Posts Tagged ‘Articles’

5 Women Leaders to Follow on Twitter (or Blogs)

I’m not big into Twitter yet.  My husband is, but even he will admit it is somewhat of a time waster.  I’m not big into following celebrities and my family isn’t really on twitter (although that would cut down on the number of phone calls from my mom 🙂 )

That said, I read this earlier today and I think I might need to get on the twitter train.  At least to see some of these ladies’ thoughts.

I also appreciate that Jo points out their blogs.  I’ve now got some good ones to add to my feed.  Hopefully  you’ll enjoy them too.

Here is a repost from Jo Miller’s column on the Anita Borg Newsletter.

5 Women Tech Leaders You Should Follow on Twitter

Ever wondered where the interesting people are hiding on Twitter? Here’s some dynamic, interesting women to follow.

1. The CTO
Cisco’s Chief Technology Officer Padmasree Warrior tweets with news from Cisco and industry, daily replies to her followers and the occasional Dr Seuss quote.

Recent tweet:
In my home no two things are the same, nothing “matches” that’s what makes it cozy. In life, each different moment is the beauty
Jan 31st

2. The Business Strategist
CEO & Founder of Rubicon Consulting Nilofer Merchant is an authority on creating business strategy to win markets. A prolific user of Twitter, Merchant’s tagline is “solving toughest business problems with strategy”.

Curious — has anyone seen a company do SOCIAL as a core part of their business strategy (not as an add-on or just marketing) #ask
Feb 2nd

3. The Fashionista Technologist
Dr. Umit Yalcinalp is a former Software Architect turned Evangelist with a Ph.D. in CS, and a self-described “seasoned technologist, fashionista geek and web technology veteran”. Dr Yalcinalp’s blog is WS Dudette.

Getting ready for the Developer Meetup on for Thursday. Will be covering “Data Modeling, Queries, Feeds”. Oh my.
Feb 1st

4. The Women in Tech Expert
In her Twitter bio, ABI’s Director of Research Caroline Simard lists areas of interest including “organizational behavior, tech human and social capital, retention, diversity”. Her tweets provide a constant stream of facts and information on all the above. She co-authors a blog on Fast Company on the issues facing women in technology.

Report – companies losing out from org structures reflective of a 1960s workforce and not of today’s diverse workforce.
Jan 26th

5. The Emerging Leader
One to watch! Gail Carmichael is a PhD student in Computer Science at Carleton University, focusing on educational entertainment and augmented reality. She has a passion for encouraging girls to enjoy computer science. Carmichael blogs on The Female Perspective of Computer Science.

Blog: Game Day at Carleton University: Game Day is an annual event at Carleton University. It’s a day full of …

The Exodus…elephant in the room

My post about the exodus article generated quite a few conversations.  I thought I’d follow it up with some more thoughts.

When you read the article, you can’t help but think there is an elephant in the room that no one is talking about – women having babies.  It’s hard to say that women having babies is the reason for so many leaving the technical/engineering work force because women in all career fields have babies and we don’t see similar exoduses.

What is interesting about the age range where women start leaving en masse, mid thirties to forties, is they have usually already have a few children.  The study doesn’t call this out, but I can speak to what I have experienced and seen during my time working ,  listening to results of similar studies as well as anecdotal stories.

Most technical women do return to work after their first child.  I think most come back after their second as well.  What I’m not sure about is whether the drop off happens due to the number of children- once you get to two or three children balancing the demanding engineering company lifestyle starts to wear on you.  Or is it not the number of children, but the age of those children.  At some point they start getting involved in extra-curricular activities and require more help in getting them to after school events.   Once again, balancing the demanding, fire-fighting, long hour engineering life style becomes increasingly more difficult.

Society makes it ok for women to step out and stay-at-home.  Whether you like it or not, there are many more societal pressures on men to continue working when they have families vs women.  At some point women decide the work of switching off and trying to maintain a sense of balance is not worth the stress.  It is easier to change the job environment you are in- either by staying at home, changing industries, or even taking on entrepreneurial ventures.   With these other choices, women have much greater flexibility in the hours and times they work.  The family balance becomes much easier.

I also believe that a majority of women engineers and scientists are actually talented in more than just math and science.   Most women who pursue these careers are very well rounded.  As a result it is easier for them to do non-engineering jobs as well.  They are not one-sided, but multi-talented.  We can spend 10-15 years doing a highly technical engineering job, then take on a second career as a teacher, and maybe a third 10 years later as a real estate agent.

I believe that one of the keys to understanding the exodus lays around children, not just having children- that’s not the issue, it’s more around balancing life as your family grows and diverges.  It is amazingly difficult to get part time engineering jobs.  Until women feel there are more options, and see other women using those options to remain technical and continue to advance, the exodus will continue.

The Exodus

Courtesy of the Harvard Business Review

I volunteer a lot of my free time to organizations focused on encouraging women of all ages to pursue & stick with technical engineering and science/technology related endeavors.  (one of the reasons I started this blog)  I was recently invited to an invitation-only luncheon with some senior women in my group at work.  The goal is to get us networking with each other and talking to the GM.  It made me think about an article I had read awhile back by the Harvard Business Review about the Exodus of Women in Science & Engineering fields.  A quick google search later- and an article to share with you, which I think is still relevant today, even though it was written a year and a half ago.

I find the article to be pretty much spot on from what I’ve heard and experienced during my 7 years working as an engineer.

The article argues that there is a lot of science and engineering talent already in the US that is underutilized because they have dropped out of the technology arena.  Who is this enormous pool of talent?  Women in their mid-thirties and beyond.

HBR’s research showed that 41% of young engineers, scientists, and technologist are women, but that over time 52% of these women quit their jobs.   Instead of quiting on a slow linear scale as they get older, women tend to hit a key turning point in life and leave.  I can tell you from my experience- this is true.  It is not hard at work to find women engineers in their twenties.  Pretty much every team has a few.  By contrast, it takes quite a bit of effort to find experienced women who have stuck it out, especially for any length of time after having kids.

Why?  Let’s go through the articles reasons, with some comments from what I’ve experienced…

  1. Machismo & the hostility of workplace culture. I don’t really agree with this point.  Most of us with engineering degrees have been friends with and interacting with groups of men for long time.  We’re used to their comments, their machoism.  In my mind it comes with the territory.  I feel like it’s a victory of acceptance when they don’t change their mannerisms or language when I’m in the room.  I’m accepted as just another guy.  That’s not to say I act like them.  It’s important to be genuine and authentically you.  To be accepted as you are.  I find the unhappy women- the ones who complain about always being around guys are typically attempting to act differently around them.  I think if you’re you and you don’t let their machoism mannerisms bother you much, then this should not be any reason to leave the work force.
  2. Dispiriting sense of isolation that comes when a woman is the only female on her team or at her rank. I can tell you I’ve felt this isolation.  I’m a very competitive person by nature.  The first few times I found myself in room of men, typically the most junior in the group on top of that, I felt the adrenaline rush of success.  “ah ha, here I am, representing women.  I’m so smart & capable that I’ve been invited into this group of more senior guys.” Most of the time, I am the only woman in these groups of men.  I stopped recognizing I was the only women.  Periodically I’ll be on a team with another women, or even a few other women, and I’ll feel this amazing sense of connection and relief.  “wow, another woman!  Cool, ok we’re going to make eye contact, encourage each other, support one another’s good ideas” I didn’t think it affected me so much, but it does.  You can only sit in a room with people dissimilar to you so much before you start to wonder if you really do belong.  Having other women there, even a few, really does make a big difference.
  3. Strong disconnect between women’s preferred work rhythms and the risky “diving catch” and “firefighting” behavior that is recongized and rewarded in these male-dominated fields.I never thought too much about the firefighting behavior in which I work until reading this article.  For me, this one is probably number one item driving my daily frustrations.  I seem to work in an infinite loop of reactively dealing with issues and problems.  I work day in and day out against this tide- focusing on risk management and planning.  More often than not, I feel I’m the only one leading the team away from this behavior.  Sure, my peers pay lip service to it, but at the end of the day, they still do the diving catches themselves and reward each other for addressing issues only after they occur and thrashing the team around.  It is almost solely this behavior which makes me consider leaving and taking on a different career.
  4. Long work weeks & punishing travel schedules  (esp because most women in two-income families still bear the brunt of household mgmt) I have had jobs where I travel alot and some where I travel little.  In pretty much all of them, I’ve worked some pretty long weeks.  When I look up the ladder at women who are foraging a path ahead of me, I see a lot of travel and long week.  I’ve had long talks with many female co-workers about what these senior women go through in their jobs.  Most of us agree we would not want to slave away like that and do the constant travel.  It just takes you away from family too much.  The few women that I do see who take these vice-president paths have amazing family structures and support.  Some have stay at home husbands, others have mothers, sisters, and in-laws who live with them and take on many household responsibilities.  It is certainly a trade off, and one I think only a few women are willing to take.
  5. The mystery around career advancement, lacking sponsors, and being unable to discern the pathway that will allow them to make steady upward progress. This is a big reason for the discouragement that many women feel.  I go to many conferences and listen to lots of panels with highly successful men and women.  Almost all of them will comment about how a few key people sponsored them and mentored them through the ladder to the positions they hold today.  Most will also talk about their career plans, how they set specific goals to hold particular jobs, attained them, and consequently moved up.  It all sounds great until you try to do it yourself.  How do you find a sponsor?  How do you make a job-jumping plan that will work?  How do you execute this plan?  It is a mystery.  I believe it is a mystery to both men and women though.  I know plenty of men stuck in the same situation.  This one is a numbers game- more men out there, a few of them will get into “the club” and get sponsors & pulled up.  It’s a proven fact that people are attracted to those similar to themselves.  By default men at the top will pull up other men.  With fewer women up top, fewer women are pulled.  Sometimes men will sponsor women, but it doesn’t happen at the same rate as men sponsoring men.

At least companies are become aware of the exodus phenomenon.  Awareness is the first step to putting a solution in place.  It’ll take time and effort on the part of the companies and women both.  I have faith we’ll get there.

New Year, New Habits

With both a new year and new decade upon us, the whole world seems to be in that resolution spirit this weekend.  I made a stop at Borders earlier today and was overwhelmed  by the crowds checking out all the fitness and self-help books.  (I was actually there in search of a Weimaraner calendar).  I thought I’d do a post on resolutions.

Let’s start with my own resolution for this year- 12 new habits.  A year ago I started in on a book called The Power of Focus and one of the concepts was around establishing new habits & also replacing bad habits with new better ones.  The idea being you should talk to highly successful people and get some good habits from them to incorporate in your own life.  It takes around 30 days to learn the new habit and to solidify it as a habit- something you do automatically without the conscious effort.

For 2010 I’m making a list of habits I’d like to change, take on, etc and then choosing one or two to implement each month.

Now some habits are easy for me to put down…floss my teeth every day, not dump all of my stuff on the dining room table when entering my house where it never seems to leave, and go to bed earlier.  The search for ideas for more interesting habits has been more fun.

Almost four years ago I met a leadership coach at a Society of Women Engineers conference in the bay area named Jo Miller.  I’ve had the privilege of watching her grow her coaching business over the past few years and have attended her sessions at numerous conferences as well as her webinars.  She is currently writing a column for the Anita Borg Institute and aptly had a column on  resolutions (

Jo’s column has a wealth of information in it.  I picked out a few items that were the most applicable to me and added them to my list of habits:

  1. Work Less (under her ways to ensure you are promoted).  My to-do list always seems to be 20+ items deep and I have a horrible tendency to work on all the little items first to get the satisfaction of crossing them off.  But it just adds stress and more work time because at the end of the day I haven’t gotten to the big three gnarly items that would help propel my career.  It’s easy to self-promote when you’ve implemented a new technical issue tracking tool, and not so much when you’ve just answered every email you received since 8am today.  So for one month in 2010, I’ll be focused on trimming down that to-do, prioritizing the big three items, and working less. (like being ok with not doing 15 items on my list…or better yet, delegating!)
  2. Delegate without micromanaging.  As a program manager most of my job is coming up with the plan of how the team will accomplish something, breaking it down into executable parts, and then delegating out.  I know I don’t delegate all that I can- both with my projects at work, and my volunteer endeavors, and even chores around the house.  A great new habit for one month in 2010 will be to ask myself “can this be delegated?” often each day, and when I do delegate to not ask “is it done yet?”…at least not nearly as much as i feel the urge.
  3. Adding key people to my Network.  I like people, I like talking, and I like socializing. (not very engineering like, huh?)  As a result, I have a pretty big network.  The item Jo is driving at in this resolution is- do I have the right people in my network, and do I make a concerted effort to foster my relationship with those people.  I really do not know if I have the right people in my network.  I haven’t stepped back and figured that out.  I do know that I do not do enough to foster some of my relationships.  So, for a month during 2010, I’ll take an assessment of my network and each day do something to either get a key person into the relationship or strengthen my connection to an existing key person.
  4. Improving the my skills of self-promotion (and promotion of others).  I think this an area where I am ok, but could be alot better.  I can say there are guys at work that are constantly self-promoting and it drives me crazy.  One guy in particular sounds like a five year old, “I’m running this really important task force”, “I just found and filed a critical issue into the database”, “I just got off the phone with Mr. Hot Shot at Hewlett Packard”.  He might as well be letting us know he put on his own clothes, made his own lunch, and made a new best friend.  One thing is for certain, you always know what he’s doing.  There is definitely an art here and I’ll need to find a few mentors who are good at it to coach me along the way.  The people who are good at this essentially tie their personal branding to good business results, products, events, etc and their name comes to the top of the list when new positions open up.  I think a key item in self-promotion is promoting others.  I think the statements are even more powerful when coming from another person.  So each day during a month in 2010 I will either self-promote or promote another person (and let them know I did) until it become a good habit.

Looks like I have a lot ahead of me in 2010.  Good thing I’m only taking on 1-2 habits a month so as not to get overwhelmed and have a better chance of succeeding at each.

Here’s to hoping your resolutions withstand 2010 as well!

Innate genetic differences and men without filters

One of the things that gets me fired up on a regular basis is when I hear the name Larry Summers.  (which incidentally happens often since he is the Director of the National Economic Council for Barak Obama)  I’ll sometimes hear his name brought up on NPR on may way to or from work and it’ll get my mind zooming through all sorts of scenarios.

Before I get too deep into why, let me fill you in on some Summer’s background.  Back in January of 2005 Summers was the president of Harvard University and speaking at a conference organized by the National Bureau of Economic Research.   The issue under discussion was underrepresentation of women at the upper levels of physical science and engineering.   Summers offered the following three explanations, in descending order of importance for why there is such an underrepresentation:

  1. Women want to have children, and as a result they don’t put in the 80-hour work week that would make them competitive with their male peers;
  2. Innate differences between men and women lead men to outperform women at the top end;
  3. Discrimination discourages women from pursuing science and engineering past their undergraduate education.

Now let me say a few words about Summers as the person, because I’ve worked with several men like him.   I have found that there are some very smart men who have impressed companies (or in this case government & academic institutions) over time with ideas and theories that were game changers. People are always impressed with someone who can predict an event, invent a product, or produce a theory that most of us, even the smart ones, didn’t see coming.  The thing is, out of 100 ideas that come out of their mouths, only 1 is anywhere near accurate.   I like to refer to them as “filterless smarties”.

The filterless smarties have realized that people will not focus on their 99 bad ideas, but continue to be amazed by their 1 good idea.  As they get older, they continue to say more and more outrageous things, because they’ve earned these reputations as “provocative, out of the box thinkers”.   Now don’t think I dislike fitlerless smarties.  I think they have a very important place in companies and academia as consultants.  The ideal is to surround these smarties with a logical, capable team of people who can help identify the 1 good idea, work out the details of implementation, and execute to it.  If you put the smartie in charge, you’ll end up following him into countless dead ends, pissing off the team working with him, and no progress will be made.  You want a filterless smartie as a consultant, not the leader in charge.

Now this is where Harvard made a mistake making Summers the president and where I believe Obama has made a mistake making him the director.  With these titles behind his name, he’s no longer free to make these outrageous statements that got him the reputation as genius and out of the box thinker.  When he says something crazy, a whole organization thrashes with the statement.  He ends up pissing off most of the country and no progress is made.

Back to his comments about why women are underrepresented in engineering…

His three reasons are certainly nothing new and original.  They have been brought up before in countless articles, research, grant proposals, etc.  The real outrage at him saying them was that he seems to believe they are truths (and he was saying them as the President of Harvard University, not as Summers- Armchair Thinker).

Let me make a few comments about each and then wrap up this post as I know I’ll be commenting much more on these three themes throughout this blog….

  1. Women want to have children, and as a result they don’t put in the 80-hour work week that would make them competitive with their male peers
    • It is true that most women want children, though not all.  Just because a woman has children does not mean she feels some overwhelming urge to relinquish all career goals and drop down to a 9-5 (or less) job.  I work with and know lots of technical women.  They have all sorts of family structures to raise their children- extended family, stay at home husbands, babysitters, nannies…  I also think it’s very short sited to believe that only women would want to cut back on working hours to raise their kids.  Society pressures make it “ok” for women to stop working and “ok” for men to miss out child rearing for more hours at work.   I know alot of men, including my father and husband, who would do just about anything to work less and see their family more.
    • One other note on this one…I think it is ridiculous to assume that only by working 80+ hour weeks can you get ahead in the world.  We all need to focus on working on the high priority, biggest impact items, and dropping all those “should do” tasks that eat up time.  Athletes and musicians, who make millions, focus all their energies on the few things they do well- and manage sleep every night.
  2. Innate differences between men and women lead men to outperform women at the top end
    • There are innate differences between every single person on earth.  It is what makes us unique.  I am genetically similar to my sisters and brother but can guarantee you we think differently.  I think it is outrageous to assume you can just group men and women into two groups and stereotype them as thinking similarly because they are genetically male or genetically female.
    • Ever look at a list of the different types of engineering and science fields?  There are dozens of them.  You can be wired to think and excel at biomedical engineering but only be marginal at nuclear physics.  What I think is a more interesting study is to look into what types of engineering and science women tend to lead.  I think that may say more about our interests and innate ability than blanketly claiming we’re not as good at any of it.
  3. Discrimination discourages women from pursuing science and engineering past their undergraduate education
      • I think this is the most interesting statement that Summers made.  Is there discrimination in the corporate and academic world discouraging women?  I think there is.
      • I believe that in the last forty years there has been alot of awareness brought to this discrimination.  As a result there are countless organizations, studies, grants, and awards pushing for change.  I believe as a result the discrimination has lessened, at least in certain pockets.
      • My goal in this blog is to share with you my journey as an engineer and the discrimination (or lack of discrimination) I encounter.  I don’t believe there is enough documentation out there about the thoughts and daily lives of real women engineers.

    Here’s to the beginning of a new decade….Happy 2010!