My mother hates the word "naked" in this book's title. One of my first business partners said, "Naked in the boardroom? Well, you have always disarmed and then dismantled any man you were near, not the other way around."
I don't mean it literally, Mom. And I'm glad my partner thought I was always in control. But what I mean is this: Getting naked is another term for getting real.
Naked in the Boardroom began as a letter to my daughter, Bonnie, when she was four. I was thinking about what her working life would be like as a woman, and how much had (and hadn't) changed since I began my career in the 1970s. But by the time I actually started writing this book, I realized that maybe my ambitions were for a larger audience: women like those I've met all through my career, who hunger for other women's hard-earned wisdom.
While today you enter the workforce believing that you can have any position to which you aspire, you are still told to put on a business face, to make decisions based on analysis instead of personal beliefs and gut instincts, and, especially, to leave your emotions behind when you enter the office. Let's face it: The message is that to succeed, you should be more like men.
Perhaps I'm comfortable with "naked" because my first job was at Penthouse. I am happy to report that the editorial and publishing employees were clothed, but getting naked is one reason why I succeeded in business. I showed my feelings and even vulnerability in the workplace. I was sensitive to the people with whom I worked. The lessons I learned in business all point to one broad truth: Success follows when you use what you've got. You will succeed because of, not in spite of, your personal traits. The trick is to make your aptitude and flair work for you in a style that is uniquely yours. Maybe I'm a cockeyed optimist, but I think the last decade of changes in business tilted the balance in our favor. Business moves faster, and that means that developing your gut instincts really pays off. Which gender is known for intuition? The biggest growth companies are in the information business: Who's better at getting, and sharing, information -- men or women?
Men can be good at these.
Women are better.
Although much comes naturally, this book is intended to help you realize your particular strengths, to develop your ability to hear messages from your gut, and to shape your skills in listening, decision making, and negotiating -- all essential to your career regardless of your seniority or industry. Each chapter is devoted to a specific business theme, accompanied by "take-away" sections filled with easily digested tips on specific career topics.
Kamala Harris, California's first African-American female district attorney, was told by her mother (a noted doctor), "It's great to be the first, you'll be the first at a lot of things, just make a path for others so you're not the last."
As part of a generation of women who were firsts, I think of Dr. Harris's words a lot. I was the youngest publisher of a national magazine in 1982, then the first entrepreneur that Time Inc. funded in a joint-venture start-up. In 1993, I was Time Warner's first divisional CEO to get pregnant. Then, I became a top executive at CNET, one of the first Internet companies to go public. There I suddenly found myself an elder stateswoman to young people who would ask me to be their mentor, to help them form a plan to succeed in work, in timing their families, in balance. In the hundreds of conversations I've had with women on the cusp of greatness -- whether over late-night pizza or waiting at crowded airport gates -- I've always ended up saying the same thing in different ways: Business is personal. Every necessary decision-making tool is already inside you -- your experience, brain, and gut will tell you what to do, if you can access their messages. This is a skill that can be honed, and this book -- and taking on the challenges presented to you -- will show you how to do just that.
Most of the women I interviewed for this book, women who became CEOs and who were willing to get down and dirty, share my desire to help our female successors have it easier than we did. We hope that the next generation of businesswomen can learn from how we've grappled with real-life issues: hiring, firing (and getting hired and, er, fired), sexuality in the office, overt and covert discrimination, negotiating, recovering from a mistake. Few of these lessons come easily; indeed, I've learned as much, if not more, from mistakes and scoundrels over time as I have from easy decisions and heroes. My best mentors were the antimentors, whose examples I vowed to avoid.
Women in business today will far exceed the successes of the previous generation's women if they can just be themselves -- be real -- at work. This book will tell you how to be who you are and make it work for you. And you can keep your clothes on.
Copyright © 2005 by Robin Wolaner