Tech – The Great Equalizer? For Women?

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Confession. I fell into Tech more by chance than by intention.  It’s hard to imagine, but back in 1996 there were a number of large companies who preferred (yes preferred) to hire people who didn’t go to school for Computer Science into their tech teams.  (Gasp!) Why?  Two words. Legacy systems.  No Computer Science program (at that time) could prepare a would-be tech person how to navigate the systems that had been developed, patched, and then re-patched within a company’s massive walls.  So the leads of teams preferred to take people like me (innocents who had not be shown how things “should be” ) and train me in their “ways” .

I never though of tech as an option for my career but I had a position that didn’t work with people and I was miserable. My boss agreed to release me back into the company work pool on one stipulation – I could only look for a position that had me interacting with people daily.  There was a tech support role.  I applied. Took an assessment. Got the job. Got trained and the rest they say is history.

It never occurred to me that because I was a “girl” that I was breaking new ground.  The reason?  The tech team that trained me was made up of mostly women.

Wait. What?

Yup! 1996 and I was in a tech team made up MOSTLY of women.  I didn’t know it was odd. I didn’t know it was strange (even back then).  It was all I knew.  The company had created a system for hiring internally. Upon my arrival I was told by the leader (also a woman) “We can teach technical skills if you have the aptitude. We can’t teach social skills. You’re here because you have both, so let’s get started.” As my technical skills grew  I would end up on teams made up of mostly men.  Sometimes there was another women in the room, sometimes there wasn’t – and it didn’t matter.

What I discovered early on is that tech really is a great equalizer.  There are numerous articles and issues about there not being enough women in senior leadership positions, in tech positions, in politics, etc.  I get it. There’s a crisis. But for this article, let’s look at the benefits of being in Tech.

One of the benefits of being in tech, one of the things I adore about this industry, is this:
You either know what you’re talking about or you don’t.
It either works or it doesn’t.
Your technology is either running the way it is supposed to or lighting up your call center.

Isn’t that wonderful?

You can’t sit in a room with your various administrators, developers and project managers and be clueless about what is being discussed – you will either be eaten alive or completely ignored.  (Contrast that with other roles I’ve had working with major brands where I once was forced to sit through an hour debating two different colours of blue and what should be used on the website.  An ENTIRE hour! On the colour BLUE. I’d have left earlier but I needed to know the hex code to finish our work. BRUTAL.)

Every industry has people who try to pontificate on things they know nothing about to make themselves look more knowledgeable than they actually are. Having worked across five industries I can assure you that it’s everywhere – including Tech.  Yet, when it comes to Tech there is something unique that happens that I haven’t seen in other professions.

There’s this moment when you have the team in a room… maybe you’re troubleshooting a showstopper or trying to map out some infrastructure – the leader has reverted to an old school whiteboard and everyone else is heads down on their tablets and PC’s.  Some are frantically researching, your developer(s) are sighing under their breath “…but its working on my machine. &^%$!”, and it is literally ALL hands on deck.  Finally, someone says “Does anyone else  have any other ideas?” It’s like magic.  A voice will fill the room “Have we thought about trying….”  The room pauses and then there’s an instant flurry of activity.  Then the sweet words that fill the air “Ya know, this could work…”

It’s Tech’s most glorious moment because in this moment everyone is equalized.
It doesn’t matter if you are male or female. It doesn’t even matter your years of experience. ALL that matters is getting the problem fixed.

In my early career, I sat in war rooms constantly and it was always the same. All these years later and it make me smile how little has changed.  The behavior is largely the same but the laptops and phones are SIGNIFICANTLY smaller.  Since that time, I’ve held other positions in other industries where we’ve had to troubleshoot.  Yet, whether the tech industry realizes it or not, this leveling of the playing field just doesn’t happen in the same way.

For me, Tech has provided me with a solid platform (no pun intended) to stand on. When I’ve experienced bias (which I have) it has provided me a sword with which to fight.  Knowledge truly is power – and in Tech where it’s either “working” or “failing” there is a true north that is entirely appealing to me.  Yet, as I reflect on my career I realize there were a number of things that brought me to Tech that organization’s should understand as they try to diversify their workforce.

Attracting more women to Tech is one issue, attracting more women to YOUR Tech Company is another. For this article, let’s focus on how you can attracting existing women in Tech to your Tech Company.

First, I was not a “woman” working in “Tech” – there is nothing more insulting to a person then to tell them they are being hired because of something they have no control over (like their race or gender).  I was hired because I had aptitude and social skill.  That validated me as a professional.  Put your focus on the fact that you are looking to hire strong talent.  Period.

Second, talk about how you level the playing field within your organization.   Do you have KPI’s in place?  Have you created an environment that is about actual outcomes or is it about who’s golfing with who?   When looking to work for a Company this can be a huge indicator for candidates on how you value your people and create an environment where anyone can be rewarded for their contribution. (News Flash: We women don’t want ‘favoritism’  based on our gender anymore than you do. We don’t mind competing. We just want a fair competition. )

Finally,  women experience bias all the time.  Don’t insult our intelligence by telling us “it’s just in our heads” or that it doesn’t exist at your company.  (Pretty sure I didn’t imagine the ignorant and inappropriate comments that have been said to me over the years.)  Acknowledge this happens everywhere and not just to women.  What is your organization’s approach  to creating an inclusive environment? Show me an organization that promotes respect for everyone and I just may believe that you really take equality seriously – and THAT ultimately is what most people want (including women).

 

 

 

Top 5 online tools I adore!

I’m back in the world of technology, right where I belong….  I’m pretty sure that’s the beginning of some lyrics to a fantastic song.  In celebration of my return to all things tech I want to share my current favourite SAAS tools that I love because they’ve simplified my life! Here they are:

#1 – http://www.projectmanager.com

Back at the turn of the century right after the automobile was invented and just before Y2K: eager project managers who were taking their courses to get their PMPs were forced to create their own dashboards to manage all their projects. The horror! It was like living in the dark ages. Enter the good king and his mighty knights of the project management round table who saw this evil and created http://www.projectmanager.com .  I have years of PM experience under my belt but this tool is SO user-friendly that I tested it on those who really haven’t been exposed to the world of PMP and within an hour they were mapping out multiple projects. Don’t believe me? They have a free trial so go check it out yourself.

#2 – http://www.prezi.com

Everyone knows about this presentation tool but I really needed to add it here.  Heart-wrenchingly I was behind in the discovery of this tool but I’m sure that PPT is watching its share slip – or rather – swoosh away with the ability to create really really cool presentations.  I appreciate this as a person who has to endure boring presenters on a regular basis.  Look at this way, just because you’re a bore doesn’t mean your presentation can’t rock!

#3 – http://www.goanimate.com

Once upon a time I had a television show and famously I announced to one of my designers that I would need them to whip up “5 minutes of animation” to fill a gap in our show…and could they have it done for tomorrow please and thank you.  The look of death was appropriate. The fact they still talk about it 6 years later shows my utter lack of appreciation for the effort that went into the masterpiece I ended up receiving.  That said, http://www.goanimate.com would have solved all our problem had existed back then.  It’s easy to use and I love the fact that I can do voice overs right from my computer for my animation!  I also just found  www.powtoon.com/ which I haven’t yet tested but it looks promising – and they use the word “awesomeness” in their pitch so I’m all over it.

#4 – http://www.piktochart.com

“Infographics” are everywhere.  We live in a very visual world with way too much content for us to consume so it makes sense that presenting that data in an infographic is going to help  you cut through the clutter.  Once again, here’s an item that once required graphic designer and now http://www.piktochart.com has created really great templates that makes it looks like you paid the big bucks when you didn’t.  Saves time. Saves money. What’s not to love?

#5 – http://www.scribblemaps.com

Ok, I have to admit that I have a personal connection to both the developers of this tool. That said, it really is the EASIEST way to draw and share maps.  I’ve used it in sales to quickly upload a list of targets and map out their geography so that I can better use my time when I’m in that region or area.  Others use it to map out the plans for their gardens,  police use it for investigations, etc. You get the idea.  It’s extremely useful with numerous applications!

Enjoy!

Glass Cracker: Kristina Verner

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Even as I start to write this I’m chuckling to myself because I know I’m about to get in trouble. I’m ok with that, because the means justifies the end.  When I first moved back to the region I now live, one of the first woman I met was next to me on a treadmill.  What was striking about the encounter was that we were both women, in technology, the same age, and blonde.  Until that moment, I had never had a person that understood the complexities of being all those things together.

We also discovered that we were both hugely passionate about where we lived and immediately starting dragging one another into volunteer projects.  Then in 2010, I accepted a position that required us to work closely together.  The result? I only admired her more.

She’s got a growing list of awards (Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Award winner anyone?) and she was voted teacher of the year for the courses she taught when she wasn’t busily coordinating community partners and helping our region be named one of the Top 7 Most Intelligent Communities. In 2011, when my community got named because of her I immediately saw my phone ring, then my blackberry buzz, then an email pop-up and I knew that I was about to kiss my personal life good-bye for a period of time.  I picked up the phone to hear her voice filled with energy “I’m going to need you on this.” Followed by the biggest compliment I’ve received to date “because I need another me.”

I actually don’t remember saying yes, but I’m sure I must have because before I hung up the phone I had three emails, reports to review, and a 7 am breakfast meeting scheduled for the next day. The relentless work would cause me to cancel my birthday and her to cancel an anniversary.  Work life balance? Not this time but we were on a mission.  Welcome to the world of glass cracking with Ms. Verner.

Recently, she headed up the road to Toronto Ontario.  Not surprisingly I got the call that after being there for less than a year the City of Toronto had now made it on to the short list for intelligent communities. I joked with her (half seriously) that perhaps her arrival had instantly made the city smarter and that was the secret sauce.  She asked about the chances of me taking some time off from my own community work to go up the road and work on this with her – our laughter filled the lines. “Not this time.” I replied. “This time I’m celebrating my birthday.”

So what makes Ms. Verner so successful at helping communities find their “smart spot”? The fact is that she has the unique ability to dive into a community’s fabric and uncover the stories that most overlook.  It also helps that understanding how technology and human behaviour intersect happens to be a passion that makes her see connections that others do not.

Her commitment to technology for the betterment of positive life outcomes in communities is inspiring.  In her current role as the Director of Intelligent Communities for Waterfront Toronto she is responsible for building out one of the world’s preeminent intelligent communities.  We spend most of our conversations sharing technology strategies being used to make differences in developing nations, bantering between my Star Trek loyalty versus her dark force of Star Wars, and discussing her latest foray into intelligent communities.  We also strategize on ways to  get more women on to tech panels and bemoan the fact that despite all our advances as society  we still find ourselves as the lone woman in a sea of men at our different tech meetings.

That said, her drive and passion makes her a force to be reckoned with. She continues to break down barriers and pave ways for our communities and it’s for this reason that Ms. Verner is definitely one of my favourite Glass Crackers!

The Secret of Social Media Success

by Karolyn Hart

Once upon a time there was a world that allowed advertisers the ability to craft a message, develop a brand, deliver it in one of three mediums (radio, print, tv) and absolutely influence the consumer decision.  In fact, so simple was the world, that an agency could actually pitch an entire campaign to that brand, up front, and win their portfolio on that one pitch.  For today’s marketers that idea is laughable and history.  That world dissipated with the arrival of the internet and the world has never been the same since.

Today, to the dismay of some advertisers still living in the past, the consumer is in complete control of their brand.  The wise brand manager now understands that consumers can make or break a brand based on the virility of the message they are sending.

I’ve spent the last week reviewing various case studies on social media, reading the latest online trends, and searching for the “key” that will allow me to really hit my marketing plans out of the park this year – and I believe I’ve found the magic key.  Ready for it? It’s either very simple or complex depending on how you view it.  Here it is…

Authenticity.

That’s it.  If you take a look at the brands or things that have had the most exposure and success over the last several years the one common theme is the experience was completely authentic.  Whether it was young Justine Bieber strumming a guitar in downtown Stratford, the Harvard baseball team dancing in a van while travelling, or the entire world weighing in on Destiny’s Child performance at the Superbowl.  In each case, authenticity rules supreme.

Now, for the brands that are honest this is absolutely fantastic news.  If the product they have is superior, and they can authentically brag about what they do and how they do it – then the sky is the limit.  The challenge is for those brands who don’t know how to articulate their unique differentiator or why they really are better than competition (because we know this is the reality in business).

All marketers understand that a brand is no longer formed on the advertisers claiming something, but rather the messaging simply resonates the truth of what they are offering.

For Christmas this year my brother and his wife created their own brand of seasoning for the family and they jokingly branded it “That’s not so bad!”  As he put it, it’s not worth of being called “Helluva a good thing” but it’s useable.  Their sense of humour about the product they created actually made us want to use it.  It ends up that “That’s not so bad!” is actually pretty good and we’ve been using it on everything.

The lesson in this story is in the authenticity.  Don’t be afraid to embrace your humour, who you are, and be realistic about what you have to offer.  You may just end up with something really great for your marketing!

My Swedish Apprenticeship in Canada (CBC’s Generation Jobless)

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by Karolyn Hart

CBC recently produced a great documentary called “Generation Jobless“. It was brought to me by a highly educated millennial in my life who has been on their own painful journey of being under-employed.  It touches on all the major workforce issues that have been on my radar for some time now.

I’ve always known that my career path was unusual.  I originally left home to attend school with the desire of becoming a missionary abroad.  I ended up with a professional career, and an eclectic skill set that has allowed me the flexibility to reinvent myself on more than one occasion – and it all started with a company’s decision to invest in me.

I’ve always known that my story was unique.  It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time in Waterloo, Ontario where the large Fortune 500 companies weren’t demanding computer science degrees in young students from their local university in order to get work in IT.  Yet, back in the 1990’s this was the case, and fortunately for me, resulted in my unexpected professional career.

I started my career stuffing envelopes in one of those large Fortune 500 companies and a series of events later I found myself taking an assessment and qualifying to work in IT – specifically tech support.  I remember the manager at the time outwardly expressing their pleasure that I had “not” taken any computer science because it won’t only mean they would have to “re-teach me everything”. The legacy systems I would be supporting required custom training and it would be easier for me to learn with no preconceived notions.

It was in every sense a win-win situation.  The company heavily invested in my training which included grueling 8-hour days in the presence of trainers, followed by heavy reading at night.  A few short months later, however, I was taking my first support calls under the watchful eye of a supervisor.  It was a win-win situation.

The investment from the company provided them with a trained employee that was able to produce for them exactly what they needed.  On my side, I was rewarded with a paying career and my student debt from religious studies was significantly reduced. (Can you say “divine intervention”?)

I always felt blessed for my journey but in Sweden my experience is the norm.  It is also why, according to the documentary produced by CBC, that their youth unemployment sits at 2.8%.  Here in Canada, it appears that today’s employers would consider the idea of investing in an employee with training and on the job experience gratuitous.

What the company understood that hired me, that today’s employers MUST understand, is the return on investment received for their initial up front investment.  At no point did that employer ever fear about not being able to have adequate resources to meet their goals.  They were in a constant state of preparedness and able to beat out competition who struggled to find the talent.

In today’s world, company’s who take on the Swedish Apprenticeship approach here in Canada will likely find themselves at the top.  While their competition has to pass up work due to a lack of workforce, they will be reaping the financial benefits of being able to grow and expand.

Why I no longer follow companies on Twitter.

by Karolyn Hart

My how the times have changed.  Less than two short years ago I was espousing the virtues of creating corporate twitter accounts and even advising companies on how to get followers.  I’m not going to be humble on this one – I am REALLY good at figuring out that sweet spot for companies that will get twitter followers to not only follow them, but truly engage.  Every customer and client I’ve had was unique so there was always that customization, tweaking, and it worked.  It still does as I am doing it again with my current workplace.  The secret? It’s nothing you haven’t heard before: you need to be real, don’t spam your followers, provide something of value, make it engaging…. yadda, yadda, yadda.

So, for some of those companies I’ve helped… to hear that I just went through my own personal Twitter and STOPPED following all corporations, organizations, agencies, etc. Well, that makes me a hypocrite…or does it?

The change started for me when Twitter created “Lists”.  Here’s a secret tip: you don’t have to be following a corporation to get updates from them.  Actually, you can create a customized list called “InterestingCompanies”, add them to it and check in on your list whenever you wish.

So what’s the big deal? Why bother unfollowing companies?

Well, for me it’s a matter of principle.  Once upon a time Twitter was a place unscarred by bots, companies, spammers, and the like.  It was made up of real honest-to-goodness people. So for me, this is a way to try and get back some of that magic.

Now here’s an interesting phenomenon.  When I stopped following all those companies nothing happened. I mean NOTHING.  Which is a huge loss for each of these companies.  This was an opportunity to send me a quick shout out saying “Please don’t go” with an awesome link to the classic 1992 hit by KWS. That would have made me laugh and maybe (for a moment) made me reconsider. (For those of you who don’t know this there are a plethora of tools you can use to tell you when your followers leave and send them an automatic shout out.)

At the end of the day, the name of the game “engagement”. Truthfully, there are no hard feelings here because my Twitter engagements are now with individuals and already I am seeing the benefits. Companies using Twitter should take note – I’d much rather follow your actual employee that works for you than a corporate account.

That said, if you are a corporate company and you want to follow me, please feel free to @karolynhart 🙂

Why Sheryl Sandberg’s War Cry to “Lean In” Must Be Heard

Sheryl Sandberg‘s book “Lean In” was in the cross-fires this weekend by a contributor at Forbes with an article entitled “Sheryl Sandberg “Lean In” More Aspirational than Inspirational“. I actually loved the different viewpoint of the author – but then again I am a huge fan of strong women.  What I found interesting was the essence that Sheryl is not an “attainable” role model.  Hmmm.  A quote comes to mind by Leo Burnett, “When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.

In other words, since when do we want our role models to be ordinary?

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The other interesting thing is that it’s easy to put Ms. Sandberg in the cross fires and whine “but she’s sooo successful”.  Yet, if she were a man proclaiming he goes home at 5:30 every day there would be almost unanimous respect.  People wouldn’t be arguing it’s because he has “help” etc etc.  They would compare him against his peers in the same role and say “Good for you!”

I started my career in tech, made a few side trips, and am now an executive in economic development. Working at Fortune 500 companies for the bulk of that career I did my time working the crazy hours. I’ve been strapped to a call desk where my hours are dictated. I know what it’s like to walk into the building at 7pm to spend the next 8 hours working to convert servers and data over. I’ve lead online projects – and been the only woman in the room.

Here’s the thing – those few women (and we NEED to be more) who work in our world are inspired by Sheryl and here’s why. Her message of a balanced life at the top is not heeded by all – especially the men. I had 1 male boss in my 18 year career who lectured his entire team about the importance of balance and actually lived it. I remember thinking “One day when I’m at his level, I want to do it his way.”

His commitment to balance actually made our team healthier. It made us perform stronger, and generally we were highly motivated. Compare that with other teams I watched where the leader was relentless in the 15+ hour work day and the request for time-in-lieu or vacation time was considered a faux pas. Guess how many people stuck around?

Here’s the thing about Sheryl. I want her as a role model just like I want my personal trainer to be in better shape than me. As for her call to lean in, I am FULLY on board. I look at it this way. I am helping keep the door open for the generation behind me. If we are so naive as to believe that if women don’t lean in that it will make no difference, than we are blinded. By leaning back, we are effectively making it more difficult for future generations to have the opportunities we currently have.

I often think back to the women’s suffrage movement where women actually did hunger strikes to get the right to vote.  I wonder what they would have thought if after all they did women simply decided that “voting” wasn’t important after all.

I think the same holds true for the women who forged ahead and broke some glass ceilings for us. What must they think of our generations willingness to just “give up” leadership.   The number of women in leadership is sliding, and to me that is a very alarming trend.  Alarming because women bring a different perspective to companies which makes them competitive. Alarming because less women in leadership now means it will be more difficult for women to break into positions in the future.

Sheryl’s message is a call to action for those who have the opportunities before them for leadership to step up!  Sadly, most people ask what’s the big deal? They think that for some reason equality is now practiced everywhere and they ask “What glass ceiling?” The fact is it is there, and I hope it will not be my generation that is noted in the history books for “undoing” all the work of the generations before.

Lean in Ladies! If not for yourself, do it for your daughters.