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Nina Totenberg’s voice is one of the most familiar sounds in public radio. Her work is so well known that NPR even sells a “Nina Totin’ Bag,” which pays homage to the legal affairs correspondent and pokes fun at public broadcasting for its classic pledge-drive gift.
Totenberg began her career at NPR nearly forty years ago, and she was covering the justice system for The National Observer even before that. When she began reporting about the Supreme Court—long before any woman had been appointed a justice — she was the only woman working in her newsroom.
I caught up with Totenberg to discuss how things used to be and how much they’ve changed. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited and condensed.
Take me back to when your career was just getting started in the early 1970s. What would I have seen if I walked into your newsroom at NPR or at The National Observer? What was different compared with today?
Everything. It was all male except for me. When I started, I was the only woman. On the news desk, there were no other women. I think they came to be relatively fond of me but it was trial by fire for a while. They ignored me. It’s really simple. They just ignored me. I was not one of the guys. They didn’t invite me to lunch. They just didn’t acknowledge me.
I’m sure that motivated you to outwork them but I think it would also hurt my feelings.
I think my feelings were hurt but I was sort of used to it by then. There were so few jobs for women in those days, you just had to be grateful you had one. Every place was male dominated. Congress was almost entirely male. The White House was almost entirely male, and so was the staff. So it’s not like there were exceptions.
How did sources treat you differently than your male colleagues?
The bad news was you weren’t one of the guys so you didn’t chum it up with them and go drinking. The good news was they assumed you were young and stupid. I was young. I wasn’t stupid. They would very often say the most incredible things to me because they weren’t concentrating on the fact that I was concentrating on them.
I probably scored a number of scoops that way. It’s just hilarious. One time I was doing a story about junkets on Capitol Hill. I think Northwest [Airlines] had inaugurated a new line to Japan and Korea. They had taken on their maiden voyage most of the members of the Senate Commerce Committee, which of course controlled regulation of the airline industry.
So I did a bunch of interviews with people who went, and then I asked the people who didn’t go why they didn’t. I remember [Montana Democrat] Mike Mansfield said something of great integrity. He just said, “Don’t do that kind of thing.” But there was a senator, [New Hampshire Republican] Norris Cotton, who said, “Oriental food gives me the trots.” And that was the subhead in the story! It was just too good.
At one point, President Nixon had been considering naming Senator [Robert] Byrd to the Supreme Court. I asked Byrd to come off the floor and talk to me — it was a lot easier to get people to come off the floor and talk to you in those days. He was very thrilled to be considered and he just told me everything, absolutely everything, completely everything. I don’t know what he was thinking, but he probably wouldn’t have been quite that candid for a male reporter.
When you look around today, how much better is it for women in journalism now?
I just don’t think there’s any comparison. I think for the most part women have completely cracked the egg and the glass ceiling. Ten years ago, women were reporters and editors but not executive editors and not network chieftains, so to speak. But that’s not true anymore. I think that, really, for all practical purposes, [female journalists] can’t complain. Women have no basis for complaint.
There are times — over childcare issues or whatever — where there can come a moment, but for the most part it’s just night and day. More women really are equals in the workplace. Well, in the news workplace. That’s not true in a lot of other areas of professional life. It’s certainly not true in the business world.
I’m curious what it’s been like for you to cover an era in which we’ve gone from having had zero female Supreme Court justices to now having had four.
I guess I somewhat agree with what all the members of the current Supreme Court and Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor say. Women don’t make different decisions per se. But I do think that one’s experience does make a difference. And therefore, if you’ve experienced being discriminated against or not taken seriously or shut out of a discussion — and all women have experienced that, including today — it does change your appreciation for a situation. If you had those experiences, then when those kinds of cases come to you, you have some understanding of it that a male justice might not.
You’re friendly with some of the justices. What’s something you’ve come to learn about them that would surprise people?
I think people who meet Justice [Antonin] Scalia are most surprised because he’s such a charming and engaging and fun person. He’s the kind of person you want to sit next to at dinner. They have this idea of him as a dour conservative. He is a conservative, but he’s not dour. He has an interesting mind and he’s interested in all kinds of subjects from music to art. And he is very funny. And what surprises people about Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg most is she is this tiny little person and she is such a force to be reckoned with.
Can you imagine a time when the Supreme Court of the United States would have more justices who are women than men? All women even?
I don’t think that it’ll be all women. I certainly hope not. I thought it was a bad idea when it was all men and I think it would be a bad idea for it to be all women. The Supreme Court of Canada has had a majority of women and I would expect in the future the majority in the United States would be women. But I don’t know when.
It’s astounding to think how much has already changed in your career.
It’s been quite an interesting life to have lived. From a time when I was first looking for a job and people would say to you, “We don’t hire women,” to a time when that’s definitely not the case in our profession.
It’s not that sex discrimination is gone from the workplace. It’s hardly gone. But it is probably more gone from journalism than it is from a lot of professions. One of the stories I like to tell is when — and this was the late ’70s or early ’80s—I was thinking of leaving NPR. And I had lunch with a guy I knew well and liked and respected. He was bureau chief at a major newspaper chain. And I would lay odds that he doesn’t remember this because he would be ashamed to remember this. So I said I was thinking of leaving NPR, and he said, “But you know we already have our woman.” My heart sank on one hand, and on the other I thought, “You’re smarter than that! How can you even think that way?”
Well thank you for putting up with all of that B.S. for us — for the women who became journalists after you.
It’s a very great thing to have it not be that way any more. I go to talk to high schoolers and I tell them these stories. They look at me like I have three heads. They have just not experienced it at all.
Every now and then some sort of debate erupts in the tech world about gender imbalance, lack of diversity, what causes it, and how much it matters. I’m so past that.
Listen, it matters to me. If it doesn’t matter to you, then I don’t have real confidence that I’m the person who should or could change your mind. But given that it matters to me, what really stresses me out is how hard it is to achieve.
Why it matters (to me)
I’ve worked in a handful of diverse environments  and a smattering of bro-tastic environments and I’ve enjoyed the diverse environments more. I’ve heard two theories about why diversity matters to the success of your company.
One theory is based on the positive impact that cognitive diversity has on decision making. My friend Coda describes this theory and why this matters at Yammer.
The second theory is that if your design process relies heavily on intuition, then having designers who represent the full range of the population will be helpful. The catchphrase for this line of thinking was presented to me as, “Hiring Women Will Make You Rich.”
I basically subscribe to both of these theories, which boil down to a better definition of meritocracy based on actual impact on the company (rather than merely to have name recognition at a conference).
One of the first responses to a failed attempt at diversity is, “I put up a job posting (or call for papers) and no women applied.” There’s an implied, “So I’m off the hook, right?”
The standard remedy is to change your pipeline. That can mean advertising in different places, asking for referrals, or reaching out to people directly. Surprisingly, sometimes this can even be solved as simply as announcing directly that you do in fact consider people who look different than yourselves (for example, see “Apply to OATV” and “Solving the Pipeline Problem”).
Despite knowing these things, trying these things, and even trying other more outlandish things, we’re paranoid about ending up with a homogeneous team. We’re doing as well as I’ve ever managed to see at a startup, but we also had periods where we completely failed on this front. Those failures drive us to constantly question our hiring practices so that we end up with the most impactful team possible.
We’re up for putting the work in and doing whatever it takes to build the strongest team. We currently are actively recruiting for a designer role.
So first of all, if you’re reading this, think Lift seems like an interesting place to work, but have been hesitant to apply, please contact us. We look closely at *everyone* (including people of all genders, races, creeds, sexualities, ages, and geographic locations).
Second, this is harder than it needs to be because a lot of non-young-white-men tend to get overlooked. Could we all take a minute and think about who the talented people are who might not be getting the attention they deserve?
Now that you’ve thought of a few could you email me their names (again, firstname.lastname@example.org)? Or, if you care about the industry more than you do about our tiny little startup, maybe you could post their names to these Quora threads: Who are the best iPhone app developers, Who are the best iPhone app designers, and Who are the best software engineers alive today?
Thirdly, if you care about this issue and you think I can support you in some way (for example you are looking for career advice, want job or investor introductions, etc), I’d love to have breakfast with you. I live in the Mission in SF and am almost always free for a 9am meeting/breakfast at Mission Pie.
 I wanted to give credit to the two diverse environments. The first, O’Reilly Media, which, despite naming itself after a dude, is basically run by women. I was super happy there. The second, was a summer inside the Kapor Capital offices, which has more PhDs than anywhere I’ve ever been and yet manages to exude humility and reject entitlement. Everywhere else: yo, don’t take it personally.
Well, that’s an unusual school assignment.
Colin Heilbut, who says he’s a student at the Draper University for Heroes, emailed TechCrunch earlier today to inform us that he’s selling Jimmyjane sex toys on Indiegogo as part of class. Apparently, today’s assignment in the entrepreneurial training program (organized by venture capitalist Tim Draper) involves sales — specifically, sales of Jimmyjane sex toys.
Heilbut said different teams are taking different approaches to the assignment. Some, for example, have been calling up escorts. His team, however, has taken a more familiar path in the tech world, posting a short campaign (less than 30 hours left as I write this) on Indiegogo, where they’re selling Jimmyjane products at a 30 percent discount. For example: You can buy “the Rabbit” for measly $110.
I asked Heilbut if he was surprised at all by the assignment, and he said, “I would’ve been more surprised at the beginning.” Apparently, the University for Heroes is full of “zany activities,” including a weeklong survival program in the wilderness — I’d tell you more, but students aren’t allowed to discuss it in detail with the outside world.
I’ve emailed Draper and the university for comment and will update this post if I hear back. Heilbut did put me on the phone with Michael Hom, who works in customer service at Jimmyjane (which was actually just acquired), and who confirmed that he’s speaking to Draper students to help train them in cold calling potential customers.
Apparently, Heilbut’s team isn’t doing quite as well as the competition, which is why he’s hoping TechCrunch can give him a boost. I’m not sure that I agree of his assessment of TC’s readership, but hey, I’m always ready to be pleasantly surprised.
Facebook just announced its buying WhatsApp, a global messaging platform with 450 million MAUs, for approximately $19 billion. It’s one of the biggest tech acquisitions since HP bought Compaq for $25 billion in 2001.
It means that WhatsApp, which raised a comparatively measly $8 million since its 2011 launch, is now worth nearly $20 billion.
Since $19 billion is a ridiculously large amount of money to wrap our heads around, we decided to compare that to other ridiculously valuable things, companies and people.
$19 billion is…
- 4x the market cap of BlackBerry
- Approximately one-third the market cap of Ford
- 2.8x the market cap of GroupOn
- Effectively equal to the market cap of The Gap
- Slightly more than Sony’s market cap (around 10 percent)
- Around 3/4 Delta’s market cap
- 7.5 Mark Cubans
- Almost precisely 1.3 of HP’s market cap
- 2 nuclear submarines
- 62 percent of Twitter’s market cap
- 76,000 trips to space on Virgin Galactic
- almost 60 percent of Sprint’s market cap
- 25 Instagram acquisitions
The above figures are calculated using the following metrics: The full, $19 billion dollar value of the deal, which takes into account RSUs to be given to employees following its closing; market capitalization of other companies sourced from Google Finance at close, not taking into account after-hours performance. In this way, we compare fair market rates for comparison companies, and the complete cost of the deal.
With resources limited and budgets tight, using every ounce of your employees’ talent is vital to your business’ success. While many entrepreneurs stress about running a lean ship, most are actually sitting on a treasure trove of untapped talent. In fact, if your team members are like the thousands of people we’ve surveyed in dozens of organizations, approximately 30 to 40 percent of talent is not being used. It’s not that employees aren’t working hard, it’s that their talent is not being optimized to its fullest potential.
So, what can you do to bring forth more talent from your team and not burn them out? Shift your approach from top-down to bubble up.
Here are three keys your team members can use to unlock their talent.
Power up your talent story. Talent is not simply your strengths or your skill set. It is your self-expression. The potential of that self-expression lives in the stories you tell — the stories you live by.
Victim stories sound something like, “I could be doing much more with my talent, BUT [we don't have a budget, my boss won’t let me or I don’t have time].” These kinds of statements are talent killers. Instead, lead the charge at your company and be the hero of your talent story. Heroes have hopes, capitalize on opportunities to overcome obstacles, surround themselves with supporters, fully use their resources and take bold actions.
While the leader can attempt to be the one and only hero in your organization, it is best to get everyone involved and have them power up their own hero stories. Invite them to go beyond their job descriptions and engage their passions. With clear questions and generous listening, a supervisor, manager or peer can be a talent catalyst to help a team member articulate his or her hero story around the themes of their hopes, opportunities and actions.
Accelerate through obstacles. You can’t afford to let obstacles stop you or even slow you down. Instead find inspiration by using obstacles as talent accelerators.
Talent needs obstacles to realize its full potential. Whether it’s a high velocity serve in tennis, the Sunday Times crossword or a scientific conundrum like “what’s the universe made from,” it is the big challenges that demand our full attention, intelligence and dedication.
There are plenty of everyday obstacles that we can use to bring out our best and instigate a leap forward.
For example, a high-tech company manager encountered a time obstacle to implementing her hero story when her boss denied her request for a few hours per week to pursue some innovative ideas. Instead of abandoning the initiative, she designed a template that she and some team volunteers could execute by dedicating only 15 minutes each day. It turned out to be a better solution that created faster results and broader buy-in with her team.
Multiply the payoffs for yourself and others. It’s not enough to express your talent. In order to have a lasting impact, you need to focus your daily actions and ideas on creating tangible career and organizational assets. This notion may be so natural for entrepreneurs that they don’t realize it is a blind spot for other members of the team.
For instance, an aspiring supervisor found herself blocked from supervisory roles, because she didn’t have the experience of giving performance feedback. She was about to give up hope, when she shifted her focus from what she could do about it to what she could create concretely with her talent and benefit the company. The result was a document of guidelines for first-time supervisors on how to give performance feedback. She showed concretely what she had learned from the best practices of others as well as her own experience in both mock situations and project settings. As a result, she landed a supervisory job and provided a valuable, tangible asset to the organization for other first-time supervisors to use.
When you engage your employees’ self-motivation and invite talent to bubble up in your organization, everyone benefits.
Engaging Images, but With Little Text, Now Get the Best Exposure on News Feeds
By David Serfaty. Published on February 19, 2014.
The days of brands expecting high user engagement on Facebook from posting a blurry event photo or a stock image in a wall post are quickly coming to an end. Facebook has made it clear to marketers, through numerous algorithm changes, that it wants — and its users expect — a compelling reason to engage with a brand’s ad.
This means that marketers need to jettison generic ad creative and text-heavy wall posts in favor of high-quality, engaging ad creative with smart imagery and limited text. Facebook will reward them for doing so with greater exposure in users’ News Feeds.
Here are three ways marketers can get smarter with their Facebook ad creative.
Embrace News Feed Algorithm Changes. Facebook noted in a recent blog post that it is decreasing the exposure it gives to brands’ text-based posts in favor of image-based posts. It urges marketers to use the link-share button rather than sharing an embedded link to display larger images in wall posts. So marketers need to put more research and focus into the images they use in Facebook ads because the ad size is so large on Facebook (especially in the News Feed). The relatively short lifespan of a Facebook ad means that brands must have a vast quantity of unique, constantly refreshed images at the ready to keep their ads and content near the top of users’ News Feeds. This is especially true for direct-response advertisers, who must rely on engaging, creative ads to entice a consumer into making a purchasing decision.
Here’s an example of the type of text-heavy, image-deficient wall post that Facebook wants marketers to move away from:
Here’s an example of the types of image-based wall posts that Facebook wants marketers to use and that will deliver better results for direct-response advertisers:
Learn Facebook’s Custom Audiences Service. Facebook recently expanded Custom Audiences to give marketers the ability to target specific users across any device. The service relies on splitting users into specific groups, based on how they have previously engaged with your brand. For instance, a travel website could use Custom Audiences to reach consumers who searched for flights on the website but never made a reservation with a targeted message in their Facebook News Feed: “Come back for 10 percent off your next flight reservation.” The ad creative and copy need to be specific to both the user group and its stage of the buying cycle.
Combine Custom Audience Targeting with Lookalike Audiences. Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences, a cousin of Custom Audiences, enables advertisers to target new users who are likely interested in the business because they are similar to customers on a list already cultivated. With Lookalike Audiences, marketers can get very close to ensuring that every piece of ad creative they produce with Facebook is targeted at a specific user group based on those users’ similarities to the advertisers’ existing customers.
As marketers we need a more nuanced and sophisticated approach to Facebook ad creative. A “create-an-ad-and-be-done-with-it” mentality isn’t going to work.