That 6th Grader Inside

Somedays I just cannot get rid of the 6th grader inside my head.

I leave a meeting and start replaying a discussion in my head.  Over and over again… “maybe I should have said this instead of that”…”maybe if I had phrased it this way the first time around, Will would not have had to jump in and save me”…”maybe if I had started with this piece of data Andy would not have been so confused”.

It can drive you crazy that little voice.

Not only does the voice pop up after meetings, but depending on how harsh I am on myself, it pops up late in the evening when I’m trying to go to bed…replaying over and over again.

The same voice pops up when I am reading and responding to certain emails.  Periodically someone will reply to an email chain in a totally unexpected way.  I can practically feel the confusion or the defensiveness or the scolding as it jumps off my screen.

I start to feel the same way I did when we used to pass notes around friends and potential “boyfriends” in middle school.  (yes…way before text messaging existed, though I’m sure the same feelings and thoughts are there today, just with a different medium)  Why doesn’t he like me?  What didn’t he understand about meeting up by room 203 after school?  Was it something I wore? Something I said?

I wonder how many other people have that 6th grader inside of them…

I can’t make her go away, but I’m learning to tell her to be quiet and let it go.

Looking Back- Networking and Risks

I mentioned earlier that for International Women’s Day I moderated a panel of knowledgeable, well-accomplished women.  One of the questions I asked was “If you could go back any change a decision you made during your career, what would it be and why?”

Almost all the answers revolved around two themes.  I thought I’d share.


Several women commented on wishing they had taken more time to foster their networks and business friends.  As they moved up the corporate ladder, moved between companies, and even went off on their own connections proved to be invaluable.  They needed a people to exchange ideas with, to provide knowledge and expertise, to extend connections, and for support and encouragement.  Most women did have a network to do this, but it was not as extensive or well maintained as they wished when they needed it.

One of my passions is to help people build and maintain their networks.  I chair a women’s networking group at work and am also involved in groups like SWE to work on my own network.  It doesn’t have to be just women- I have plenty of men in my network that I rely on heavily.  Equal opportunity.

Taking Risks

The second item that several women wished they would have done is seized a risky opportunity.  They commented on wishing they had pushed themselves to take on a new assignment or new position when it was offered, even if the timing wasn’t ideal.  Their advice was to go for it, but ask for lots of help.  For many, the reason they were risk adverse at the time was because of young families or family dependencies outside of work.  For some, money for nannies, housework help, flexibility in hours, would have been there if they had asked.  And with that extra help, the risky opportunity would have been more doable.

I think the take away there is that before you say no to something that seems like too much to take on- ask what it would take to be able to do it.  Then ask for everything you need.  What’s the worst that could happen- you don’t get it, and don’t take the opportunity anyway?

International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day!! (

I’m sponsoring a great celebration at work today for IWD- a luncheon with a whole host of senior women leaders.  I thought I’d share a few facts about IWD and my favorite poem 🙂

  • Global Day celebrating the economic, political, and social achievements of women past, present, and future. The first IWD was in 1911.
  • There has been an IWD conference sponsored by the United Nations every year since 1918.
  • There is no set theme. A few for this year- Women@ IBM- Success in the Globally Integrated Enterprise & Accenture- Stretch Yourself- Achieving 50:50 in the boardroom by 2020
  • In many countries IWD is a national holiday celebrated much like Mother’s Day is in the US.

And now…my inspiration for all of you….by Maryanne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,

talented, and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?…

Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other

people won’t feel insecure around you…

As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people

permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,

our presence automatically liberates others.

Handwritten Thank Yous

Ever feel like someone is trying to give you a message?  In the past week or so, I’ve had several people talk to me about handwritten thank you notes.  For most of the, they were making the point that hand written thank you notes are more important now than ever.

In our increasingly electronic world, thank you notes that come to you in envelopes are certainly rare.  It also takes extra effort to get some stationary, a pen, look up an address, and attach a stamp.  I can see how sending a thank you letter does show you care enough to take the extra time.

Sending a thank you letter for just anything, though, takes away some value.  I think you want to write a letter when the situation really merits it.  Here are a few examples of times I’ve received a thank you letter and it made me feel special and appreciated:

  • When I helped make a connection that eventually led to someone landing a new job
  • When I took time to assist in pulling together an award application and nominating someone
  • At the end of a coordinating or helping coordinate a big volunteer event

I know I treasured those letters and still remember them.  Thinking back on them, I don’t think I take the time to write thank you letters as much as I should.  I know my handwriting is not great and I’m out of practice with all my typing.  But, that is just an excuse.

I think I’ll be stopping by the store on the way home, picking up some blank thank you notes, and putting them on my desk at work.  If I have them nearby, maybe I’ll use them more.

Deadly Sins of Career Advancement

Last night I went to a great talk by Fiona Walsh, a sales strategist and executive career coach.  Fiona has a website called glass ceiling solutions.  She is based in Vancouver but was in Sacramento last night to talk to a group about the deadly sins of career advancement.

Although I’ve been to enough of these now that I rarely hear new advice, it is always good to have the refresher.  Good coaches have great ways of explaining what you need to do and what you don’t need to do in a way that is memorable and tactical.  Fiona is a great coach that way.

So what did I learn?  Lots of good fodder for future blogs.  Here is a quick synapsis of a few:

  • Ask for what you want- if you never ask, you’ll never get it
  • Always negotiate, and when you negotiate, you must have a plan B.  You need to have a secondary position for that negotiation, the ability to walk away and not just take anything that is offered.
  • Become a queen or king maker– It’s ok for people to “steal” your ideas.  If you make management look good, you become more indispensible to them.  It is important though, to make sure you both know who had the original idea so you can call in that favor later.  Maybe you came up with a great sales idea that the director implemented- now when you want a key person on your team, the director “owes you one” and can get that team member for you.
  • There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help women– I think that one is self-explanatory 🙂
  • Don’t gossip– you don’t want to be known as that person.  Remove yourself from situation and friends where there is gossiping at work…or about work, after work.
  • Take responsibility and head towards a solution– Don’t get caught up in trying to figure out who messed up, be the leader who digs everyone out of the mess.
  • Don’t take things personally– being emotional is giving up power
  • Decide what you want your career to look like and write it down– if you don’t write it down, you won’t do it
  • No excusesif you want it bad enough you’ll go for it.  Don’t let fear rule

Fiona share a few other items and emailed me a great ebook about Increasing your professional value.  As soon as I read it, I’ll summarize and share with all of you.


Yesterday I finished up my attendance at the SWE Region A Conference in Stockton.  It was a fun event- as always and a great opportunity to catch up with my network as well as learn.  The conference ended with a SWE officers meeting.  Most of the time SWE meetings are pretty tame and there are not too many differing opinions.

This Sunday we did have some differing opinions, and unfortunately with those- an eruption of emotion.

And unfortunately, with this emotion came tears.

Now although I am a woman, I have no tolerance for tears.  (I think my mom roughened me up)  I understand why they come, but I still believe they do not belong in work or workplace settings.

Let’s start with getting to the bottom of why this emotion comes and why, especially with women, it so often results in tears.

I think that most of us care about the work that we do.  We put time, effort, and passion into it.  The more passionate you get about something, the more your emotions become intertwined.  When someone starts to challenge your direction, your opinion, the way you have approached a problem/solution you start putting up your defensive.  Depending on how the question are being asked, that defense can come up hard and strong.  As the questioning continues, your brain races to pull up facts to defend your position.  Unfortunately, if it is something you have poured hours and passion into, the brain reaches for data intertwined with emotions.  You feel your face start to flush and your adrenaline pump.

At that very moment, it is critical to remind yourself to separate those emotions from the rest of the situation.  You have to control that inner voice and tell yourself- “it’s just work, it’s not me being questioned, remain objective, breathe”.

This is the exact moment that most women struggle.  I think that on average, men put in as much effort, time, and passion into their work as women.  I also believe that they can be equally hurt and defensive when someone comes down hard on their ideas and output.  So why do women end up crying much more than men?  I think there are two reasons.

First, men are trained from a very early age to control their crying.  Because of the social norms that “real men don’t cry”, most guys learn in elementary school not to cry in front of anyone.  They hold it inside, if not always, at least long enough to make it to a secluded location.  I think if women had the same social norms, we wouldn’t be seen crying nearly as much at work.

Second, men and women’s brains are wired slightly differently.   I think that women’s thoughts and memories are connected to emotions in a way that looks like a big ball of twine.  As we dig through our memories for that “back-up data”, it drudges up any emotions that were present when the data went in the first time.  Think about arguments you have with your significant other.  You may be complaining about him leaving his dishes out, which them makes you think about the time he left out all the pots from cooking and you had spend the whole day cleaning the house and were exhausted and upset at yet another mess, then you think about another time you were out running errands and asked him to do one things for you- run the dishwasher, and he didn’t and you complained that he expected you to do too much.  So now, as you tell your significant other to pick up his dishes, you start feeling exhausted and get riled up about how he is not pulling his fair share of chore duties.  Suddenly, you’re accused of making a big deal out of nothing.  Our brains work this way, men’s don’t.

There is no reason to cry at work.  Not only does it never help you, it makes all the men you work with uncomfortable.  They hate it when women cry because they have no idea what to do to make it better.  It also ruins your credibility- suddenly, you’re known as “emotional”.  A brand you don’t want.

The best way to keep yourself from crying, is to develop a self-awareness.  Train yourself to recognize when the emotions are creeping in.  Train your inner voice to tell you to breath, remain objective, separate out the emotions.  You’ll get much farther defending your ideas.

4 Common Traits of Women Leaders

I’ve spent some time in the past few days trolling blog…er…um..doing research.  Turns out you can spend a lot of time looking for good blogs.  There is lots of content out there, but not as much good reading as I hoped.  I did find some good blogs that I’ll share with all of you in the next few days and weeks.

I was in a leadership retreat sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers today.  Since I’m in the leadership mood, I thought I’d check out the Future Women Leaders Blog.  The current post is about 4 common traits of women leaders.  Leaders who motivate others and empower them.

I was curious, are these traits that I have?

  • Goal- Orientation- This once I’ve got.  I set short term and long term goals for my team at work and the groups outside of work I lead.  I’ve been goal oriented since as long as I remember.  My sisters might say it made me bossy.  I argue that I had a vision for what we should spend our afternoon, summer, etc doing and I worked with them to make it happen.
  • Effective Communication- The more I work, the more I realize that success is weighed very heavily on how well you can communicate.  You can be a brilliant engineer.  If you can’t communicate well to different types of people at various levels of management and expertise, your only hope is to find an effective communicator who can translate your thoughts out to the world.  I am an effective communicator, but I’m also always looking for ways to improve.  I watch to see how other effective communicators alter their words around various audiences, and how they phrase their emails for the best readability and influence.  I think I also pay more attention to nonverbal gestures and the feelings and reactions of those people around me than most others I work with.
  • High Emotional Intelligence- EI is the ability to identify, assess, and manage your own emotions and the emotions of a group.  It’s about remaining calm and collected in a crisis and also not allowing any self-defeating feelings to affect you.  I am pretty laid back and from growing up in a big family and learning from my mom not to let things affect me.  I do believe that being optimistic is very important in leading.  When things get rough, you need to stay above it, smile, and encourage the rest of the team to focus on making the changes to get to the goal, not dwelling in everything that is going wrong.  It’s tough, but it always works.
  • Ability to Delegate-This one is probably the weakest of the four areas for me, only because it’s one I’m still learning to do well.  In some areas, I delegate well.  I think back to my wedding.  I chose great vendors who I trusted, I explained my vision to them, and then just let them go execute it.  It worked wonderfully.  Not very many times in life do you get to pick your team like that.  I am still finding that balance of delegating with team members where we haven’t worked out the trust and expertise yet.  I’m also learning how much effective communication matters in being able to delegate well.  You have to be very clear in communicating your vision and expectations.  If not, then I notice I see someone headed the wrong way and jump into more of a micro-managing mode.  I agree it’s a trait of good leaders, it’s one I probably do well 60% of the time.  I’ll keep working on growing that percentage.

Overall, not too bad for my leadership assessment. There are a lot of leadership assessments out there.  It’s nice when someone narrows it down to just a few characteristics, like this list.  The simplicity reminds me that it takes only a few things to make you a good leader, yet those are not  simple traits to master- you can continuously work on improving them for years.

Engineering Sights Around You?

I came across a neat website the other day.  The site, created as part of National Engineers Week (Feb 14-20th this year) points out engineering marvels around the country.

I was curious to see what was around me.  Northern California has the NASA Ames Research Center, Cable Car Museum, San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, Exploratorium and Jelly Belly factory.  I’ve been to the last 3, but not yet the NASA Center or Cable Car museum.  Guess I have a few engineering to do items next time I’m looking for a weekend trip.

May you’ll find a fun engineering activity by you. (or if you’re one of those people who have trouble just sitting around and relaxing on vacations, you’ll find some neat engineering things to check out)

Making the Most of Mentoring

I love having the flexibility at work to take an hour or two out of my day and either give back or enhance my skills.  I try to balance between taking time out to talk to a high school class or after school club about engineering and to work on building my own skills.  Today I took out an hour to listen to a webinar about making the most out of mentoring. (If you find my analysis valuable, consider signing up with Jo Miller to listen to some of the other webinars she has going this year)

I appreciated that the webinar brought out three baselines needed to get the most out of mentoring: luck, performance, and recognizing opportunities.

  • Luck– I believe that about 50% of life is just being in the right place at the right time.  I think you have to go into a mentoring relationship knowing that they will help with your skills and plans, but that part of getting that next opportunity is also dependent on luck and timing.  It takes some patience.
  • Performance– It’s alot easier to find, engage, and keep mentors when you are a high performer and have the right attitude and effort in your current job.
  • Recognizing Opportunities– I find most people are change adverse.  When you walk into a mentoring relationship, you have to accept they are going to ask you to change.  You need to be open to listening and trying new skills, new jobs, and hearing about another perspective.  I’ve found in my experience that being open to trying new things has helped me immensely.  (my current job came from an opportunity I wasn’t sure I wanted…I took advice from a mentor and flew to Austin for a speaking engagement that has reaped me huge benefits- including getting paid to speak in Boston!…it’s amazing what happens when you just go for it)

When you do go out to get mentors, make sure you are building a “board of directors of mentors”.  I agree that these are the right types of mentors to have.  I think I would expand the list some to state that sometimes you need mentors that are not in your company.  I think that an advisor or two who can talk to you about other opportunities in the industry and geographical area is very valuable- especially in this time of job instability.

  • Coaches– These are the mentors, usually somewhat informally, who you work with on a regular basis to build your skills.  I have a few coaches.  One is a peer of mine who I talk with at least once a week and discuss how to best approach situations, handle communications, and when to escalate issues.  Another coach I’m using to build my technical skills and yet another I’m using to work on my communications with senior management.
  • Appraisers- These are the mentors who can talk to your performance versus potential and help gauge your value.  I have found that my manager doesn’t always see everything that I do.  So I go out and poll certain people I work with and ask them to give me some assessments on what I’m good at and where they see I have potential that I could further develop.  I’ve also gone to mentors and asked if they thought I might have the skills to do a certain job, or take on a particular project.
  • Advisors- These are the mentors who can help assess your plans and help highlight routes to take, usually they are more senior leaders than you and have visibility and perspective. This is the most difficult category for mentors for me.  I think it’s because I am never quite sure where I want to go next and feel awkward having more open ended conversations with senior leaders.  That said, I have certainly had some of these advisors at one point or another and they have been very helpful in looking outside my narrow view of the possible opportunities at the company.  My advisors have also helped show me different routes to take.
  • Referral Agents- These are mentors who can help you make connections to get information and visibility.  I love to meet new people and am a natural connector.  I have found that most of jobs and even big success at work have come from asking others outside of my direct realm for information or a contact for more information.  My advice is to find people who are natural connectors, especially those in an area you want to grow, and ask for their mentorship- even if it is just for a short while.

Once you identify one of the potential mentors above, set up a 20min informational meeting with them and bring 3-4 concise questions.  I’ve sometimes had to wait awhile to get the meeting (I think 2 months is my longest so far), but no one has turned me down yet.

Formal mentoring programs are good ones to meet potential mentors and get your foot in the door for the informational interview- but the best mentoring relationships come when there is chemistry.  If you meet with a mentor and don’t feel any chemistry, it’s better to find someone else than keep pushing on that one.

When do should you become a mentor?  NOW!!   I do believe that people wait to long to be a mentor.  I was mentoring people without admitting to myself I was a mentor because I thought I didn’t have enough experience.  Once you get through engineering school, you can mentor students still in school.  Once you get through your first year at a job, you can help others through their first year.  I have some great coaching relationships with my peers that have blossomed into very symbiotic mentoring.

Want a way to get started?  At a minimum consider signing up to be a mentor on mentornet! I was a mentee in college and had a great email mentor.  I’ve since mentored quite a few people.  It’s fun and you’ll be amazed at what you learn about yourself and how much advice you really have to give.

Happy Mentoring and Mentor Seeking 🙂

Boyfriends and Boy Friends

My sister was visiting this past week/weekend.  She brought her boyfriend out to visit and we ended up having a conversation about boyfriends and boy friends.  My sister is also an engineer and works in the construction industry- a male dominated place, especially when you include all of the sub contractors she deals with on a regular basis.

I think it takes a very secure guy to become be the boyfriend of an woman engineer working in a male dominated field.

As that woman engineer, you’ll be surrounded by guys all day.  They will like hanging out with you, in the midst of all the men they work with, you’re a nice change of pace.  (chances are you dress better than most of the guys too).  You will have alot of guy friends.  These friends are not just from work, but from college too.

When I was in college I purposely joined the society of women engineers and even a sorority to try and get some more girl friends.  I seemed to have just good guy friends.

That takes me to the boyfriend part.  When you are starting to date a guy and you are always surrounded by other guys, it is hard for them.  You have to build some trust quickly so he doesn’t think you are dating other guys or attempting to cheat on him.

Not long after I started dating my husband, he got pretty upset that I appeared to be flirting with another guy.  I told him that I had guy friends, I was always going to have alot of guys friends, and if he had a problem with that, then we probably weren’t going to work out.  Good thing he got over it…we’ve been together for almost ten years.  (He’s also gotten back at me a few times by leaving me stranded in corners at social gatherings with some guy who won’t leave me alone and not saving me 🙂 )

My advice to all you other engineering gals out there searching for boy friends- let them know up front that just because you have a lot of guy friends, doesn’t mean you want to date them all.  And just because you have a new boyfriend, doesn’t mean you’ll ditch your friends.