I know you cofounded Dell's networking group called Women in Search of Excellence. Why do you think it’s important for women to network with other women?
I have a huge belief that we just simply need more women in leadership positions in corporate America and in the public sector. I think that women have a lot to share with each other, and women don't always reach out for help as much as I think they need to. I think these employee groups give employees a safety net of other women who have gone through similar challenges. Perfect case in point: maternity leave. It's stressful. Not only are you pregnant for nine months, but you are trying to figure out when do you get pregnant if you want to have a career. This is a great question to ask other women. Then you go ahead and have the baby, take whatever period of time off, and then that transition period back for many women can be really, really hard.
When I transitioned back from my first child, the woman who I was working for at the time gave me some of the best advice that anybody ever gave me. She said, ‘You know what? For the first two weeks that you are going to come back, come and go as you please, as you want to. Don't make any decisions. You're not going to want to be here. You will eventually get back into this part of your life that you'll realize that you have missed, but ease into it.’ I think that's one example of how women can help women in choosing jobs, choosing careers, choosing companies, and figuring out when to go on maternity leave.
Was that the case for you? Was it as difficult as she said?
You know, it was emotionally hard. Especially after the first child. First of all, you worry about child care and you want to know that your child is going to be OK. You miss your child. That was one piece of it. Then, with me, it was somewhere in that two- to three-week period when it got easier. Every day got easier. But I can't imagine the pressure of coming back, starting a brand new job, having to be at work for eight-plus hours on Day One from coming back from maternity leave.
You are the only female on the senior executive team at Dell. Do you feel that you’ve faced challenges that men don't face to get to your position?
You know, I don't ever feel like the challenges that I had hindered me from getting to my position at Dell. I will tell you that I have worked at other companies prior to Dell where I did see some of the hurdles and the roadblocks clearly for other women across the marketing and technology area. I've been super fortunate, which is one of the reasons I feel so strongly about being such an advocate for this, because I do see it. There are lots of examples out there.
Can you give me some examples of the hurdles you've dealt with?
I've seen women who have worked in companies and have made decisions to put their child-care leave on hold because they work for a manager who won't even have a conversation with them about how it's really OK to take time off and have children. I've seen situations where men will talk to women in a way that makes them feel that they are being excluded from a conversation. I've heard women who talk about the fact that they're not golfers and they don't like to golf, but they know that a lot of times that is where some of the really interesting conversations come up. Like ‘I've got this project and I’m thinking about doing this and I'm thinking about going into this market.’ Golfing is how men socialize. When you are not in those inner circles from a social perspective, women are often stuck trying to figure out how to overcome that. I've certainly seen those social settings preclude women from getting into roles as fast as men.