apologizing?’ This is my job, that’s it. Just do it.” — Silvana Aguirre, Showrunner, El Chapo

Compassion and strength aren’t mutually exclusive “You need to be that compassionate soul and you can be strong. It doesn’t conflict. You can be both.”  — Sally Preston, Chief Media Officer, North America, Orion Worldwide

The future is feminine, not female “We don’t believe feminine is female. Because men can have feminine qualities, like empathy and compassion and collaboration and storytelling and vision. One of the things we’re trying to train leaders for in corporations is empathy. Because if we all feel first and then think, the world would be a better place.” — Shelley Zalis, CEO, The Female Quotient

#BossLadiesBrunch: How Women Are Transforming Tech

This panel featured women at companies at the forefront of tech, and how they set a tone and culture in their groundbreaking workplaces.

Leverage your passion “I’m a living example of how a woman can thrive in the field of science and tech, and come at it with passion and empathy… I don’t feel like I’m just coding, but like I’m building a product that connects people and changes people’s lives.”  — Maria Zhang, CTO, Tinder

Value your “soft” skills “Soft power versus hard power. One of the things I’m working hard on is bringing soft power and feminine leadership to companies.” —Shelley Zalis, CEO, The Female Quotient

Focus on empathy  “Empathy is a key trait. Quartz is a user-obsessed company, and I tend to think that women make design and ux with empathy for a user. You have to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to be able to build a product that works for everyone.” — Joy Robbins, Chief Revenue Officer, Quartz

Don’t give up “What I’m looking for when I hire… a guiding thing for me is curiosity and tenacity. Those who have the tenacity to push the limits are the most successful for us, as a tech company.” — Erica Schmidt, EVP, Managing Director, Cadreon

Using Technology To Overcome Unconscious Bias: The Time Is Now

Tech can supplement our instincts and help us fight bias in the workplace through more intelligent and streamlined hiring and evaluation processes.

Set the incentives, and the rest will follow “It’s simple: If there isn’t a woman on your board, you shouldn’t be vesting your equity on schedule. The incentives need to be there.” — Pukar Hamal, Co-Founder, Teamable

Don’t take algorithms at face value “We were exploring what traits were making people successful in certain jobs, and as we were building these models, we realized that we wouldn’t pass our own model because it was built for the historical job holders: basically just white men. So we built a process that helps us remove bias from the algorithm.” — Priyanka Jain, Head of Growth, Pymetrics

Pinpot the root of your bias “Bias is a lack of trust. What we’re saying is that we don’t trust that individual in a role. But I trust random strangers to stay at my house on Airbnb. We’re living in an era where technology will allow us to trust more and more people. So I think that will ultimately help us overcome bias.” — Pukar Hamal, Co-Founder, Teamable

The Dolphin Tank: It’s About Collaboration and Connections

In this session, female entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to the supportive Girls’ Lounge audience in this more positive version of its shark counterpart. The Dolphin Tank has raised $8 billion for women-led companies so far, and the companies in this year’s Tank—Cardiomo, iBreve, and Habitaware—could be next.

And while there was certainly plenty of advice dispensed (i.e. “In a three minute pitch, jump to the numbers in the first minute”) the real insight of this panel was how inclusive The Girls’ Lounge community is. When the iBreve team mentioned that they were seeking a partnership with Yoga with Adriene, a quick request to the audience revealed someone with a connection. When one of the pitchers faltered for a moment, another audience member chimed in “You’re doing great, we’re all really excited!” One has to wonder how the strength of pitches would increase if they were always in front of such an encouraging audience.

A Stronger Shark Tank?  Dolphins swim in communities and take care of their own. And the thing I really like about them… they can kill sharks.” — Kay Koplovitz, Managing Partner, Springboard Growth Capital

Spotlight with Jewel: The Next Frontier of Corporate Culture – Mindfulness

Jewel held the Girls’ Lounge audience rapt, both with tales of her journey towards starting her own wellness and mindfulness company and with her impromptu performance. Here are some insight from the thought leader herself:

EQ for the next generation “We’re raising a generation of kids who are going to inherit a future that requires outside the box emotional thinking… We’re going to need to figure out what is the value of being human. Will we be hiring for heart whereas it used to be for brain or brawn?”

It’s time to put an end to tolerating the intolerable “As women we have an incredibly high tolerance for tolerating the intolerable. But it’s not just about gender, it’s about the mental state that you fall into when you’re in a position of power, and being willing to leverage that over someone who has no power.”

What comes after outrage “Outrage is only the beginning of a revolution. It only becomes a revolution if we say ‘Ok, what are we going to do about it?’ Getting past the outrage stage takes education and creating clear expectations for how we want to be treated.”

Are You Future Ready?

Executives from three major companies shaping our future weighed in on how they stay ahead in this period of rapid transformation. Not surprisingly, a lot of the conversation hinged on culture shift, and the trend of large companies embracing new approaches and skill sets.

The value of stories “If we don’t create change it will happen to us. And stories are a great way to create change. If you can’t tell it, you can’t sell it.” — Cate Gutowski, VP, GE Commercial Sales and Digital Thread, GE Digital

The EQ shift at Microsoft “The old culture was know it all, and now we’re transforming to a listening, learning, curious culture.”  — Kirsten Ward, GM, Windows and Device Marketing, Microsoft

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable “When you’re open, you’re willing to learn and change and to be uncomfortable. Some of the best career advice I’ve gotten is ‘The more uncomfortable you’ll be with the next role, the better.’ If you’re not scared to death about what’s on the horizon, with your stomach in knots, then you shouldn’t take it. Because you should be challenging yourself with a role that makes you uncomfortable.” — Cate Gutowski, VP, GE Commercial Sales and Digital Thread, GE Digital

The EQ of AI: Harnessing AI To Drive Creativity And Build Authentic Connections

It’s easy to forget that there are human programmers behind all of the algorithms and artificial intelligence driving our increasingly autonomous tech. This panel considered the question of how we can inject more humanity into are machines.  

The data is not all Created equal “So much of the data that’s shaping AI is not equal. We need to be aware of who’s in the data set, and who’s left out.” — Brie Linkenhoker, Director, Worldview Stanford at Stanford University

Stand up to the algorithms “You can be part of the process in creating more ethical algorithms. You have a voice and as long as you arm yourself with information in the space, you can voice your opinion if something feels creepy.” — Adelyn Zhou, CMO, TOPBOTS

Data can’t predict our dreams “It’s important for brands to remember the role of aspiration. Brands can’t rely on data that looks to the past, but they need to look to the future. Past data cannot tell us what people dream about in the future.” —  Brie Linkenhoker, Director, Worldview Stanford at Stanford University

Lead with Courage

The final panel of the day looked ahead to ways that leaders can find the confidence to take risks and make changes at their organizations and beyond.

Don’t fall for job description intimidation “A lot of us women will not consider applying for a job unless we have every single requirement ticked. But go for it. The worst that can happen is for someone to say you’re not qualified… yet.” — Geraldine Tunnell, SVP, Consumer and Small Business Marketing, Dell

Extreme courage “Leading with courage to me has meant psychotically living on the edge of things that might get me fired on a daily basis.” — Melina Engel, Head of Marketing, SimpliSafe

The feedback need “Feedback is not a one and done. It should be happening all the time. And if you’re not getting it, ask for it. That way, your performance review will never be a surprise.” — Emily Ketchen, Regional Head of Marketing, Americas, HP

Don’t be afraid to leave “We should vote with our stilettos or our sneakers. If there’s a company that doesn’t value your values or inclusion, go elsewhere. Don’t stay at a company that doesn’t value these things, especially since I don’t think they’re ultimately going to win competitively anyway.” — Geraldine Tunnell, SVP, Consumer and Small Business Marketing, Dell

The day ended with a performance by MILCK, who rose to fame via an impromptu performance at last year’s Women’s March. Telling the audience about her bumpy road to her recent renown, MILCK described her relationship to her mentors and tight knit community of girlfriends and collaborators. (One insight: “I asked my mentor how I could be a better mentee, and she said ‘Ask me about me sometimes. Just check in.’”)

When she mentioned that this community had established a tradition of asking each other for “a brag, a blessing, and a desire,” Shelley invited everyone at the Girls’ Lounge to turn to their neighbors and do the same. MILCK caveated that “you need to make sure your brag is a real brag. When we started doing this our brags were really just blessings—’I brag that I have a great mom,’ etc.—but as women we need to get better at bragging.”

It was a fitting end to a day of spontaneous exhibitions of empathy and understanding. From the panelists’ advice, to the audience’s offers of help and encouragement, FQ was on display on Day Two of The Girls’ Lounge at CES.