Building a community of women who work in technology – hosted by Betsy Speare, Jennifer Marsman & Helene Love Snell

I’m tickled to welcome Alice back this week to talk about encouraging women to join the technology boom! She reminds us of the importance to encourage girls in their pursuit of STEM related interests… AND she’ll be speaking over the next month to hundreds of high school girls at the DeVry HerWorld events. Welcome back Alice and thanks for the inspiration! Since she reminded me I took my 5 year old with me today to get my taxes done – explaining that our CPA was getting PAID for doing MATH. She really dug that – Math is her favorite subject!

Betsy Speare, Principal Program Manager Lead, Microsoft Windows Server, Happy Family member, new Green Lake, Seattle Resident, 15 years at Microsoft, EWU CIS grad and chicken farmer (total 3 now – getting eggs)!


Here’s a bit about our guest blogger this week, Alice Pang:

Alice grew up in Louisiana and came out to sunny California after high school to attend Stanford University, where she received her B.S. in Electrical Engineering/Software. She then moved across the bay to get her M.S. degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research/Management of Technology through the Haas School of Business and College of Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. While at Stanford and Berkeley, she was heavily involved in various dance groups and enjoyed organizing networking, mentoring, and community outreach events for the Society of Women Engineers.

In her free time, she enjoys traveling, discovering new places to eat, rock climbing, learning aerial silk tricks, riding motorcycles, and sharing Louisiana and Chinese culture with her friends. As a Microsoft Developer Evangelist, she focuses on WebMatrix. You can follow her on Twitter @alicerp and her MSDN blog at http://blogs.msdn.com/alicerp.”

DeVry HerWorld: Barbie’s been introduced to careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math)! Next stop? High school juniors and seniors in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Colton


Christmas 2010 present from a friend. What does it say about me when I quickly noticed that her monitor says “Barbie” in binary-Ascii?

When I was in middle school, I remember being told by a boy that I couldn’t possibly be good enough at math to even place in the top 10 at a district competition, because he figured the winner would be male.  A month later I placed first against the top Calculus students in the state of Louisiana.

The boy wasn’t the only one to suggest that perhaps men have an innate ability in math and science—an unfortunate statement, since I have seen proof of phenomenal, bright women in K-12 and collegiate education and in my professional career.  I’ve often sat in my engineering classes and noticed that I am only one of two females in a class of 50+, and I wonder why there are so few women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.  I have spoken with women who point out that they were not exposed to the idea of pursuing a STEM career early on or found their passions in other disciplines; it is not by any means due to an innate difference in ability between men and women. Women who choose to study in a STEM field can make an impact on the community and achieve ambitious goals in technology. It is imperative to recognize that women could really use the support to be leaders in our chosen pursuits.

In order to take a step in the right direction, we should all be involved in promoting women in STEM fields on three career levels: K-12, college, and professional. Introducing math and science in a fun and interactive way to primary and secondary school students exposes them to the possibilities in technology. Supporting collegiate and professional women is important for fostering a positive environment for us to excel in male-dominated fields.  Mentoring relationships, public awareness events, and outreach opportunities are a few ways to encourage career growth for women in technology.

In the next few weeks, I’m excited to be speaking to hundreds of high school junior and senior girls at DeVry HerWorld events.  In addition to sharing my personal experience, I plan to convince them of how exciting technology can be and the variety of STEM roles.  Hopefully, they will be inspired by and understand the significance of Barbie’s transition from, “Math class is hard,” to Computer Engineer.

March 22: Las Vegas, NV
March 28: Los Angeles, CA
April 12: Colton, CA

From http://www.high-school.devry.edu/students/get-ready/her-world-workshop.jsp:

HerWorld is an interactive workshop given by DeVry University to high school juniors and seniors across the country each year during National HerWorld Month. It introduces these young women to career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math. Through a series of games, hands-on projects and live discussions with successful women from top companies in the local community, HerWorld inspires young women to use their talents and interests to succeed, and how to best prepare for college in order to achieve their aspirations.

Wondering what happened to the Women in Tech the last few weeks? Well we’ve been BUSY! Helene and I are both full throttle in the Windows Server team which just released Windows Server 8 Beta! My goodness – it feels like shipping – fun!! There was also a really great write up a few weeks back in the Microsoft News Center with a great picture of me in my PJs with my daughter & nieces… also featuring co-workers Jeffrey Snover and (my boss) Erin Chapple – check it out! Last, I am still looking for GUEST BLOGGERS – male or female – got a topic? Related to tech? Written by a woman? Or about women? That counts. Send me your post.  Love getting the broader perspectives…

This week’s post is introduced by one of the blogs co-founders, Helene, shown below with her mini-me! This is a great post. It lines up nicely with work being done to support women in tech in the bay area by an organization called Women 2.0. It’s cool stuff and reminds me of the book the WLC co-founders read in 2003 called “She Wins, You Win.” It really set the tone for establishing our community and has continued to influence us in supporting each other in our interests and goals. Back to the blog – this is also great for people trying to make corporate experiences for women better – good thoughts on how we may stereotype women in start-ups that apply to corporate as well.


This week we welcome a new guest blogger, and former colleague of mine, Kristal Bergfield. Kristal’s blog Corporate Refugee, discusses her new adventures in the Start up Tech Industry in New York, and her break away from a large corporation (American Express). In her own words, Kristal is a marketer, connector, and deal maker. Today’s post addresses some of the preconceived challenges that moms face at start-ups… or do they?
Read for yourself and let me know what you think….

Helene


I’m Kristal Bergfield. I’m a marketer. connector, and deal maker. I love entrepreneurs, start ups, tech, media & the Oregon Ducks. I run the NYC Tech BD Breakfast Series. I also cook more than most people and possess an abnormally vast knowledge of pop culture trivia.


Moms & Start-ups: Yes We Can!

I’ve been reading a lot of things lately about women – specifically mothers – in start ups and how they shouldn’t do start ups because they want “flexibility”(whatever that is), and can’t possibly work “start up hours” (whatever those are). From Penelope Trunk’s intentionally provocative TechCrunch article telling women NOT to do start ups, to the sexist reaction to Alison Lindland‘s request to the NYTM mailing list to meet other expectant moms at NY start ups, the message to moms seems to be that they can’t possibly be a good parent and an A player at a start up.

So, um, folks: get over yourselves. Because guess what? I (and other moms see: Beth Ferreira, Jane Kim, Emily Hickey, Naama Bloom, Maxine Friedman and many more) are doing it and, frankly, it’s not that hard. I think this is because moms who choose to work at start ups have self selected into something they know they can handle. We don’t want flexibility. We don’t want to work part time. We aren’t just there to make a buck. We’re there for the same reason everyone else is: because we want to build something that matters.

I’ve been a mom for almost six years now. Most of that time, I worked at American Express, a huge company that’s known for it’s family friendly policies. Folks in the start up world seem to think – for the most part – that working there entailed working 9-5 Monday through Friday with unlimited resources, a cushy office and a fat paycheck. And, for moms, we got “flexibility”. Um, no, no, no, no, and hellz to the eff no. Amex has many fine qualities, but it ain’t all wine and roses and none of those things were my reality. For me, working at start ups has been EASIER than working at a big company.

Whether it’s a big company or the scrappiest of start-ups, people choose the life and lifestyle they want. So, if someone wants to work flexible hours or work part time, be up front about it and find the appropriate opportunity (most likely not at a start-up). If you want to work at a start up, as the great philosopher Tim Gunn would say, “make it work”.

So yes, moms can work at start-ups. No, we can’t play fooz ball or go out to lunch as often because we need to get more done during “normal business hours”. Yes, we have to leave at 5:30 a few times a week to relieve the nanny by 6. If we don’t, child protective services will. And frankly, when we arrive at the office at 8:30am after getting two kids and ourselves out of the house, we’re turning on the lights at work. No, we’re not always at work until 10pm (but if needed, we will be), we’re at home on our laptops after we’ve put the kids to bed doing what needs to be done. And yes, we can go to evening events and hell yes we can travel because we jump at the chance to spend a night in a hotel room blissfully alone. Hell, I recently attended a hackathon on a Sunday after baking an apple pie from scratch. How many of you have done that?

If a mom wants to work at your start up, assume she’s been smart enough to do her due diligence and knows that it can be a wild ride and has set up her life accordingly. And if she’s the best candidate, hire her.

Why I Hate Email

“Gasp” will be the response of approximately 300 of my coworkers with whom I spent 7 years with building Exchange 5.0, 5.5, 2000, and 2003. Honestly, I’m feeling a little nervous about posting this one – mostly because it seems sort of heretical after all that email work we did for which I am immensely proud. And, before you read this post, be warned – it’s not my most politically correct post, which is sort of pitiful because it is a blog related to diversity. Anyway – there’s a section in here that is funny – funny like the movie Hangover is funny. So, there’s my confession and your warning. Hope I won’t be burned at the stake. Now you can find out WHY I HATE EMAIL!

Betsy Speare, Principal Program Manager Lead, Microsoft Windows Server, Happy Family member, new Green Lake, Seattle Resident, 15 years at Microsoft, EWU CIS grad and chicken farmer (total 3 now – getting eggs)!

I’ve been threatening to write “Why I hate email” for a while– but really, I use email in all the ways I hate it. So, I thought I would start by discussing…

…Satisfying things about email:

  1. RTFM (where M=MAIL): At work, a chest beating bully indignantly declares “YOU did not tell ANYONE about that!” You don’t even have to answer because someone else says – “RTFM.” On your behalf! THAT is the best.
  2. The one line question: You have a simple, 1 line question. You put that question in the subject line. The respondent replies within 1 minute with a simple one line response. I LOVE THAT. No chit chat, no manners, just Q AND then A.
  3. I can’t remember what I said: But I said it in email. It’s there in black and white and I can refer to it. Great for dates and commitments.
  4. Meeting Requests: electronic sharing of calendars is a beautiful thing if you insist on having more events/meetings than you can keep track of. My Dad would have been disgusted at the ridiculous complexity of my life that requires a calendar like this, but that’s another blog topic. #3 is probably related to this.
  5. Makes the world smaller: there was a time when email was the premier tool for communicating quickly and cheaply around the developed sections of the world. Now there are a lot more, but important to keep that in mind in the benefits.
  6. Forwarding: seriously – is there anything better than when someone makes a hilarious statement or has a great email alias and you can then forward it to your co-worker in a meeting and you are both laughing and trying not to snort? A real example I recieved: “…At least it isn’t the guy I used to know … named takeshi – last name was something like tanuda – alias he was given was takeshit. Almost as good as dong wan kim (who got dongwank) or …”

Zach’s story: Zach is 14 and he grew up next door to me. He’s recently started playing the drums and I was viewing his latest school concert on his Mom’s phone. I asked him to email me his concert schedule. His answer: “I don’t do email. I text or Facebook.” Ok, I now get what the rest of the email technology community has understood for a long time. Email is going to die.

Zach & Alison Wulfman, with my daughter Livvy… the night of the email convo…

I imagined a life without email. I thought about all the crap I have to deal with in email. The never ending days old email threads that never give quite enough context anywhere at the top and require you either read the whole thing or start another thread begging for a summary. The rude “RTFM” attitude (oops), the expectation that email actually replaces human interaction and the communication that never stops! . Ick. Life without email would be AWESOME.

Since it was on my mind, I began noticing that email was never referred to in a positive way. My co-worker, Kenneth, admitted that he had been “using email too long” and just tried to avoid it now. I personally banned laptops in a number of “warteam (now called shiproom, more PC)” so people would pay attention. Ironically (and this really is irony John), that was in the Exchange team. Some people got mad.

Now, here’s the opposite. A great friend of mine, CJ Corbett has recently begun working at Providence Hospital. A faith based organization, they start each meeting with 1 minute of quiet reflection time to leave behind other topics and get focused on the subject at hand. Then sometimes, they have a prayer or short parable to illustrate what they are trying to accomplish. I’m guessing no one is forwarding jokes or reading email in that meeting. Sounds nice.

My brother, Jamie, works at Google. He told me that at Google, people commonly reply to a long email with TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read). Now – that makes sense – I might start that in my group. Of course, I might get RTFM as a response.

Anyway – bottom line is that mail might be more efficient, but it’s not more fun. People are fun (unless they aren’t – I guess you could make an argument in some cases that email was better than talking to some people, but I digress from my fundamental view of life). If we are using email to increase the number of topics & people that we can communicate TO because it’s more efficient, I wonder if we are losing track of what matters in human terms, and that the is the RESPONSE, not the reply.

What I’m going to try:

  1. I’d like to listen and talk to more people and read less email.
  2. I would actually like to read more comprehensive documents (with a good summary) and quit wasting time hitting delete and scanning for valid information (Sinofsky has some good thoughts on this, but now I can’t find the post… might be an internal only one).
  3. I’ll keep using email as a calendar and notes to myself system.
  4. I’d like to quit getting the “RTFM” look, so I’m going to quit giving it.
  5. I’d like to say: I enjoy learning about what my colleagues are doing. I’m not deluged with minutia
  6. Play around with the new tools more – I keep getting pointed to www.pintrist.com.

So I’m going to give it a shot. I’m going to change my expectations of email and see how people respond. I won’t be perfect, because it’s a hard habit to break – but this stuff is evolving quickly and we need to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Actually – I’m excited to see where we end up. People like Zach just have an expectation that instant communication is lightweight, convenient and on his terms. You can see the pieces coming together – texting, facebook, twitter, pintrist – it’s time for email to really evolve. Can’t wait.

We are lucky to return to Anandi  this week as  our guest blogger –  remember her awesome post ”  Your dream schedule in a tech company – it CAN be done! Four steps to find the schedule you want!.” I have to admit that my first reaction to this blog was less than enthusiastic.  The beauty of owning the blog is adding my own editorial and even changing the title (which I did  - Anandi title kicks off the blog article). 

On a bit lighter note,  over the holidays, my family launched a new website in remembrance of my Mom, Chef Char Zyskowski - it’s 1200 of her best recipes and I can tell you they are all soooo good.  The site is all about enjoying food and friends.   Take a minute to check it out www.AppleCharlotteCooking.com.   Next rev will include menus she created as well as another big bunch of recipes…

However, its a conversation that is at the root of this blog even being in existence – a special blog just for women in tech.  I guess the point is, women in tech do not have the leadership or decision making positions at the same rate as most other white collar industries.  You can point to the “math problem” (girls not encouraged to do math) and the “pipe” problem (not enough women with technical degrees) - but it’s hard to not to admit that there is something inherit in the corporate software industry that discourages women from staying in software as well as a culture that doesn’t promote them at the same rate as their male counterparts if they do stay.   So I say – YES!  We should be doing something different so that women will stay.  For example, building community for women in technical companies enables them to connect to conquer the isolation that drives  them away is good.   Identifying sponsor and mentorship programs that teach our male leaders to be aware of stereotyping is powerful and connects women with coaching – it’s is all good.    The examples Anandi gives seem more like recruiting tools  that are  more superficial “rewards” offered to women who participate – as in any scare resource.   I heard from the interns at MS this year that they got a private concert with Dave Mathews – wow – and that’s both men and women.  What’s that saying?  Scarcity breeds “over-the-top?”  We can’t pick on MS for this though – every company, college, business, government in the world relies on this premise.  So, your read it, and let me know what you think!  use the comments!

Betsy Speare, Principal Program Manager Lead, Microsoft Windows Server, Happy Family member, new Green Lake, Seattle Resident, 15 years at Microsoft, EWU CIS grad and chicken farmer (down 1 chicken due to racoon)!

To follow the Women in Technology Blog – go to http://womentech.wordpress.com/feed/

An-web (2)Blog post by Anandi Raman Creath, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Corp.

Empowering or Separate But Equal or Unfair Advantage?

I originally posted this on my personal blog, House of Peanut, and have revised it based on some of the insight I got from the discussion with friends and coworkers that resulted.  I know “good blog posts” are supposed to have a strong opinion, but I am conflicted on the topic, so  I’m putting this out there as a collection of viewpoints and would love to hear *your* thoughts on the topic.

When I was accepted at Caltech in 1991 (yikes, that was a long time ago), the offer of admission came with an extra surprise. Not only was I invited to attend Prefrosh Weekend, which was a way for prospective students to figure out if the school was a good fit, but Caltech would PAY FOR ME to attend, simply because I was female.

First thought was “OMG, I got in?!”. Next thought was “Hooray, a trip to California!” since it was a cold April in Pittsburgh. But having never thought about it before, I was puzzled by why they’d fly me out for free, since I did not need financial assistance. Of course, I soon understood it was because of their 4 to 1 male: female ratio, and the fact that they wanted to increase their ‘yield’ of admitted female students accepting the offer.

I went to Caltech, I made lots of friends both male and female, and it wasn’t terribly hard for me to adjust to life in a skewed-ratio environment. I didn’t feel like being female was a disadvantage or that anyone was discriminating against me for it, so I never felt the need to seek the services of the Womens’ Center, all-female housing, or other women-only groups, which were all available to me.  I had one professor make an asinine remark about women not being able to visualize 3-D space, but it was, thankfully, an isolated incident.

One of my best recommendations I got for my graduate school applications was from a male professor who was involved in the decision to admit women to Caltech (only in 1974!).  Grad school and my subsequent job at a Big Five consulting firm were pretty much close to a “normal” gender ratio.

And then I came to my current company, a very tech-focused environment which seems to have the same male: female ratio (or worse) than Caltech, at least on the product teams I’ve been on. I’m frequently the only woman in a meeting, and in our last team meeting, I counted maybe 3 women in a room of 40.

This is typical, but doesn’t bother me. I’ve never felt like people were treating me differently for being female.  Except when guys apologize for using bad language in front of me – that drives me up the wall. I know they mean well, and I tell them I am fully capable of swearing like a sailor and then it’s all good.

My company sponsors a Women’s Conference, which is open to all, but typically it’s 98% women who attend, and the topics are mostly focused on women in technology, how to navigate office politics, work-life balance, etc. We have several active womens’ groups at different levels of the company that offer training, host social events, and meet regularly to work on various initiatives, like sponsoring STEM events for girls. I’m guessing men aren’t explicitly excluded from these events, but they don’t attend.

And there’s my dilemma. I’ve taken advantage of the special training sessions and conferences offered by these groups, because they’re really great opportunities that others pay a premium for externally. I like to go to the social women’s’ networking events to see former coworkers and meet new people.

Some of these events have an undercurrent of “us vs. them” and “we women have to stick together” that makes me uncomfortable. I also feel guilty because I don’t feel like I *need* special treatment or training just because I’m female. And I wonder if I’m somehow saying with my actions that we women “need this kind of help”.

And at the other end of the spectrum, to borrow a term from the Caltech Honor Code, sometimes it seems like I’m getting an “unfair advantage” by being offered these things, when most of my coworkers are not.

Some men in technology fields are socially awkward and not savvy about things like office politics and networking. They may be from other countries and don’t “get” the way things work in our American culture. I bet they could benefit from the same training opportunities as well.

When I think back to the Prefrosh Weekend trip to Caltech, I know my parents would have sent me anyway, even if they had to pay for it. There may have been guys who didn’t go because their parents didn’t want to spend the money. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of my attendance being more valuable just because of my gender.

And yes, I’m really, really lucky that I don’t have to deal with overt sexism, and that I haven’t felt that frustration. I know it still exists, even in the land of technology where I’d like to believe it’s all about intellect and efficiency. It’s possible that at my worker bee level of the hierarchy, deals and promotions are not being forged on golf courses or sports bars, but at higher levels they are. But even if that’s the case, it’s theoretical – I personally don’t feel like I’m being limited because of my gender.

Do I continue to take the opportunities offered to me? Do I respectfully decline them because I don’t feel like I’m at an inherent disadvantage and maybe someone else does? Is it like going to church, where some people need that kind of community support more than others? Am I naive and being discriminated against more than I realize?

When I put these questions out to my peers on Facebook and my blog, I got some surprising answers from both men and women.  (I love social networking!)

I had a few people say they were strongly against what sounded like “affirmative action” and “special treatment” based on gender alone.  They were all engineers, two female and one male, different age ranges, so no generalizations to be drawn there.

Several people commented on the studies done re: the inherent advantage men have in the workplace re: pay inequity, perception of male parents vs. female parents, and even getting through an interview process (swapping a male for female name on the same resume, etc.)  So there is a feeling that sexism exists, and it may be very subtle.  It may be worse in different parts of the country (or world) and can be dependent on the average age of the workforce, too.

What I didn’t expect was that nearly *everyone* encouraged me to continue taking the opportunities presented as long as *I* found them useful.  A few men and one female coworker presented it as something companies do to attract and retain underrepresented groups.  Another Caltech alumnus and Amazon engineer (male) pointed to an article about Scott Page, an economist who did quantitative research showing that diverse groups are better for organizations.

Someone made a good point – these programs exist and may give me an advantage, so why wouldn’t I grab the opportunity, for my own career development.  Because most certainly others are doing so, and these are the same people I’m ranked against at performance review time.  Pragmatic, but true.

More than a few said that I could assuage my guilt by sharing the knowledge with others on my teams, both male and female.  I like that idea a lot – building community and spreading out the benefits from these targeted activities to more than the intended group.

I also noticed that the discussion seemed to delve pretty quickly into *why* there’s an underrepresentation of women in STEM fields, and it’s pretty easy to rathole and speculate on why that is (cultural factors vs. biology).  But I think that’s too large a topic to address in this post, so let’s keep that one separate, please.

If you’d like to look at the original discussion and read the comments verbatim, here’s that post.

What’s your take on this?  Do you think we still need programs to encourage and support women in technology?  Do you take part in them, even if you don’t feel you are personally at a disadvantage?  Does the question of “fairness” enter into it for you?

And I heard a woman say…

This week’s blog post is the perfect post for the first of the year – inspirational for both men and women.  I keep threatening to write the “why I hate email” blog post but you were saved once again by a much better topic.  I suspect you’ll see a lot more of  guest blogger Stacey Sargent on this forum – I already can’t wait to see what she writes for us next!

BTW, don’t miss the big blog improvements this week – we’ve got facebook and twitter buttons! Whoo hoo!

Betsy Speare, Principal Program Manager Lead, Microsoft Windows Server, Happy Family member, new Green Lake, Seattle Resident, 15 years at Microsoft, EWU CIS grad and chicken farmer (up two chickens, now laying eggs – thanks to the Macleod’s).

Guest Blogger – Stacey Sargent.  This awesome post is all you need to know (oh, and there’s more at the bottom about her…)

Last fall I had the opportunity to attend two women’s conferences in a row. The first was the Grace Hopper’s Celebration of Women in Computing in Atlanta, and the second was the Women’s International Network (W.I.N.) Global Leadership Conference in Paris.

There was one message that resonated from both experiences.  It seemed to follow me where ever I went, hanging there like a brilliant star in the forefront of my mind.  I couldn’t ignore it.  At first, I felt the message might be shining just so I personally could see it and learn from it.

What I realize now is that everyone needs to hear this message – especially women.  Women who thirst for more in their life.  Women who aspire.  Women who want something challenging AND meaningful.

The message was articulated precisely by Pascale Dumas, of HP France, at W.I.N.  When asked what she would do differently if she had to do it all again, she answered simply (with a beautiful French accent of course), “I would take more risks.”

I would take more risks.

And then I watched two different panel discussions, each containing successful women leaders who echoed the same message.

I would take more risks.

For me, it translated into the present tense: take more risks.  Now.  Period.  End of sentence.  No caveats.  No additions.  No stipulations.

Take more risks.  NOW.

With this new bright star message in my mind, it is now illuminating everything and I see the need for it everywhere.  Opportunities to take more risk.  Openings to define what risk might be for me.  New ways to look at what taking risk gains for me or what is truly at stake if it goes awry (usually what might go wrong is less than I imagine).  And I can see it in all of the women I work with – their struggle to have the self-confidence to take risks. .

In a recent interview at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit, Ginni Rometty, the new (and first female) CEO of IBM, talked about the importance of self-confidence in taking risks.

“Really early in my career, I can remember being offered a big job. And I can remember [my] reaction to the person who offered it to me. I right away said, ‘You know what? I’m not ready for this job. I need more time, I need more experience and then I could really do it well.’

So I said to him, ‘I need to go home and think about it.’

I went home that night and told my husband, and I’ve been married 32 years now, and he’s just sitting there. As I’m telling him about this, he just looked at me and said, ‘Do you think a man would have ever answered that question that way?’

……What [that] taught me was you have to be very confident even though you’re so self-critical inside about what it is you may or may not know. And that, to me, leads to taking risks.”

I believe taking risks is an important life lesson that we all must continue to learn and practice.  To practice self-confidence even when we have doubts.  To lean in and take more risks, and see what happens.

I have been practicing this art (not science) of taking risks more frequently and here are a few things I have learned:

  • I am very often much more      successful than I think I will be (read this as “don’t believe everything      you think”).
  • When I take the risk, something of      value ALWAYS comes out of it.  Aligned      with  what Rometty said, this is      when I learn the most and gain valuable experiences.
  • Taking risks doesn’t get      easy.  It is getting a bit more      manageable, but I have accepted that it will NEVER be easy or simple.
  • Having support through my friends,      family and colleagues helps me bear the challenge of taking risks.  But it only works when I SHARE it with      them and talk to them about what I am trying to do. The icing on the cake      is they are all there cheering for me regardless of result.
  • It pays off.  By taking risks I’ve had higher and higher      degrees of accomplishment (my definition of accomplishment, not anyone      else’s definition).
  • It can have an exponential effect      in many ways.  More risk taking      (with both success and survival) leads me to take even more risk.
  • I now have real data that shows my      success rate and the reality of what being unsuccessful feels like.  I’ve learned that I survive the risks      that don’t turn out well.  I might      be disappointed or sad, but that doesn’t last forever.
  • A critical component is to      PRACTICE my self-confidence (more on that in a future article!).

In my leadership and development work, which I do predominantly with women in technical companies, I see the challenges in building self-confidence and taking risks.  It can be a battleground.  But I have also witnessed a large number of women who continue to learn, grow, and RISK.  What a privilege to be part of the tribe of women who forge this path every day.

Best of success (which means, best wishes in your learning)!

“Growth and comfort do not co-exist.” ~Ginny Rometty

Stacey Sargent is the founder and principal at Connect Growth and Development, a leadership and people development company that works with individuals, teams and organizations helping them create definitions of authentic success that can be leveraged to gain more satisfying and fully-connected results. Stacey has a passion for working with women who aspire to combine achievement and meaning in their work and life. She works with clients and groups at Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia and more offering long term growth programs, workshops, facilitation and coaching. Clients value Stacey’s ability to bring a supportive yet challenging nature, an approachable manner, to ask right questions and bring focus to what really matters. The company tagline, “WHAT REALLY MATTERS” is Stacey’s focal point for bringing her passion and support to her clients, in the places and ways that matter. She can be reached at Stacey@ConnectGD.com or at www.ConnectGD.com.

Layla Driscoll is our guest blogger this week – it is so optimistic and well thought out – I thought it would be a nice “balance” to the crazy pre-holiday-get-it-all-done-before-next-week tendency I have!  Don’t miss her tips for finding a healthy balance.  BTW for those interested in Sheryl Sandberg’s talk a few weeks ago – here’s the link.  Very inspiring!

Betsy Speare, Principal Program Manager Lead, Microsoft Windows Server, Happy Family member, new Green Lake, Seattle Resident, 15 years at Microsoft, EWU CIS grad and chicken farmer (down 1 chicken due to racoon)!

To follow the Women in Technology Blog – go to http://womentech.wordpress.com/feed/

Principles embraced while accidentally creating work life balance.

In her 7 years at Microsoft, Layla Driscoll has worked on tablets (back before they were cool), in the cloud (OfficeLive/Office365), and now she is a Program Manager on the .NET Common Language Runtime.  The tech side is what brought her here, but she also has extreme passion for the people side of software development. Layla’s path to Microsoft, which includes jobs from retail to electrical work on a proton accelerator, wasn’t exactly a straight shot. She is the daughter of a Flamenco dancer and while growing up, she spent more time in Spain than playing with computers. In fact, Layla got into Computer Science in college kind of by accident. Today, she is sharing a few of her principles on work life balance that she also learned a bit by accident.

Layla

I  think there is some level of truth that any successful person at Microsoft (and I assume at most tech companies) will work long hours sometimes. However, I don’t think it has to be in contradiction to a balanced life. In essence, what brings balance is defining what is personally important and doing that (with a bit of flexibility). We often leave perceptions unchallenged and give control of our lives to others. Regardless of when I come in or how many times I check my email in a day, when I am living with integrity about how I spend my time at work and out of work, my life feels balanced.

Until recently, the phrase “work life balance” was completely lost on me – subconsciously avoiding any conversation on the topic. A few weeks ago, I found myself in a room of people I highly respect and a discussion of work life balance broke out. I was utterly useless in the conversation. All I could add was a bold statement of not having any work life balance issues.

Before you think this makes me unqualified to write a lengthy post on the topic, please read on.

                                                   Visiting Spain  LaylaInSpain

After that conversation, it took a few days of background processing to realize that I’ve actually given thought to many aspects of life that have huge impact on work life balance – I just never called it that. I’ve worked on being more efficient, reducing stress/working with clear thought, understanding my motivations and desires, organization and planning, having appropriate boundaries, and taking care of myself. All of these are critical aspects of having work life balance – I just hadn’t stopped to think about it. Silly, I know.

While my thoughts on work life balance are newly codified, I’ve been practicing and evolving supporting techniques far before I joined Microsoft and before I had ever heard the phrase. I share this background as a reminder of how much our perception and the words we use shape our challenges. With that, here are my thoughts and some of the things I do, which allow me to have a work life balance I’m happy (enough :) ) with.

1. Understand why you work long hours.

It’s much easier to change a habit when you know why you do it. I ask myself questions like: what are you afraid of about creating balance? Are you afraid that people won’t think you are a hard worker or committed? Are you afraid to say no to projects? Do you worry about trusting others when you delegate? The flip side is if there is something to gain. Do you think it will get you respect? Does it make you feel important? Which of these are legitimate and which are perception? How important is it – is it worth the sacrifice? Sometimes it is just a matter of getting caught up in the day to day, but if I have underlying drivers, I want to know.

2. Define work life balance for you.

It is hard to get something when you don’t know what it is. Work life balance is different to everyone. It changes over time and with what is at work and in our lives at that moment. From my statements throughout, you should have a good idea of how I define it.

3. Balance does not necessarily mean rigid splits.

Yes, I check my email at odd hours of the morning and night. Some days I come in really early and others I don’t. During some projects I might work really long hours and weekends. Then at other times I may have something really important outside of work and I make time for that. I consider my life balanced when there isn’t an area of my life that is preventing me from living with joy most of the time. Working extra on something that energizes me leaves me with enough vitality to do what I want outside of work. The amount of time I have capacity for changes over time and with different project or teams. It also isn’t about having perfect balance in everyday; it is about balance in life.

4. Decide which things are non-negotiable and stick to it.

If I have a yoga or improv class and I need to leave at a specific time to get there, I leave. Usually I just have it on my calendar and that handles it. If there is a meeting or other situation that is still going, I politely explain that I need to leave – ideally making the comment of having a hard stop from the beginning. There are rarely things urgent to the hour. If something has to be done that night and I really don’t want to miss class, I see if doing it later that night is an option. Then, when really needed (rather than just perceived) I’m flexible and stay. In the end, I don’t have time to do everything that I want to, but I have to stay fulfilled in each aspect to a certain threshold. Rather that deciding, that only working X hours is work life balance, figure out what you need to make time for to make you happy and just do it.

5. Schedule life holistically.

Closely related to the last point, put the important things on your calendar. If you live by your outlook reminders at work, use it for life too. If find this helpful for 2 main reasons. First, it makes it easy to remember. I don’t trust my memory to remember when to go to a team meeting. Second, it’s important to make the time. If I just rely on doing something when I happen to have free time, it will never happen. I have a habit of filling my time to full capacity. I have to carve out time. Lastly, it protects the time. If your calendar shows you busy, most people won’t schedule over it and when people do, it is a little easier to decline or suggest another time if your calendar looks busy ahead of time.

6. Working longer hours isn’t more productive.

Some people think longer hours always mean more/better work. I firmly disagree. Yes, hard work and hours are important, however, diminishing returns kick in. Either the work just gets stretched over more time or you work into a mode of being unproductive/less creative/tired etc.

7. Maximize peak time.

We all have times where we are more or less productive/creative etc. If you know yourself well enough you can plan to maximize the use of that time. For me, I can do some of my best work from my couch at 6 or 7am. Rather than trying to force my work time into standard hours or sitting in front of my desk, I use that time to get a jump on the day. Then if things come up, I’m already a little ahead. If your brain stops working – stop working. Several hours of your time to get what could be a 30 min task isn’t worth it.

8. Work on something that feeds your life.

I’ve had projects I’ve loved and those I haven’t. There are also skills and activities that energize me that aren’t built-in to my job. I have to make time to do those things. I try my best to find a way to add value to the team while doing so, but if I can’t, I find another person or group to help. If I’m not doing enough things that really get my passion going, the draining things overpower me. The more alive my work makes me feel the more it counts on the lifeside of the balance. <slight_tangent> management needs to know what you like or want to do before the project is available so they can keep an eye out. You don’t always get what you ask for, but you rarely get what you want when you don’t ask for it. </slight_tangent>

9. Be careful of raising the work-duration standard.

First, if you legitimately might be needed, let the right people know you will be gone or at least leave an auto-reply or Lync message. With that out of the way, I’ve had a couple of colleagues (mostly male) talk about the impression sending frivolous oofs/leaving early messages. Basically by sending an “I have to leave early but I’ll be back online later” email at 4 pm does 2 things. 1) It makes everyone feel the pressure to work late hours regardless of the work they have done or when they came in. 2) it gives the impression you don’t think the team can survive without you for a few hours. This is just one example. The point is, if you want a better work life balance, be carefully of the standard you imply.

10. Take responsibility for how you spend your time.

You decide when you work and how you work. If you want to get more done in less time there are many resource. Are you doing more than you need to? Do you need to delegate? Are you doing projects that don’t really need to be done by you? Be deliberate about how you use your time. Learn to say no nicely. If others are making an assumption about when you will work or a deliverable, reset the expectation. Are others not pulling their weight and you are taking up all of the slack? Don’t go to meetings if you don’t need to be there. Schedule 30 minute meetings when all you need is 30 minutes. In most cases people are happy to respect your boundaries, but they won’t know what they are if you don’t ask.

11. Free your mind.

If you can’t stop thinking about some work task when you are at home or some home task when you are at work, deal with it. Either keep a list and add to it so you won’t forget later or just do it. If the distraction slows down your work or prevents you from enjoying the company of a loved one, no one wins. If it is a quick thing, give yourself permission to make that call, run that errand, or clearly capture the idea for later.

12. Minimize firefighting.

If there is an urgent issue that you can solve, rock on. However, take stock of how many fire drills you create and how often you interject into fire drills others create. Is there a way to reduce those with better planning? Do all of those fires need to be put out? Will they burn out themselves? Unfortunately creating and then fixing problems and fire drills can get rewarded here. For the good of yourself, others, the product, try to prevent the drama of needing to be a super hero.

13. Accept that you don’t need to be part of every conversation.

There can be fear that missing some meeting or not being a part of a conversation will leave your unprepared and useless. Yes, if you miss key information and aren’t in the right place to influence hall way decisions; you will end up in a bad place. However, being there for everything doesn’t scale and isn’t the most efficient way. Build strong relationships with people. Make sure they know what information you are interested in. Let it be in their best interest to give you information (you include them, treat the information with respect, whatever it is that maters for the situation). Then build up a pattern of how the information comes to you or that you are sought out when you are actually needed.

14. Stop spending time feeling guilty.

Whether you feel guilt for not being home or for not being at work, the guilt isn’t helping. Take that time and give fully to whichever you are at now. Guilt just takes up time and builds a negative vibe. Practice by thinking of one thing to be grateful for in that moment as soon as you notice guilt.

15. When out of balance, acknowledge it and make a plan for correction.

If I’ve reached a consistent pattern of being drained, feeling overworked, or stressed, I stop and assess. Will this end on its own and I just need to get through it? Have I taken on the wrong things or developed inefficient habits? Am I unfocused and if so would working from home or the café (if I don’t have meetings) help? Have I neglected important things in my life? Do I need to find even a few minutes to meditate?

16. Know why living a balanced life matters for you.

When I am out of balance I rely only computational thinking and lose touch with my wisdom – that isn’t my ideal working mode. I am a more productive, creative, and happy person when I make room for a full life. Knowing why it’s valuable for me helps me prioritize it.

To me this list is more than work life balance tips. These are principles I practice on my journey of life while working. Even tips on balance should be used in balance and moderation. It’s a long list which doesn’t need to be applied 100% or all at once to be effective. Over time I focus on different aspects more than others. If I forget one for too long the world has a way of giving me an opportunity to relearn it. Of course we each have different situations and there for need different approaches. I hope that you are able to find a nugget or 2 from my list that inspires a path to balance in your life. I’d love to hear what works for you or other things that cause imbalance that I’ve missed.

LaylaWalkingBudapestLayla in Budapest

–Layla Driscoll

SEO = Search Engine Optimization  – so how do you make sure people see what you want them to see?  Katrina Klier’s blog post is very interesting and gives some practical tips on how to be relevant on line!    The fun part is that I made up her bio below based on what I found when I searched for HER (including the pic) – I was hoping to find some dirt, but to no avail! 

Hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving – we’ll be taking a week off unless I get really motivated post-turkey to write something up – or you do! – Bets

—-

Betsy Speare, Principal Program Manager Lead, Windows Server Microsoft, Happy Family member, new Green Lake, Seattle Resident, 15 years at Microsoft, EWU CIS grad and chicken farmer!

What I found out about Katrina via search:

Katrina Klier is the Senior Director [for] Worldwide Digital Marketing at Microsoft.  She is the co-VP of Professional Development for IABC Seattle.  What She Does Best… Build new markets, grow channels, create brand synergy across multiple media, drive profitable growth, work with and learn from other amazing people. She is literally on every social media outlet I could think of plus some I wasn’t aware of like Quora.

PLUS – she has a GREAT BLOG!

Katrina's photo

SEO Yourself… Grow Your Career and Brand with Online Advocacy

With more than 2 billion people in the world active online, the first encounter someone has your personal brand starts with a simple online search of your name. Like it or not, your personal brand is primarily your digital brand, and further conversations with you will happen (or not) based on what people learn about you online. Advocating for yourself online is more important than ever, especially if you work in technology.

So how do you stand out? How do you advocate for yourself online? Well it is as simple as doing search engine optimization or SEO for yourself.

A few simple steps will have you on your way: Plan, Research, Engage and Focus your impact. Here’s how it works:

PLAN:

First you need to decide the top 3 things you want to be known for by anyone doing a search on your name. What are the most important things for people to know about you? List 3 things in priority order.

As an example, my list is:

1. I have an amazing track record of building new businesses with high profitability that is useful for my current and prospective employers.

2. I am an expert and executive in digital marketing and want to continue my career here.

3. I like to help people with marketing and career needs.

Your list may include all career items or a mix of career and personal items such as social or community contributions, political activities, or hobbies. There is no right or wrong answer as to what should be on your list. This is a personal choice and you are the only person qualified to make these choices for yourself. So list you top 3 things for people to know and move on to the research phase.

RESEARCH:

To improve your SEO standings you need to know where you are today, so fire up your favorite search engine and type in your name. What comes up on the first page of results? Is it populated with the many contact scraper sites that claim to have your email, phone number, etc.? Does it come back with lots of results for someone with the same name but who does things you do not want associated with your brand? Do any of the things on your top 3 list show up on page 1? Make note of the results, you will need them later on.

If you have a fairly common name, consider ways to make yourself stand out.These include using a middle initial in everything you do or using a nickname (but please nothing tacky or overly pop-culture-of-the-moment) or including a personal tag-line. The tag line is helpful if you have a unique title in your career or you own your own company.

Research the hubs of expertise and content in your top 3 list.Where are the centers of gravity online for what you want to be known for? As an individual, the fastest way to improve your SEO is to go where the traffic is. So look through the top search returns for your priorities; notice the types of sites, ways to engage on these sites and language used. True die-hard SEO has some very scientific ways to target sites and key words, most of which involve a marketing investment, but these simple steps will get you started for your personal brand. Choose no more than 3-5 target sites to focus your efforts so you avoid spreading yourself too thin in terms of both time and impact.

Using myself as an example, LinkedIn is the most prevalent professional networking site for what I do (my first priority); Twitter is a credibility booster (my second priority); and a blog is the best way to showcase original content (my third priority). So these sites became my targets to create my online center of gravity and improve my SEO.

ENGAGE:

First, go back to the search results for your name as they appear today.Look through all the links on the first 2 pages of search results and remove yourself from any lists or databases that do not support your overall top 3 list for your personal brand.

Second, go to your target sites found during your research and add yourself to the mix.Set up a profile on LinkedIn and add contacts as an example. Go all-in and be a full and active participant in these centers of gravity. Fill out your profile completely and double check all your privacy settings to make sure you are comfortable with them.

Third, create cross links in your target sites.It’s called the worldwide web for a reason and the search engines are spiders also for a reason. Spiders can’t crawl unless there is a connected web to maneuver. So… build your personal web. Create links across your profiles and content for yourself so the search engines connect you across the web.

It helps to choose a primary site or home base for yourself where you will direct the majority of searches for you. For me that meant deciding LinkedIn was the primary place I wanted to be found as it most closely supported my number one item on my list. From LinkedIn, you can find my Twitter feed and blogconnected to my profile. From my Twitter profile you’ll find a link back to my LinkedIn profile and on my blog you’ll find both my LinkedIn profile and my twitter feed again. These are my 3 target sites of my digital presence and you can get to all of them by starting at any one of them. So build your web by linking together your chosen sites and make sure you have content in these sites to support your top 3 priorities.

FOCUS:

Contribute regularly to your target sites.If you’ve cross-linked this is pretty easy to do and can be automated to a degree. As I mentioned, my Twitter feed is connected to both my LinkedIn profile and my blog so every time I tweet, the Twitter content automatically goes to LinkedIn and my blog without me having to do anything extra. If you are unsure what to contribute, start by simply forwarding or amplifying others’ content in your target sites. “Liking” or “sharing” within these sites is an easy way to introduce yourself to the community and show that you are a good community member. From there, you can add other outside content or unique content you developed yourself.

If you choose to use pictures in your profiles, make sure they are tasteful and support the brand you want to portray. Also make sure the picture quality renders well on the web and in the sites where you are profiled. This is the first intro most people will have to you so make sure it is of the highest quality. Remember the old saying “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This is very true in the online world as well.

Check your search results on a regular basis. Continue to remove yourself from places you don’t want to be. Also take note of which sites you have engaged that seem to pop you up in the search results so you continue to focus your contributions in places of impact. Over time, when someone searches for your name, you want the first page of search returns to come back with items aligned to your top 3 priorities. Other ways you can see how your SEO is progressing are through some free tools such as Klout, Identifiedand many more.

Doing a personal brand SEO effort helps you advocate for yourself and have control over what others know about you. Whether you’re looking to build your career or contribute to your community, people will find out about you first by how you show up online. I hope these tips will help you advocate for yourself and let people know what an amazing woman you are.

Good luck to you all and I’ll see you online!

Katrina

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 31 other followers

%d bloggers like this: