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).

 

 

 

The Power of Emotion

“The ability to control my emotions and my actions, regardless of circumstance, sets me apart from other men.” — Navy SEAL Creed

Most of the time we ladies assume that when it comes to understanding emotions that we have a leg-up, so to speak, on the guys.  It’s true that men and women are wired very differently and that for women, largely speaking, emotions dominate our existence.  Watch Mark Gungor’s Tale of Two Brains if you aren’t aware of the difference between the sexes.

A few years back I was doing research on warriors for a project I was doing and found myself reading the book Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell. Ever since, I’ve had a fascination with Navy Seals and their outlook on life.  Their discipline for mental toughness is legendary.  Physically these guys are put through some of the toughest training on earth. The fact is if you ever find yourself in an extraordinary circumstance that requires you to be rescued out of a war zone, this is who you would want to show up.

Now, we civilians like to share our “war stories” that usually happen in the corporate halls of our businesses.  It’s true there is bullying, and really cruel people who can be found.  We may even like to boast of our physical endurance to travel around the globe and still conduct our business. But somehow, my story of endurance which involved an unexpected one hour power walk in 6-inch heels that ended with my feet bleeding while I smiled and presented to potential prospects like nothing was the matter – just doesn’t compare.

That said, the ability to control your emotion is something that I don’t believe is often talked about by women in the workplace.  Now before I begin, let me preface this by the fact that I don’t mind it when women cry – especially if it’s for the right reason.  Tears of joy? Bring it! What I am talking about is the “freak out” moment that I have witnessed by women at all levels when something hits the fan.

It usually look like this.  I’m working in my office and suddenly there’s a person standing in my door. They step inside, shut the door, and suddenly I am hearing about a “crisis”. A VIP in the  organization’s life, be it an executive, investor, or important client is not happy and if we don’t do something, immediately, the world is going to end!

I usually listen, and invariably I’ve had to get to the point where I need to give them a reality check. It usually goes something like. “Question for you.  Do you think when Hillary Clinton or Condoleezza Rice is faced with a crisis that she tackles it like this? Or do you think she calmly calls a meeting to collect the information and then make an educated decision?”

I know, I’m Canadian and I’m using all these American references but bear with me. The thing is, for most women around the world, the Hillary and Condoleezza reference immediately resonate.  They “get” it. They usually laugh and say “This isn’t the White House.” to which I reply “Exactly, our issues are not near as big. So let’s just take a deep breath and deal with the situation for what it is.”

Let me give you one more scenario to understand the importance of learning to control  your emotions.  Picture yourself in the fight of your life and you’re losing to the bad guys. You are helpless and you need to choose someone who is going to fight their way in to the worst situation in the world to get your butt out of there.  You have 2 choices.  Both are great at hand to hand combat, excellent shots, and strong enough to throw you over a shoulder and get you to safety.  But one jumps out of their skin at loud sounds and looks uncomfortable when confronted. Given the same scenario the other person looks like they are out for a stroll in a park. Who are you going to pick to lead you to safety? Of course you’re picking the one who is calm and appears unaffected. Underneath they may be feeling a range of emotions but let’s be honest, we want to be lead by the person who is instilling confidence in us and jumping out of your skin at every sound does not instill confidence about the other person’s abilities. The same goes in the workplace.  If you are always in a state of “crisis” which can look like: gossiping about impending doom, stirring up “issues”, raising your voice,  etc. you are effectively reducing the confidence of others in you.

That is why becoming emotionally strong is critical to success. In the case of Navy Seals, that ability is the difference between life and death. In your life and in your work – it can be the difference between success and failure.  Here’s what the Navy Seal Master Chief Will Guild has to say about how mastering your emotions in a Men’s Health Magazine article. (Hint: It’s not what you think.)

1. Put Teammates First

“This is an exoteric responsibility—that is, ‘imparting to someone else’—and it’s missing from our culture. When you are acting exoterically, you are acting ethically. How do I treat others? How do I fit into the team? What is my responsibility? Ask yourself these questions, no matter your profession.”

2. Second-Guess Yourself

“We all have monkey brains. We think terrible things sometimes. Quitting, abandoning something important to us. But don’t let that disturb you too much, because it happens to everyone. Really, who you are is your second or even third thought.”

3. Allow Yourself to Fear

“Some people become afraid, and they find it overwhelming. When that happens, reach out to family, friends, or colleagues. Fear is a shared experience—you’ll get a lot of energy from the people around you. Being okay with being afraid is the first step to overcoming it.”

4. Control Your Emotions Physically

“Ask a family member or friend to study your posture when you’re happy or content. Then practice it, over and over. Your psyche will follow your body. You can literally control your emotions this way.”

5. Break Big Goals into Small Targets

“How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time. Don’t wake up Monday morning and say, ‘Four days and 16 hours till Friday.’ Instead, wake up and say, ‘Two hours till breakfast.’ And then, ‘Three hours till lunch.’ Try to stay in the present.”

6. Have Faith in Yourself

“This is the most crucial part of mental toughness. It’s something I tell all the SEALs. Have faith that you’ll figure it out. You are a lot stronger physically and mentally than you think you are.”

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 Importance of Appreciation

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I heard my friend’s voice over the phone line crack as she told me the two words that almost brought this strong, professional woman to tears in front of a group of power players.  “Thank you.” she said in amazement. “My boss actually thanked me for all my work and let everyone know it was me.” We have one of those friendships that goes back and she knew I would understand the power of that moment.

Very early on in my career I had a boss turned mentor reveal a very telling characteristic of me during a review.  I had been busting my butt to get my next “level” at a large corporation.  For a number of internal political reasons that wasn’t going to happen even though I had exceeded all the criteria.  The solution was going to be to pay me at that level but not actually “give” me the level.  Fortunately, he was a man of integrity who called the silly shenanigans out and used the moment to teach me about myself.  “Look, it Karolyn.  Here’s what I know about you.  You aren’t motivated like other people.  Other people care about the money, but I bet if you had to choose you would take the recognition over the money.”  I made a smart Aleck remark about wanting the money – I was early in my career and needed the money after all – but then I conceded.  He was right! So what was wrong with me?

Apparently nothing. According to a 2008 Global Recognition Study – appreciation changes everything. This compelling global study revealed appreciating great work accelerates engagement significantly. Across cultures. Across industries. Across the world.

Why? Because appreciation is more than just saying thanks, it is acknowledgement and validation of a person’s worth.  It’s taking that moment to value their contribution and recognizing what they bring.  According to this study it also builds trust and trust is another major factor in engagement. So much so that the study showed a 35% to 65% difference in engagement between low trust and high trust companies without appreciation. The real surprise is that adding appreciation boosts engagement in low trust companies up to 63%–nearly the same as companies where trust is high.

As a person in the career trenches for nearly 19 years now I get this. Nothing is more disheartening than to learn your peers are bashing your contribution – whether it is justified or not.  Multiply that ten fold if you find out it is your boss or the leadership in your organization.  As one friend  pointed out, “I’m not sure what’s worse. The critical comments or no comments at all but people taking credit for the work they are so ‘dismissive’ of.” Both show a huge lack of respect and appreciation but I do know that critical comments KILL, and I do mean KILL, morale.  Constructive comments BUILD because at their heart they are appreciating the effort that went into the work, taking a moment to appreciate the person, and professionally and sensitively wanting to make it better.

There is no more difficult industry than marketing for this – everyone has an opinion and everyone believes they are an expert. I’ve learned that one layout or design can be both loved and hated within the same company and even on the same team with the same goals.  “I love this design! It’s clean, fresh, simple and to the point.” Can be met with “I hate this design.  It’s too simple, boring, and has no pizzaz.”   A better way to approach this is with “Tell me your thoughts here?” or “I have some ideas about this, can I share them with you?”

I am unapologetically known for my enthusiastic cheerleading of my teams.  It comes naturally to me and the reason is because I have tasted first hand the opposite and refuse anyone on my watch to experience that sort of negativity.  That and when I see the people I work with slogging it out in the evenings and giving up weekends I can’t help be impressed.  Sometimes it rubs employees on other teams the wrong way who don’t have leaders doing that for them.  “Why do THEY get all the praise? Aren’t we important?”  I’ve been there to and let me tell you it sucks.  In fact, the reason I went to work for the boss who revealed my motivation to me was because I saw him in action praising his team.  Who doesn’t want to be around that?

Back to my friend, in that moment I was happy for her and frustrated for myself.  I was coming out of a particularly tiring stretch.  I had been sacrificing my evenings and weekends for weeks that turned to months and months that turned to more than a year.  Only to be criticized and judged every step of the way. The reasons were many and complicated and fortunately my mentors and support team kept providing me my true north.  When my work was criticized I never dismissed the comments but rather took it to this group and said “Can you take a look at this and tell me what you think?” Sometimes I made slight tweaks but often the validation I received gave me the motivation to tackle the nay sayers and negative Nelly’s in my present circumstance.

My one friend pointed out “Appreciation is appreciation.” Meaning for all the work I was doing the team I was surrounded by would have the same level of appreciation for my contribution whether I was killing myself or not.  In other words – they just would not.

It makes me smile now as I think back on the various teams, leaders, and staff over the years. An interesting pattern has emerged.  It’s not surprising really, but here it is (at least in my life anyway).  Those people who lack appreciation, talk out of two sides of their mouth, and are abundant with the critical comments – even years later – are often still miserable.  They don’t exude joy.  They are still griping and complaining. For many, they haven’t really progressed much beyond where they were when I met them, and even if they have, they aren’t any happier about their successes.

It’s sad, really – but, oh the difference in those who express appreciation.  Returning and seeing them after an absence of 10 years and I find they are filled with a greater sense of calm, peace, and pure joy.  Many have leaped ahead of the competition and are now overseeing entire divisions of companies, or have achieved what seem to be truly remarkable results in a short amount of time.  It’s not because they use “saying thanks” as a way to get ahead because people see through that bologne.  No, it’s because they truly appreciate people and life.  They are engaged with everything around them and as the study reveals – that changes everything!

 

 

 

Stepping Into Your Next Big Dream

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My girlfriend burst out laughing over lunch when I told her an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote when I was 18.  It said, “Lord, thank you for my new job at Suzy Shier, it’s my dream job.”  At that time and point in my life it really was my dream job.  I’d been slugging away at three jobs – all in the food industry.  This would be the first job that when I finished my shift I wouldn’t smell like food. I could actually go straight from work to hang out with friends without having to shower.

So, it was a dream.

Fast forward 20 years, and my life has taken me on the journey of a lifetime.  I thought I would be a missionary and head to Africa.  Instead, I have spent the last 20 years working in the corporate world.  I’ve landed a few roles that were also “dream jobs” for me for different reasons –  more responsibility, trying something new, or working with people that I knew would inspire me.

In all cases,every time I’ve stepped into the next stage of my life there has been one thing in common. A step of faith.  My favourite book that I have given to many is called “The Dream Giver“.  In it, a man named Ordinary leaves the Land of Familiar in pursuit of his “Big Dream”.  It is that first step out of the Land of Familiar that is always the scariest. 

Watching a movie unfold with a person chasing their dream is always inspiring but it never gives the viewer the full impact of their choices.  When you do something new, something totally different you are actively choosing to leave your comfort zone – often to work with people you don’t know, doing something in a different place – with nothing but “hope” on your side that it will work out.

It’s not always been a smooth ride.  I’ve made that big step and ended up meeting the most amazing people.  One of those people is now best friend and she refers to the season and team we worked on as “Camelot”.  Every day we worked with people we really loved, who inspired us, and it didn’t feel like work. I’ve had that happen more than once, but I’ve also experienced the opposite.  So is it worth it?

The answer is simply yes and for this one reason.  What has driven me, and what I hope will drive you is this single thought. “What if…” I never want to look back and say “If only…”  The journey may not be smooth, it may even be rough, but you will be stronger for what you experience. 

So go on, take that leap of faith, and step into your next big dream.

Women make better leaders? Careful….

by Karolyn Hart

More and more I’m reading studies and research that are making the bold statements that “women make better leaders than men”.  As a woman who is also a leader most would assume I would deliver an enthusiastic response and get on the band wagon.  After all, a study recently published by the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics, surveyed 600 Board of Directors, and concluded that women make better corporate leaders than men. Who can argue with such a prestigious firm interviewing successful people? Facts are facts right? Research is never wrong, correct? Except, there are now studies being conducted on studies that at the time were touted as accurate and in fact were wrong.

According to this recent study, women are more inquisitive than men and more cooperative when it comes to consider competing interests.  Is it just me, or is anyone else offended on behalf of men? To me, these are sweeping statements that shows we’ve learned absolutely nothing about diversity and how it interplays between the sexes.  I can quickly call to mind a number of leaders who are male, as well as female leaders, who are all equally inquisitive.  I can also call to mind both men and women who are equally adept at managing conflict resolution with competing interests and just as many who are not.

In the last 50 years we women fought to be seen as equals and while I admit that I believe we are still behind the eight ball when it comes to the glass ceiling – I am disheartened at the latest movement that is about diminishing the contribution of men.  I would think, that we women, would understand best that it is not about superiority but about equality. True equality.

Now I do believe that if there is an all male board and a female is brought to the table, that it provides a competitive advantage.  Not because the woman sitting at the table is somehow superior, but that men and women when equally represented and united to work together are far more competitive than when they are unbalanced.  Alternatively, I also believe that an all female board would not perform nearly as effectively as they would if they were to invite a male perspective to the table.

I would love these studies to consider the option of united working approaches and how they interplay. Does having equality at the table create a competitive advantage? These over-simplified statements that “girls are better than boys” seem unsophisticated and raise more questions than answers for me.

Imagine if these studies went beyond the battles of the sexes – what would happen if we also chose to learn about how extending equality into our boards (including race, age and sex) impacts competitiveness. Imagine if progressive Boards actually discovered that creating a “youth” board position created a competitive advantage because it provided a mechanism for the company to stay in touch with the thoughts of a generation they have nothing in common with? Would that be a competitive advantage I wonder?

It is true that we women leaders are still behind in many areas, but as we move forward let’s ensure that in our quest for equality that we do not inadvertently end up doing to men that which was once done to us.  Equality is not about superiority.  It is about respecting the differences and understanding that we are better together.

Have we learned nothing from the guys?

Imageby Karolyn Hart

I spent the majority of my career working in largely male-dominated industries. Back in the 90’s when I started my career “girls” just weren’t interested in technology and they REALLY weren’t interested in doing technology for the financial services industry.  As a result, I was trained by guys, coached by men, and mentored by gentlemen. They really taught me “What Every Professional Women Should Know” and I am greatly appreciative.

Recently, I’ve been following a number of authors from Forbes and Inc. who are discussing women in leadership.  Interestingly, one of the authors (a man if you’re interested) declared that one of the 2013 trends is the “rise of women” and that now everyone accepts that women are just “better” Apparently, we are better at leadership, and communications, and pretty much everything else.

Really? Oh brother.

The sentiment is being echoed all over the internet. Do a google search and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Here’s the thing…have we learned nothing?  While I appreciate the fact that women are being recognized for their abilities we cannot do it at the detriment of men.  Extremes produce extremes and I would hope that we’re more enlightened than these statements.

The fact is that men and women are different.  It’s not about “better”.  We’ve spent generations fighting for women to be seen as equal, but forcing men into the “weaker sex” makes us no better than those arrogant beasts in the 1950’s that wouldn’t let married women work.  Thank you IBM for leading the way!

Now this is not going to be poltically correct, and I also realize I’m biased because I spent most of my career working with men, but if I had to choose I would work with men.  There is something to be said for being focused. In fact, research shows that only about 5% of people multi-task effectively, so it’s complete hogwash to claim that we women do this more effectively in the workplace. I also appreciate how men are direct, usually have less emotional drama, and are results oriented.  It makes the work place much easier to navigate when you don’t have to worry about “who likes who” etc. What happens without that drama? Well, it gets filled with work – and I like that. I like it alot.

Now that the research is showing the world just how great we women are, how about we not repeat the same mistake of making gender-biased assumptions? How about we realize that there is beauty in the complexity of our differences?   Imagine a world in the future where we take the lessons from the past instead of arrogantly demanding our turn at the wheel. Why not simply move forward in confidence into a future where we have learned that a person’s ability is not predetermined by their race, sex, or the religion they practice.

It’s black history month and Rev. King’s “I have a dream” speech may be resonating with me right now as a result, but there’s something to be said that our future is better united together then repeating the mistakes of the past.

At the end of the day, I may prefer to work with men if given the choice, but I also want the voice of the opposite sex at the table during those conversations because I know it will make whatever is being worked on stronger – and that was always the point. Equality brings strength so let’s be sure to not lose it in our future.