The Things We Carry

March 17, 2021

“Don’t worry about your skills, this CTO role is a diversity hire and the CEO would love nothing more than to hire a pretty woman like you,” said the partner at one of the top recruiting firms to a senior-level candidate. 

The question is — when do you think this obnoxious statement occurred? 

* In the go-go 1980s era of Working Girl and “greed is good”?

* During the Harvey Weinstein era of Hollywood?

* Five years ago before the #MeToo movement? 

* Or, 7 days ago?

If you guessed the last answer, you would be right (of course, if you said “all of the above”, then you would also be right).

This happened one week ago when our member, we’ll call her Michelle, was speaking to a recruiter before she was to be interviewed by the CEO of a large publicly traded financial services firm. 

I asked her if this was the first time the recruiting firm partner had said something like this to her.

She said, “No.” 

We had been discussing this opportunity for several weeks, so I then asked why she had not told me before.

Her answer is instructive and goes to the heart of why I constantly remind you to ask for help *even* when you’re not sure if you need it.

When the partner first said something like this to her, she tried to forget about it. When he said it again right before she was to meet with the CEO, she again tried to ignore it. 

But then, when she met with the CEO, Michelle was confused. He asked no serious questions. He seemed to not really be that interested in *her.* It was a strange interview. 

In the 1970s, when my mother was looking for work — after my father walked out — she was told, again and again, that she had lost her beauty and gotten too old (she was 40).  

I know because she came home every day and gave me updates on the job search.  As a result, I learned to listen and to see the world through her eyes.

Ever since, I have kept hoping that this behavior would change, and while it has gotten better in some ways, in other ways, it has not. By the way, in case it’s not obvious: it’s not an improvement to want to hire a woman because of her looks (rather than not hire her because of her looks).

As noted, none of this came up in my conversations with Michelle until a few days after the CEO call when we were debriefing. Michelle kept saying that the interview had been “weird”, but not clarifying how.

So, I kept asking and eventually she shared the above.

Michelle’s reticence to talk about what the recruiter said to her (and how the CEO had acted) is understandable. Searching for a job is hard and it gets harder the more senior you become. 

And keeping quiet about the hard stuff in our work lives often seems like the right approach. But it’s not – especially when looking for a job.

If Michelle had not happened to be doing some job search coaching with me, I do not think she would have talked to anyone about this. 

In other words, she would have carried these sexist and demeaning words alone. And, as a result, she would have been confused about the interview with the CEO and, most importantly, confused about whether to take that job or not.

While we are not all the same, we each have a tendency to keep the things we carry, especially the heavy things, to ourselves. 

So, please: do not walk alone with your heavy pack.

Ask for help.


P.S. I do not generally tell members I’m coaching *what* to do, but, in this case, I told her that I did NOT want her to take this job. She agreed and, fortunately, within days received a better offer from a better company with a better culture – and, most importantly, they wanted her for her *skills.* She accepted.

P.P.S. Hat tip to “The Things They Carried”, a remarkable short story written by Vietnam War veteran Tim O’Brien.


Summer Internships at your Company?

The good news is we’ve gotten a lot of your college-aged children signed up listing their interest in work this summer.

The bad news is we have only a few companies with openings. 

So, if you have openings, please respond:

Internship Information

– Company name     
– Internship description    
– Application process url (or notes on how to apply)
– Anything else

Recent Talks and Activity Recordings

  • JTBD in Large Distributed Environments
    Jay Haynes, Founder & CEO,
    Talk Type: Product; Skill Builder/Practitioner
    Audience/Roles: All Roles

    Jobs To Be Done has proven to be an effective methodology for building much better holistic end-to-end products and customer experiences.

    *But* CG Council member companies with large distributed environments are finding it difficult to apply JTBD in effective ways.

    Jay Haynes, CEO of thrv, and a global expert on JTBD will come and speak to the Councils community on this specific challenge of using the methodology in large, complex technology environments.
  • Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products
    Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin, co-Authors of Groundwork
    Talk Type: Product
    Audience/Roles: All Roles

    Product leaders are all too familiar with the one to two-year period it typically takes to train and coach PMs. Product leaders hire smart people and then work with them individually, guiding them through how to think about product management, and watching them develop. Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin wanted a much faster way to help cultivate efficient and effective product managers that consistently create products that delight customers, regardless of the industry, the environment, and the development methodology that the team employed. They took years of experience as product executives and working with hundreds of teams as product coaches to create a framework to Get Better at Making Better Products.

    The design philosophy and methodology behind Groundwork was created to help product leaders be confident that their teams were committed to solving the right customer problems, minimizing costly rework by using individualized needs, and leveraging actionable personas in big and small product decisions. Vidya and Heather want Groundwork to help product teams have a much higher chance of success in the market—and help every product manager shine.

    Join Vidya and Heather as they share the background, principles, and methodology behind the Groundwork to help you, and your team, get better at making better products. 
  • Making the Case for Empowering Your People
    Marty Cagan, Partner, Silicon Valley Product Group
    Talk Type: Product, Leadership Development, Culture
    Audience/Roles: All Roles

    From Marty: “I have long been interested in the difference between how the best companies work, and the rest. Working with both types of organizations for so many years, there are many differences ranging from culture to process to staffing to roles to techniques. But at its core, strong product companies empower their people, and most of the rest do not. My focus over the past few years has been tackling this issue head-on, which means the product leadership. In this talk, we’ll discuss why this model consistently yields better results, and what’s necessary to transform to work like the best.”

    Marty’s Bio: Marty Cagan is the founding partner of the Silicon Valley Product Group, which he created to pursue his interests in helping others create successful products through his writing, speaking, advising and coaching. Before starting SVPG, Marty served as an executive responsible for defining and building products for some of the most successful companies in the world, including Hewlett-Packard, Netscape Communications, and eBay.As part of his work with SVPG, Marty advises tech companies of all sizes and stages, stretching far beyond Silicon Valley. Marty is the author of the industry-leading book for product teams, INSPIRED: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love, and the upcoming book EMPOWERED: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products. Marty is an invited speaker at major conferences and top companies across the globe.
  • See talks from the last month and beyond here.

About the Author

Phyl Terry

Phyl Terry, Founder and CEO of Collaborative Gain, Inc., launched the company’s flagship leadership program – The Councils – in 2002 with a fellow group of Internet pioneers from Amazon, Google, and others. Thousands of leaders from the Internet world have come together in the last 15 years to learn the art of asking for help and to support each other to build better, more customer-centric products, services, and companies.

Post navigation
Scroll to top