Chapter XVII

because you never know someone from the very beginning



This is Life Balance

There has been a lot of talk about Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I suspect it’s no surprise I am a huge fan and no, I don’t think she is saying all women need to strive to be Jack Welch, family be damned! But it raised a few other thoughts in my mind about that often used phrase “Life Balance” which I’ve always thought was a misnomer. Have it all at once? Strive for a killer job that requires 70+ hour work weeks while having kids and making dinner at the same time with no help all in heels and perfectly blown-out hair? Please. Didn’t we give up that “Bring Home The Bacon” ad in the 80s? Did anyone wear Enjoli?

So as time marches on and women become Secretaries of State, CEOs and COOs, men improve their diapers skills and having a family and a job becomes a Society Issue not just a Women’s Issue, I thought it time to take stock of what Life Balance means in my life. Turns out, it’s a lot of the little things. Maybe it will be policy, but right now for me and many of my friends, working and not, life balance manifests itself in the building blocks of the day-to-day.

Here goes…Life Balance, for me, is:

  • Very liberal use of the dishwasher. Better GE than me.
  • It’s doing lunges in the elevator and drinking an evening wind-down beer between sets of sit ups.
  • It’s dressing for work in the morning following the “If It Zips, It Fits” rule, only to notice at the office that the pants that fit (because they ZIP) are two inches too long.
  • It’s grapes and leftover thai food while standing before an open fridge for dinner at 9pm.
  • It’s carrying a workhorse work bag that is big enough for a laptop AND a stuffed elephant. Really, you never know.
  • And back to that bag, life balance is pulling out said laptop only to scatter glitter all over the conference table as you set up for a very important meeting. Everyone could use a little sparkle.
  • It’s chicken nuggets or a fried egg over pasta and thank you, that’s dinner.
  • It’s telling your partners “no I can’t do a call at 10am on Saturday but how about 1pm?” Naptime.
  • It’s appreciating how challenging it might be for men who are expected to follow 1950s norms like opening doors (which I like) AND 2013 standards which suggest “hey I don’t need your help.” Sorry honey!
  • It’s the iPad in a restaurant, Dora while making dinner and giving yourself a break. They will be educated. They will know how to read. They will not be hopeless screen addicts who cannot carry a conversation with another human being over dinner.

It’s managing logistics every day, it’s lists and calendars and communicating and not being afraid to say “hey can you do this I am fried.” I am learning how to do this every day and for every failure there is a success. It’s also living in the moment and doing one thing at a time. If life balance is like a see-saw, I would rather be on one end at a time, enjoying the ups and down rather than sitting in the middle, trying to be in two places at once and realizing that in that space, you don’t end up really going anywhere.

Stranger In A Strange Land OR Being A Woman In Tech

In the last year, there has been a lot of talk about “the woman thing” and “the black thing” in tech – or specifically, the dearth of women and African-Americans in the technology industry. Is Silicon Valley/the Tech Industry racist and/or sexist? As a woman in tech who works at a minority run/founded/managed firm, I thought I would weigh in with a few thoughts.

First, broad sweeping statements only get you so far and are frankly not that interesting (Dramatic? Yes. Media generating? Possibly. Helpful? I am not so sure). The truth is, we can only speak from our own experiences and we SHOULD do our best to listen when someone else discusses what they’ve been through. The data tell a grim picture, to be sure. But the data doesn’t necessarily get to the root causes and more importantly, the solutions. When people tell you what they’ve experienced and how they’ve dealt with it, sit with that before judging or being dismissive. Gauge your own reaction. Does this feel familiar to you? If not, imagine what it would be like to be in that person’s shoes. I think that it is through this type of thoughtfulness that we will see change over time.

Here is what I know…

  • When my firm Ascend was raising our second fund we were asked “How much are you raising?” to which we replied “Target is $150 million; our first fund was $55 million.” And one time we heard back “OK. Seems like a lot for YOU GUYS.” Hmmm…you guys. What does that mean? As it happens, what we were raising was in line with industry trends at the time. Why would that have been a lot for us when we had the traction to back it up?
  • When I first entered venture capital, I made my way to a lot of conferences for entrepreneurs and investors. I would meet someone and introduce myself “Kylie Sachs with Ascend Ventures” So far so good, right? Well, sort of. It was pretty common that after my normal, standard intro I would get asked “Oh, what do you do for Ascend…marketing?” “Ah, nope.” “Are you doing HR and Admin for them?” “No again! I invest for Ascend. I am on the investing team.” I would bet that not too many guys had to tell someone at such a conference FOR INVESTORS that they were in fact AN INVESTOR. Just a hunch.
  • In a meeting with an entrepreneur a couple of years ago I asked how he thinks the open source community’s efforts would impact his business. He gave me a hand wave of sorts and moved right along in his presentation. 20 minutes later one of my partners asked the same question. The entrepreneur acted as if that was the question that would make or break his business, and then went on to wax strategic about open source for 30 minutes. I was dumfounded. Had he not heard me? Did I speak in a different tongue?
  • Recently I was at a meeting and a private equity guy looked at me across the table and said “Wow, so you are a working mother. What is that like?” There I was, like a stranger in a strange land…a working mother. A hush came over the room. Maybe it was silent because all of the other guys were reflecting on their own experiences as “working fathers”? What do you think? He then went on to say how he never “let” his wife work since there was no way she could make more money than the babysitter would cost. The table laughed. Awkwardly. Needless to say we didn’t spend much time on his original question. But I tucked into the back of my mind that it might be fun to ask a guy like him what it’s like to be a “working father.”
  • I had breakfast with a young woman who is an associate at a very well-known firm. She is the only woman investor. On the down-low she asked me if I think about wearing glasses or contacts to be taken more seriously (Yes, I have thought about that) and did I have any strategies for making my voice heard in a room full of men (Yes I do). She was dismayed that she was thinking about these things – she was a couple of years out of college and in her words “I’ve never been so aware of my gender than I am now. I really didn’t think I would have to think about this stuff.” Welcome.
  • Last but not least, I left a meeting a few months ago where the gentleman across the table, to whom we were pitching a business, would not look at me. Oh he said hello, but all questions and all answers and all discussion was with my partner, a man. He didn’t look like a Neanderthal. He just seemed like he didn’t know how to have a business discussion with a woman. I was prepared to move on after we left. But as we debriefed on the meeting afterwards, my colleague asked me if I’d noticed it and could I imagine working with that guy. Apparently I was not alone or being overly-sensitive.

We all have our stories and anecdotes. I don’t think a lot of the – let’s face it – White Men understand these types of interactions. They don’t think they are racist or sexist. They don’t know they are asking questions, making assumptions, introducing irritations to women and minorities that they simply wouldn’t ask/make with other white guys. We tell these stories behind closed doors because we don’t really want the White Men to look at us and think “Oh there she goes again playing the chick card!” Non-sequitur: Card? There’s a card!?!? Do I get benefits and discounts?

So in the end, what to do?

Does this matter? Of course it matters, of course it’s annoying, of course we would rather not have it this way. But it’s in my power to deal with it. There are big, structural ways to deal with it through women’s initiatives (ASTIA, Springboard, 85broads), outspoken awesome women like Rachel Sklar, African-American incubators, and generally greater exposure (like CNN’s “Black in America” series). These all get us part way there. The other important part is simply what we do every day as women and/or minorities in this world. We execute. We push ahead. We keep working and perform to the best of our abilities. And we try to avoid or manage jerks along the way.

Is our bar higher? I think so. Is that fair? No. BUT, I can scream and shout about that or I can be commercial about it. I choose the latter. The best defense is a good offense…particularly when you are dealing with a combatant who doesn’t even know he’s initiated a battle. If I have to work harder to be recognized and acknowledged, that means whatever I am working on might perform better than the competition because I am THAT MUCH MORE on it. And if that is the case, I (we) should win in the end. We will have more points on the board. And if that’s the case, more of us will be in the game. The outcome of greater focus on winning ultimately will be, winning.

Interesting Morning So Far

What an interesting morning so far.  Over a couple of meetings, I have had discussions on the following topics:

How to sell a system/product to a school district.

Navigating your career when you are 22 years old and highly analytical but don't want to be an economist or a researcher.

The benefits and challenges of being a venture capitalist.

Why be a venture capitalist.

What it's like to work at a start-up.

Living in London as a 20 year old (I met someone who, like me, lived there for a summer and interned.  Life changing summer).

How to navigate working in a male dominated industry (and whether or not it's true that many men categorize women they work with as one of the following: their daughter, granddaughter, wife or mistress). 

As a mother, how do you balance Correcting with Supporting your child?

When trying to raise money for a company from investors, you must address these three points head on: the Problem, your Solution, your Traction.

What Obama's service initiative means for schools/parents/school administrators and students.

So, what's next?

Maternity Leave

I don’t really know how to begin writing about maternity leave.  It ends now.  Tomorrow is my first day back at work.  So let me start simply, with just the facts:

Pregnant, and months of anticipation; give birth; about 12 weeks off to recover and learn to be a parent; go back to work.

And now, the sub-text.  Tomorrow I go back to work.  People say things like "I hope it will not be too difficult"; "Are you OK?"; "Nice to have you back."  And the answers are, it will be manageable, yes I am OK, and thanks, it’s nice to be back.

But wow, what a period of time this has been.  It’s hard to know where to start if you want to reflect on this time off called maternity leave.  It’s not a vacation, nor a sabbatical.  It’s not easy but it was not as hard as I had anticipated (the having a baby and learning to take care of her, that is).  I did not know what to expect and yes, it took me by surprise. 

There were times of loneliness.  I was at home with a being that could not talk.  None of my friends were at home.  I talked to a being that could not talk.  For weeks.

There were times of guilt…the baby did, after all, sleep.  During those times, what did I do?  Hello, Oprah.  I never slept in (that was not possible), I rarely napped (not my thing) but I did spend a lot of time in very comfortable clothes (I would not go so far as PJ’s all day but it would have been possible).  I had been warned that it would be so bad I would not be able to find time for a shower or even to brush my teeth.  That did not happen.  I managed to take care of myself and then some, thank you very much.  I had no intention of losing myself completely, and if that meant she cried for a few minutes, well, so be it.  I figured letting her cry and pulling myself together, was better than no tears from her while I felt like a disheveled disaster who could not manage a shower. 

There’s more.  I had this funny realization one day that from now on, and for at least the next 15 years, yes YEARS, we would need a sitter anytime we wanted to go out on our own.  That is a change.  OK, so I can swallow that, but that is WAY different. 

And then we found a nanny.  I remember the first time we had her stay and babysit one night.  We went out for dinner. It was the first time the Big H and I had been out in weeks.  And it was glorious.  It was sushi and only two hours and it was heaven.

I could not and did not anticipate the feelings associated with being a parent.  I heard someone say that having a child is like walking around for the rest of your life with your heart outside.  And that is about right.  It’s like getting hit by a train in a really great way.  We look at her sometimes and just stare.  I love my friends, family and husband but can honestly say, some of my most memorable and engaging conversations ever are with her now.  And she cannot talk.  That is saying something.

I remember the first time I took her out on my own.  I caught a glimpse of myself with the stroller and freaked out.  That was me.  In the window.  With the stroller.  It was a Thursday and I was not at work.  I was wearing jeans on a Thursday, mid-day, walking around with my new baby.  As I was out with her, she started to cry.  And she cried loudly.  And I had to keep going.  I was in the drugstore with the crying baby and had to take a deep breath.  I was THAT LADY with the screaming baby.  And that was OK.

And none of this makes sense.  I can feel myself rambling.  But I am going back to work tomorrow.  This time has passed and I need to reflect on it.  And so here I am, reflecting.  Trying to pull these thoughts together in a neat package with a thesis is hopeless.  So I ramble.

And then there was the change from feeling like she was totally dependent on me, to liberation.  I could be with her, and then leave her with the trusted nanny, and know she would be OK.  This did not happen overnight.  She refused a bottle, and I thought she would starve.  Yes, starve.  The fear of starving your child is not easily overcome.  But one day after hiring the Trusted Nanny, I left the house.  Left her with the Trusted Nanny.  And 20 minutes later, said nanny called me and said "She ate three ounces.  Don’t worry."  At this moment I burst into tears.  I was in a restaurant a block away fearing my child would starve, and then learned she would be OK.  I was thrilled and sad.  Thrilled I knew she would eat.  Sad she did not totally need me.  I was not immune to the guilt this caused…"But shouldn’t I WANT to be attached like that?  What does that say about me that I feel trapped by this need?". 

I have since gotten over that.  I realized I am a better parent when I am confident these duties can be shared.  I don’t think this makes me a bad parent.

The interesting thing is, I did not realize how scared and clueless I was until now.  Now I am much more confident with her.  If maternity leave started now, I would do it differently because I can.  I did not realize then how lacking in confidence I was until now when I actually feel more confident.  I wonder if this phenomenon will continue as she gets older.

But it’s funny.  It’s only been three months, and I am much more confident, and am OK leaving her with the Nanny while I go do something else…but I still miss her even now as she sleeps in the next room.

I am a nostalgic, sensitive, feeling person, but damn it, I never thought I would be this sappy.  I am now embracing my inner sap.  I am, after all, sappy.  It could be worse.

And now it’s time to learn to be a Working Mother.  I have read about this experience before.  I have heard women talk about it.  And here I go.  I am at the top of the water slide called "Working Mother"…you know, the kind where you can see the first bit but not much thereafter, and you pray there is a cool welcoming pool at the other end.  I am thankful I have a great job. If I didn’t, I would be miserable. 

I am now bittersweet.  I am sad.  I am moving to the next chapter, but yes, I am sad.  First Child Maternity Leave is a time of unexplainable emotions, and therefore, rambling blog posts with snippets of thoughts and reflections.  I wish I could go back to many of the moments I had.  It went too fast.  She is already in size 2 diapers and though this is trivial, it is yet another example of time flying.  The only answer to any of this, the somewhat melancholy piece of having a child, reflecting on the early days and going back to "real life" is the lesson that applies to so many things…to Be Here Now.  Focus on the immediate and relish every bit of it. 

Chicks on Sale?

I recently went to see The Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum.  For those of you that know me, it’s no secret that I consider myself a feminist (and even more so now as a mother…I feel barraged every time I see an consumer products ad or a parenting magazine which are nearly ALL directed towards mommy, mommy, mommy…daddy anyone?).  Anyway, the exhibit is, in my view, a must see.  Women, at their own table, ready to have a ridiculously engaging conversation.  I think my personal favorite might be the seat for the Primordial Goddess.  What a phrase, Primordial Goddess.  Perhaps that is what I will be this year for Halloween.

In any event, as I continued my journey through the Museum, I was a little confused when I hit the Museum Shop.  Buried in the back behind books on New York City and Walking Tours of Brooklyn (the Siberia of the Shop) was a pile of t-shirts referencing feminism.  There was a sign.  The sign read "Global Feminist t-shirts 50% Off".

50% off?  The feminist t-shirts are on sale?  Half off?  Not even a mere 15% but HALF? 

So what to make of that, progress or a step back?  I am unsure.  What do you make of it?

A Few Random Thoughts…

  • I just left a party downtown.  The party was at a friend’s apartment.  The apartment’s living (party) area is about 1000 sq ft. The party attendees were about 150 people and three dogs.  The host served a full dinner.  Everyone ate.  Nobody sat.  There were cocktails and cigarettes and cheese, OH MY!  Candles everywhere, dogs running about.  It’s a wonder the place did not go up in flames.  Apparently Brazilian dancers are making an appearance later in the evening.  They appeared at his last soiree.  Quite an evening.  I love NY.
  • Times Square smelled like BBQ this morning.
  • Maternity wear can be hot.  Not the temperature, hot, but HOT!
  • Blueprint magazine, a Martha Stewart publication, needs more direction and is too hit or miss.
  • Never has grapefruit juice tasted so good to me.  That said, I have now become a Jamba Juice addict.  I hate chains, but even I am not immune to a tart, delicious smoothy.
  • These fires in SoCal are horrifying.  I have a colleague who has had to evacuate his house in San Diego.  I cannot imagine what that must be like.  Stop and think about what you would take.
  • My cat Stella seems to know I am pregnant.  She gets into bed with me and puts her paws on the belly.  Weird.  But cool.  Animal instincts, you know.
  • I cannot figure out if Facebook is cool or a waste.  I may have mentioned this before.  In either case, it’s huge and only getting bigger.  And more of my friends are on it than I had expected.
  • I am already craving turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce.
  • Have you seen that Hasbro has come out with Monopoly for girls?  It’s pink and girls can buy malls and go shopping!  Because that is all girls do, wear pink, dream of owning malls and shop all the time.  To make matters worse, the same company (run by the man pictured here…I am sure there is no correlation…)Hasbro_6 has been progressive enough to bring us the Rose Petal Cottage!  I saw a commercial for it the other day, and immediately looked around for the time machine.  Had I been propelled back to 1950, perhaps?  The commercial, here, is a MUST see.  A place where little girls can allow their imagination to grow…as they take care of the baby, bake muffins and do laundry!  I was a tad disappointed to see that there was not a boy in sight in the commercial, but perhaps the next version will have him coming in through the door, donning his blue suit, home from a hard day’s work so that the little girl will learn how to greet him "Leave It To Beaver" style with a cocktail in hand…for him.  Am I overreacting?  I mean, I am all for women choosing to stay home but let’s not pretend that laundry is fun and full of imagination and confidence building opportunities for girls.  Seriously.  If that is the case, why doesn’t Hasbro suggest little boys check out washing and folding, or how to turn an oven on and off. 
  • And while I am on my feminist tangent, can someone explain to me why so many women on TV start off intelligent and then become ditzy idiots?  I am talking mostly about the women of Grey’s Anatomy.  I mean, Izzy is darn near intolerable to watch these days, and that other show, Private Practice…since when did Addison become the Ally McBeal of medicine?  She trips and falls, acts just plain silly.  Was it so bad to show her as tough, confident and smart?
  • On a lighter note, did you know that October 26th (TODAY!) is Frankenstein Friday? It’s true, so go paint your face silver and look it up.  And scare a neighbor.  It’s also National Mincemeat Day (I will not be celebrating) and Workaholic Stop and Smell Something Day.  I will be celebrating that last bit.  Have a good one 🙂

Dissed by God, and A Note on Feminism

In case you were wondering, I did NOT indeed get the upgrade I asked for last week from God.  In my letter to the big guy (again, gal?  See letter here.) I said this would be a fabulous sign of his/her existence and receipt of my requests.  Well harrumph on all that.  God scoffed in my general direction.  I (that would be Executive Platinum flying more than 100K miles a year on American Airlines ME) sat in steerage in what was without question the most narrow, least legroom seat on the plane.  God is laughing at me and my requests.  And we still have no insight on the apartment, and Britney is still in deep doo doo. 

But let me not be negative.  I will assume that my little letter ended up by accident stuck in a spam folder, and I press on.

Did you know that in Italy the police force its women officers to wear high heels?  It’s true.  I work in the finance industry and wear flats regularly.  Ain’t NOBODY telling me I have to wear heels!  Though I recall an incident in 1994…my first job out of college at a Wall Street investment bank.  I wore a pants suit one day.  I got a talking to.  A full on, sit down, this is not what we wear, talking to.  Not 1974 – 1994.  We’ve come a long way, baby…from not even so long ago.

So how do I know about this Italy thing?  Glad you asked.  Because I occasionally read this blog.   I am pretty liberal, and there are things they post on here that even I don’t always agree with, but for the most part, I find this to be darn enlightening.  There is still work to be done on women/men issues.  And don’t even get me started on race or sexual preference issues.  You may not agree with all of it, but give it a read every once in a while.  Pretty interesting stuff.   

It was not even 9AM and I had to lecture a stranger…

Scene: 8:30AM Friday September 28th, 2007; 4/5 Subway train from 86th and Lexington to Grand Central

Random Man ("RM"): "So are you anticipating a cold day, I see you are carrying a jacket."

Me: Do I respond?  It’s morning and I am on the subway.  I don’t really like talking to strangers in the morning, but what the hell…"Uhm, no, it’s part of my suit."  I shift positions.  He sees my left hand…

RM: "Oh sorry, I see you are married, what an amateur I am!"  He giggles.  I hate men that giggle.

Me: "Married AND pregnant – you did not pick a sure thing!"  I was nice about this.  Not hostile.  Not yet…

RM: "Oh wow, pregnant!  Wow.  I have a six yr old son.  He lives in FL.  I was SO glad when he came out that he was a boy.  I was terrified I would have a girl.  I really wanted a son.  I am a man’s man, you know."

Me: "Interesting.  I just want a healthy baby with all toes and fingers accounted for.  Why did you want a son so badly?"  I will take the bait.

RM: "Well, you know, I am a guy’s guy.  I believe men should rule the house and I would not know what to do with a girl.  I am old fashioned, you know, I like having a woman at home and think the man should be the one who works out of the home.  I could not raise a girl, and I did not want one."  People are starting to stare now.  A man of this "caliber" has not been seen in NYC in decades!  Many of us women secretly believe they exist, but a chance to see a man like this live and in person!  WOW.  I knew I could not foil this rare opportunity to interact with Neanderthal Man.

Me: "You most certainly could not!  And do you realize you just hit on a woman who is going to WORK and that you are surrounded by such women here on the NYC subway during rush hour?"  Women are looking at him like he has two heads…or maybe less than a full head…one or the other…

RM: "Oh well, if you were with me you would not work.  And you know what, I bet you are having a boy!" 

The train stops at Grand Central and I get ready to leave…everyone is shaking their head at this guy in disbelief.  I am looking around for a candid camera thinking I am being PUNK’D.

I turn and say: "Well, I think I am having a girl and if your son is LUCKY, she just might consider hiring him one day!"


Pandora’s Box: Motherhood and Feminism

Since I have motherhood on the brain of late, I found these posts interesting…and surely, a little controversial…

and the follow up to all of the hateful comments she got, here…

As I said, I have motherhood on the brain, and most of you know I consider myself a feminist (we all need to redefine feminism, me thinks) and I agree with the author entirely. 

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