I am so lucky to know Jimin! Smart, compassionate, genuine and determined, she is an inspiration to everyone who knows her. I love her post this week because it hits on a key success pivot – Sponsorship. This is different from mentoring. Mentoring is about growth, learning, working through issues and decision making. Sponsors see your abilities and potential and look for the opportunity to champion your career. Next, we need some posts on finding a sponsor and how you can create those relationships that make a difference. Any volunteers? Some sponsor focused resources… if we care about retaining mid-level women in technical careers (and we do), this NCWIT overview gives some good big picture approaches. I also really like this article Deb McFadden has been passing around on why “Sponsorship is Key to Women’s Success.” Love the comments and if you want to write a blog post regarding Women in Tech, send it me! Now – on to Jimin… – 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!
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Author: Jimin Li, Principal Program Manager Lead, Window Web Services, Microsoft. Mom of 3 lovely kids, 17 years in US and 15 years at Microsoft, happily working on Windows 8, Tsinghua and UMN CS alumni!
Have you ever had a feel that your career seems at plateau for a while, or wonder why some of your colleagues seemingly moved much faster in their career? Honestly – I’ve run into both situations in the past. I entered Microsoft as a college hire 15 years ago, and I have worked in different roles from test to PM, and from an individual contributor to a manager. When these situations happen, I’ve wondered how to push my career forward, especially as a woman? I want to share some thoughts this, and they are based on what I learned from a number of successful senior women in Microsoft, and some from my own experience.
First of all, we deserve to remind ourselves of how great we are: being a woman in technology and fulfilling multiple roles on a daily basis as a co-worker, daughter, friend, mom, wife, and so on. Often I wish there were 48 hours a day to juggle between the responsibilities among these different roles!
Second, as much as prioritization and work/life balance effort we are putting in, in order to push your career forward, the classic and basic rule is always: work hard! A couple of quotes from some very successful women leaders: “Work harder and be smarter than my male colleagues!” “As a woman I can’t think of anything special I did to push my career forward other than just work really, really hard and make sure that I demonstrate an equal footing to the other “type A’s” at MS”. I agree with “work smarter, but not harder”, but I don’t think there is any shortcut of not working hard if you want to get to higher career level than where you are now.
What are some of the key accelerators in the career growth? It should not be a surprise to you: good sponsors and good opportunities. I talked to a few women who are senior directors or GMs. They all had some great executive who helped them to move their career to the next level and invested the effort of keeping them occupied with new and challenging tasks. With such sponsorship, they have more access to good opportunities – it’s not free, of course, they also had to work hard to prove themselves and meet those high expectations. Another comment – they had to be open to try new roles and take chances… and sometimes that role had no clear definition or boundaries.
Depending on what career stage you are at, you should learn to identify and look for the right sponsor for yourself. When I have career development discussion with my direct reports, we always talk about how to identify the web of their stakeholders who may have key impact on their performance evaluation. That’s mostly based on the current commitments they have, and my team found it quite useful. Regarding the sponsors, you have to be forward looking and be more strategic. Depending on what you like to do in next 1-2 years, it can be your own manager, your manager’s peers, some cross team managers who know your work well, or some previous manager that you had worked with. In my own case, after I was promoted to principal test manager, I felt next career stage as a test director was a little too far and not that thrilling to me, I talked to one of my skip level manager’s peers and she became my sponsor. I then joined her team and started my Program Management career. One more important note, after establishing the sponsorship, it should not take too long for you to figure out whether the sponsor is the right one you need. I would say 6-12 months is a good checkpoint.
As part of pushing our career forward, changing roles may come to mind to become an option. One rule of thumb is: don’t change if you are happy with where you are. Happiness is pretty hard to define and measure, especially for me as a woman. My manager, a woman and a partner GPM, shared her thoughts. Her point of view is that everyone should define a threshold of being happy. For her, given the challenges in work, her job satisfaction is maintained if she can be happy at overall 75% of time or above. This is particularly helpful when you feel down occasionally at work – try to take it as “it’s just one of those days” rather than using those days to judge your overall happiness about work. Relate to changes, my woman mentor also inspired me to think about career as a 30 year career. It helps me put a lot of things into perspective and be more strategic in driving up my career, including how to look at some temporary plateau in career with a positive attitude. Once you determine that you want to change, take an action and have a plan. Start to network and find opportunities, find a sponsor!
I hope this helps as a refresher, and I would love to hear what you think.