By Lauren Goode
Lauren Goode is a reporter for re/code and writer for the Peninsula Press. She recently interviewed Margret Schmidt, vice president of design and engineering at TiVo, Inc., about her career. What follows is an excerpt, but you can read the full post here.
LG: A recent report from Joint Venture Silicon Valley’s annual Silicon Valley Index, underscored the idea of the pay gap between women and men in the area. What do you think might be a cause of that gap?
MS: One of the organizations I belong to is Advancing Women Executives, and they have these talks. And one of the guests was a Stanford professor — her talk was all about negotiation — and, some of the interesting things I learned is that women are far less likely to negotiate than men. There can be a stigma attached, and [women are] worried about how they’re perceived … but when they do negotiate, they are no less successful in negotiating than men. So one of her theories on the salary gap was if women negotiated as much as men did, that would help make up for a lot of it.
I do think, in my experience, that women are less likely to bring up money … I think, also — if you don’t ask for more in the beginning, you’re always going to trail.
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LG: Have you ever been in a position where you’ve had to negotiate?
MS: I guess I’ve never been afraid to negotiate. I guess that’s just one of those things I do. If I feel like my role is changing and my value is changing — well, first you have to be really good at your job, but then you can say, I feel like the value I provide here is worth this. And of course you have to be prepared to hear “no,” so you have to be in an OK mental state to possibly hear that. But yeah, I guess I’ve never been afraid to negotiate.
LG: Let’s talk about home stuff. You mentioned you’ve been married for a long time, and that you have a good support system. Do you have kids?
MS: Yes, we have a ten-and-a-half-year-old son, and my husband is a stay-at-home dad, which is awesome and insanely helpful in a how-do-you-balance way. The first year, [my husband] took care of our little sweet one-year-old, although at the end of the first year, he said, “I think I might die of a heart attack!” And so, we did some part-time day care after that. He’s still a stay-at-home dad.
LG: Did your husband work in tech?
MS: I met him back when I worked at Stanford in high school, and he was an employee. We both worked at the Knowledge Systems Laboratory. I was a high school senior helping to support the Macs used by the faculty/staff/students, and Christopher was a member of the technical staff. We got married a couple years later. We are two nerd parents raising a nerd child in the Valley.
LG: What are some of the reactions you get from people when you tell them about the “role reversal” at home? Or is this becoming more the norm among your friends and colleagues?
MS: Actually, my sister is a law professor, and for the past couple years her husband, who has a Ph.D. in philosophy, has been taking care of the kids. And so it’s interesting that in my family, that that’s a thing. We were raised by nerd parents, just like I am. So I guess we were raised to be strong women, [with] careers, family, all that.
LG: Who are your role models in tech?
MS: My role models in tech are those that have made great design important to how their company thinks about their products and services, such as Kaaren Hanson at Intuit, Catherine Courage at Citrix, Justin Miller at Comcast/Plaxo and Eva Manolis at Amazon.
LG: What’s your biggest piece of advice to women getting started in the technology field right now?
MS: You have to find that thing you’re really passionate about, whether it’s solving a problem or creating a great product. Find what gets you excited, and find the ways to navigate towards that. Try to get an internship in a company that you’re passionate about. Even if the role isn’t what you’re thinking, just do a really good job at that, and then people are much more open to letting you try something different. We do that all the time here. We’ve had researchers move to design and designers move to research.
Look for opportunities to volunteer, and then I think it comes back to the salary and negotiation. Don’t ask for more and say, “OK, I’m going to do this new thing and you owe me now,” until you’ve proven you can do the new thing. You do that and then say, “OK, now that I’ve been doing a really good job on this, as well as what I’ve been doing before, I think my value has increased. Can we talk about that?”