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

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!

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.

Betsy Speare, Principal Program Manager Lead, Windows Server Microsoft, Happy Family member, new Green Lake, Seattle Resident, 15 years at Microsoft, EWU CIS grad and chicken farmer!

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

Betsy-Speare_thumb1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image

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

Title:  Charter: Women in Technology Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bets, Jennifer and Helene

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_thumbThis is a fun post – an opportunity for us to reach out to the young women we know and encourage them to pursue computer science and engineering – these young women will have a huge impact on the world.  My niece, Kiersten is attending the University of North Dakota and recently asked me about my degree in CS.    So, this is for her as well as all the other smart, amazing young women that you know.  Forward it!  Women in Technology aren’t just the current ones, but the future ones as well! Smile

Here’s a bit about our guest blogger this week, Alice Pang:

imageAlice 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.”

So you’ve gotten into the school of your dreams, but it happens to come with a pretty hefty price tag. This is the dilemma I faced when I got into Stanford xyears ago as a high school senior. I began to furiously look for scholarships from various sources online and in the community. Having taken AP Computer Science courses, I also had a pretty good idea that I wanted to major in Computer Science/Engineering. Little did I know, there was a plethora of funding opportunities for women in technology.

My personal experiences in school and in the workforce reiterated to me the fact that women are still nowhere near 50% in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. Many companies, engineering societies, and individuals are working to increase the number of graduates (and in many cases, women) in Computer Science/Engineering by offering scholarships. For my undergraduate career alone, I managed to earn over thirty merit-based outside scholarships, totaling over $100,000 to cover my tuition at Stanford. A separate post on earning graduate fellowships (and more specifically, NSF and NDSEG) will follow on my MSDN blog (http://blogs.msdn.com/alicerp).

I’ve been asked by many people tips on applying to scholarships, and I’m always happy to help. I firmly believe that money should never stop anyone from learning. Now I’m excited to reveal all my secrets! Whether or not you’re majoring in a STEM field, whether you’re male or female, I hope you’ll get some useful advice out of this article. But I will be posting more specific tips for female students in technology and be completely honest in what has personally worked for me.

Why should I care?

Apart from the obvious benefit of getting more money for school, earning scholarships actually helps build your resume when you prepare for internship and job interviews. A lot of scholarships also offer all-expense paid trips to network with other motivated individuals like you. For example, Google sent me to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Orlando (at the Hilton Walt Disney Resort) and Qualcomm flew me down to San Diego for valuable job interview seminars and a visit to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Additionally, these companies are potentially your future employers (as is my case with Microsoft). You may also get unique opportunities to appear in local and national media (like USA Todayfor the All-Academic Team).

anita borg party
Thanks Google!
I’m the featured profile of 2007: http://www.google.com/anitaborg/us/profiles.html

Sounds good! How do I get started?

Start with scholarships offered at your school. I’ve had friends who have had a lot of success with this at other schools. It never hurts to ask faculty and do extra research on your school website. Stanford didn’t offer any merit-based aid, only need-based aid, a philosophy which I fully support; because, like I said, money should never stop anyone from pursuing his/her education. The Financial Aid Office always encouraged us to search for outside scholarships to supplement the financial aid packages. If you can fund all of it with outside scholarships, you can worry less about finding funds for the remainder of that big tuition bill. However, this takes time and is easier said than done. It takes a lot of time and research. But if you can do this successfully, it’s more worthwhile than working multiple part-time jobs and trying to pay off student loans after graduation.

Look at scholarship search engines.

There are a ton of scholarships out there for students of different backgrounds and interests—it’s not all about academic scholarships. There are scholarships for community involvement, leadership, essay contests, book reviews, video contests, etc. You just have to be interested in something. I’ve applied for any and every scholarship that I qualified for on these search engines and other competitions I found online. Heck, I’ve even had a brief run as a Miss America preliminary contestant and earned some scholarship money as second runner-up to Miss San Francisco, which, to be honest, did not have as high an ROI (return on investment) compared to other scholarship programs, but was nevertheless a good experience for a number of other reasons. Here are a few scholarship search engines I used as a starting point:

http://www.fastweb.com/
http://apps.collegeboard.com/cbsearch_ss/welcome.jsp
http://www.scholarships.com/

It will take a lot of time to sift through them, because even with the filters, I found that most of them didn’t really apply to me. Don’t get discouraged by the amount of time it takes, because it could be well worth your time.

Look for scholarships being awarded in the community and in organizations with which you are affiliated.

Ask and look around in local newspapers and specific organizations to see if there are any scholarships being given in the community. Many local organizations and companies like to honor individuals who have some potential connection to them. Just to give you some ideas, I was eligible for and very fortunate to have been awarded scholarships for competing in math tournaments, building a website with my friend for Mu Alpha Theta to help students learn Calculus, being a member of a local credit union, being the daughter of an ACAP (Association of Chinese-American Professionals) member, demonstrating exemplary community service and leadership to a local chapter of a sorority, etc.

And now, for a trick that has proven to be the most useful but I’m also a little embarrassed to admit…

To be honest, the previous steps combined have not gotten me as far as this next one. After searching and applying for general scholarships, it’s time to target your search to Computer Science/Engineering-specific scholarships, which often offer a lot more money than other sources. Not to say that these scholarships are more important than others, as everyone who awards you a scholarship plays an invaluable and significant role in your education, but certain large tech companies may have more money to support education.

So here’s something that other scholarship guides won’t tell you, and it’s helped me immensely. When you do find a scholarship specific to a STEM field, take note of a few of the winners. You can also find someone at your current or future school, someone who appears to have similar academic interests. Then (if you don’t know him or her or have contact info) do a Bing search on that person and see what other scholarships he or she has won. Chances are it will be a similar scholarship, and you’ve now added more potential scholarships to your scholarship list.

Stay organized and start early.

Start early! If you’re in high school, don’t wait until you’re in college to start applying. A lot of awards can be won in high school, and that will get you more recognition for future scholarships. Scholarship applications will often ask for a list of your awards; it’s a nice snowball effect. Once you win one, you can use it to back up your qualifications for your next application, and so on.

Be organized! I kept a calendar specifically for scholarships and deadlines and organized the files on my computer appropriately. It’s pretty easy once you write a few essays, because you can just recycle and modify them for other applications.

Don’t ever pay for a scholarship or to apply to one.

Don’t ever pay to apply for a scholarship. Don’t fall for anything that claims you get free scholarships by paying a nominal fee. I don’t think these are legitimate, because scholarships should be earned without having to pay for anything.

It takes more than good grades.

You knew this when you applied to college, but scholarship win rates are often significantly lower than college admissions rates; so you have to step up your game. Be involved in engineering and computer science societies and clubs. Take on leadership roles beyond your school. Build your network in the tech community, though it’s also always good to show that you balance out your academic and pre-professional career with extracurricular activities. My local and national roles in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) has proven to be an invaluable experience of networking, community, and outreach opportunities, not to mention personal growth.

Make sure you spend your summers doing something meaningful that helps you attain your academic and career goals. For high school students, this can be summer camps (free or scholarship-funded is generally better). For college students, this can be internships and research. I can’t remember a summer where I haven’t done anything. Whatever you do, make sure you are truly passionate about it so you can talk and write about it.

ec activities collage
clockwise, from top left: dancing with the Fei Tian Dancers (photograph courtesy of Edith Han), having fun at the Olympics while interning at Nokia Research Center in Beijing, showing off our Mobius strip tattoos at National Youth Science Camp, getting ready for a tour of DC at the SWE Collegiate Leadership Forum, building a binary clock at the Stanford Summer Engineering Academy, singing an original song about the well-ordering principle at the Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists

Be wise about your recommendations and ask for references early.

In high school, I almost made the mistake of going with the toughest teacher in my high school just because everyone asked her to write a letter for college admissions. She invited requests for references. She was the AP English teacher, so she can write well, and more importantly, write me a pretty awesome rec, right? Well I’m glad I didn’t, because to be honest, I really did not stand out in English class; I ended up going with teachers whom I felt were more likely to express how I shined in the class. So just be sure to talk with anyone who writes you a reference with your goals in mind. Provide a resume and a document of additional accomplishments and extracurricular involvement, with which he or she may not be familiar. Choose someone who will really remember you in ten years or more. Someone who truly believes that you are an outstanding individual. It does not have to be a teacher. I mean, you should have at least one, but consider the coordinator of some activity in which you’re involved, a research supervisor, etc. And be sure to ask at least two weeks in advance, though I like to give my recommenders a month with increasingly frequent friendly reminders as the deadline approaches.

Be yourself in interviews.

Some scholarships will require interviews. Practice with friends and family. Be yourself. Be sure to always have a few key things to talk about, things that you’re really passionate about. Even when you get stumped on a question, there’s always some way to tie in something that you’re interested in and make it relevant. You can probably find sample questions online, which is good preparation. I’ve been asked anything from my thoughts on the economy, to projects that I’ve worked on, to activities that I’m involved in, to how many golf balls would fit in the average airplane. Even if they ask you a question that may bring up something negative (“What’s your greatest weakness?”), spin it back to something positive.

Thank everyone who has made your education possible.

You should always thank anyone who has provided you with a scholarship, anyone who has written you a rec, anyone who has helped you practice your interviews (or conducted your actual interviews); because these people have invested time in your academic and career success. Keep a spreadsheet of everyone who has helped you (along with contact info) and be sure to drop him or her a line and send a card. I cannot express my gratitude enough to the numerous companies and organizations that have made paying for Stanford and all the unique opportunities possible.

What are you waiting for? Apply yourself!

My intent was to mix up the topics every week, but I just LOVED this post – Anandi’s tone and attitude is perfect.  The “take charge of what you want” attitude really resonated with me – and I think it will with you as well.   Tangent:  here’s an extra link to a great article on the “Three Biggest Myths about Women in Tech” on VentureBeat – it makes me hopeful that this topic is becoming more mainstream and that perhaps we are on the verge of change…???  Course, I am a bit of an optimist.    BTW, i can’t figure out how to change the “written by” on this post – directions appreciated.  Enjoy…

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

– Bets

An-web (2)Blog post by Anandi Raman Creath, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Corp.

Continuing the evolving discussion on work-life balance, I’m here to tell you that it *is* possible to get the work-life balance that you want. But like Amysaid, it’s not at all easy.

I’ve been lucky enough to work at Microsoft since 2002, and I’ve worked a compressed schedule, so I had every other Friday off and currently work part-time.

It’s a half-time schedule, so I’m in the office 2 days a week and do a little work from home on the other evenings. This allows me to spend 3 full days at home each week with my 2 year old. I’ve been working roughly this same schedule since I returned from maternity leave.

When I tell people at work about this uncommon arrangement, they get a wistful look in their eyes and say things like “wow, I wish I could do that” or “my job could never accommodate that” or “you’re so lucky, I’d never be allowed to do that”.

NOT TRUE, people! I started out just like everyone else, working 45+ hours, email every waking moment, fielding questions and putting out fires for a company-wide initiative. And who could forget those delightful summer Saturdays spent in the office?

And then I realized I wanted more out of life than just work. Don’t get me wrong – I love my job, and I love my company with its myriad opportunities and amazing people. But I wanted time for myself and my hobbies, and more recently, time to really *enjoy* this new family thing we’ve got going on.

It goes without saying that this is not just a womens’ issue. My husband requested (and got!) a compressed work week so that we could care for our daughter ourselves for her first year. He was home with her on the two days I worked, and then he’d go to work for the next 4 days. It was surprisingly easy to arrange this with our employer. Harder to get through the weeks without being completely exhausted, but that’s life, right?

So without further ado, here’s the advice I’ve given to many people who asked how they too can get the work schedule of their dreams. (Short of winning the lottery and quitting altogether, that is.)

How to get the sweet gig:

1. First, read up on your company’s policies and procedures around flexible work. If they don’t have them, you’ll need to decide how badly you want it, and then be the trailblazer and help them get a policy in place.

2. Figure out what *you* want with respect to work schedule and pay/benefits. A lot of people approach this as “I’ll do whatever my company lets me” but I think that’s the wrong way to go about it, and everyone leaves the discussion unsatisfied.

a. A compressed schedule (e.g. 4 day work week or 9 days/2 weeks) will allow you to keep a full time workload and salary, but you’ll have to work longer days to make up for the day you’re off.

b. A part-time schedule will give you reduced work hours (duh!) but also reduced pay and potentially fewer benefits. In addition, you’ll really need to think hard about how your work can be scoped to fit into fewer hours.

c. Telecommuting one or more days a week may not change your schedule, but may allow you to shift your schedule rather than spending time commuting.

3. Write up a short proposal detailing what schedule you’re requesting *and* addressing any concerns that might come up. You need to position it as something good for your work group, not just what’s in it for you.

4. Discuss with your manager. Be confident about what you’re asking for, and address his/her concerns with solutions. Be willing to discuss it “up the chain” as needed.

Once you’ve got the sweet gig:

· Be clear with your management and team about your work schedule and location(if you’re telecommuting). It really helps to have the same schedule each week so people get used to it.

· If you’re not in the office but working, BE AVAILABLE.I can’t stress this enough. Sign into IM, answer your phone and email in a timely fashion and call in to scheduled meetings. People need to know and see that you’re working. Sounds unfair, and we think people should “just notice” our awesome deliverables, but that’s not enough.

· A subset of the previous point – if you are working from home and your young kids are around, you MUST have childcare.There is no way you can do a great job working if you’re also taking care of your kids. Not putting in that “face time” at the office means you need to do an *extra* good job, and that’s not going to happen with distractions.

· If you’re working part time, don’t regularly work more than what you agreed to.Obviously you’ll have to put in extra hours around crunch time, but keep track of this, and make sure it evens out later. It makes no sense to work full-time hours on a part-time salary. If you have too much work to accomplish on your schedule, talk to your manager about prioritization.

· Be equally clear about your availability on days you’re not working. Give out your cell phone info for emergencies, but don’t accept non-urgent meetings and don’t respond to non-urgent emails either. You need to “train” people to understand your new schedule. They won’t respect it if you don’t.

· Review the arrangement periodically with your manager.Quarterly is good. Actively solicit feedback about what’s working and what’s not. Actually do something about what’s not working.

· Don’t be apologetic about having an unusual work arrangement. Be an ambassador, so people can see that we don’t have to chain ourselves to our desks 80 hours a week. Do great work and evangelize what you’re accomplishing and HOW you’re accomplishing it with your dream schedule and your newfound, totally awesome work life balance!

I’d love to hear other stories of flexible work arrangements, and any other tips you can share for making it work for everyone involved!

the house of peanut

check out Anandi’s blog at http://houseofpeanut.blogspot.com
.

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

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.

%d bloggers like this: