I had the honor of interviewing Elisa Camahort Page, COO and Co-Founder of BlogHer this week for my forthcoming book, Leading Ladies. I was particularly curious to find out what Elisa’s perspective was on all the ‘buzz’ that is building around Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, given Elisa’s home base in Silicon Valley. Before we jump into the interview here’s a quick snapshot of BlogHer:
BlogHer is a community and media company created in partnership with women in social media. Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort Page and Jory Des Jardins founded BlogHer in 2005 in response to the question, “Where are all the women bloggers?” Today, BlogHer is the largest community of women who blog: 55 million unique visitors per month (January 2013, Nielsen Site Census). Engaged, influential and info-savvy, these women come to BlogHer to seek and share advice, opinions and recommendations.
Elisa and her co-founders have picked up a few awards along the way as well:
Ernst & Young Winning Women, Class of 2011
Always On Global 250 List 2012, 2011, 2010
Forbes Top 100 Websites for Women, 2012, 2011, 2010
America’s Most Promising Start-ups by Business Week, 2010
So, let’s dive in:
Katie: In light of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, being released in a couple of weeks, what is your take on the growing discussion about women and work?
Elisa: There is a lot of great advice that is being given to women today about how to progress in their career. My concern is that the same amount of advice be given to the ‘demand’ side of this equation; i.e. those in power who decide who to hire, who to develop and even how women are being depicted in the media. Yes, women should provide the supply (we need to put ourselves out there; we need to ask for raises, negotiate job offers, etc.), but it is all meaningless if this action is not being met with a demand, where those in power are really open to change.
It is easier to focus on individuals versus the societal systems that are in place and holding the controls of how power is distributed. The responsibility for a change should also fall on the systems that hold power.
An example of this is when I see speaker line ups for conferences, and the panels are full of white males. There will be a lot of public, cynical reaction from online communities in response to the lack of diversity of the speakers, but how I try to effect productive change is by emailing the conference organizers privately and suggest vetted and diverse speakers that I think they should consider to present a more balanced picture. Oftentimes, I do not hear back from the organizers, but sometimes I do, and sometimes they will include the speakers I suggest.
Katie: What do you think it’s going to take for organizations and businesses to truly incorporate a culture that values diversity in their communities?
Elisa: I believe there are three steps that must happen for this change to occur. First, those in power within an organization have to truly value diversity personally. We at BlogHer know that having diversity amongst our communities and staff at every level of our organization results in better ideas and better execution. Second, organizations have to prioritize diversity. You can’t simply deflect an attitude of ‘yes we value diversity but no diverse candidates who are a good fit for XY job applied’. Rather, organizations have to take responsibility to set goals and then go out and find diverse candidates to bring into their organizations. Third, if you are not getting enough diverse input organically, then ask for help and ask for input, reach outside your existing circle.
Katie: Do you think women are too competitive with one another?
Elisa: My experience in the traditional technology sector is that a sense of competitiveness amongst women is validated. When it seems obvious that there is only one “token” female that will be allowed at the table, you know your competition is to be that woman. So I think that’s why you see a lot of jockeying amongst women…know there was only room for one shining star. I also think there is internalized sexism that results in women stereotyping one another unfairly, just as men may.
Katie: From your vantage point, what similarities do you see in female entrepreneurs and women working towards senior level roles in large companies?
Elisa: I see these two groups of women, as you have highlighted in this book, struggling with very similar challenges. First is the challenge of how do I make my idea the one that gets carried forward? How can I be heard? How can I effectively manage my feelings about risk so that I don’t become risk averse? How can I summon the courage to believe that I will bounce back (if my fears of failure actually becomes true)?
Katie: Generally speaking, do you think men and women are really struggling with such differing challenges when it comes to getting ahead professionally?
Elisa: No, I don’t. But, I do think that because of the societal messages we get from very early on about what our society values most about us as genders: men being most concerned with what they do for a living and women being most concerned with their image that this is where the focus and efforts tend to fall as a result. A perfect example of this was at my ten year high school reunion; there was only one woman who attended who did not look better than she did in high school. In contrast, plenty of the men had ‘let themselves go’, but were all proud to talk about what they were doing. So the takeaway here is to make sure you are really investing your energy and efforts into what is most valuable to your entrepreneurial journey, not what society deems important.
Thank you so much Elisa!