Posts Tagged ‘Balance’

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.

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Unrelentingly Positive

I drug myself out of bed this morning for yoga and an hour later, was happy that I did.  Some yoga classes have themes, this on did- unrelentingly positive. Turns out a fellow yogi put a comment in the comment box earlier that week thanking the teachers for always being unrelentingly positive.

It is really hard to be grumpy around a positive person.  Now I admit that sometimes the overly bubbly in-your-face happy person can roll your eyes and walk away.  But the majority of the time, a positive person makes you shed some of those discouraging thoughts.  The power of a smile, a laugh, and some optimistic outlooks can improve any situation.

Those who know me would probably classify me in that unrelentingly positive category.  It’s true, I’m an eternal optimist.  I smile all day.  I try to make people laugh when they are taking themselves too seriously.  I pretty much believe that ever person and every situation can make a turn for the better.

I just wish more people tried being unrelenting positive periodically.

Emotions and outlook are one of those herd mentalities.  I see it at work every day.  You get a few team members complaining about something- say the number of issues in the software for a new product.  They complain to a few people in the halls.  They mention how buggy the software is in meeting.  Next thing you know everyone is complaining about the poor health of the software.  Then I start hearing more people, different people, make comments “There is no way in hell we’ll hit a product schedule”, “I heard the software team has no idea how to even solve these issues”, “Wow, we’re going to be working late nights for months”.  Suddenly I am surrounded by a team of 30 Debbie-downers.

It’s pretty hard to motivate a team of Debbie-downers to be creative about solving problems when they think there is no hope for the project.

There is hope to turn these negative emotions into positive ones.  It takes the a few leaders to role model positive thinking.  To speak up in the face of negativity. “The software team is making great progress.” ” They are on the brink of a break-through. ” “The extra time has allowed us to make our part of the product even better”.

Just like the herd mentality that got everyone stuck in negativity.  A few positive people can lead the team in the opposite direction.  You work better when you’re happy.  You look for ways to improve your contribution.  The team likes to get together and talk about the opportunities.  As a result, the product out the door is ultimately better and everyone wants to work together on the next one.

Give it a try…be unrelentingly positive for a day.  Then try to keep it going for a week.

You’ll be amazed at the impact.  You’ll be happier and people will enjoy working with you and for you.  People won’t be able to be grumpy around you- which means you’ll be surrounded by more positive energy.  A win for everyone.

We Wanted to Hunt Too

A friend of mine went back to work on Monday after having her first baby.  It was quite the day for her.  She dropped off her baby at day care, worked until about 3:30, then picked her up, went home, made dinner, washed bottles, re-filled bottles, and cried all night.  Her husband was not quite as supportive as he should have been on this first day back, partly because he had gotten used to her being home all day for the past 4 months.

I was talking with a mutual friend about the situation and she asked me “whatever happened to the days where women took care of the kids and home base and the men went hunting?  It seems like that would be such a simpler,  lower stressed lifestyle.

My response?  “Women decided they wanted to go hunt to”.

I imagined one day the men came back with less meat than expected.   Or maybe a few women got bored with their care taking and decided they wanted to  go out and explore the land.  So those women strapped babies to their chests and went out with the men.  The first career women.

Ok, so maybe it didn’t happen exactly like that.  I think throughout history small groups have women have run with the men.  Only in the last 40 years has it truly become main stream.

In the seventies and eighties it was all about being like the men- playing their game.  Women wore suits and ties.  They were true “career” women who typically put climbing the ladder a priority over other family obligations.  The younger generation followed these role models, but decided they had deviated from traditional family & mother roles too much.

In the eighties and nineties the mood changed a little.  Most women were attempting to achieve super woman status- trying to balance career and family.  I go to numerous conferences and talks and panels each year and “work life balance” is always a big topic.  I think the concept generated from these super women.  They tried to do it all.  The younger generation following these women saw the super women burning out.  The constant strive to do everything left little time for sleep and self-rejuvination.

So now in the first decade of the 2000 I see career women making trade offs.  They start off on a career track.  Then when it’s time to have a family they’ll step off the ladder a little, focus on building their families.  They build up an infrastructure of support, and when ready, step back on the ladder for a bit.  I see them climb on and off the career progression depending on how their family is doing.  I also believe this generation may be the one where we see more men coming on and off to and taking on the lead for family responsibilities.

Hopefully we’ll learn to take turns hunting, rather than trying to drag the homestead with us.

A bit about balance

I picked up my blackberry tonight in preparation for going back to work tomorrow after a week and a half off.  One of the best things about taking time off during the end of December is that so many people are off the flow of requests and emails slows down enough that I don’t feel like I’m too behind on stuff when I get to working again.

I was very surprised at what I saw- a meeting request that were sent out New Year’s Eve evening for Jan 6th, an email chain between a few people around some sample unit questions and clarifications that occurred between Christmas and New Year’s, and even some follow-ups from older emails sent on Saturday.  Pretty much all of these emails were sent by people “on vacation”.

Why is is that people feel the need to check emails, send emails, follow up on work stuff during vacations?

  • Do they just get bored after a few days of vacation and use it as something to do?
  • Do they feel like stuff is happening that they are missing out on- so they log into email to check in and end up sucked into responding to items in their inbox?
  • Is it just a bad habit, so ingrained that after a day or two they have to check and send email?
  • Is there a peer pressure?  They know other people are checking their emails and want to look like they are also on top of things and responding.

I can say that after working a few years after college, I got caught up in the constant email frenzy.  My manager and several of my peers send emails all day long, all night long, and during most holidays.  I started to check my email and respond all the time- thinking that was how I’d be viewed as successful.  After over a year, it wore me down.  I was luck enough to move into a new position with peers that were not quite as email crazy and decided to put some stops to the 24/7 emails.

I decided no emailing from Friday after work until Sunday evening.  I also decided not to open my laptop and check email again after I had left work for the day (provided I didn’t cut out early for something).  It was hard at first, and it meant I had to learn to skim my mail in the mornings to ensure I responded to the most critical items first.  After a few weeks I was in a groove.  I was amazed at how stress relieving it was.

I also expanded my no emailing rule to cover vacations.  Though this one has proved a little harder- especially when I’m on vacation and everyone else is still working.  It’s pretty much a constant struggle to control my desire to check email.  I’ve learned that not brining my laptop helps alot.  I’ve also just set aside 30mins a day while on vacation to check in, do what i need, then get back to having fun.

As a project manger there are times when my projects get critical and we’re monitoring issues.  That’s when I’m thankfully for my blackberry and can do a few check-ins on a weekend or in the evening after dinner.  The key is making sure I just look at the hot items- not just browse emails coming in.

I like to think I’m setting a good example for my team and those I work with.  I don’t respond to emails in the evenings, weekends, or while I’m on vacation.  (if it’s really that important- they have my cell #).  I don’t expect them to respond to me in the evenings or while they are out either.