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

Archive for the ‘Retaining Women in Technology’ Category

DeVry HerWorld: Barbie’s been introduced to careers in STEM! Next stop? High school juniors and seniors in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Colton

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.

Perspective from the start up community: how women can win there too…

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.

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!

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.

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