In the audio industry where women make up just 5 percent of the overall sector, Charity Hardwick is a boss. Since joining the executive team at Soundcast, Hardwick, the Vice President of Sales and Marketing, has delivered on the company's goals of re-aligning both the go-to-market strategy and branding.
Through deep market analysis, Soundcast has worked to create consumer awareness for its range of weather-resistant portable audio products. Here, we sit down with Hardwick to find out more about what it's like being a woman in tech, and how she's setting the stage to take Soundcast into the future.
What attracted you to Soundcast?
Music is the soundtrack of our lives. Who we are, who we want to be. I grew up singing in church, listening to hip hop, everything from EDM to John Mayor. I'm a chameleon. Women are chameleons. I'm in this mood performing this function. What song is my inspiration? What song is going to make me walk into this business meeting and slay it?! When I really need a pick me up, I throw on a song.
You've explored several career paths, and served in the military. How did your background prepare you for your work?
I started my career in the 90's in the military. I joined the army because my parents had no money for college. I gained a lot of experience in operation management, but they didn't teach me enough. I started working for a high financier going to college, going part-time as a mom for 12 years. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was studying physics, with a strong empathy for women in sciences.
I was going on this journey where I couldn't figure out my purpose. By 2002, I'd done three associates worth of work. My mind was made up. I started foreclosure reality and worked on the big merger. That burnt me out. Then I had a head on car collision in New Zealand. I was in the hospital for several months reconstructing my leg, re-growing bone. It was physical obliteration and I was in a wheelchair for six months. I couldn't work 15 hours a day, so I went back to school. I wanted to be an executive in an advertising company. I spent three years going through physical therapy, double majoring in advertising and graphic design.
Then I moved into marine sporting goods, taking on outdoor products. Still, I had a passion for research, couldn't take my analytical background out of my soul. Coming into business strategy consulting was a combination of education and experience in journalism, physics, advertising, and graphic design. I went on to strategic business consulting. I never understood my path until looking back.
Out of that journey of not being afraid to explore and keep learning and changing my mind, came a unique position that I'm in right now: sciences, outdoors, distribution and repping.
What are some challenges you've overcome through your career?
Issues on issues on issues. Any women has dealt with 10 bucket loads of sexual discrimination. Then there's the less offensive, but still frustrating verbal disapproval. I was called abrasive through my twenties by men. I'm sorry is that code for “you're wrong?" Don't take that on. Take it as a sign that you are a strong voice in the workplace.
As women, we are conditioned to modulate. Women need to take negative experiences and ask, “What did this teach me?" Women tend to take on criticism personally. Strong women get more criticism than male counterparts.
Welcome negative critique. Just because someone gives me their opinion, doesn't mean I need to accept it. My truth is not your truth.
Being one of few women in your position, how did you succeed in tech?
By tactfully and strongly pushing my initiatives forward and by not giving up or differing. I am a thoughtful strategist. My decisions are never reckless. I gather information over time, so I never make a decision without substantial information behind it. I assert, “This is the decision we should make." It's because I've been informing myself. The only times I've failed is when I've second guessed myself.
Is career progress getting easier or harder for women in tech?
We all listen to music, but only 5 percent of women are in the music industry. It's gross. Men have been selling us everything. When you're coming up as women and girls in the past, even now, there's always this boys club. If you're going to be really successful, you need to be self-driven. It's myself, my dissatisfaction propelling me forward. You also have to build this wall as a woman in business. What I mean by that is I'm also an empathetic person. I have to consciously say to myself, “Alright. There's this line from business and personal. To preserve who I am at home and in my friendships, and to keep that separate from business, I intentionally allow myself the freedom to be empathetic and softer in my personal life.
How did you deal with mostly male boardrooms?
Women go into meetings and try to out macho the dudes. It doesn't matter what we do when we take that approach. We will always lose because it's fake. Instead of coming to the table with something disingenuous, why don't we come to the table with what's real?
My alternative? Femininity is a power. All the decisions we make lead back to that power. Men don't know what to make of it. Ego is one of men's greatest weaknesses because it's the most obvious thing in the room. When you understand how your dressing affects the meeting, that awareness affects how your meeting goes. Ask yourself, are you harnessing the power of your womanhood? When I get dressed in the morning, I ask myself, “Who am I meeting with? What's their religion? Background? Would this well-tailored pant suit keep their mouth shut longer?" Around men, perhaps I would wear something less threatening because, in his world, that's what you should look like. Make him see you're not trying to take his power. You're not trying to replace him.
One of my favorite things in the world… I go to a meeting and I'll sit there and I won't say a lot. I'll observe the temp of the meeting with powerful men from the eighties, and I'll keep my mouth shut. Two men start talking. They direct their questions to the other men in the room. Their assumption? Maybe I'm a secretary, or from marketing or merchandising. They all get talking. At some point, one of my teammates gets a question, and they turn to me. I can answer those questions confidently. I love the look on their face. The surprise.
I then see the look of respect on the men's faces. I take every interaction in these settings with one man at a time to show them a woman belongs here at the table. I want that future for my daughter.
With so few women to turn to through your career, what have you learned?
We are careful, thoughtful observers and thinkers. We can assess people's' needs. As a woman who's hungry and driven, there is an opportunity today, but it's not something that's assumed. As a woman, comfortable and confident, that's not my natural state. That's something I've worked hard to develop.
A woman shows up, there are things she's received accolades for. Being an admin, multitasking, being sensitive to feelings. In reality, those are the things that make a thoughtful leader. Assessing the needs of people you're working with is essential.
If I'm able to listen, and read people, I can assess their needs and place people in the right position with the opportunity to excel.
In this, women have a distinct advantage. When you understand your skill set with reasoning and rational, you don't have anything to prove. You've only got to prove it to yourself. There's an amount of need to prove myself. What can I achieve?
Tell me about what motherhood taught you about your role in business.
I have a son, and I worked hard for him, providing. But when I had my daughter, I looked into her eyes. That moment, everything changed. What kind of woman do I want her to be? Do I want her to sit in a meeting and take advice from some guy making more than her? Do I want her to sit through meetings run by men? Guys are intentionally putting together activities or bonding things at the exclusion of women. Do I want that for her?
What's next? Future plans?
Technology is changing. Availability of information coupled with changing technology and that accessibility makes it easier for women. As a company, we want to focus on that.
Forward thinking with the ability to understand needs of the company in the future. We are a global brand now. How do we best represent ourselves globally? We are mindful of cultures and diversity of people we're working with, with a proper understanding of market research. We listen to our customers. What do you need from us? Who are you? What's your name? I want for every woman, to find your sound track. Get that kick butt sound track to get you up on your low days.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.