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

Archive for the ‘Sponsorship’ 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.

%d bloggers like this: