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Tech icon Jonathan Sposato '89 urges inclusive workplace

Jonathan SposatoSerial entrepreneur and startup investor Jonathan Sposato '89 advocates for more collaboration between men and women in the workplace his new book, Better Together: 8 Ways Working with Women Leads to Extraordinary Products & Profits, published by Wiley late last year. Chairman and cofounder of GeekWire, chairman of PicMonkey and founder of WeCount.org, he believes that gender equality is not only necessary but also beneficial in the workplace, and he only invests in companies backed by at least one female founder. Sposato received the 2017 University of Washington "Man of Integrity" Award for such efforts. He's also the first person to sell two companies to Google. Sposato, who serves on the Whitman College Board of Trustees, discusses workplace inclusion on Wednesday at 7 PM in the Reid Campus Center Ballroom; the Student Engagement Center presents the event, titled "Championing Change in the Workplace," in collaboration with the Gender Studies Program. A reception and book-signing will follow. Sposato gave a preview of his appearance via an email Q&A. Edited excerpts follow.

Summarize some ways in Better Together: 8 Ways Working with Women Leads to Extraordinary Products and Profits to promote gender equity in businesses.

One example is the concept of men "listening louder" to women. Instead of hearing women's inherent bids for collaboration, acknowledgement or consensus as a form of "weakness" or "lack of ambition," men need to be much better listeners (listen louder) and reinterpret these signals as adding to team cohesion. Another solution relates to sexual harassment in the workplace and how, specifically, high performance should not trump bad behavior. Many companies still do not have clear guidelines as to what constitutes sexual harassment and, even when defining them, have no clear policy on whether it is a fireable or penalize-able offense.

Better TogetherGender equity in business, you write, leads to "extraordinary products and profits." How so?

Simply adding just three women to your board of directors has been shown to increase return on equity by 46 percent (Credit Suisse study). Having a female CEO could mean that your company outperforms male-led companies by as much as 226 percent on return on equity over a 12 year period (Kapor Center research). Female employee attrition/churn due to women feeling like the workplace is not fair, lacking in promotion opportunities or fosters sexual harassment has been found to cost American businesses $16 billion annually (Kapor Center research).

What advice would you give to college students about the themes in your book?

First, don't give up! Don't disparage! We can all make the world a better place. Second, since many of the issues with sexual harassment in the workplace are believed to stem, in part, from men not successfully transitioning from how they engage socially with women in the campus dorm room to the office board room, I would advise that as young men (and women) enter the workforce to take note that a transition in life stage is to be acknowledged. Some things are unacceptable in either context while some things are acceptable in college only and not in the workplace.

How did your education at Whitman play into your eventual career?

Every day I think about the amazing Whitman faculty who influenced me so much in my career. I think it's more direct than the standard liberal arts value proposition would let on. For example, as a CEO, my very job is to synthesize ideas, to take something written as a vision and execute it in design (or manage designers) and apply it in product with engineering, while vetting it with finance to ensure it makes money, etc. Another example is how, generally, Whitman grads are great communicators. I think everything great that happens in business (any business) is simply a conversation between two people. Those with the best communication skills have an amazing advantage!

Whitman hosts an array of guest speakers and educators. Many also offer on-campus workshops or engage with students in the classroom. We ask them to give us a brief insight into their area of expertise. For more information on upcoming events at Whitman, go online to the campus calendar.

Published on Jan 22, 2018
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