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Women Of The C-Suite: “Team sports are best prep for management” With Samantha Skey, CEO of SheKnows Media

Team sports are best prep for management. The only way to win consistently is to trust your teammates and to inspire their best possible…


Team sports are the best prep for management. The only way to win consistently is to trust your teammates and to inspire their best possible performance. I recall the gut-wrenching experience of being benched following a terrible first half in lacrosse in high school. We were playing our rivals and we were down. My best friend was put into my position- third home- and she crushed it. We came back and won. I will always remember that feeling of conflict amid high fives and sweaty hugs. It was not easy to be proud of my team when I was not proud of myself. Eventually, I came to see my team members as a web or a pack. We could not succeed without each other and I could relish the opportunity to be carried by others. And when I played badly, I tried that much harder to come back and make it up to my team.


I had the pleasure to interview Samantha Skey, the CEO of SheKnows Media. Samantha is an experienced executive with a history of success in achieving rapid growth in consumer internet and b to b technology businesses.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to your specific career path?

In 1995, a friend told me about an office manager job at a start-up that was building games for this interesting new thing called “The Web”. I was working for a literary agent; I loved working with writers and marketing their work to both publishers and readers. But the new opportunity paid enough for me to live in NYC rather than commuting from my parents’ house in the suburbs. So, I was sold.

I spent the first two years of my career immersed in internet culture at an online gaming network called Interactive Imaginations. I was crafting a revenue model while trying to convince advertisers that the web was not a silly fad. Interactive Imaginations (II) later merged with Katz Marketing and Petry Interactive to form 24–7 Media.

As one of thirteen people working in digital media in NYC, I had easy opportunity to take on much more responsibility than I had earned, and jumped from CNET to Disney Online, landing happily at Alloy Inc, a commerce and content start-up on precipice of IPO in 1999. Each role brought steep learning curves and I was managing people well before I had any sense of how to manage myself. After a decade with Alloy, and over a dozen acquisitions, I moved on to join a social software start-up called Passenger (Fuel Cycle). Passenger piqued my interest in use of community as a force for insights and advocacy. When I was tapped to join a clean-tech start-up called RecycleBank, I was eager to bring my media and SAAS experience to bear in leading revenue and marketing efforts for a company that prided itself on social good as well as profit. At RecycleBank, we focused on producing positive environmental outcomes through community action.

When the SheKnows Media opportunity presented itself, I saw the window to develop the work I had done to date while integrating my personal commitment to equality for women and girls. Since joining SheKnows in 2013, we have created the SheKnows Media Partner Network to build the businesses of independent publishers whose content inspires and educates women everywhere. We have built a community of high-quality content creators who collectively serve tens of millions of women with passionate and productive editorial.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Last month, I sent a blind email to Amy Schumer, without any introduction. She wrote back within minutes and offered to come join us on stage at BlogHer the next day. Seeing her name pop up in my inbox was pretty rad.

Her presence made a massive impact on the overall distribution of the BlogHer mission and message.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early on in my career, I thought that being the last one at the bar was a good thing. After some foggy mornings and cringey encounters, I learned that drinking the most or for the longest period of time is not a recipe for success.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are as motivated by our purpose as we are by our profit. We are unabashedly committed to gender equality and to supporting leadership in women and girls. We have been fortunate as our mission orientation has helped to differentiate us in a crowded market and has, ultimately, served our business objectives.

Story: As a company that is funded by advertising, we found that gender stereotypes are propagated as much through ads as any consumer communications. We decided to launch the Femvertising Awards (which we made up over an impassioned internal meeting) to recognize the brands who were using their power to address stereotypes and eradicate objectification of women. We surveyed women and published the brands they believed to be complicit in reaffirming damaging gender norms. Many were our own advertisers. But there was no backlash. The winners graciously accepted and many of the losers have addressed their practices to employ greater inclusivity in both message and in corporate governance.

Story: In 2014, we were vexed by an ad campaign created by The Girls Scouts in partnership with Sheryl Sandberg that endeavored to “Ban Bossy”. We read the research regarding girls’ self-esteem, we listened to the loops of adult women’s arguments about whether words impact long term self-perception and success. And we decided that the voices of the girls we were all endeavoring to protect were missing from the conversation. The following weekend we held video interviews with over a dozen 9-year-olds and asked them to define “Bossy”. The responses were funny, sweet and poignant by turns. We distributed the video through our media channels and received widespread interest in hearing more from “Gen Z” on various topics. In proceeding weeks, we launched Hatch- a program for kids ranging in age from 9 to 17- focused on digital media literacy. Hatch has become one of our most highly regarded content programs, garnering multiple Telly awards and partnering with the Ad Council, Common Sense Media and ABC to create programs to engage Gen Z in social causes.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are launching BlogHer University in January 2019 to provide online courses for and by the creators who populate our SheKnows Partner Network. BlogHer University will offer online and offline learning through a range of products. In addition to experts from within digital media industry, we will select experts from within our community and offer them the opportunity and platform to create their own courses. Our goal is to grow our top creators to become global leaders who share their inspiration with millions of community members.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Offer an almost, but not quite, uncomfortable degree of transparency regarding your vision for the business and your own learning curve in achieving that vision.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Simplify your process for evaluating efficacy and coaching. Our first consideration when an employee comes to mind is whether or not we like the person. This often paves our thinking on the employee’s potential. This natural, emotional reaction can lead us to focus, at times, on the wrong people.

To simplify our views on relative strengths of a team member, I recommend using a ‘Like, Trust, Respect’ equation. This should also allow you to identify, in crass short-form, where a team member thrives and where she or he falls short.

The LTR equation also helps to clarify the areas in which you need to focus a team member without requiring a long review. It is fluid and contemplates the evolution of an employee’s performance.

So, when considering the value and suitability of colleague or employee. ‘Respect’ means that you value their work, experience, intellect; ‘trust’ means that you believe your motivations are aligned and ‘like’ means you enjoy spending time with the person. You need at least two of the three to have a successful working relationship.

For quant satisfaction, you can apply a three-point weighted scale and give the person in question a 1, 2 or 3 (3 being strongest) on each of the three qualifiers (like/trust/respect). If a person doesn’t earn a 6 or higher, think hard about whether you can succeed together. Feel free to add weighting if an attribute is more important to you.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My greatest career supporters are my ceiling-shattering friends. The close crew is a small community of women who came up in digital or tech in the 90’s and who have survived and thrived. They are tough and have huge hearts.

The friend who hired me to my first job in digital has always ascribed to me an identify far beyond my actual career station. When I was an account executive learning PPT, she told our clients and colleagues I was the head of sales. She described me as the CMO when I was managing marketing as a side project. Once I hit higher exec levels, she dispensed with specifics and just told our friends and peers that I ‘ran the company’. My friends have made it much easier to accept big titles because they pretended I had them long before I actually earned them.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I serve as an advisor for several organizations that are committed to social good. One of my longest-term commitments is to the Bronx Academy of Letters, where I have served on the board for 14 years and watched the school grow in to a model for scalable success in public education for underprivileged communities.

In terms of the SheKnows business, we have used our business success to drive our mission and vice versa.

Our mission is to create a world in which women’s voices and leadership are valued as a unifying force for global good.

We believe that women’s collective voices hold boundless power and we have built our business model around that belief.

Our business model has morphed to focus on building a sustainable, scalable model for independent women publishers.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1) Give clear goals and KPIs then leave managers alone

If your KPIs are not clear, your success or failure will not be clear. It is important to let people fail- if the risk is manageable, let people fail and then analyze and dissect the failure with unabashed curiosity to see what you would change in the future.

2) Team sports are best prep for management

The only way to win consistently is to trust your teammates and to inspire their best possible performance.

I recall the gut-wrenching experience of being benched following a terrible first half in lacrosse in high school. We were playing our rivals and we were down. My best friend was put into my position- third home- and she crushed it. We came back and won. I will always remember that feeling of conflict amid high fives and sweaty hugs. It was not easy to be proud of my team when I was not proud of myself. Eventually, I came to see my team members as a web or a pack. We could not succeed without each other and I could relish the opportunity to be carried by others. And when I played badly, I tried that much harder to come back and make it up to my team.

3) Hire people you trust over perfect resume fit

I have seen issues of trust derail entire departments. During acquisitions earlier in my career, I saw the endless realignment of allies. This activity was not only time-consuming- hours were wiled away with manipulation, but it was counterproductive to business growth. Defrayed trust leads to politicking and politics crush productivity. There is no greater salve to high stakes than trust in your teammates’ joint success and aligned interests.

4) Fire fast

When you feel in your gut that someone is not going to work out, it is quite likely that you are correct. I have wasted many hours on HR and performance assessment that inevitably ended in resignation or termination. Keeping poor employees around is damaging to performance of the team. And it’s no less painful to let them go three months late. Spend that time analyzing the failure so that you can hire more effectively.

5) Be selective in identifying a mentor

You should be putting as much in to your mentor as she is putting into you. Consider carefully who can really impact your career. I have saddled myself with kind, self-appointed mentors who I failed to satisfy and vice versa.

6) Be selective in the time you allocate to mentoring others

We all want to help. I have found that I am overresponsive to requests for mentorship. It seems really mean to reject someone who is seeking career counsel. But I end up making empty promises that hurt the aspiring career person while contributing to the guilt that is festering due to all that fast firing (see above)

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would ask that everyone in the developed world commit to reducing their waste by 200%. It’s utterly impossible to inspire this action because we have a pathological resistance to owning our own impact. So I’m not it fits. But that is what we could all do to improve conditions for all humans.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The character is in the trying” Coach Tayler (said to Vince- Friday Night Lights : )

Originally published at medium.com

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