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!
In 2003 I became part of a group of 10 women asked by Bill Veghte, then VP of Windows Server to help him understand the experience of Women in his group. While we had little insight into the reasons why at the time, we know now that there were three issues that were likely concerning him. First, the numbers for women in technology in our group were abysmal – I’d estimate less than 10% of technical heads belonged to women. Second, the retention rate beginning with mid-level women began plummeting dramatically faster than men at the same level. And last, those women that were staying were getting promoted at a significantly slower rate. Even at that time, our executive leadership understood that you aren’t likely to deliver world class products for a diverse set of customers with a non-diverse workforce and further, the less diverse you are, the less diverse you get.
Anyhow, that initial set of conversations with Bill and then his replacement Bob Muglia were encouraging. We found out we had a common set of experiences as women in Windows Server. We were motivated and excited to spread the word. We met a few times a month and brought our lunch while we discussed what we knew, what we didn’t know, how we could help Bob educate his staff. We had some great ideas and spent about a year pursuing them with Bob’s unwavering support. We brought in Abbey Stewart – a woman at the U of Michigan who had done extensive & impressive research and recommendations to positively impact the experience of women in the engineering and sciences department and throughout U of M. She had successfully transformed the tenure evaluation process to be a “blind” selection based on the candidates qualifications and had some amazing results (check out her reseach!). We showed Bob’s staff videos and powerpoints and even Abbey! How could they not see the benefit of shifting our processes and policy? They didn’t bite. We changed tactics and came in with lists of recommendations and ideas on how we could improve the experience for women in Windows Server. The response was not what we had hoped. The GMs were interested in stats almost exclusively.
“Was this really a problem?” “What are the stats in my team?” “How many women were available to hire?” “What percentage did Microsoft hire?” “ How many stayed?” “For how long?” “Why did they leave?” “Why aren’t there very many to hire?”
All reasonable questions – none of which we could answer. HR wouldn’t give us the numbers, exit interviews were unlikely to be very revealing and without the stats we couldn’t get through. Fundamentally I think the staff wasn’t trying to blow us off, they were trying to understand what “success looks like.” How would they know if they were doing things better? What numbers would change? We couldn’t answer.
We were dismayed and deflated. I remember sitting together at one of our lunches – all of us disappointed with the lack of progress we had made – even with all our effort and enthusiasm we hadn’t made a dent. I remember declaring that I didn’t want to waste my time on this anymore and that it’s not likely that the minority can change the mind of the majority. It was so frustrating!!
In the same moment we looked at each other and recognized that at least we had gotten to know each other. We never missed those lunches because it was such a relief to sit in a room full of women (ok, 10 women seemed like a LOT) and just talk about whatever we wanted. We had no taboo topics. We discussed our promotions, our bosses, our reviews. We discussed where the women were and where they weren’t. We recognized the propensity toward technical women being in lighter weight roles more focused on project management and UI and not many (we had 1!) in core systems, networking or kernel. We investigated different ways of supporting women (read She Wins, You Win – it sets you in the right direction). It was relaxing and refreshing to connect with other women. So, we decided to abandon Bob’s staff and just take care of ourselves. We kept having lunch every few weeks. Then we began thinking about what we could do for ourselves and the other women we worked with.
The results 8 years later are amazing and the impact is probably beyond what we actually know. What we know for ourselves is that out of those 10 original women, only 1 has (tearfully) left the company due to a job transfer her husband accepted, 2 has left Windows Server (but we still see her!) and the other 7 are still in the (re-orged many times) Server and Tools Business and have all been promoted to senior ranks. We are officially called the Windows Server Women’s Leadership Council (you can join us on our new Linked In page) and our membership is past 300 women AND even some men. The initiatives we drive reach well beyond 1500 women at Microsoft and span multiple divisions (I’m counting the 1degree program and Senior Women’s Efforts for those who are counting – more on those in another post). We have an executive sponsor (Windows Server VP Bill Laing – there’s a good story here) and a budget! Gasp! We have a well published charter (coming soon with perms from the WLC Board!), a web page with events and contacts (internal only for now) and more events that we can keep track of. Our basic premise for any initiative is that if you are interested in making it happen, then we’ll find the budget. You can imagine the variety – everything from book clubs to mentoring rings to yoga classes.
I’ve had this conversation 100s of times with these women over the last 8 years. I’m still surprised when a woman or group of women comes to me for input on creating community or personal mentoring, have this conversation, and the veil of mystery is lifted – we aren’t alone here! Then the stages of grief overwhelms her, she spends some time (1 day to 6 months) venting and then, she begins to take some action. Just like we did.
So this blog is an extension of that conversation and community. There will be discussion, technical explanation, venting, leadership and mentoring… a spot where we can have regular, open discussion about how to improve our experiences and see the results of women in technology. Here, we can educate ourselves and while giving interested male counterparts, managers and executives some insight into our experience and the opportunity to share their perspective as well. So that’s it. This is it.
At this years Tech Ed Women in Technology Forum, I partnered up with Microsoft Principal Developer Evangelist Jennifer Marsman and Microsoft Director of Communications for Windows Server & Cloud Division, Helene Love Snell. Together, we’ve come up with an impressive list of guest bloggers! If you are interested in blogging, let me know – I hope we have a variety of contributors (men too!) that can share their perspective on building great experiences for women in technology. Also – while Jennifer is out on leave (congrats!!), I’ll be learning as I go on this blog – suggestions welcome.
Ultimately, we must own our own happiness (quote from my Mom) and we can really impact the experience of those who might be feeling a bit isolated – join in and welcome!
Follow me on Twitter @BetsySpeare