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

Archive for the ‘Introduction’ Category

5 Reasons Women in Tech Benefit from Building Community

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!

The best part of managing this blog is that I get to post whenever I want  – and believe me I  am getting some great articles – we might even increase to 2x week – we’ll see!  So far the feedback has been fantastic – everyone is so excited and the guest bloggers have been inspiring!   It’s so amazing what people come up with when they get a little bit of encouragement and a small stage…


So, week 1, we discussed why we wanted a Women in Technology blog – and the answer:  build a sense of community amongst a dispersed group of technical women.  Top question:  is this an internal Microsoft blog?   The answer is no.  Here comes the disclaimer…  This is in no way a Microsoft endorsed blog or represent Microsoft.  We just happen to have several women who work at Microsoft participating… but the cool thing is that technical women from all over the world are joining in our discussions (check out the Wandering Scientist – she’s taking this conversation an entirely different way).    So, I thought I’d kick off this weeks post with the following observations:

TOP 5 REASONS WOMEN IN TECH BENEFIT FROM CONNECTING (apparently people love lists) :

1.  We are usually isolated.  The only woman in the meeting, hallway or building doing a technical job.  This breaks the feeling of isolation.

2.  We trust transparency and honesty  – Women in tech sharing honest experiences is valuable to us.

3.  Technical women want data – qualitative and quantitative –   we’ve all heard the stats – less than 10% in core technical roles, less than 1%  in leadership roles – combine that with the qualitative experience and we know have a lay of the land that we can strategize around.  Catalyst does a great job presenting this data by the way!

4.  We want to see success stories – and use those ideas to make our experience and contribution to our jobs better.

5.  Before we are technologists, we are mothers, sisters, daughters and partners.  We want contribute to both ends – just like the women in medicine, law, sales and marketing.  We know that if we leave technology it will make it harder for the next woman, so we are looking for ways we can rationalize staying.

What’s your top reason?  Comment on this post and I’ll pull together an even BETTER list!

So, in the spirit of transparency –  I thought I  would also share our BLOG CHARTER (wow!)  that Jennifer Marsman, Helene Love Snell  and I came up with to guide us in this blog…  so you can see exactly what we are trying to accomplish and why.  We’d also love to hear from you on the charter – how should it change or evolve?

Note:   I give credit on the format and the importance of “chartering” to my fabulous friend CJ Corbett.  He would be a great contributor to this blog as he is constantly trying to find his feminine brain (really).  But I digress.  So first I thought I might get lucky and be able to cut and paste this blog…


Not so much.  Cut and paste into a table, slow but worked – could only have 1 column…

Title:  Charter: Women in Technology Blog

Business Case:Providing opportunities for women in technology to connect through common experiences and unique technical and personal insights therefore increasing a sense of community and support for women in the technology industry.
Goals: Provide women in technology with opportunities to connect professionally & personally in a structured manner which is reusable and connected to modern career tools.

  1. Enable discussions spanning women’s impact on technology decisions, businesses and design as well as their experience s as women in technology.
  2. Deliver high quality blog content that is relevant to Women in Technology.
  3. Maintain a professional forum open to diverse opinions supported by a wide variety of contributors.
  4. Have fun.

  1. We have a unique opportunity to kick off  discussions about all aspects of technology and how it impacts and is impacted by women who participate in its creation. We will encourage a diverse set of topics that we may bring a unique view upon including the impact of technology in the future, missing investments in technology, design discussions, women in leadership and more.
  2. The low ratio of women in technology focused roles creates a sense of isolation and minority for many women in those roles. Our opportunity is to create a place where technical women, dispersed around the world, can come to together in a common discussion.
  3. As women in technology who provide leadership roles at Microsoft, we are in a unique situation to recruit a unique set of bloggers – both within and outside of Microsoft.
  4. This forum is an opportunity to make 21st century global connections between technical men and women at Microsoft and technical men and women around the world who are interested in promoting women as strong technical contributors.
In Scope of this project:

  • Showcase  technical companies best practices for enabling women to contribute optimally.
  • Professionally toned rants
  • Opportunity to use a modern approach to building personal brand and on line reputation.
  • Topics of interest to women in technology

Last – given this charter – here’s some of the topics we have coming up from our guest (and local) bloggers

  1. Kicking off a discussion with a new group of women.
  2. Jennifer: Why you are doing/reading/writing this?
  3. My Favorite Resources for Women in Technology (it’ll be about GHC, Girls in Tech, Digigirlz, Systers, etc.)
  4. Personal story: Identifying your Next Career Step
  5. Following Your Passion
  6. Indistinguishable from Magic (Cool Tech Summary)
  7. Why I love HTML5Getting funding for scholarships for women in CS

And the list goes on… so you can see why we have been excited to kick this off – stay tuned and send your comments, suggestions and blog posts for inclusion!

Bets, Jennifer and Helene

Women in Technology blog– Our first blog!

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!


Betsy Speare


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!

Betsy Speare

Follow me on Twitter @BetsySpeare

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