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What You Are Doing (Unconsciously) To Hurt Your Credibility

Lifestyle

As a psychology major, a corporate executive, a coach and a Director Consultant for BNI I’ve gotten tons of training on building relationships and managing my reputation. I don’t always do it perfectly but I’m constantly learning and integrating this learning into my life and my business.


Because of this training I’m also really good at identifying when others are doing things that hurt relationships and hurt their reputation. What also catches my attention is when they do these things oblivious to the consequences. I see it all the time and I know it’s hurting those people’s opportunities to grow in their career or grow their business.

People want to do business with people they know, like and trust. The same is true within organizations. Managers want to promote those they know, like and trust. Treat trust like a valuable business asset, and protect it at all costs.

1

Delayed Response Time on Messages

We’re all busy, right? Shouldn’t there be some slack granted? Sure, but then you end up in the category of busy people who are cracking under the pressure and I don’t think that’s what you want. Rather than being seen as successfully busy you’re seen as someone who has too much on their plate and should not take on more.

Now you’re thinking, “But wait, I don’t want to be taking on more. I don’t need more busy work.” Right! You DO NOT want more needless busy work.

However, this “more” also takes you out of the running for some really great opportunities: juicy projects, promotions and clients. I know many business owners whose prospective clients were referred to their competition because the perception was the busy business owner was too busy to take on any more clients.

In regards to response time on messages there’s a magic number. It’s 24. After 24 business hours the person who sent or left the message starts to wonder. They are wondering if you got the message, they are wondering if you understood the message, they are wondering if you decided it wasn’t important, they are wondering if you are going to get back to them. They are wondering if they are going to have to take more time out of their busy day to reach out to you again.

As human beings when we don’t have information we make stuff up and we tend to lean toward the negative. It’s the survivalist part of our brain that wants to protect us and is preparing for negative outcomes.

Here’s a quick solution: send a quick note or voice message back letting them know you got their message and will be working on it in the next couple of days. This resets the expectation clock and reaffirms that you are responsible and professional. Now the sender is no longer left wondering…and making stuff up.

2

You Allow Yourself to Get Distracted

We live in a world of bright shiny objects. Many things are pulling at our attention. But if you are not all in and focused on what is going on right now and the person right in front of you, you convey that something else is more important. This can manifest itself as starting a side conversation during a meeting when someone else is speaking, looking over someone’s shoulder while talking to them, checking your phone, or spending too much time taking breaks when works needs to get done, etc.

And when people feel that they are not important or what you are doing for them is not important, they don’t trust you to take good care of them and all their “things.” I’ve had a business owner go on to me about how attentive they are to their clients and that listening was what people wanted. In our next conversation this person’s eyes kept darting over my shoulder to what was going on behind me.

When I was in corporate I had someone on my team that wanted to be developed to be in management someday. Usually this is a great thing. Having someone who wants to prove they are ready for more responsibility makes work more engaging and life a little easier. However, this person felt their current tasks were beneath them and so did their tasks too quickly, without care, and mistakes were being made. They were so eager to move on they were proving themselves to be unreliable. Here’s my advice: be where you are right now. If you’re working your way up the ladder do your absolute best to prove that, even when a task is tedious, you can be relied upon to produce good work.

If you cannot be where you are right now, literally or figuratively, make your apologies and go. But if you’re in, be in. And yes, there will be plenty to demand your attention after this conversation or this meeting or this project but give what you are doing now 100% of your attention.

3

You Share Mistakes You’ve Made without Highlighting the Lesson Learned

We are in a new era of business where we should be sharing ourselves more with our co-workers and clients, to build stronger teams and solidify relationships. Sharing our failures can create stronger bonds than sharing our successes. The compassion and empathy we feel when someone talks about their struggles adds emotion to the equation forming closer ties. The caveat is if you don’t finish the story with what you learned or what you’ve put in place to make sure it never happens again, you leave people with the impression that you’re failure did not lead to learning.

There’s no sense that you’ve taken any responsibility for what happened or that you know how to prevent it in the future. You may have in fact put a system in place to correct the problem but if you don’t mention it, the other party is left to assume the problem could happen again. Here’s how to do it right: always finish your story by highlighting what you’ve learned from your mistake, what systems and safety nets you have put in place to make sure it will never happen again.

For me, that builds trust. When I hear the solution they have come up with I know this person has made mistakes but has become stronger and wiser from them.

4

You Share Stories of Other People’s Mistakes for Entertainment

I know you are a good person. I know you mean no harm. I get it. We’ve all done this and it feels great in the moment. It lightens the mood. But at the end of it all you’ve just earned yourself the reputation of a gossip. If you’re lucky the other person will never find out what you’ve done but they often do…days, weeks, months or even years later. Oftentimes we do this when tension has built and we need to let off some steam. A comical story seems the way to go. When we gossip we give unconscious permission to those listening to gossip about us.

We teach people how to treat us. Remember the golden rule? Treat others as you want to be treated. This rule exists because it's true, what you give is what you get. Also, no one will want to work closely (or refer those they know) to work closely with someone who would use their mistakes for the amusement of others. Remember, this also pertains to listening to gossip. By listening and laughing along, you will become guilty by association. It won’t matter that you were not the one actually gossiping.

How to avoid being associated with those who engage in gossipy mean girl behavior? For starters, do not share stories that put other people in a bad light. Furthermore, when gossip starts, find an excuse to leave the conversation or change the subject. Oddly enough, intolerance for gossip solidifies your reputation for being kind, professional and a person of integrity. It may annoying in the short-term to those who would like to initiate it, but they will come to respect your stance, because they will trust that you won’t gossip about them.

If you want to get promoted, if you want to grow your business, guard your reputation as a person who has compassion and can keep confidentiality, no matter how funny or juicy the information that crosses your path may be. When the urge to share information about a coworker comes up let it pass and then pat yourself on the back. You are building the confidentiality muscle. This is priceless!

Instead of sharing gossip, make the conversation about the people in the room and leave the people out of the room, out of the room. Your offer of support will also pay off in the long run.

5

You Let the Fact That You Know Better Leak Out

You have worked hard to be where you are and your level of earned expertise shows you where others are making mistakes. Your natural reflex is to offer suggestions. Helping peers identify and correct their mistakes will likely make a significant improvement in their health, wealth and happiness. However, somewhere between identifying the problem and the other person executing that perfect resolution something happens in the communication. Something that turns good intentions into preachiness.

Rather than considering you an expert, your audience perceives you as one or more of the following: an interloper, a critic, a know-it-all, the judge, a complainer, the do-right, the fun police, the Kool-Aid drinker, a dictator, the hall monitor, or just “that annoying person.” What you don’t realize (and what I didn’t at the time) is what you are “leaking” is your attitude. “I know better than you” comes out in your facial expression, your tone of voice, and the words you choose in your communication. It's a delicate science to give criticism without coming off this way.

No one likes to be considered less than. No one appreciates having flaws pointed out, so even with the best of intentions, you’re left with a bad reputation. Before you speak, check and re-calibrate your attitude. Remind yourself why you are trying to help the other person. Come from a place of compassion, offering up your insights as merely one solution, as a gift without strings attached, and leave it up to the other person to agree or not agree.

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Dear VCs: Making Pledges Won't Close The Funding Gap

Amid the mainstream conversation about inclusion and justice in the workplace, otherwise known as #MeToo, a Silicon Valley venture capital fund considered how they can be more inclusive of the women, minority, and LGBTQ entrepreneurial communities.

Their solution? Ask the CEOs they currently fund to promise to hire senior-level employees from diverse backgrounds.


Lightspeed Venture Partners, a venture capital fund that has investments with blockbuster startups such as The Honest Company, Affirm, and HQ Trivia, has asked its portfolio company CEOs to sign a “side letter" affirming their commitment to consider women and other underrepresented groups for senior jobs and new spots on their board of directors.

Can making pledges— or even hiring a C-Suite level employee to manage diversity efforts— really make an impact on the funding gap for multicultural women-led companies?

Many experts say it's going to take systemic change, not letters of intent.

It is well reported that the amount of investment going to multicultural women-led companies is incongruous to the entrepreneurial landscape and the performance of their businesses. Between 2007 and 2016, there was an increase of 2.8 million companies owned by women of color. Nearly eight out of every 10 new women-owned firms launched since 2007 has been started by a woman of color yet, these businesses receive an abysmal 0.2 percent of all funding. Amanda Johnson and KJ Miller, founders of Mented cosmetics, were just the 15th and 16th Black women in history to raise $1M in the fall of 2017.

The multicultural women who do defeat the odds to get funded receive significantly less than male founders. The average startup founded by a Black woman raises only $36,000 in venture funding, while the average failed startup founded by a White man raises $1.3M before going out of business.

The implicit and explicit bias not only impacts individual multicultural female founders, it could be stifling innovation. For example, companies with above-average diversity on their management teams reported innovation revenue as 45 percent of total revenue compared to just 26 percent of total revenue at companies with below-average management diversity. That means nearly half the revenue of companies with more diverse leadership comes from products and services launched in the past three years.

In our economy today, venture capital is responsible for funding the work of our most innovative companies. Venture capital-backed U.S. companies include some of the most innovative companies in the world. In 2013, VC-backed companies account for a 42 percent of the R&D spending by U.S. public companies.

With a wealth of multicultural women entrepreneurs and evidence to support the performance of diverse companies, why does this funding gap persist?

According to Kristin Hull, founder of Oakland-based Nia Impact Capital and Nia Community, many traditional investors consider women or minority-led businesses as a category in their portfolio, like gaming tech or consumer packaged good. Hull, who focuses on building portfolios where financial returns and social impact work hand-in-hand, argues gender and ethnicity are not a business category and investors who dedicate a specific percent of their portfolio to diverse companies are the ones missing out.

“We are doing this backwards," says Hull. “Adding diverse, women-run companies actually de-risks an investment portfolio."

Hull points to research that has found women are more likely to seek outside help when a company is headed for trouble and operate businesses with less debt on average. What's more, a study conducted by First Round Capital concluded that founding teams including a woman outperform their all-male peers by 63 percent.

Ximena Hardstock, a 43-year-old immigrant from Chile experienced this bias first hand before she raised $5.1M for her tech startup. “How do you get an investor to notice you and take you seriously?" says Hardstock. “White men from Harvard have a track record and investors are all looking for entrepreneurs that fit the Zuckerberg mold. But a woman from Chile with an accent who started a technology company? There is no track record for that and this is a problem so many women of color face."

Hardstock came to the U.S. from the suburbs of Santiago when she was just 20-years-old. Alone with no family or connections in the U.S., Hardstock worked as a cleaning lady, a bartender, and a nanny before she began teaching and working in education. “I had a lot of ideas and Chile is still a very conservative country," she says. “Most women become housewives but I wanted to do something different. So, I moved to the U.S."

Hardstock went on to earn a Ph.D. in policy studies, served as vice president of Advocacy for National StudentsFirst and worked as a member of Washington DC mayor Adrian Fenty's cabinet. Her experience working in both education and government exposed her to a need to simplify the process of connecting lawmakers with their constituents. As a result, Hardstock founded Phone2Action, a digital advocacy company that enables organizations and individual citizens to connect with policymakers via email, Twitter, Alexa and Facebook using their mobile phones.

Because venture capital and private equity are not necessarily meritocracies, Hardstock initially struggled to get in an audience with the right investors despite her company's growth potential, her experience, and her education. In fact, it wasn't until she won a competition at SXSW in 2015 that she could get an audience with a serious venture capitalist.

While it may seem like symptoms of a bygone era, both Hardstock and Hull say the path to investor relationships is forged in places where many women of diverse backgrounds are not – ivy league organizations, golf courses and late night post-board meeting cocktails attended mostly by White men of means.

The history of venture capital has never been very balanced, according to Aubrey Blanche, global head of diversity at Atlassian software development company and co-founder of Sycamore, an organization aiming to fix the VC funding gap for underrepresented founders. “White and Asian men have built the venture system and for generations have been seeking out people like themselves to invest in."

Personal and professional networks are critical for founders to connect with investors, but many multicultural women don't have access to the networks their White peers have. According to a study conducted by PRRI, the average White person has one friend who is Black, Latino, Asian, mixed race, and other races. This common situation makes getting that all important warm introduction to established VCs very challenging for multicultural women founders.

“Is the ecosystem of your network equivalent to your net worth? Absolutely," says Hardstock. “For us, we have to build our own ecosystem and recreate what happens on the golf courses and at the Harvard reunions."

To Hardstock's point, most multicultural women with entrepreneurial aspirations lack that Ivy League network. According to reporting published in The New York Times, Black students make up just nine percent of the freshmen at Ivy League schools but 15 percent of college-age Americans. This gap has been largely unchanged since 1980.

While notable female investors such as Arlan Hamilton, Joanne Wilson, and Kathryn Finney are actively working to close the funding gap for women of color, only seven percent of current senior investing partners at the top 100 venture firms are women. Less than three percent of VC funds have Black and Latinx investment partners. Without an influential network, Hardstock and entrepreneurs like her are left screaming for a seat at the table.

When Black, Latina, and Asian women founders do get in the room with the right investors, they have to work harder to get the investors to relate to their products and services. “Entrepreneurs solve problems they understand," says Blanche. “When multicultural women entrepreneurs present their businesses to a homogenous group of male investors who may not be equipped to understand the idea, they may pass on an amazing business."

Take, for example, the founders of Haute Hijab or LOLA. Founders of both successful startups would have to explain the market for their services to a table occupied mostly by men who may never have considered that Muslim women want more convenient access to fashion and have never considered women might prefer to purchase organic tampons.

This lack of familiarity typically means reduced funding for women and a host of other consequences.

As one recent study pointed out, even the way investors frame questions to women can impact funding. According to the Harvard Business Review, female founders are often asked “prevention-oriented" questions focused on safety, responsibility, security, and vigilance. Male founders, on the other hand, are often asked questions focused on hopes, achievement, advancement, and ideals.

When all of these factors are considered, a side letter may not be enough to begin to close the funding gap.

Both Blanche and Hull say real change can be made by democratizing information and education on impact investing. Both women say educating investors and MBA candidates about impact investing is the best way to overcome current bias.

Blanche's organization, Sycamore, produces a newsletter for new angel investors who want to help close the funding gap while making money in the process. Hull's firm has an internship program for multicultural girls from Oakland to expose them to the worlds of investing, entrepreneurship, business leadership, and financial literacy.

“I'm excited about the changes I see," says Blanche. “I see more firm employing the Rooney Law on an institutional level, an increase in smaller firms looking at underserved communities, and the democratization of institutional funding."

Hull adds that as long as multi-cultural women-led firms continue to show returns and outperform or perform on par with companies founded by White men, the investor community will rethink their portfolio strategies.


This piece was originally published in 2018.