The Financial Post recently spoke to famed Dragons’ Den judge and CEO of Venture Communications Arlene Dickinson about her thoughts on how women can continue to rise to the top in business:
Earlier this year Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead hit bestseller lists everywhere, espousing the idea that females aren’t as successful as males in the business world because they’re hesitant to “lean in” at the boardroom table.The book has generated a lot of buzz, partly because of Sandberg’s high-profile role at the world’s largest social networking site, and partly because of her ideas on how women can become more successful executives, based on research and her experiences at Facebook and former employers including Google.
While Sandberg is one of the most influential female leaders in the United States, in Canada that honour goes to Arlene Dickinson. For six seasons Dickinson has been the sole female executive on CBC’s Dragons’ Den panel, and she is also the chief executive of marketing firm Venture Communications and founder of Arlene Dickinson Enterprises. At a preview for the show’s upcoming 8th season, which starts airing in September, Dickinson spoke about her experiences as a female executive, and her thoughts on Sandberg’s book, which has become a manifesto for women in the workplace.
“What I appreciate about what’s she’s saying is that she’s standing up and at least expressing an opinion, and it’s polarizing but it’s an opinion,” Dickinson said in an interview.
Although there’s a difference between being a female executive at a large corporation versus a female entrepreneur leading a small team, Dickinson said the idea of leaning in and finding a voice is the same regardless the size of the company.
“As an entrepreneur I’ve also experienced places and times where I’ve been trying to compete for a voice at the table, trying to make sure that I’m being heard properly, trying to get my opinion across in a way that doesn’t sound either highly emotional or somehow misunderstood or somehow gets put aside,” she said. “I can’t count the times that I’ve said an opinion on something and it gets almost dismissed and later on a guy will say the exact same thing and lay claim to it.”
Dickinson admits that she hasn’t always treated men and women the same when it comes to pitches in the Den though, notably making a snap judgment about Jennifer Montoni, a blonde woman who was pitching her nut-free cookies in Season 5.
“I will never forget that pitch,” she said. “I had to stop and go ‘what am I doing? I’m doing the exact same thing that I accuse other people of doing, which is not really listening to what’s being said but seeing who it’s coming from as opposed to what they’re saying.’”
In terms of the difference she sees between men and women who pitch the dragons, Dickinson said in the early years women weren’t as confident with their pitches.
“They still are too understated,” she said, adding that women frame companies differently and often downplay their successes. “I’d say we’re still lacking the confidence and the self-assurance that what we’re doing is good enough.”
If Sandberg has her way, the key to successful pitches in the Den, and subsequently successful female entrepreneurs and executives in Canada, will be to lean in to success.