I was delighted to hear back from one of the daring women I recently profiled on The Daring Project. Karen Mangia is one of the rare women in tech who faced the hostile male environment, and not only survived, but thrived to become a global executive at Cisco. Her daring story does not spare the tearful times and the paralyzing fears she had to overcome by reaching out for support from her former bosses.
During her first six months on the job, Karen perfected the sprint that allowed her to hold back hysterical sobs until she was able to reach her car and lock herself in. She was desperately afraid of being seen as a failure, and even more desperate to prove the men wrong. And how could she let down the female executive who had gone out on a limb to hire her?
On her lowest day, a steaming summer day, she called the home of her former boss at AT&T. He heard the tension in her voice and insisted that she drive right over. When he saw her in the driveway, head resting on the steering wheel, sobbing, he shook up an ice-cold martini and walked out to hand it to her.
“Here, enjoy this. I’ll be back in a while with another.”
Soothed, Karen was finally able to blurt out the truth. “There’s no one on my side in the whole company. I keep thinking, maybe tomorrow it will work itself out. But it—it just never gets better. I’m scared I’m going to fail!”
“You don’t have to do this,” her former manager said. “You can quit.”
It was a turning point. He made her realize that she had a choice. He reassured her that she was a fine executive, and she did the right thing by reaching out for help in a crisis.
“I’m not a quitter,” she declared finally. “I have to rise about the situation.”
She began to project a more confident demeanor, speaking up more often in meetings. Months later, she got a call from a manager several rungs above her. He said he’d watched her handle several tense scenarios well, and he wanted her to know he had her back. When she spoke, he often backed her up: “Karen makes a good point.”