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

Archive for the ‘mentoring’ Category

Should Women In Tech Get Special Treatment?

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 https://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?

Top Attributes of Successful Sponsors… and btw, how’s that different from a mentor?

I spent last week at the Grace Hopper Conference in Portland, Oregon focused on Women in Technology. Obviously, for this blog there are number of interesting topics including Facebook’s Cheryl Sandberg’s inspirational keynote.   Sponsorship is another area that’s getting a lot of support from Corporate Executives across the industry. We talked about it quite a bit last week in Portland –  Here’s my takeaway including “top attributes of successful sponsors…”

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!

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

In a nutshell – senior women who benefit from executive sponsorship are more likely to advance.

Jimin Li hit on Sponsorship last week in her Women Tech blog post. Catalyst published a great article on this topic in August and the discussion has just been heating up. It’s garnering attention both because it makes sense as well as it being something we can all DOto try and reverse the trend of women in tech.

At GHC I was honored to partner in a subsection in the GHC Exec Forum with Linda Apsley, Bill Laing, Teresa Lunt, Mark Hindsbo, Rico Malvar and Rane Johnson (see her blog on GHC) to discuss the wins, challenges and outcomes of sponsorship duos. I also participated on a GHC Plenary Sessionwith three sponsorship duo (think exec/senior woman) who discussed the challenges, benefits and attributes of these sponsoring partnerships. I don’t think it was planned this way – but Linda did a great job of predicting sponsorship as a HOT TOPIC at GHC and organized that session.

 

Sabina Nawaz, CEO Coach, beautifully framed the GHC Exec Forum discussion by focusing our attention on conceptualizing what is working for women in tech and how the GHC Exec Forum could commit to re-creating those wins (perspective based on book SWITCH). While it’s fresh in my mind I thought I would write up what I heard and learned in those sessions. I also have a selfish motive – the Microsoft Exec group at GHC also wants to articulate a “How To” for execs at Microsoft who are looking to sponsor Women in Tech. So – please let me know what you think, what I’m missing and how we could better improve this information for both the prospective sponsor and sponsor-ee.

What’s the difference between a sponsor and a mentor?

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.  Bill Laing characterized mentoring as generally shorter term as well as problem specific, while sponsorship is a longer term investment because additional “spotlight” might be needed to highlight accomplishments or abilities. I’m not sure it’s always that clear – although I like the idea of clarifying the difference I think there’s a bit more cross over.

What are the top attributes of successful sponsors duos for Women in Tech?

1. A Shared Passion/Goal: Share a passion for a common goal or interest that you need each other to accomplish. Examples of this included driving best practices in secure computing, driving progress via corporate women’s communities (See the Microsoft Server & Cloud Women’s Leadership Council) and increasing the percentage of women in computing (Harvey Mudd College has gone from 12% to 42%– due to an amazing sponsoring partnership).

2. Developing 2-way trust:This shared passion becomes a win-win as the sponsor is able to “amplify” the needs and requirements of the individual as well as the project/goal underway as well as depending on the sponsor-ee to represent the shared goals and vision the other direction into the team, community or industry.

3. Integrity: Being a sponsor more than an assignment – the exec knows this person and is able to give representation this person because you know who they are, what they’ve done and have a sense of their potential. It’s a genuine belief in ability and deep knowledge of proven capability of the sponsor-ee. This gives you the clear conscious to identify opportunities for the sponsor-ee not based on favoritism, but ability.

4. Chemistry:Each duo had a unique and genuine relationship based on mutual respect. It’s clear in the successful sponsor relationships we discussed today that these people liked each other.

I’m a women in tech – how do I get my own sponsor?

This is one area that isn’t so clear – currently the idea is that senior technical women (i.e. principal, director) who wish to advance their career need executive sponsorship. In my experience, I also needed a sponsor to get to the principal/director level. Iain McDonald was a great sponsor for me and continues to be recognized as a great sponsor for women at Microsoft (perhaps a blog post from you Sir Iain)? So, now do the math – take every senior technical woman that wants to make it to the executive level – there are still more of them than there are execs who are available to sponsor. So, how to get a sponsor…

1. Ask. Ask someone you admire, think you might be able to trust and someone you think could help your career progression.

2. According to Catalyst Research,“…There is no silver bullet for attracting the attention of a high-level sponsor…. Sponsorship is earned… [with] reputations as flexible, collegial professionals who are consistently committed to their own career…” so – not sure how that’s actionable but gives another perspective.

How can I be a successful sponsor-ees?

1. Articulate what your needs and goals are clearly to your sponsor. They can’t help you if they don’t know where you want to go.

2. Don’t hide mistakes/failures – be open and honest. The funny thing is that we always think people are not aware of our faults. Usually, we’re the last to know our own “defects.” In the cases of mistakes – Sponsors on the panel encouraged us to be open and transparent about mistakes and what we’ve learned from them.

3. A question for the GHC Plenary panel asked how to deal with jealousy, accusations of favoritism or special treatment. The answer was two-fold – the first was really about the integrity of the relationship (see #3 in previous section) and the second was to be confident in your sponsorship relationship – ignore jealousy and accusations of “special treatment – ” they should get over it.

So, think of this as V1 – we’re just learning how to capture the ideas and make it actionable broadly. Looking forward to your ideas and suggestions on what might work here!

Seeking Success as a Technical Woman: Sponsors make the difference

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!

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

 

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!

JiminPic

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.

What do you want to miss? Finding Balance with Amy Barzdukas, Microsoft GM

I love this post from Amy because  her experience is universal for anyone with passionate interests outside of work – men and women.  For women in technology, however, the balance can be extra tough – especially when competing with peers who may have a stay at home partner – Amy gives great ideas about how to strike the right “balance.”  As a side note, we can’t miss recognizing the Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Trio of Women for Championing Gender Equality &  Peace-Building – INSPIRATIONAL!  Have a great day! 

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

– Betsy Speare

 

REDMOND_amyrob_LThumbAmy Barzdukas, Microsoft GM

Work-life balance – how do you do it? I get asked about this more than almost any other topic. My “a-ha!” moment came about 6 years ago. Up until then, my work-life balance was nonexistent because my work was my life. Evenings, weekends . . . I prioritized work over everything else and lived with my cellphone nearby, ready to answer any call, whenever it arrived. A planned hour at the office on Saturday morning easily became a full day as the inbox and potential work items expanded to fill all available time. I excelled at work, but was so wrapped up that friends and relationships got lost along the way.

Then my now-husband Gytis entered the scene, in a complete family pack with 3 children. It was 0 to 60 into a world of carpools, practices, games, curriculum nights, field trips, and making dinner. (Kids can’t meet you at the bar at Seastar for a late meal, it turns out.) Early on we were reviewing the upcoming weekend’s activities: softball, baseball, soccer, I don’t remember all the events that needed attending, but it was full. I noted I had a presentation due on Monday, was planning to hit the office on Saturday. Gytis turned to me and asked, “Okay, so what do you want to miss?”

Wow. “What do I want to miss?” That question (my husband always asks me to note that it was delivered matter-of-factly, not with malice) changed my weekend and my life, forcing me to consider the tradeoffs and putting the notion of “balance” in high relief. In that moment, what was more important? We talked at length – I didn’t want to “miss” anything the kids were doing, so we agreed that he handle dinner on Sunday night, while I would work on my deck. Much to my surprise, I finished my deck: instead of going to the office and doing that and 20 other things random things, I focused on the work that was important, and got it done.

Finding balance is all about establishing priorities and sticking to them. “Balance” implies some sort of universal scale; in fact, it’s a highly personal one. You (and only you) have to decide what balance means to you based on the criteria you have for what you want to miss. Even harder, you have to set and maintain the boundaries that enable you to have that particular balance – and decide when and how you’ll make exceptions.

I should also add that this is not a perfect science. Even after my epiphany, I still work hard to get it right – and I have had plenty of “learning moments” along the way. For example, I used to teach Pilates two nights a week. I loved it – but it meant leaving work promptly, teaching for a few hours, then rushing home to do dinner/family/etc PLUS catch up on whatever happened at work because I left promptly. Which means everyone got a little cheated: fulltime job, Pilates clients, family. I had to regretfully put that part of my life on hold for now, because I really can’t do it all. Recently I missed a key meeting to prioritize a volleyball match that on balance could have been missed (it wasn’t a “first” or “last” match of the season, nor a playoff) and had to really scramble to reassert my voice and team because I wasn’t there.

I got a few things right, though. I made the time to travel to China with step-daughter as a parent chaperone, and that’s a memory that will live with us both for the rest of our lives. I missed some important work items but I’d make that trade-off again in a heartbeat. I deliberately changed roles to keep work negativity from oozing back into the rest of my life and to make it easier to assert my boundaries. And I’ve learned to be more honest with myself and those around me so that we are working on the same set of assumptions. Don’t expect me at that meeting; don’t look for me at curriculum night.

So my advice:

  1. Think about what you “want to miss” – this can help you strengthen your focus, delegation skills, partnership, and management if you do it well.
  2. Don’t overpromise. To your work colleagues, to your family, or yourself. That’s where regret and guilt come in.
  3. You own setting and sticking to your boundaries. Easy to say, which is why there is #4…
  4. It isn’t easy and anyone who says so is lying.

So, let me know… how you handle balance?  Use the comments!

Amy Barzdukas

Why are more women not speaking at technical conferences?

jennmar's avatar

NOTE: Jennifer is one of the co-founders of this blog –  and is our first “guest blogger.”  This awesome blog post was originally posted on Jennifer Marsman’s blog  on MSDN at  http://tinyurl.com/4xg3556.  Feel free to check out the post there as well…the comments and responses to the post are as interesting and telling as the post itself.   To follow the Women in Technology Blog – go to https://womentech.wordpress.com/feed/ 

At the CodeStock conference, Mike Neel and I ran a session entitled “Why aren’t women speaking at CodeStock? (and other WiT issues)”.  A little background on this session: Mike Neel is the organizer of CodeStock and a longtime champion for Women in Technology.  He reached out to me some time ago and told me that after the call for speakers had closed, I was the *only* female who had submitted sessions to present at CodeStock.  He had wanted to hold a WiT panel or something at the conference as well, but it looked like there weren’t enough women for a panel discussion.  Therefore, he proposed this session as a community discussion and asked if I would co-lead it with him.  As the conference approached, Britt King reached out to me on Twitter and asked if I could publish any insights from the session.  I’m glad he did, as I captured better notes from what turned out to be an amazing conversation.  With the participants’ permission, here are some of the items of discussion and tangible solutions to this issue.  (NOTE: I lay out a variety of different thoughts and opinions from the conversation below, and not all of them are my own.)

microphone-audience1Why are more women not speaking at technical conferences?

  • Small number of women in computing.  Obviously, there aren’t a large number of women in technology to begin with.  Only a subset of these women will be comfortable with speaking, so that may end up being a fairly small number.  The point was also brought up that there are differing numbers of women in different communities; for example, there seem to be more women in the SQL community.
  • Difference in confidence levels.  Multiple people brought up a difference in confidence levels between men and women, and how in general(so as not to be completely sexist) women feel the need to understand things at a deeper level before they’re comfortable enough to speak on it.
    • I can share a personal example here: several years ago, a male colleague and I were scheduled to present a day-long event with many technical sessions at a large corporation, and we were dividing the session topics between us.  One of the topics was Silverlight, which had just been released at the time.  I didn’t really feel like I knew Silverlight that well at that time…I had read some blog posts, seen a video or two, and downloaded some demos, but I hadn’t written any of my own code with it yet.  My male colleague said that he knew Silverlight pretty well, so we agreed that he would present it.  Fast-forward to his talk: he presented a marketing slide deck to developers (which is never a good idea), didn’t show any demos (since Silverlight is a presentation-layer technology, you can’t fully appreciate it without seeing it in action), and didn’t do so well answering questions.  It turns out that he had just seen the Silverlight announcements, and yet he felt confident enough that he “knew” Silverlight from that, whereas I (with more actual knowledge, in this particular instance) did not.
    • There’s also a phenomenon known as “Impostor Syndrome”, which is discussed at many Women in Tech conferences.  Many very successful women in the industry suffer from this feeling that their success is because of luck, timing, perseverance, personality or otherwise “fooling” others into thinking you are smarter and more capable than you “know” you are, and someday you will be exposed.
  • Carrying the weight of an entire gender on their shoulders.  Since women are such a minority in the computing field, a female presenter does stand out.  If she does a poor job, it might reflect poorly on all women, which is a lot of pressure.  The man who made this insight specifically referenced this xkcd cartoon entitled “How It Works”:

how_it_works

Solutions to get more women speakers

Here are some potential solutions.  Note that most of this is not really female-specific; these are great ways to attract more speakers or ease people into speaking in general.

  • Grok talks/lightning talks.  These are short 5-10 minute talks.  Some user groups have lightning talks in addition to the main 1- or 1.5-hour session, so presenting a lightning talk can be a lower-stress way to get people speaking in front of a group on a technical topic without having to come up with content and present a full hour+ session.
  • Start with co-presenters.  There is less pressure if there are two speakers giving the talk and fielding questions than if you are up there alone.
  • Consider a panel format.  Same logic as co-presenters…you can ease into speaking by being one of many on a panel and there is less individual pressure on you.
  • Ask them.  Some of the most phenomenal women in the .NET community that I know (now established speakers, bloggers, user group leaders, MVPs, etc.) started as quiet women in the back of the room at monthly .NET user group meetings.  Then someone took an interest in them, drawing them out and asking for their opinions or help with the user group, and eventually asking them to speak.  Being personally asked to speak is more compelling than a general call for speakers.
  • Suggest topics.  Instead of the generic “Do you want to speak at a user group meeting?” which is a vague, scary proposition, ask potential speakers if they would be interested in speaking about the MVC work that they have been doing at their company, or their experiences with cloud computing.  The more concrete ask with a topic is less nebulous and may seem like an attainable goal.
  • Provide starting material.  It was also suggested to provide starter material to potential speakers, so that rather than worry about having to create content and present it, they only have to worry about presenting.  (SIDE NOTE: There are a number of really great “training kits” from various Microsoft product teams that include PowerPoint presentations on the technology, such as Azure, Windows 7, Visual Studio and .NET 4.0, Windows Phone, etc.)
  • Toastmasters.  Toastmastersis an organization to help grow its members’ public speaking skills.  During meetings, members give presentations and evaluate each other in a friendly environment.
  • User group with labs and mentoring.  Someone brought this up as a confidence builder.  This is a user group that meets to work on coding projects together (rather than listening to presentations).  They work on open source projects or bring ideas of their own.  There is a lot of mentoring, pair programming, and people helping each other out when someone gets stuck.  There is a projector available, and occasionally someone will connect their machine and let everyone watch them coding for awhile, but this isn’t mandatory.  I found this idea really interesting as a confidence builder, because to many people, live coding in front of others is a level scarier than even public speaking, but the person who proposed this idea said that one of their best attendees was a 16-year-old girl.  Awesome!
  • Start at the local level.  Speaking is a journey.  Most folks start at the local level by speaking at an internal company Lunch & Learn or a nearby evening user group.  As they grow more comfortable there, they submit talks to conferences and bigger events, and work their way up.
  • Blogging and other avenues.  At the end of the day, some women are introverts and not comfortable with public speaking.  However, these women can still be role models and established experts in a topic using other means, like blogging.

Why is diversity even important?  Is it really an issue if there are few women speakers?  Are we asking too much of women?

There was a lot of thought-provoking conversation around these questions and similar ones.

Why is diversity important?

Here is why I personally believe that diversity on software teams is important.  I’ll admit…as a girl, I was fortunate to attend “girls in math and science” events and such, so I grew up benefitting from diversity initiatives, but never truly “got it” until my first real job out of college.  I worked on a team with a variety of different people, and among them were 3 people:

  1. A man with a hardcore Unix background (who, speaking of stereotypes, did have a long beard and wear shorts and Birkenstocks even in the middle of winter)
  2. A guy with less formal education but a ton of real-world experience, who had been playing with computers from a young age
  3. A guy near my age (so just out of college) with a strong formal education from a top-tier university, but little real-world experience (he understood the theory but usually hadn’t done it himself)

When I had a problem I was stuck on, I would go talk to each of these three people individually.  Every time, they gave me at least somewhat different answers.  Then, I could take the shortcomings of one solution and use information from someone else’s solution to solve it.  With all of their advice put together, I was able to build the best possible software.  That is why diversity is truly important…at the end of the day, you can use it to drive better business results.

Now, I realize that these three people were all men, but I would argue that we did have diversity on our team.  In general, having the widest range of types of people on your team will promote more diversity.  I don’t just mean gender, race, and age, but the things that are harder to see as well: introverts and extroverts, young people just out of college and single parents (who have to manage their time super-efficiently), people with different thinking styles, working styles, education levels, work experience, etc.

Finally, don’t forget that many of us develop software that is used globally or released publically on the internet for everyone.  In that case, having developers that reflect your broad user base is a very good thing.  Everyone brings their own perspectives to the table, and (for example) a single mom will understand best what a single mom needs from a dating website or a website that sells diapers online, etc.  A diverse workforce creates better software and happier users.

Is it really an issue if there are few women speakers?

Data from one of our Microsoft “Women in Technology” slide decks gives the top three reasons that women leave the computing industry.  (My apologies…the source of this data wasn’t included in the slide deck; I’m trying to track it down.)

  1. Lack of role models
  2. Lack of mentorship/career coaching
  3. Sexual harassment

With the lack of role models being one of the top reasons, this suggests that having female speakers is very important.  One participant made the point that the people who we hear speak at events and conferences often become our role models.  Someone else suggested that it’s important for women to see other women speaking, to know that it’s something attainable for them.

Finally, Mike also brought up some data from the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (around page 84 if you’re interested).  Here are his thoughts, in his own words:

“In short, Gladwell is discussing the threshold effect – an observed effect where over a certain threshold, improvements have no effect.  The example he mentioned was Michigan Law school looking at students brought in under affirmative action.  These students did not place as well as other students on LSAT and other academic measures.  When the school came under political fire for the program, they took a look at how students fared in life after college.  It was expected to find the affirmative action students doing worse than the regular students, and the question was by how much.  In looking at salary, awards, job position held, community contributions, and personal satisfaction levels, they found there was no difference between the groups.  The students were all over the threshold, so the only thing that mattered was the experience and education of going to Michigan Law.

I brought this up as a counter question to “does it matter women aren’t in technology?”.  My view is that our methods of measuring qualification are being used far after the threshold is passed.  It’s often asked if a women should be in a technology role, speaking or otherwise, if she isn’t the “most qualified” or “best” person available.  This highly competitive nature is seen all over the industry, not just with women.  We in technology are obsessed with perfection.  The story above however says after a person passes the threshold, they are all equal.”

Other Insights

We talked briefly about some other WiT issues as well, such as the importance of mentoring (remember, men can mentor women too) and how to get more women at user groups.  Adria Lomangino discussed some really cool work that she’s been doing, teaching Alice at schools.

I’m sure that I missed some thoughts, so please add your feedback in the comments below!  Thanks again to everyone who attended; it was a great conversation.

Do you need permission to improve a crappy team? Ask your Board of Directors!

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_thumb1_thumb

Before we even dive into the topic du jour, I want to say that this blogging business is a learning experience – i.e. test link, get an editorial pass, and get this all done 24 hours before posting.  Maybe we’ll start a new blog called “how to write a WIT blog.” Finally – THANK YOU!  – just a little over 500 hits last week on our first post and some very motivational notes from women who are happy to see other technical women. It’s such a bummer to feel isolated – hopefully we can curb some of that here.  Next week we start our guest-blog-a-thon…

I have a “board” that I discuss all my work problems with. It’s a bunch of rad women that I just really trust to tell me the truth, give good feedback and wonderful ideas – but mostly just courage to be honest – self asses and then move on.    A little while ago, in a technical women’s lunch (read:  big “board”) we had such a great discussion that it made me want to just write it down.   In my experience, women can  stretch professionally by having open conversations. I don’t think the value of  peer feedback and mentoring are unique to women. Technical men  have these conversations with each other as well – but not often with women (statistically fewer technical women…). I wonder if the guys talk about their failures and successes more, but I bet the successful men have figured out how to get feedback.  A big part of “success” is mentoring – basically learning from the experiences of others and soliciting feedback on thought structure and ideas. I think the guys just have more opportunities to have conversations w/ other men because there are more of them around. It’s just harder to findother women to trust and talk to – we might not see each other that often!

So the big “board” that I referred to is the  MS Windows Server and Cloud Women’s Leadership Council(a grass roots community of technical women at Microsoft – short name “WLC” ) meeting with a topic brought up by a program manager we’ll call “Jane.” She had recently changed managers within her group. The new lead just wasn’t as inspirational as her last manager and she didn’t feel connected with her peers. She had delivered a “stack” of feedback and changes she was asking her new manager to address including asking for more inspiration and connection with the rest of the team. She came to our lunch frustrated with the lack of response and to discuss her options and get feedback (THAT takes courage!). BTW, Jane’s clearly an articulate, intelligent woman with a lot to offer and will go a long way. I asked her level (“Senior PM” in Microsoft terms, mid-level/non-manager PM), what the “stack” of feedback was and then considered how to respond.

First, to clarify – all of the  feedback to her manager was reasonable and none of it reflected bad behavior on the part of her manager – nice guy and friendly – not mean, condescending, flirting, out to get her, competitive or any of a myriad of potential crappy manager traits that we have all experienced or heard about a thousand times. Also – I’ve known Jane for a while and while she has a lot of gusto and energy, she doesn’t have deeply engrained “issues” that would make me steer her toward some kind of performance improvement plan. Last, while I’m not familiar with her new manager I’m familiar with her team which has a great reputation and solid leadership.

So the new team did not have the connection and sense of community she desired.  Wait a second, I thought – is she was waiting for someone else to create something she needed?   When had I encountered this? Had I? Honestly, no, I’ve never been a “wait for permission” person – in fact  waiting for permission makes me think I’m going by the rules for the sake of the rule and then I REALLY stop waiting! I remember one of my first test managers, Greg Chapman, telling me this was a great trait – I remember my Mom telling me otherwise. Poor Mom.

So, what was the feedback? I said it much more tactfully, but if you are looking to grow – quit looking for inspiration, direction and problem solving to come from a manager. In my case, eventually my job goals, vision and commitments came from my own assessment of the work to be done. As I became more senior, it was expected that I would find my own way, define my own priorities and make sure they lined up with the objectives of the team. Ideally, they would even improve the path to the team vision. Eventually, it has become sort of backwards to complain about a problem without a solution in mind unless you’ve really racked your brain on how to fix it – but that’s later in career. So in listening to our Senior PM (with the fabulous courage to ask the question), I wondered how to convey that – and I gave it a shot and suggested she make some suggestions on how to improve the situation.   I suggested that in addition sometimes the feedback you are giving says more about you than the receiver (not always, but in this case, yes). Maybe it was time to figure out how to address the broken issues on your own?

Mai-lan Tomsen Bukovec (a valued member of my personal board and recent Geek of the Week honoree) jumped in. She explained that at some point it was up to you to create the team you wanted. Someone else pointed out that you could quit waiting for permission to make it better. You could do brownbags and ask your manager to present, pay for pizza. How to build that sense of team camaraderie that was missing was up to her – build what she needs. Our lunch group came up with some really good suggestions.

(Mai-lan, Geek of the Week)

Jane  asked what we did to make sure we had a great team that we could lean on. I pointed to the room. This group what we had created to make sure we had the support we needed.

When I see successful women in technology there is a common attribute. They don’t wait to find out if it’s “OK.” They aren’t so concerned about “stepping on toes” and they don’t wait for someone else to fix it. Something isn’t working for her or her team or her customer and she just figures out something to make it better and does it. I guess the really successful ones probably figure out how to get it in their review and receive some recognition for it… but we’ll leave that for another blog topic called “VISIBILITY and SPONSORSHIP (check out this great article on Sponsorship that Deb McFadden forwarded me from Catalyst.”

So there are multiple pivots to this discussion. I do wonder how well this “go for it” mentality facilitates collaboration and other cross team skills. I mean it’s sort of hard to listen when you are busy just solving all the problems yourself. Yes, I know that’s an extreme, but I’d like to hear from you on that too.

So after the discussion my new friend send me mail asking for some 1:1 time – I told her I would be happy to discuss. Then I saw the title of the meeting request from her “HOW TO TURN ANY JOB INTO A PERFECT ONE.” Oops. That wasn’t what I meant… I haven’t met with her yet but I felt sort of guilty just accepting the meeting invite.

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

betsyspeare@hotmail.com

Follow me on Twitter @BetsySpeare

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