Women in Business: Take the Risk!

Anne Nielsen By Anne Nielsen
November 17, 2017

We recently hosted Gloria Larson, the President of Bentley University and one of Boston Magazine's “50 Most Powerful People,” at Veracode to talk about diversity with a specific focus on women in business. Our General Manager Sam King and Gloria had a discussion about:

  • President Larson’s career and experience, culminating in her current leadership role
  • The data on diversity in business
  • The role both individuals and companies can play to improve gender and racial diversity

This is a critical issue for Veracode, and for Gloria Larson. At Veracode, diversity and inclusion impact us on a personal level in our day-to-day lives, but also at the business level: diverse companies regularly outperform their peers on every measure, and outperform the competition. A 2015 study by MSCI found that the MSCI World Index with strong female leadership generated a return on equity of 10.1 percent per year versus 7.4 percent for those without.

Gloria Larson and Sam KingFor Gloria – as she asks all Bentley students to call her – this has been a subject of passion throughout her career, and in 2011, she founded Bentley’s Center for Women and Business to advance women in business at all stages of their careers, from the classroom to the boardroom. The Center provides training for female students to learn to lead, take risks and ask for stretch assignments, which will force new skill development. Why is this important? Because men are typically more likely to bet on themselves and take risks with confidence that they can figure it out. Women, on the other hand, often hold back, play their hands conservatively and do not put themselves out there. This tendency results in fewer women being challenged, and many not developing new skills. In the end, people who do not take risks in their career are less likely to win promotions and move up to higher ranks.

The McKinsey 2017 Women in the Workplace study confirms Gloria’s concern on developing the pipeline of female leaders. The study finds that women are hired and promoted at a lower rate than men. And it starts early: The first one to two years of a women’s career is pivotal, but also the most difficult. Men are 20 percent more likely to receive the critical first promotion to a line manager. And this trend continues throughout the ranks, with each successive level containing fewer and fewer women, and with only 4.2 percent of the Fortune 500 being run by women (down from 4.8 percent in 2016).

The arch of Gloria’s own career validates the value of taking risks, experimenting with new opportunities and not being afraid to fail. She started her career as a lawyer, then jumped into local government and then into the education industry. What made her successful at each juncture? The willingness to try new things AND to take a chance on herself.

Change is constant in our lives. The same is true of your career. The workforce today must be adaptable to meet these changes with enthusiasm rather than fear. Gloria believes the secret to her success is her optimistic mindset, which she learned from her parents and their frequent moves to different military bases throughout her childhood – she refers to herself fondly as a military brat. Her parents looked at each move as a grand adventure, and Gloria has carried this throughout her life. As the leader of Bentley University, Gloria has explored how to teach this sort of adaptability through “hybrid learning,” which she discusses in her book “PreparedU:” “Hybrid learning combines the best of processional education… and the liberal arts. It develops critical thinking, professional skills, cultural literacy and domain-specific knowledge in a single course of study.”

At Veracode, we often wish we were more optimistic: as a company that focuses on finding security weakness and vulnerabilities, we often focus on misses rather than on what is going well. This even includes our own focus on diversity and inclusion. We care deeply about encouraging diversity of thought, race and gender amongst our ranks. But although our numbers on diversity of gender are reasonable when compared to our peers in the industry (we are able to boast a Veracode leadership team that is over 50 percent female), we aren’t satisfied with our entry and middle-level diversity. We are consistently agitated to do better and learn from other organizations.

Gloria left us with three pieces of advice:

1. To the leadership team: Focus on cultivating our pipeline of female leaders so that our company reflects the balance of our leadership team throughout our ranks.

2. To each individual Veracoder: take the risk and ask for more. Careers are a lattice, not a ladder. Sheryl Sandberg in LeanIn even calls it a jungle gym. For Gloria, this jungle gym has spanned industries from business to government to law and now higher education. Be confident in taking those risks and be okay with learning from your failures – they are the best teachers.

3. To everyone: make it an “and” not an “or.” As in, you can try one industry AND try something new soon after, just as you can study business AND arts and sciences while in college.

We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from Gloria! I hope her advice to Veracode inspires you to think differently about your company, your career, and diversity. Want to join our team to help us as work towards a more diverse and inclusive company? Check out our careers page: www.veracode.com/about/careers

Senior Product Manager for Veracode’s application security platform including reporting, analytics and API feature sets as well are Veracode’s technology evolution from a monolithic architecture into MicroServices. Anne partners with Veracode customer’s to manage application security risk through new product features and functionality while enabling Veracode’s best in class scanning technologies.