Career Interview

Interview with Nancy Hauge

I am very excited to share with you all this week’s interview, with the wonderful Nancy Hauge. Nancy has had an incredible career – she was one of the earliest employees at Sun, and later on went to work as the VP of human resources at companies ranging from Gymboree to Silicon Image, where she is now.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to ask Nancy all kinds of questions – ranging from general career advice, to salary negotiation tips and the role of female CEOs. Nancy draws from an impressive and unique set of experiences, and is incredibly funny to boot! I hope you all enjoy meeting this amazing woman.


Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?

I’m Nancy. I was born in Chicago, Illinois. I was raised with four brothers. I am currently the Vice President of Human Resources at Silicon Image. Prior to joining this company a year ago, I consulted to both big companies and start-ups. Helping them change or grow and often providing, what I lovingly like to call, executive daycare to CEO’s. Over the past 30 years, I have had the privilege to help hire about 25,000 people, assisted in raising over $250,000,000 in investment dollars to grow companies and I am the veteran of 5 initial-public-offerings.

I have a home in Wilmington, North Carolina and keep an apartment in San Jose, California. I have been married for almost 39 years to Kem Hauge. We have one son, Andy, and he and his wife, Ginger, have two absolutely perfect children, Drew and Charlotte.

You are a longtime HR professional who has held executive positions at some big name companies. How did you first get started in your career, and how has it evolved since then? 

My parents assumed I would be a housewife. They could see me married to an engineer, driving a station-wagon with six kids in the back and maybe writing something funny for the parish newsletter once per month. But my parents both died before I turned twenty, and I had to figure out how to create a life for myself without the benefit of their support or the constraints of their expectations.

So, I started out my life intending to be a comedy writer. I studied acting and playwriting and assumed I would either be a stand-up comedian or write sitcoms.

I met and married my husband, the composer, Kem Hauge, who at the time was a singer/actor in New York City. After a year of living as “starving artists” we decided that someone needed to get a “real job” and I lost the coin toss…but won long-term. At first, I worried that all access to my creativity would need to be stifled. I began my business career in a temp-job answering the questions of people who did not understand their employee benefits…it was a horrible job, but it gave me a lot of contact with other people. Being “good with people” was my only skill at the time.

My husband’s career as a jingle-singer (music for commercials) brought us to San Jose, California, in the summer of 1983, when he accepted a 12-week singing gig in the Bay Area. Rather than be separated for three months we packed up everything we owned, including our seven year-old-son and moved to California….hoping I could find more permanent work. I had never heard of Silicon Valley. When I answered an ad for a job at Sun Microsystems in early 1984, I assumed they made office furniture….the ad said they made “workstations” (the precursor of the PC). I was more than naïve.

Sun was a turning point in my career and in my life. I discovered at Sun that I really enjoyed my work…I stopped resenting not being in the arts, because the work I was doing was so creative.

I started out intending to make people laugh at their lives and wound up making people proud of their livelihoods. I lucked-out. The truth is that if I could have any professional legacy, it would be that I helped people to be proud of the work they did.

Sun's headquarters in Santa Clara, via

Sun’s headquarters in Santa Clara, via

You were at Sun during a very unique period, as the company was just about to take off, and have some hilarious anecdotes about your time there. Can you share a favorite?

I spent eight years as the only woman on the senior staff of World Wide Operations (WWOP). 

Every Thursday morning we met at 8 AM, and spent the next three hours together getting the download on what the executive management group was up to, reviewing the metrics and goals and then doing the round-table thing; hearing from whoever was part of the executive team at the time.

And then, before we got into any prepared presentations, we took a bio break. I went to the ladies room and all the guys went to the men’s room. And they stayed in there.


 Continuing the meeting without me.

 Every week this happened.

 They stood around the men’s room discussing the hot topic of the day. They chatted while every last one of them finished their business and washed their hands and then they hung around in there some more, just gabbing. 

Sometimes they agreed on a course of action in there.

 They made decisions.

 Some sort of bias toward action took over when they were lined up at the urinals. 

And I was not there. I was not participating. I was not learning. I was not contributing. I was sitting alone in the conference room waiting for them; feeling pretty stupid. Or I was lurking in the hall; feeling pretty stupid. Or I was or in the kitchen; feeling pretty stupid.

I mentioned this casually to Jim Bean (at the time, the VP of manufacturing). But he did not seem to get the point, which made me feel pretty stupid .

I did not like this at all.

 As I have mentioned before, I had four brothers. The best lessons I ever learned about working with men were directly related to my childhood. I knew that whining or tattling or making a fuss was the surest way to a life of ridicule and emotional torture. Never let your brothers or your male colleagues know what irks you. It only gives them fodder for torment. 

So, I determined I was going to have to handle this in a way that would make them aware of the issue without giving them ammunition.

One Thursday as we were working our way through the round-table discussion I excused myself from the meeting and left the conference room.

I made a beeline for the men’s room and after assessing that it was empty, I sneaked in and waited in stall #3. 

About five minutes later the boys from WWOP started filing in…I heard one of them say, “Where did Hauge go?” and another replied, “I think she went to the john.”

At that moment before any flys were opened, I spoke up, “I am here…in stall #3. I thought that it would be helpful if I came in here since so much of the meeting is happening in here these days. Go on about your business guys. I am fine where I am and we can continue the discussion as long as you like, just tell me when it is safe to come out.”

Silence. Not a zipper was stirring. 

I never had to crash the men’s room again (although I did once go as someone’s guest…but that is another story).

 The men in the executive group had a sense of humor and they got the point. They never again left me out of discussions. As a matter of fact, lots of conversations that had nothing to do with me at all ended up taking place in my office, those guys went out of their way to include me after that…I think they might have been afraid of where I would pop up next!

Many of the activities and behavior you describe going on at Sun would be considered very politically incorrect today…(even though it seemed like you all had fun). Do cultures like that still exist in the workforce today? 

Many of the same characters exist…but certainly the behaviors have changed. As I recount some of the high jinks of the 1980’s in my blog posts about Sun, I shudder a bit…and I laugh my butt off. Certainly the sexuality of the workplace was much more overt in the 1980’s. Start-ups are still very sexy places, even today. Although, today they are much more constrained by political correctness, fear of litigation and a very real authentic and positive change in the prevailing attitudes about women.

Behaviors have been altered over time. The expression of passion is not nearly as tolerated today…cultural diversity is embraced but quirkiness of personal style is not as accepted.

We still have the nerds and the geeks with propellers sticking out of the tops of their heads, thinking up all kinds of cool stuff. We still have the arrogant MBA’s racing up and down Sand Hill road looking for a VC to fund their start-up. We still have legions of rule-bending mavericks out there who can really only fit into the culture of high-tech…where being smart and working hard are the most important attributes.

There has been criticism lately that Silicon Valley has increasingly become a stratified society – with high real estate prices and the images of private corporate buses blocking off public bus stops illustrating the greater divide between the “haves” and “have nots”. What are your thoughts on this?

Silicon Valley remains the most profound meritocracy on earth. If you are smart you can achieve. I am a poorly educated, failed comedy writer, who has had much more success than I could ever have achieved in the Midwest or on the East Coast. The stratified society of the eastern US would never have been open to my contribution because I am not wrapped in a package they consider appropriate.

High tech is different. The need for talent and intellect in this culture has created a society that has the ability to recognize those attributes in a plethora of packages. So, opportunity exists for a much greater portion of the population in Silicon Valley.

A class structure does exist in the Valley. It is born out of the forces of power and influence: 1. The Power of Wealth and 2. The Power of Influence.

The Power of Wealth is not very different from anywhere else in the world. Wealth is achieved through some combination of hard work, brilliance, luck and timing. Wealth allows access to privilege. It offers the world a tangible and visible demonstration of one’s success. Money is a currency everyone understands.

The Power of Influence, however, is even more valuable and coveted in Silicon Valley. Influence is achieved via accomplishment, rigor, creativity, adaptability and/or affiliation. It is the affiliation with a brand that has huge influence in the world that gets you a seat on the Google bus. That seat is not reserved just for senior executives (as it would be in a traditional hierarchy), but it is available for employees of all levels…so they can be productive for as many hours a day as possible. That affiliation confers the power of influence on everyone inside that bus. People who aspire to the Power of Wealth probably would not want to ride any bus…. even one with wifi.

With that said, the volume of people who cannot see any point-of-entry into the world of high-tech is increasing. Many jobs require very specific skills…I can see that the opportunities for a bright person without credentials (like me) have decreased over the past thirty years. Demand is up for folks with the credentials. It always circles back to education. If you want to change your life and the life of your children, sacrifice everything to become educated. Become an engineer, get a degree in computer science or electrical engineering, and you are very sought after. California offers great educational opportunity for people at all levels of the social strata. Invest in your education and there will be many seats on the bus of- opportunity for you.

Do women have an easier time of things in Silicon Valley, in your experience? 

Women have more opportunity to take advantage of the meritocracy of Silicon Valley and high tech. If you are smart and well educated there is limitless opportunity for you, regardless of gender. In my recent experience, the east coast has not changed. The only women in power on the east coast are in publishing, fashion or cosmetics. My contribution to the companies I have worked with has been much more valued, rewarded and acknowledged in the Valley. It is not like I was making less contribution in the east, but it (I) was simply invisible in that culture.

In the past, you’ve listed out a few CEO stereotypes, including “Joan of Arc” – the woman CEO who steps up to a job nobody else wants, and gets all the blame when things go downhill. Why does this happen? Why can’t women CEOs get away with what male CEOs do? Do you see this changing?

I do not believe that women are reluctant to “lean in.” I think that women just have fewer resources than men; fewer role models, fewer friends in power, fewer colleagues at their level of achievement, fewer people pulling for their success in the executive suite. The unique behaviors of women in executive positions are not yet understood and valued. Executive behavior is a standard set by men based upon how men use their brains and how they use power.

Women use their brains differently than men and we respond to power differently. In the past few decades prevailing thought was to deny those differences and emulate the boys…this just made us puny boys. And who wants to be a puny boy? Even today women still emulate men…and they abandon some of the best parts of being a woman when they leave for work in the morning. They arrive as a disintegrated personality…with one set of behaviors at home and one at work. The one at work is usually more serious, more data-driven and sometimes more shrill. Until women really play to their feminine strengths, including: intuition, nurturing and relationship building, risk-taking, courage, creative analytics, fierce devotion, etc. they are not leveraging the attributes of the feminine experience to their advantage.

In my first few jobs in New York and Chicago, I was told to leave my gender, my femininity, my sense-of-humor and my curiosity at the door…I had not been hired to use those things at work. Things started to change, when I came to Silicon Valley. I was encouraged to bring my sense-of-humor and my curiosity to work with me. Creative new solutions were not dismissed out of hand, because that was not how “we do it here.” And one day, my gender was invited to cross the threshold (the CEO figured out 50% of our customers were women!).

The women who have been burned at the stake, Carly, Carol…even Meg, are representatives of my generation. They were pioneers…and pioneers face more risks. Pioneers are often martyred for behavior that is accepted immediately after the pyre burns out. The newer batch of CEO’s, Marissa (Mayer) for example, might be learning about the advantage of femininity in the executive suite. Recently, I have noticed that young women bring much more of their femininity to work than we did in the past. I am thrilled by this trend. As women they are coming to work as more integrated personalities…and they are doing so in cute shoes! These girls will achieve more because they will not waste as much time second-guessing their every move in light of what a successful man would do. Will it change? Yes. Will it change fast enough? When one is hungry for change, there is no ‘fast enough’.

What would be your advice for women who are aiming high in their career path? And how should we strive to achieve greater work/life balance? Do we just all “Lean In”?

I am not a fan of the book, Lean In. The actual audience for that book is an elite group of girls who graduated from top-tier schools and have opportunity up the wazoo. Sheryl does not have a lot to offer the first generation college grad, who went to a state school and has no family connections. Those girls always lean in and take on too much, for fear the opportunities will go away. The truth is, you can have it all…just not all at the same time. That is true for men and women. For every stay-at-home-mom, there is a dad who has to really work to know his kids. Why should women get off any easier? Make choices, if they do not work, make new choices. There is no formula.

In my life, my husband worked from home and was the day-to-day caregiver for our child. It worked ok, but not as easily as some social progressives would have us believe. It is still hard for a kid to explain why Daddy is bringing the cupcakes. But it may still be the only option, so you make it work. Work life balance is achieved via sacrifice…time with your children or opportunity in your career. Do the math; figure out what is going to work for you, then PULL UP YOUR BIG GIRL PANTIES AND MAKE THE SACRIFICE. Don’t whine that you cannot “have it all.” NO ONE DOES.

Here’s a question I get a lot from readers – how should women approach a salary negotiation, asking for a raise, etc?

I have never asked for a raise in my life. I may have stated that I was not happy with what I was earning. Or, perhaps I would mention that it had been a while since I received a raise. But, I never asked for a raise. Asking gives the other person all of the power…most specifically the power to deny. If I present the issue as a problem they have to solve, I take it away from yes/no scenario. I simply present the problem: dissatisfied team member (in this case me). If the company does not see it as a problem, or at least a problem worth solving, I have new data and I move along. (Just to ease your fear, that has only happened once in my 30 years). Now, if my boss wants my help solving the problem, I might have a few suggestions to make…Also remember that salary is only one part of one’s remuneration, one has to take into consideration the psychic rewards of any given job, i.e. the chance to learn, a chance to influence, a chance to see one’s thumb print. All of those factors contribute to one’s compensation.

What’s a piece of life advice that you could pass along?

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Find the humor in life. If you aren’t enjoying your life, it is a major fail for you. Find the humor, find the joy, find the passion and everything you do, you will do better.

What are some of your other passions and hobbies?

Writing, cooking, entertaining. Spending time with my gifted husband. We go dancing every Saturday night, we’re not great, but it is fun and we have mastered the chase me Cha Cha Cha.

Finally…please share something surprising about yourself!

I am not a natural blonde.


I really enjoyed getting to know Nancy more and hearing her opinions on everything career, Silicon Valley, and more. Her honesty and point of view are both incredibly valuable and refreshing, and I know I will be referencing her advice on salary negotiations and life going forward. Thank you very much to the fantastic Nancy Hauge for being here today, and for more of Nancy, please visit her blog, Consenting Adult.

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  • Adele
    November 4, 2013 at 8:18 am

    What an amazing woman Nancy is, I was totally glued to this interview!
    Happy Monday Katherine xoxo

    • Katherine
      November 4, 2013 at 8:56 am

      Hi Adele, thank you so much!

  • tabitha
    November 4, 2013 at 8:23 am

    What an excellent interview. Nancy is incredible, inspirational and pragmatic, and has just become my new pin up girl.

    • Katherine
      November 4, 2013 at 8:56 am

      Hi Tabitha – so glad you liked it! Read Nancy’s blog, I think you would like it too 🙂

  • guest
    November 4, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Thank you so much for this interview! This is one of your BEST interviews!

    • Katherine
      November 4, 2013 at 10:25 am

      Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed it, I think Nancy rocks 🙂

  • cathy
    November 4, 2013 at 10:31 am

    I know Nancy and have the pleasure of working for her right now. She is all that you read in this interview and more!!!! Love her, love working for her, and love my job as it exists under her guidance!~

    • Katherine
      November 4, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      Fantastic! Thank you for your comment and lucky you to work for Nancy!

  • Oonagh
    November 4, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    How refreshing to read an interview with a woman who0 isn’t talking about her wardrobe.

    • Katherine
      November 4, 2013 at 7:21 pm

      Hi Oonagh, I’m glad you liked the interview…I do like hearing about wardrobes too, its part of my interest and the content of this blog…:) and if I had unlimited space and time I would have asked Nancy about hers too!

  • amy
    November 4, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Interesting response on how to ask for a salary raise. I’m sure she is well aware that women tend to not ask for a salary raise compared to men. And that’s not a compliment towards women. But she does offer the typical HR responses.

  • Call me M
    November 4, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Great interview as always!

  • Kim
    November 4, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    Thank you for a fascinating interview with such an inspiring woman of substance! One of the best career advice pieces I’ve read in a long time, with sound suggestions that are applicable across many fields.

  • Ammu
    November 5, 2013 at 3:40 am

    This might be my favourite interview yet on your blog (the other one was the interview with TT). What an intelligent, take-no-prisoners kind of woman Nancy is – so much to chew on here. Enjoyed every word, even if I didn’t always agree 🙂

    • Katherine
      November 5, 2013 at 8:29 am

      Thanks Ammu! So glad you enjoyed 🙂

  • Story Paige
    November 5, 2013 at 6:34 am

    Great interview! I’ve been following your blog consistently this past year and really enjoy your insight.

  • Latkesanddimsum
    November 5, 2013 at 7:28 am

    A fantastic piece of mind candy – thanks Kat!

  • Marlene @ chocolatecookiesandcandies
    November 7, 2013 at 3:55 am

    Katherine, I love that you stick to your guns and interview women from varied backgrounds. All very relevant and inspiring to your readers. I love Nancy’s witty and no holds barred but also equally wise answers.

  • Michelle
    November 7, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Thank you Kat for presenting this GREAT interview!

    • Katherine
      November 7, 2013 at 5:25 pm

      Thanks Michelle!

  • Shan
    November 10, 2013 at 2:45 am

    This has got to be my favorite interview in your series by far. I love strong female leaders, especially when they did not grow up with privilege and had to carve out a name for themselves, as well as seeing and approaching issues from a very pragmatic perspective – and Nancy is an embodiment of that. Thank you Kat for this fantastic interview, and thank you Nancy for inspiring me!

    • Katherine
      November 10, 2013 at 12:26 pm

      Hi Shan, thank you so much! Nancy rocks, so glad that you enjoyed the interview 🙂

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