Posts Tagged ‘Gender Differences’

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.

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
@padmasree
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
@nilofer
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
@umityalcinalp
Dr. Umit Yalcinalp is a former Software Architect turned Salesforce.com 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 Force.com for Thursday. Will be covering “Data Modeling, Queries, Feeds”. Oh my.
Feb 1st

4. The Women in Tech Expert
@csimard
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. http://bit.ly/7lIJSX
Jan 26th

5. The Emerging Leader
@gailcarmichael
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 … http://bit.ly/cWyug3

Shoes of Confidence

I wonder if this is a girl thing….

I just finished up a presentation I’ll be giving tomorrow morning to my General Manager and his staff.  It’s going to be contentious.  I’m speaking the truth, but there are emotionionally charged comments and face-saving words that will be hurled my way.

I’m now thinking about what shoes I’ll wear tomorrow.  You see I usually where practical shoes- cute, but comfortable wedges.  I can walk fast in them and they are closed-toe lab appropriate.  However, tomorrow I might wear heels.

Why?  Because there is a certain confidence that always comes to me when I wear heels.  Maybe it’s the click they make when I walk across the floor.  Maybe it’s the way they make me stand up straight and take deliberate steps.  Maybe it’s just the nicer clothes I’ll wear with them.  I am not exactly sure why.  I do know that when I walk down the hall towards a my meeting in those heels, I’ll feel like I can take on anyone.  I’ll already feel successful and put together.  It’s a power rush…and one I’ll need to take the world head on tomorrow in my 8am throwdown.

Stereotype Reminders

I spent Tuesday this week at my alma mater doing some recent graduate recruiting for work.  Unfortunately, it also ended up being a reminder that gender stereotypes continue to exist- even with those in college today.

The career fair lasted for 5 hours and I was talking to people non-stop.  I would guess I talked to about 75 eager job hunters.  Three people out of those seventy five assumed that I was an HR person.  They were somewhat suprised when I responded that I had graduated with a degree in electrical and computer engineering from this very school and had a very technical job at work as an engineer.

Now I’ve never been a man.  But I would venture to guess one of students approaching a guy standing in front of a technology company booth at a career fair  would not immediately assume he was with HR.  I can hope that the other 72 people I talked to thought of me as an engineer and did not immediately categorize me as probably being with HR.  But I’m really concerned that here in 2010, where women have been pushing to break down those stereotypes for over 60 years, 4% of the engineering population at a very established, highly regarded school, still verbalized the stereotype.

In fact, just last week we had a senior women’s lunch at work.  I was chatting with the most senior technical person in my division.  She mentionned that a few weeks prior she was doing interviews for an open position.  She walked into the interview room and the young man vying for the position said “hi, nice to meet you, this must be the HR interview”.  She nicely put him in his place and replied with “no this is a harder technical interview than your last one with the most senior developer on the team”. 

Just typing this takes me back to one more story.  A few years back I won a very presitigious achievement award at my company.  There were just over one hundred winners from around the company.  They flew us and our spouses to San Diego for the weekend to accept the award and party with management.  As my husband and I mingled, person after person walked up and congratulated him.  Each time he would smile and say, “no I’m just the husband, Allison won the award”.  Needless to say, there were a lot of red faces and “sorrys”.

Sometimes when I hear all the push about increasing diveristy and breaking down stereotypes I start to wonder if there is too much hype.  Maybe we’ve been talking about this all for too long.  Maybe women have gained enough of a footing in the technical space that we don’t need to keep pushing the equality.  Then I have an experience like this week and it reminds me- there has been progress, but there is still a way to go.

Was there a woman in the room?

Last week Apple unveiled the iPad.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only women who heard the name and snickered.  I mean it’ a personal computing device called the iPad.  I couldn’t help but think, was there a woman in the room when they decided on that name?

A few years back Mad TV did a spiff on the iPod on a product called the iPad.  Turns out they were way ahead of the curve.  Here’s a link to the skit.  Trust me, after you watch this you’ll laugh/smile every time you see the iPad too.

I’d like to think of this as a good example of ensuring you have diversity represented in the product requirements and name when coming up with a mass market product.

No More Ms. Nice Gal

Depending on who you ask, I think people would say I’m a nice person.  (My sisters would label me as bossy before nice.) As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m a eternal optimist.  I smile alot.  I also think that most of the time people are just doing they best they can at their jobs.  I always default to trying to work with and partner with my stakeholders.

I have read and heard generalizations that women are too nice.  That they bend and give in too easily.  That they avoid conflict to the point it becomes detrimental to solid forward progress.

I do not believe that I bend or give in easily.  I stand up for what I believe in and voice my opinions- even when they are in contrast to the rest of the room.

After some introspection this past week, I realized that I am much stronger in meetings and in front of a group, than I am in a one-on-one negotiation.  Why?

I think I want to work constructively with people.  As a result when we get together one-on-one in a room or over the phone, I usually start by opening up about myself or my time.  For example, I might say “I know I am responsible for some of the communication breakdown, I could have done this or that better.”  Then I would wait for the other party to open up and make some concessions about their own communication breakdowns.  From there, we’d talk about how we could work better together, improve communication, etc.  It always feels like it worked well.  Typically I’ll see results.

My last discussion which followed the script above, did not quite achieve the result I expected.  Let’s call this teammate Bob.  I left my conversation with Bob thinking we had made some good progress.  We admitted there were some big communication gaps and had a plan for closing them.  A day later I got a phone call from a fellow team member who had just talked with Bob.  It went something like this:

Teammate: “Hey Allison, I just got out of a meeting with Bob.  Bob claims that you and your team are responsible for most of the communication breakdown.  He said you admitted there was alot more you should have done.”

Me: “Wait, that’s not true.  Sure there is more I could have done, but Bob was mostly to blame.  I can’t believe he just sold me out like that and blamed it all on me!”

Teammate: “Allison, I need you to be strong.  Bob will run you over if you don’t stand up to him and make him clean up his act and get his team in line”

Me: “Thanks for letting me know what Bob said.  I’ll be more careful about what I say and how I talk to him in the future.”

I thought Bob and I had a good working relationship.  Sure I’d seen him run over other people.  I had even called him out in meetings before for not telling the truth about what was really going on.  I didn’t think he’d turn on me.  I should have known better.

I value teamwork.  I want my team to do well and look good.  I want to work with my teammates to create successful products.  There are people out there like Bob who put themselves first.  Bob has different values and different priorities that me.  He makes sure that he looks good and successful, even if that means making his teammates look less successful.

Maybe women are too nice.  In this case, I certainly was.  I know some men who have been too nice too- I’ve watched Bob run over them.

The key to success is learning from your missteps.  I let Bob throw me under the bus in front of my manager when I wasn’t there.  He used my openess against me.  I’ve learned my lesson.  No more Ms. Nice Gal when talking to Bob.  From now on, when he and his team are in the wrong,  I’ll let him know- without admitting any faults on my side.

I’ll be keeping my eye out for other Bobs.  When I spot them, I’ll know to alter my normal working style- take away the nice and turn up the bossy.  It was a good lesson in situational awareness and adaptation.  Watch out for those Bob’s in your world!

Empowered American Engineers

I saw this cartoon the other day and it totally reminded me of my time in Israel.  For a few years I worked alot with a team in Israel.  Israeli’s do not have the concept of being “politically correct”.

When I went to Israel for a business visit I was chatting with a co-worker during the work day.  He asked about where I was staying.  Then he volunteered to take me out sight-seeing for the day.  He suggested we go to a beach, “since I would look good in a bikini”.  In the US, that’s sexual harassment 101…in Israel- he was just offering me a compliment.  I just smiled, shook my head, and told him “No thanks.  I’d rather see something cultural.”

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.

Barbie as a Computer Engineer?

I was forwarded this earlier today.  As an avid player of barbie dolls when I was younger, I am excited to see that there could be a computer engineer barbie!  Maybe I would have decided to become an engineer before I was 18. 🙂

Do your part to encourage the next generation, and go vote for computer engineer barbie!

http://www.barbie.com/vote/

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.