Interview with Luann Abrams, CEOX
Luann Abrams, CEOX
Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me Luann Abrams, who’s the CEO of CEOX. Welcome, Luann.
Luann: Thank you so much for having me, Catherine.
Catherine: And I believe you’re based in Portland, Oregon, right?
Luann: Bend, Oregon, and so much better.Catherine: Bend! Well, welcome. So tell me a little bit about yourself and tell us about CEOX.
Luann: Yes, so about two and a half years ago, I started CEOX. Before that I had been working in venture capital, which really informed me starting CEOX, I was finding that venture was broken for women on many different levels. And one of those is that it’s not uncommon for founding CEOs to be replaced through the growth cycle of their companies. And I was watching this happen, having been involved in venture capital myself, and seen every single time it happened, a man was given that role, including when it happened to be a women’s health care platform for tracking your fertility. And sure enough, they put a man in that role. And that was my aha moment, I guess you would say of this is a very broken system. And I am going to fix it. And that’s why I started CEOX.
Catherine: Sounds Yeah, I definitely can relate to that, and a lot of different aspects. How did you transition from aerospace into your current role as CEOX?
Luann: Ah, it was a journey. So what’s interesting, I think there’s two common threads through my career. One is startups and one is male dominated industries. I didn’t seek out doing either of those, but it was the way it works. So I graduated in aerospace engineering and worked in aviation for about 15 years in the first days of my career. And the majority of that time was at a startup aircraft company. I was a very early employee, when I started, we were working out of a double wide trailer. And we grew to over 600 people and exited to Cessna aircraft. And I continued on with them for a bit until they ended up moving production out of Bend and to Kansas, and I just did not want to go to Kansas, it’s hard to leave Bend, Oregon for anything. So that was when I kind of transitioned, my husband had been very involved in venture capital, I was getting involved, kind of because of that, and I was in I was asked to run a small accelerator here in Bend, we raised a fund to accompany that deployed it, I still technically manage that fund as you do until all of the companies have exited. And then, of course, it was during this time that all these issues started popping up in the venture world that I did not like, venture is very male dominated. And it just didn’t resonate with me. And so when the idea of CEO X came to be, and I kind of created a viable way of doing the work that I wanted to do, I was like this is this is where I want to focus.
Catherine: Let’s talk a bit more about the lack of women, especially women of color. In the C suite and on boards. I read a recent fortune piece that 78% of high growth, private companies don’t have a single woman of color on their board of directors, why aren’t more organizations hiring women, especially women of color for higher level positions?
Luann: So I think there are a lot of reasons that factor into this. But first, I think it’s important that we recognize we live in a world that was designed by men, for men’s success, it was not designed in the business world for women to be successful, not in some like evil patriarchal way it was just that was who was going to work. And they designed the systems to benefit them. And so that is, of course, slowly starting to shift, but it really is the default still. I do think there are a small contingent of people who don’t believe women can do what men do. I don’t think that’s a lot anymore. Thankfully. I certainly know the people I encounter on a day to day basis don’t believe that. And there are many, many allies out in the world these days. So again, that’s shifting and it’s small, but it absolutely is still there. And those people that believe that are still in the highest levels of power in, in politics and in corporate America, that’s who holds it. Yeah. Supreme Court! Oh, God, isn’t that true? So, then there’s an issue that I think is very fixable. And what I talk about a lot, and you probably do this as well, is that people are still hiring for qualifications. And so if they’re looking for board members, and they’re looking, they only want people that have that have been CEOs or have been CFOs, then it just completely lowers the number of candidates that they can possibly consider because women and people of color aren’t given the opportunities that result in the qualifications they’re looking for. And so if that’s how you are hiring, or looking for board members, you aren’t going to find anyone other than white men for those roles. And so it’s really important that we start assessing people for real talent, as well as helping develop that talent. And finally, some legislation has been shown to be very effective in getting more women on boards. It has really accelerated for women on boards in states like California, where it’s a requirement. And, I don’t really love that we have to legislate this, but so far, it is proving very effective. And so I do think it’s a model that should be followed.
Catherine: What are some of the most impactful meaningful examples you can think of in terms of CEO or board ready women that you have supported? I’m especially interested if you have any that are related to clean tech?
Luann: Yeah. Well, so in the past couple of weeks, I’ve gotten two emails from two different women who came to me in CEOX as CEO ready. And when I had a conversation with them, they were not thinking that they should be looking at CEO roles for themselves. And they certainly were surprised to hear that somebody thought that they were qualified. And I just went through all the reasons why they needed to change that thinking, from, you know, really emphasizing the skill sets that women have very naturally, that make them great leaders. And so I’ve gotten two emails recently from women that are now CEOs that really say, that conversation that we had really changed my thinking, and I put my hat in the ring, and I’m a CEO of this company now. And not anything I placed, I didn’t place them in those roles. It was just getting women thinking. And I share that not to brag about me, but to just really say how easy it is to change the trajectory of women’s lives by having one conversation that you can point to their skill sets and really get them thinking in a more expansive way. And so we’ve placed at CEOX, we’ve placed six CEOs so far, and I’m working on three CEO roles right now. So that makes me really proud. And then on the clean tech space, it’s funny, so I have not placed any CEOs in clean tech sadly, but it made me think of a few years back. When locally, I put together a mentorship program for women in STEM. And one of the great supporters here in Bend is a woman named Rita Hanson, and she is the founder and CEO of a company called Onboard Dynamics. And I paired her up with another woman, a locally young woman pretty early out of college, who was working in the clean tech space as well. And they really hit it off and within a couple months, this young woman realized how underpaid she was and, obviously working in a male dominated industry and Rita coached her through researching what appropriate pay was walking through In role playing, going in and asking for a raise, and she did, and she got the raise, and she is now making what she shouldn’t be making in what she deserves. So I share that, again as how it can be just simple conversations and taking the time to work with women. And it’s an easy way to be an ally, and make significant differences in people’s lives.
Catherine: You know, what I think really resonates with me is that it’s that third party relationship, because look, as women, we tend to have maybe other women in our lives or men in our lives. They’re like, you’re amazing, you’re wonderful, you’re great. Sometimes you need someone that just doesn’t know you, that’s like a complete stranger to be like, they’re right, you really are great.
Luann: And I talked about that with our therapists, too. It’s like, I’ll come back from a therapy appointment. And I’ll say, she told me this, this and this, and he’s like, I’ve been telling you that for months now. I’m like, I know. But she told me about it this time.
Catherine: Yeah, no, I just was on a call. Just very similar to that. And just, she was like, You know what she said to you, we’re done with the call. I was going on and on and on about how amazing she has this wonderful opportunity. We’ve got her and she’s like, You know what, you’re right. And I’m gonna go home, and I’m gonna speak to my husband about this, and we’re gonna talk and let’s catch up tomorrow and talk about it. I was like, okay, you should speak to your husband about it, absolutely. But you know, we just have to, we have to back ourselves more. Even what you said about not being like not bragging. Like, you’re not bragging. This is awesome.
Luann: Yeah, absolutely. Right. I should have never qualified myself with that. I’m proud of it. And I should be proud. Just remember that there’s a lot of ingrained stuff we have, right, from, from many, many years in the workforce, being a woman in a male dominated industry, it can erode your confidence overnight, it really can.
Catherine: Yeah. My last question is, how can people get involved with CEOX to help further your mission? So for example, should people be nominating CEO ready women? How can they help?
Luann: Yeah, well, thank you for the question. Because there’s lots of different ways people can get involved. So if you are a CEO or senior leader, nominating women that you’ve worked with who would make great CEOs is a very easy way to make a difference in a woman’s life, it takes about five minutes to either fill out the form on our website, or that would be projectCEOX.com. Or just send me an email. So super simple. And if you are a woman that is looking to be a CEO, and maybe you’re thinking maybe I could be a CEO after all. I’m asking a senior leader in your network to nominate you is something that’s easy to do. And I have had several women come to me and I say, as somebody that you’ve worked with, to vouch for you, because that really is my first kind of level of vetting the women in my network. So it’s important to have that. So that’s another thing. We have a resource center for CEO ready women with all types of different seminars that we have hosted in the past that can hopefully get you to that place faster, that is actually open to the public. You don’t have to be a CEOX member. But if you can benefit from any of that information, you’re always welcome to hop on into our resource center. And then finally, if you are at a large company that has sponsorship, supporting CEOX in a monetary way is very helpful. It helps keep the lights on and keeps us doing what we are doing which is elevating women to the highest levels.
Catherine: Great. Well, thank you so much for joining us Luann. I appreciate all the work that you’re doing on behalf of us ladies.
Luann: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.