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The glass ceiling replaced by enlightened self-interest

Women CEOs are no longer news, and that's a good thing.

I am happy to report that we as a society in general and the tech industry in particular have progressed to the point that we no longer make a distinction between a man or a woman being a CEO. Certainly no one thinks that one can do a better job than the other (OK, there might be a few diehards out there). This is a good thing.

A couple of weeks back two posts on my Facebook wall caught my eye. One was from my friend Jeremiah Grossman who was posting about his being named interim CEO at White Hat Security. He was replacing another friend of mine, Stephanie Fohn, who had been CEO for a while but was leaving for personal reasons. The second post was from my friend Wendy Lea. Wendy is moving to Executive Chairperson for her company Get Satisfaction, after spending the last five years building it into a powerhouse.

In reading the news stories around both ladies leaving their CEO positions, I was relieved that there was none of the old-time hubris about whether they were capable or not. I know both of these women and can tell you they are eminently qualified to run a company, and a lot more. I was also happy that we don't make a big deal in labeling female CEOs as "a woman CEO." They don't need a gender in front of their name.

I am always reminded of this kind of thing by Doug Williams, when he lit it up for the Washington Redskins (that name is a whole different story) in the Super Bowl. Everyone made such a big deal about a black quarterback doing well. Now, of course, that seems ludicrous, as it should be. The same for female executives.

I had a chance to speak with Wendy Lea about this and what her plans were. I have known Wendy for about 8 or 9 years, before she moved back out to Silicon Valley, before she joined Get Satisfaction. When I met Wendy she was living in Boulder, Colorado, and was part of the burgeoning Boulder startup community. I was always fascinated by Wendy. Here was down-home Southern girl who could be as sophisticated as you can imagine one second, and as down home as can be the next. Most of all, I always enjoyed listening to her espouse her views on channel sales, building companies, and life in general. As I have grown older, there are just a few people that I really look forward to speaking with and learning. Wendy is one of them.

So I asked Wendy, "wasn't it great that a woman CEO left her job and no one said boo about her being a woman?" She agreed that over our lifetimes we have seen real change. But then, in typical Wend fashion, she said something profound. She said it is not about being a man or a woman. It is all about "enlightened self-interest." Wendy explained that all of us act either out of selfishness or selflessness. Most act out of selfishness. We do things to help others in terms of how it helps ourselves. This is the way it should be, according to Wendy. 

Part of enlightened self-interest is also recognizing what unique talents each of us bring to the table. As a woman, Wendy has some uniquely feminine talents which are part of her "total package." But those alone do not define her. It is the same for each individual. As a man, being a certain age, from a certain place, these are all factors in our own unique package. Recognizing our unique talents, advantages and disadvantages is what allows each of us to sink or swim, rise or fall to where our own package takes us. It's not because we are men or women, black or white, tall or short. Wendy Lea says that is what is really great about where we are. Not that we don't care if a woman is a CEO successfully or not.

In the meantime, Wendy is staying on at Get Satisfaction as executive chairperson. She has promised the board there to give a percentage of her time to the company. But after these past years literally giving everything she had to Get Satisfaction and building several successful companies before that, she wants to take some time to enjoy herself as well. I can understand that and it is well deserved. 

My gut tells me, though, that in a year or so Wendy will get the itch and go help build another great company. In the meantime, any company would be lucky to have her guidance and advice even on a part-time basis.

I am looking forward to catching up with Stephanie Fohn as well to find out more about what her plans are going forward. Regardless of that, though, I am glad I have stayed around long enough to see that we no longer put a "woman" or "black" or any other moniker before a person's title. I am glad that we have replaced judging people by what they are with "enlightened self-interest."

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