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The Importance of Ethics in Corporate America, with Kara Swisher

The Importance of Ethics in Corporate America, with Kara Swisher

Episode 72: The Importance of Ethics in Corporate America, with Kara Swisher

When it comes to knowing what she wants and going for it, Kara Swisher is a pro. As Co-Executive Editor and Co-Founder of Recode, she's familiar with the sexism in Silicon Valley and corporate America. Being a go getter and having an incredible work ethic, she's gotten the reputation of being tough. However, Kara simply knows what she wants and how she's going to get it. In this week's podcast, Kara discusses calling out sexism in the workplace, not being afraid to fail and the importance of ethics.

Episode Transcript

00:12 KW: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. This is Kristy Wallace and I am joined here today by Maricella. Hi Maricella.

00:21 Maricella Herrera: Hey Kirsty. I love the, "Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast" it was very flowy.


00:28 KW: I'm working on my radio voice today. A future career in radio when I'm... Maybe my reinvention after retirement or something.

00:38 MH: Yeah.

00:38 KW: Hopefully radio is still a thing.

00:40 MH: That's what I was thinking. I'm like, I don't know.

00:43 KW: Oh, that would be so sad, that would be so sad. It will be, I believe it, so it will be. We'll never going to get rid of podcasts and radio. I'm so excited because our amazing guest today is Kara Swisher, who, if you don't know, she is the co-executive editor and co-founder of Recode. She is an unbelievable journalist and a podcaster as well, so please check out Kara Swisher. She really focuses on the tech community but a lot of that are themes and stories that permeate all aspects of our life. So great to meet her.

01:21 MH: I'm a huge fan. I'm not gonna lie, I'm a huge Kara Swisher fan and every time, as I was scheduling the podcast, that I would see an email from her, I would get a little nervous.


01:32 MH: I was very happy that she agreed to be on the podcast with us. Her podcast, Recode, is amazing. Her journalism, the stories and things she's covered are amazing. She is so well known as a no-nonsense type of person, which I really admire, as well as a huge proponent for diversity.

01:55 KW: Yeah. So I wanted to do a little heads up about the podcast today. Kara is not in New York City, so we did the interview over the phone, which comes with it's own set of technical difficulties, so there may be a few pieces that go in and out, or it's not crystal clear. Bear with us, because the content and the conversation is just amazing and unfortunately the technology could not keep up with just the energy on the phone. So Maricella, do you have any stats for us today?

02:28 MH: I do, I have a poll today. As I said, Kara is known to be a no-nonsense type of person and someone that's very tough, and what we've seen a lot of the times is that when women come across as someone that's tough or a strong personality, people say, "Not so great." And comments are not necessarily the most positive. So we did ask our audience, do women have to be likable to be successful?

03:01 KW: What did they say?

03:02 MH: 60% said yes.

03:05 KW: Interesting.

03:06 MH: Yep, 24% said it depends on the industry and 12% said no.

03:12 KW: Well, I do think... So, I would say, and this actually comes up in my conversation with Kara, so I'm not gonna give too much of it away, but there is a difference between being likable and being tough, and to be tough, maybe you're asking the hard questions, you're expecting a lot from your team or the people around you, but you can still be likeable. And so it depends, there's so much about who you are as a person, the way you treat others. We'll talk about that more in my interview, but there's some nuances there in terms of how those words are defined.

03:47 MH: I agree with that, but I also agree that it is a double standard. Not great.

03:51 KW: Yeah, there's that.

03:53 MH: There's that.


03:56 KW: Alright, well, let's get to the interview. If you have not rated and reviewed the podcast, the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes, please do so. I'm excited to report, I was looking today and we've got the full five stars, so our rating is good, but the more votes we get, the more views we get, the better, so help a girl out. Rate, review the podcast, and we'll meet you back here next week same time, same place.


04:34 KW: So the first thing Kara, it's been great doing some research on you and learning more, and of course, I've worked in the start-up space for quite some time, so I'm very familiar with your work. One thing I find interesting is whenever there's reports about you and people are talking about you, there's always this, "She's really nice, but she can be super mean and we're sometimes afraid of Kara," which I feel like is this gender woman, it's always like they're mean but they're nice. It's always this classification as it's something bad when you're just trying to work hard and do your job. So what do you think about that?

05:23 Kara Swisher: I don't know if mean comes up as much as scared of, you know what I mean? Like I'm not particularly mean. I think tough is a word that they use a lot. Mean is just used as a shorthand for tough I think, 'cause of my case, and I think it's probably accurate, I'm a pretty tough interviewer. I'm not obsequious to the people I cover I think, and that's unusual for the tech industry, and I don't treat them with kid gloves, I think that's unusual for the tech industry. I think I just don't cater to the hype around people, and I think that's what they're talking about, I don't really pay attention to it.

06:02 KS: I suppose it's gendered, of course it's gendered 'cause women can't be tough without being mean. But I do think that it means something else. I don't think that they're using the term actually mean, 'cause actually mean is being cruel or dismissive or ignorant. I'm not sure that's the word they're trying to use, I think they're trying to get to the idea of tough and they don't have any other words for it. I ignore it almost completely, I don't really give a fuck what people think of me. So it doesn't really matter. Doesn't matter to my work.

06:35 KS: They can describe me anyway they like, but it doesn't stop the effectiveness of the work itself. That's what I'm concerned with is the effectiveness. I don't think I've lost an interview because someone thinks I'm mean. I can't think of someone who... Like mean, I would think they would walk out of the interview or, "I can't believe you said that." or, "That was a nasty, bitchy thing to say." I don't really get that as much as I get tough, "Oh you're real tough." I don't particularly think I'm that tough. I think most people just aren't tough, you know what I mean? I think people are less tough on people they cover, especially in person. I'm very tough in person, which I think bothers some people.


07:15 KW: I agree with that and I remember an interview, or a review I had back in the day from someone who was working for me, it was "You're too tough." From someone that was my manager, "You're not tough enough." And it's something that tends to get thrown around and could have so many different definitions or nuances to it.

07:38 KS: Yeah. Cheryl Sandburg had that big to do when she just said, [07:42] ____"Stop, you're using the term bossy." Everybody had the biggest fit in the world over that. It's ridiculous. It's a simple request to stop calling women bossy, and people of course had to make it about first amendment and words. It's just ridiculous.

07:54 KS: She's right. Women shouldn't be called bossy. I don't believe the debate that arose over that. Men are super, ultra sensitive, that they can't do all the things they used to be able to do, too bad. You can't call black people names, you can't call Jewish people names. You can, but you'd suffer the consequences. So go right ahead and be an asshole but it doesn't mean we can't speak up now for that kinda stuff.

08:18 KW: Yeah. And so what are you thinking in terms of a lot of the recent news and press in Silicon Valley around gender and sexual harassment and it's been going on for years, but having now this platform where women are starting to feel more comfortable speaking out about it and even calling out names and being very deliberate about it. What is really the catalyst for that and how do you see this progressing?

08:50 KS: Well I don't know, it's a big topic, that's a big question. I think it's great that people are talking, speaking up, but I think it's better [08:57] ____ behavior. I hope it continues, I hope there are costs to behavior. Before people just sort of got off scot-free. And so it's nice to think that some people are paying for what they did. That's the whole point of life, you can't just get away with stuff, and then not have any cost to misbehavior or bad speech or whatever, and I think what's nice is that people are speaking up. Let's see if it continues. I don't know if it will. It's a lot of littler fish that have gotten caught I think. You look at the list of names of people, so it would be nice if people would keep going. That would be real nice. That would be great. I'm not sure that will happen, but it would be something that would be fantastic.

09:45 KW: Yeah, you can, like you said, get the little fish or the low hanging fruit, but to really see massive change there has to be ongoing dialogue, there has to be more repercussions, there needs to be a bigger movement. I love your ethic statement that you have put out there and that's on your site. And I think it's so important in this time of media and false news and trying to really understand what you're reading and where it's coming from, that you stand so clearly on the importance of ethics and on who you are and what you're writing about. How do we get more and not just media, of course that's important, but also within business to really stand behind ethics and be very explicit in what they're about.

10:34 KS: Better parents? I don't know what to say. I think people want to be better people but they know there's always a bad person in there waiting to come out. I think we're getting a lot of our cues right now from the government which, it's really an appalling collection of hacks and ethically challenged people. And so I think we're really in a challenging time of really like... Again, it's fatigue, it's fatigue over people who are awful just always win if they exhaust you with their awfulness, and so what's really important is to continue to be outraged by things, continue to speak up when they are said, continue to fight back against the forces of retrograde and to really think of what happens when you don't.

11:24 KS: We spend a lot of time at Recode thinking about that. We think a lot about the impact of what we do, and also that this will not stand. All that stuff that was going on at Uber, I was just like, "This will not stand, I will not allow this to happen." Other reporters did too, but I think we do it more. But no, no, this is not acceptable and we are gonna do everything possible to write fair and accurate stories about what's happening so people can join us in our feeling that this has to change or whatever was going on there has to change. We spend a lotta time thinking that way is that this will not stand, or for shame that this is happening, and so it's an important way to think about coverage, it's an important way to think about, you just don't wanna be just a hack all your life, right? Just doing nothing, having no impact, and so it's very important to us at Recode.

12:18 KW: So I wanted to ask you about going after creating contacts and creating a network by just asking and going after the ask, and making the ask, and how many people including women are afraid to do that or don't do that and I agree, me personally, it can be nerve wracking, the thought of failure when you want to go make an ask and someone says no. How do you deal with failure and be comfortable with it?

12:51 KS: Well, I don't fail a lot but okay.


12:55 KS: I try not to fail a lot. I really don't I have to say. You're not supposed to say that, but I really don't. I think really hard about what I'm gonna do, but I don't mind failure. I'm not one of those people... I know the Silicon Valley thing is like, "Oh, it's great to fail and it's great to pivot." And the Edison quote about, "You didn't fail, you found 10,000 ways that didn't work." That's a famous quote, and I agree with that, I think you just have to not worry about it so much, I think, or agonize, I never worry when something goes wrong, like, I always say I play the long game. So whenever in my personal life and my professional life, I play the long game and so I realize there's gonna be setbacks and things you don't like, and things happen that I don't like and I just don't see them as obstacles much. I don't know what it is about my character or the way I was raised or my just my genetics, it just doesn't bother me.

13:50 KS: I think probably if I had to be psychological about myself, my dad died when I was real small and so most things don't bother me. I wish that never would have happened when I was a young child, and I loved my dad, so I don't really... Everybody's like, "Oh fuck that," but, I just don't feel like, I think we agonize over things that others don't. So I just choose not to. I don't know how people do that, but I think they get sucked up into these circles of themselves and it gives them permission to stop worrying about stupid things. They stop, but I'm not sure what causes them to get that way in the first place, and a lifetime of like questioning yourself or always taking what's offered to you. That's another thing women do a ton is that whatever is offered to them, they take. I just don't do that. I just don't do that. I take what I want, and not... I know what I want, I think that's the first thing, do you actually know what you want? And then when that happens, I take what I want, do you know what I mean? That's, I think, a really important aspect to a personality.

14:55 KW: Any advice you would have for start up founders looking to get some press?

15:00 KS: Oh, I don't think press is that important. I don't know why they spend so much time looking to get press, but I don't think it's that particularly important. The best they can do as a start up founder, I know the focus is on hype, but people spend a lot of time worrying about what the press thinks of them. Unless they're doing something bad. When they're doing something bad, yeah you better worry. You know what I mean?


15:19 KS: If you do something bad, you're gonna get in trouble probably. But otherwise, I think you should make a great product, that's what you gotta do. I've never seen, I might've seen a couple, but it's very seldom that you see a great product fail, a great one. And so I think that's the issue is people have to focus on that. On their product. And everything else usually takes care of itself, and that's... I don't know, I just think that's, you have a great product, you focus on the product, you keep moving forward, it's gonna be really successful. And that's easy to say, but you gotta get great people, it's all... It's not just the product, it's the execution, it's the right people, it's the right investors. But I think press is probably low on your list of importance, but just have a great product and press will write about it also if it's a good product. Yeah. I keep saying good product, but that seems to be the focus I have.


16:13 KW: There you go. That's the secret sauce.


16:17 KW: Alright. Well thank you so much Kara. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.

16:21 KS: No problem. Okay. Thank you so much.