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Richard Howe, CEO of Inuvo, on Women in the Workplace

Richard Howe, CEO of Inuvo, on Women in the Workplace
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In most offices, the CEO is like a mythical creature. They’re not typically accessible for all of the employees, and they certainly don’t normally sit down with a twenty-something employee for an hour-long interview.

Inuvo‘s CEO, Rich Howe, isn’t like most CEOs though. Rich got real with us about the strong women in his life, how he ensures gender equality in the company, and what it takes for women to be successful.

Tell me about the influential women in your life.

I’ve always been surrounded by strong women in my life. I actually think the reason is related to the two most influential women in my life, one of which is my mom. She’s an 82-year-old, hard-working, smart, direct, no-complaining kind of person. And in our house growing up, our dad was more the guy everybody loved. He was the guy everybody wanted to hang around with, have fun with. She was the disciplinarian, the driver, and she kept the whole family basically moving in a forward direction. More so than my dad, her influence really formed a foundation for me that made me blind, to some degree, the whole female-male dynamic. It’s funny, I don’t really remember myself ever thinking in terms of that. I know the world does, but I don’t.

The other influential woman in my life is my wife. We’ve been married a long time—in fact, we’ve known each other since we were 15. And she is also very much like my mother. That’s also had a huge influence on me—to be with a woman, for now 40 years of my life almost, who is very much as good as any man, and there’s no reason why she wouldn’t be. She runs the house, she runs the boys. She is an incredibly strong woman. I have three boys. The reason they’re such strong men has more to do with my wife than me. She’s that driven, I-wanna-be-in-charge, there’s-nothing-I-can’t-do kind of person.

So if you think about these two women at the start of my life—and they’re both still alive—they continue to influence my life, I think that has formed me. The formation of it is really this blindness. I really don’t much care if you’re a woman or a man. I care if you’re good, loyal, honest, hard-working and smart, but woman or man I care not.

What was the most impactful thing your mom has said to you?

She said a lot of things over the years that have made a difference. There’s too many to pick out just one, but there is one thing about her that I’ve noticed over the years, probably more so than anything else she’s taught me: I do not recall ever hearing that woman complain about anything.

Now, she’s 82 so sometimes when we talk she’ll go “oh yeah my elbow’s hurting a little bit,” but not in the I’m-gonna-whine-about-it-for-an-hour sort of way. More like a passing comment. That resonates with me, and it’s also been a big influence in my life because complaining about anything is of no value. Why should I complain? What can come from that?

The female-to-male ratio is pretty even at Inuvo, especially among leadership positions. How do you ensure gender equality at Inuvo?

There’s no conscious plan for that. In fact, I think there are more women than there are men. No conscious plan; it just happens the way it happens. When people interview at Inuvo, they end up sitting on the couch and speaking with me. I end up interviewing almost everyone, and it doesn’t matter.

In fact, I tell them that when they’re sitting on the couch. I say, “Look it doesn’t matter to me. Just so you get it out of your head. We’re going to sit here and we’re going to talk about you. We’re going to learn about you. We’re going to learn about whether you’re a good fit for our company, but what you are matters not to me.” And that applies universally by the way, not just to the female-male aspect. So there’s no plan. We pick the best candidates and if it’s a woman, great. If it’s a guy, great.

What qualities do you think women need to embrace more in the workplace?

Sometimes women think they need to act like men. That doesn’t work. I don’t think that ever works. Women aren’t men. Men aren’t women. There’s no reason to not be yourself. My message to women would be there’s no reason to change who you are. Be yourselves.

What’s your stance on men and feminism?

I don’t know that I like the word “feminism,” personally. I think it does a disservice to women. It’s funny how the English language can incite something in someone, and I think that word has a brand, and it’s not necessarily the right brand. I think that’s the problem.

I don’t see differences between men and women. So feminism, chauvinism — I know these words. I know what they are. They have bad brands, both of them. I don’t think in those terms at all. I just enjoy the company of smart, hard-working, loyal, respectful people. If the word “feminism” meant that women were trying to get together because together they can be stronger, I’d say that’s true of anybody. Great, fantastic, what’s wrong with that?

In your opinion, what’s the biggest obstacle women face in the workplace?

In the world that I live in, there’s no reason a woman can’t be anything she chooses to be. While it may be true that it’s a male-dominated world, it’s becoming less true every year from what I can tell. Give it another five years and half of the CEOs in America will probably be women. When you look at the numbers it probably should be that by now. It isn’t yet, but it’s getting there.

You’ve been a major supporter of Earn Spend Live from the beginning. Not many people would be willing to trust a group of twenty-somethings with this type of responsibility, so what caused you to give it the green light?

We like to empower people who have the knowledge, let them be creative, and make it happen.

What kind of things do you hope Earn Spend Live can achieve in the future?

Getting bigger. The key to successful digital publishing is creating more content, getting more people to view it, building an audience, giving them what they want. I would like it to be successful.

Regarding gender equality, how much do you think the workplace environment has changed since you began your career? What do you think affected these changes the most?

I’ve seen a big change. I’d say when I grew up more families had an environment where the female was subordinated to the husband in the traditional family model. We didn’t have that model in my family so it was always odd to me. Now I don’t see it as much there. There are still more traditional families, but I see massive changes in terms of females in the work force, their view of their place in the world, and from my perspective it’s all good. We all get better when everybody gets better. For me that means everybody.

There are a lot of reasons that’s the case. Education. Clearly there are more women graduating from college now. If you look back in that for my generation the numbers were nowhere near the same.The number one thing is education. People get smarter. They start voicing their opinions because they’re smarter. Other women start listening, then men start listening, and it just gets better.

If you had a daughter, what advice would you give her to break through the glass ceiling?

If we had a girl amongst the boys I don’t think we would do anything different than what we do. It’s not in our nature to think that way. We would have raised her the same way we raised our boys: Work hard, be loyal, don’t lie, be a good person, try to win. There’s no reason you can’t be anything you want in this world.

Last modified on December 15th, 2016

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