The tech industry is notorious for its especially cutthroat male leaders, from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ brutal management style to the so-called “PayPal mafia.” In a lot of ways, the insular “tech bro” code excludes and demeans, and women are increasingly rejecting that: They are more likely to support things like diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and team mentoring that lead to less aggressive workplace environments.
This isn’t to say that the he/hims of the leadership world can’t lead with empathy — but there is much they can learn from our woman leaders in tech and entrepreneurship.
We dove into Technical.ly’s archives to find examples of women leading on their own terms, and helping to change the face of business and corporate culture.
Putting people first
Rose Breyla and Donna May, founders of the Wilmington, Delaware-based Breyla May Consulting, each spent years working in corporate America. When they decided to start a business together, they knew they wanted to help women business owners and executives establish human resources, people ops, DEI, corporate training and wellness policies as consultants and coaches.
Their work focuses on filling a gap for companies that want a people-first culture, but don’t have the budget for a full HR or DEI department.
“You can support your employees while still maintaining your business,” May said. “I try to stress that the more you invest in your people, the more your people will invest in your business. It truly is reciprocal.”
Bringing representation to male-dominated fields
Taking the opportunity to show other women and young girls of the next generation that they have a place in fields like gaming, is a kind of leadership that prioritizes lifting one another up rather than the cutthroat competitiveness that dominates parts of many industries.
“Communities exist to instill a sense of belonging,” said Emily Zbyszynski, the program manager at the Wilmington’s Futures First Gaming and organizer of its annual Girls Who Game tournament. “When you see yourself reflected in others, particularly those who are successful in their field, it feels like you have that opportunity to succeed. I’ve had people come up to me at community meetings to say that seeing me in a visible leadership role has made them feel comfortable in the space.”
Any business leader can lead with humility. Myra Norton, president and CEO of Arena Analytics in Baltimore and New York, has it as part of her mission. Norton leads a team that aims to “rewire the labor market,” applying AI and predictive analytics to talent acquisition.
“Intellectual humility is a big thing that we look for here,” Norton said. “We are doing something here that has never been done before, and it is dangerous to think that you have all the right answers. Part of what we look for in every role is the willingness to be wrong, the openness to be upfront and share your opinions, and the ability to have an open dialogue and disagreement. We have this philosophy that the best ideas win — this isn’t a meritocracy. The best ideas come from across the organization. We want to have a place that encourages those things to bubble up.”
Acknowledging that you don’t know it all
One of the “secrets” of being a successful entrepreneur is to never pretend to know what you don’t know. Instead, effective leaders find people who know what they don’t know and hire them.
“I don’t act like I have all the answers,” said Nicole Homer, cofounder of Hx Innovations, on the “Entrepreneurial and Intrapreneurial Mindset” panel at the 2022 MILLSUMMIT. “I think that’s something where you have an entrepreneur mindset — it’s not like you’re doing everything yourself. … You need to build a team. And that’s what I did first, seek out advisors who have the expertise that I don’t have.”
Collaborating, not competing
Delaware creative agency Blue Blaze Associates, founded by Sandy Taccone and Wendy Scott, and PMG, a consulting firm owned by Peggy Geisler that specializes in strategic planning, ecosystem analysis, and social impact projects, bring over 20 years in the business each. They openly support woman and underrepresented entrepreneurs, and eschew the brutal competitiveness of business in favor of the collaboration they’ve established.
“What is success?” Taccone said. “Is it always about raking in the most money? Doing something that makes a difference? Is it something that you feel good about, that your team feels good about? We work with nonprofits. We work with big fortune 100 companies. And we’re starting to become a little more selective about what we do. If it’s a client that’s just not a good culture fit, we don’t want them to struggle and we don’t want to struggle.”