Retaining High Tech Women Once They’re In The Door – Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

Our experience is formed by how we interpret the world.  We look through a lens and decide that these are things that affect my happiness and quality of life at work.  The survey measures how people are experiencing their world through their framework.  “People know everything about what they do,” Karen explained.  “We just can’t tell you.”

“I can’t count how many women have told me, ‘I left for my kids,'” Karen continued.  “It was never for the kids.  It was just a good excuse.”  She related a story of a woman who said, “I left work to be with my daughter.  I had grown so bored with everything we were doing.  The work was mundane and routine, there was never going to be any advancement … oh, wait, I didn’t really leave for my daughter, did I?”  “No!” Karen agreed.

Women need a psychological sense of community.  Karen calls this the “Push” (being thrown into the ring) and the “Support” (encouraging and aiding you once you’re there).  The most important thing for women is a tightly-knit cohesive team.  I remember identifying this as one of my key requirements when working with a career counselor.  This could also explain why book series such as “The Baby-Sitters Club” by Ann M. Martin and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” by Ann Brashares have held such staying power with adolescent girls.  The central theme of these books is the unity between 4 or more girls and the way they help each other overcome difficulties and accomplish goals.  The female need for a tightly-knit cohesive team seems to manifest itself at a young age.

“When women feel a part of things, they stand,” Karen stated.  “Men feel the same way; however, they’re already a part of things.  Since this need has already been met, it is not as evident in men.”

What do people need to feel successful?  Everyone know the rules of engagement, i.e. how to be part of a team.  Yet, Karen is asked, “How do you walk into a room full of guys?”  What this question is really saying is, “I don’t know how to be a part of it.”  Karen’s team conducted a poll on what women need to feel successful.  These were the results:

  • I’m learning – 74.7%
  • Stimulating work – 71.5%
  • Influential projects – 58.9%
  • Solving social issues – 21.5%

These results show that the project needs to be compelling, not socially relevant.  “Women want challenge.  They want to be interested,” Karen re-iterated.  “They don’t need anything special!”

We returned to the Push and Support.  Women must find their set of managers and colleagues.  “If women are thrown into a challenge, they will rise … if they have support,” Karen explained.  “Everyone is tossed into the ring at some point.  Some women throw themselves into the ring.  Some women do better if the Push comes from parents or spouses.”  In addition to being pushed, women need someone to talk to when the going gets rough.  The “Push” and “Support” can be different sets of people.

To be continued …

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Part 7: Quiet – Q&A – a GHC2016 Lecture by Susan Cain

Continued from Part 6: Quiet – Next Steps

A lively Q&A session followed Cain’s lecture; her answers were consistently thoughtful and well crafted, demonstrating the solidity of the research behind her book.

How can we improve or tailor the interview process for introverts?

Let them know in advance what questions you’ll be asking so that they have sufficient time to process and prepare.

Can introvert/extrovert tendencies change over time?

Most of us tend to get more introverted with time.  The “babies and sugar water” experiment shows that we do have an underlying temperament and a set of behavioral preferences at birth.  The underlying kernel of introversion stays in the person but over time can become barely recognizable.

As an introvert, what kind of work environment should I seek out?

The key is becoming self-aware – understanding what energizes you and evaluating whether you’re happy in your environment.  This is 75% of the game.  With this self-awareness, you can optimize any environment to better suit your needs.

What do Quiet Ambassadors do?  How can I get involved?

They train in our methodology and provide personal coaching in the workplace.  This is essential since the vast majority of people think introverts can be leaders. provides details on how to get involved.

How can I honor my introverted nature without being rude to others?

When someone asks to meet, suggest a 10-minute coffee instead of a 2-hour lunch.  Having a language or framework, such as the one provided in Cain’s book, helps bring these differences between extroverts and introverts to the forefront, where we can talk and joke about them, instead of languishing behind silence and presumed slights.  For example, an introvert enters Cain’s workplace in a deep state of flow* and doesn’t greet anybody.  No one gets upset.  It is easy to get past this when you have the language to converse.  It becomes “no big deal”.

Do you have any tips on dealing with the discomfort that arises when expanding one’s comfort zone?

Involve someone else.  Discomfort is easier to bear when you know you’re doing it for other people.

The questions would have continued but the moderator informed the audience that we needed to wrap up.  Cain’s lecture was an enlightening and invigorating start to GHC2016!

* Flow:  the Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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Part 6: Quiet – Next Steps – a GHC2016 Lecture by Susan Cain

Continued from Part 5: Quiet – The Best Leaders

Cain provided the following next steps:

Rethink networking

Networking is the universal bugaboo of introverts.  The admonition to “exchange as many business cards as you can and drop off as many resumes as you can” requires meeting as many people as you can in as short a time as you can (with apologies to John Wesley).  This is exactly what depletes an introvert’s batteries.  “She who collected the most business cards wins” is not an effective modus operandi for introverts.

“Your job should be to look for the kindred spirits, not work the room,” Cain clarified.  Kindred spirits!  This familiar phrase instantly sent my mind racing back to the nostalgic era of the 1990’s, when I was first introduced to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables”.  Anne is continually on the lookout for kindred spirits, also referred to as “the race that knows Joseph”.  Talkative Anne initially seems to be a bubbly extrovert but she also loves spending hours communing with nature and says, “You know it’s lovely to be alone once in a while.”  Montgomery and her alter ego, Emily Starr, are clearly defined introverts.  Montgomery bemoaned her social circle’s lack of understanding on the need for solitude when she caustically noted, “People who wanted to be alone could only want to be alone for some sinister purpose.” After a boisterous visit with cousins, Emily returns home “to her own dear room” and writes in her diary (another feature of introverts!) that she “revelled in solitude”.  Both Emily and Anne have been known to say, “I had a lovely time with myself today.”

These books and characters took up most of the mental space of my formative years.  This led me to wonder whether introversion could be a learned behavior.  However, I also remember exhibiting introverted tendencies as a younger child.  I liked to read in rooms by myself at social gatherings and was continually in search of a friendly book when my parents and I visited other families.

Back to networking.  Cain advises setting yourself a quota of kindred spirits to meet at your next networking event.  After you’ve met this quota, you are free to retreat back to your cocoon – taking a warm bath in your hotel room, watching TV in your sleepwear or curling up with a good book.  This approach will result in an even richer network than the one you had before because it is intrinsically motivated and not as mechanistic.

Step outside your comfort zone

Expanding your comfort zone is uncomfortable for everyone, but especially for introverts.  It is therefore essential to pick your battles.  Select those core personal projects that are important to you in work and life.  Be uncomfortable for something that matters deeply to you and the reward will be worth the temporary feelings of discomfort.  Ensure the time frame for your chosen activity is finite; once it is over, you can relax with the statement, “That’s done and now I’m back to being me.”

Regular periods of downtime are essential for introverts to be their best self.  Schedule your calendar differently; tweak it to incorporate the very necessary solitude.

Cain cited herself as an example of venturing outside of one’s comfort zone.  “I’m here, giving this lecture.  Otherwise, I’d be in a library with my laptop.”  The audience certainly appreciated Cain’s expansion of her comfort zone!

Groom an “unlikely” leader

Pay what you have learned forward.  Leaders come in all shapes and sizes.  Locate that person in your life who does not fit the traditional mold of “leader” and consider what you could do to help them expand their own comfort zone.  This doesn’t mean turning them into someone else.  Draw on the amazing strengths they already have.

Cain has successfully used her platform to start a Quiet Revolution.  Members of this team are known as Quiet Ambassadors.  They go to different companies and observe how to optimize the work environment for introverts whose needs may not be currently served.  Cain showed us a photo of Quiet Ambassadors at LinkedIn in 2016.  The Quiet Revolution is grooming unlikely leaders on a large scale.

Know what’s in your suitcase

Remember Cain’s suitcase full of books that she took to camp?  Consider the contents of your own metaphorical suitcase.  For me, it’s a notebook and pen.  Reflect on the following questions (I’ve included my own answers):

  • Why do you carry these things wherever you go?

I want to observe, remember and record.

  • Why do they matter to you?

They are part of my identity.  I’m a writer and these are my tools.

  • Why did you put them there?

I love using them.  Just seeing them makes me feel happy and I never know when I will need them.

Extroverts find it natural and easy to share their answers with others.  Cain encourages her fellow introverts to “share once in a while with the people around you, because the world needs you and it needs the things you carry”.

Cain graciously closed her lecture with the following benedictions:

  • I wish you the best of all possible journeys
  • Make you have the courage to speak softly

She received thunderous applause.  The Q&A portion showed the audience’s eagerness to engage with her.

Continued in Part 7: Quiet – Q&A

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Part 5: Quiet – The Best Leaders – a GHC 2016 Lecture by Susan Cain

Continued from Part 4: Quiet – Rescue Creativity and Reduce Groupthink

Cain provided meeting tips for introverts:

1) Speak up early and often.  Be the first or second person to speak.  First or second speakers become an emotional anchor.  People will direct their energy and attention to you and what you said.  The opposite happens when you wait; your statements tend to get marginalized.

2) There is a show called “Curb Your Enthusiasm”.  Introverts, don’t curb yours!  Cain provided a personal example to illustrate this point.  She gave an imitation of her husband’s reaction when her book, “Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Doesn’t Stop Talking” made the New York Times’ bestsellers list.  His reaction was over-the-top, happy, excited, bouncy and spouting delighted cheers.  Cain said to us, “I’m happy too.  I mean, it’s my book; I wrote it!  However, as an introvert, my reaction is calmer, more like ‘Great!'”  Cain explained that openly discussing these differences can avert misunderstandings that would otherwise occur.  For example, she will deliberately be over-the-top happy when her husband has a similar triumph, so that he doesn’t interpret her more muted version as disinterest and lack of caring.

3) Extroverts, curb yours.  Over-exuberance can overwhelm the introverts in your meeting and prevent them from contributing.  Sheryl Sandberg had a coach who would help her speak less during meetings so that she could benefit from her staff’s valuable input.

4) Engage introverts 1-on-1 and give them time to prepare for the meeting.  “We need time to process the agenda and our responses!” Cain stated.

Cain quoted the management bible, “From Good to Great” by Jim Collins.  Collins states that the best leaders are often quiet, modest, shy, unassuming and soft-spoken.  They want to go deep into 1-3 areas of passion.  They don’t usually want to be a leader just to be a leader.  They end up becoming a leader unintentionally because of their service to this passion.  Cain cited some compelling leaders that fit this description:

  • Beth Comstock, VP of General Electric.  Comstock is curious and explores areas outside of her comfort zone.
  • Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company.  He is a shy man who found a unique way of connecting with his employees.  He would hand-write personal letters of thanks to the employees who went above and beyond the call of duty.  This resonates with me because I recently sent a hand-written letter to a friend, feeling a sense of longing for the nostalgic practice.  It was definitely more satisfying than sending yet another email!  I also liked Doug because in his picture, his study was lined with tall bookshelves housing thousands of books.  He followed the Randy Pausch practice of keeping one item on his clean desk (the letter he was writing) and he wore a shy, kind, almost surprised, humble sort of smile.
  • Mahatma Gandhi.  A shy child who found the social interaction of school intimidating, this remarkable human being would eventually lead his entire nation to freedom.  Albert Einstein said of Gandhi, “Future generations will scarce believe that one such as this walked the Earth.”

These leaders’ styles have a curious potency about them.  People can feel that a leader is present amongst them.  “They almost seem to have no choice,” Cain said.  “They lead because they are so committed to their cause.”

“I’ve presented you with a lot of data,” Cain summarized.  “Now, what do we do with it?”

Continued in Part 6: Quiet – Next Steps

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Part 4: Quiet – Rescue Creativity and Reduce Groupthink – a GHC 2016 Lecture by Susan Cain

Continued from Part 3: Quiet – Attention to Detail

The best teams contain a mix of introverts and extroverts, psychiatrists find.  Extroverts help introverts state and exchange their ideas.  “You could have the best idea in the world but unless you get it out there and do something with it, it’s pretty much useless,” Cain observed.

In order to rescue creativity, we need to be come comfortable with solitude, perhaps even crave it.  I was reminded of mathematician Blaise Pascal’s famous quote, “All of man’s troubles stem from an inability to sit in a room alone.”  Cain referenced the artist and designer, Philippe Starck.  He periodically retreats to a cabin in the woods with no magazines, television or other external input.  He needs to be in solitude to create his amazing works of art.  In current day, the mystery of solitude has been denigrated and called a myth.  We need to rescue solitude in order to rescue creativity.

I have experienced this for myself in recent months.  Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data constantly flowing in from the computer and the television, I decided to turn both of them off and eat my dinner in solitude.  For the first time in a long time, I could hear my own thoughts.  This is a rewarding and enriching experience that, if repeated, can help you understand what it is you really want out of life.

Cain discussed brainstorming next.  Scientists have found that individuals brainstorm better than groups; they produce both a larger volume and an enhanced quality of ideas.  Dr. Adrian Furnham concluded, “Businesses must be insane to continue group brainstorming!”  It has been found that in group meetings, 3 people do 70% of the talking.  Audience laughter declared this to be a common experience.  I remember a member of my book club also voicing the same sentiment.

‘Groupthink’ or conformist thinking is a key component of poor performance during group brainstorming sessions.  Cain showed us a clip from a 1960s film by Sullivan and Ashe.  It depicted a social experiment with one subject and 4 researchers.  The subject is unaware that the other participants are members of a research group.

The researcher shows the 5 participants four lines of varying lengths and asks them to identify the shortest line:  1, 2, 3 or 4.  The correct answer is 3 and this is what the subject verbally selects.  The other participants verbally select line 2.  The subject is baffled by their choice.  The researcher then shows the participants a different set of lines and once again asks them to identify the shortest line.  This time, the subject lets the other participants answer first.  They all agree on line 3, even though line 2 is the shortest.  It is now the subject’s turn to answer.  There is indecision and fear in his eyes as he hesitates for several seconds, frowning at the lines and running the tip of his tongue across his lips, as if in deep thought.  “Are my eyes playing tricks on me?” he appears to be wondering.  Finally, with great reluctance, he gives his answer.  “Three?”  The clip stops.

“This result is truly horrifying,” Cain said, as our audience laughed.  She conducted an audience poll.  “How many of you think the man really knew the correct answer but was pretending?”  Several hands went up, including mine.  “How many of you think the man really believed the correct answer was 3?” Cain asked.  Several hands went up.  Cain then explained that the latter group was probably correct.  Recent technology allows the subject’s brain to be scanned while he is giving the wrong answer.  The activity in certain areas of the brain seems to be consistent with the statement that the subject believed the answer was 3.

I remember falling prey to groupthink when I was a QA Team Lead.  The other team leads and I had filled out a shared spreadsheet with comments for senior management.  When I reviewed the completed spreadsheet, I saw that my answer was different from the other team leads’; they had all written the same thing.  I asked the QA Manager for a chance to edit the spreadsheet before the submitted it to senior management.  She said, “I think your answer is fine; why do you want to change it?”  I explained that I wanted it to be consistent with the rest of the group.  “Oh … OK,” she said.  I could tell she was a little exasperated.  It’s funny how we want to stand out and blend in at the same time.

Cain’s next slide showed a photo of a smiling brunette.  The numbers 1 through 6 were captioned below the photo.  The number 4 was embedded in a square.  Cain explained the experiment:  a group of men were shown 180 photos of women and asked to rate the photos on a scale of 1-6.  They were then shown the photos a second time but with an additional piece of data:  their peers’ rating of the photo.  While this experiment may not win any awards for political correctness, the conclusion is still valuable:  the men were more likely to rate the photo higher the second time around if this higher rating matched the one given by their peers.  Note that the only intervening factor was the subject’s awareness of his peers’ opinions.

Remember the brain scan we mentioned earlier?  In this experiment, it showed that the reward centers in the brain (that rush of dopamine we experience when something pleasurable happens) were activated when the subject chose an answer that matched the answer given by his peers.  Cain observed, “Even something so seemingly deep, visceral and personal as who we find attractive is influenced by our peers’ opinions.  What is more, we don’t know that we’re doing this.”  She concluded, much to the audience’s amusement,” Without this phenomenon, the advertising industry would not exist.  We are social beings and the boundaries surrounding our opinions are not as hard and solid as we would like to think.  We have porous boundaries.”  I remember hearing, “You are the average of the top 5 people you hang out with.”  This would explain why!  This finding also underscores the importance of solitude; spending time alone and engaging in introspection allows you to discover the real you, which in turn, opens the path to genuine joy and personal fulfillment.

Continued in Part 5: Quiet – The Best Leaders

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Part 3: Quiet – Attention to Detail – a GHC 2016 Lecture by Susan Cain

Continued from Part 2: Quiet – Solitude matters!

“People often ask about shyness,” Cain continued.  “Shyness is different from introversion.  Shyness is a fear of social judgment.  President Obama is a famous example of an introvert who is not shy.  On the other hand, Barbara Streisand is a shy singer who suffered so much from stage fright that she did not perform for 20 years.”

Cain showed a slide depicting toddlers and caregivers seated in a circle for a musical activity.  Some toddlers stuck close to their parents, while one little fellow in red pranced happily in the center of the circle.  You could not identify his caregiver, whereas the other toddlers demonstrated a clear alliance with their caregivers.  When caregivers observe their children staying beside them and not physically participating in group activities, their mental narrative becomes one of concern.  “Is my child getting less out of the experience?” they worry.  This definitely struck a chord with me.  As a child, I remember being actively encouraged to participate in group activities.  Cain said we may also recall observing this behavior in a spouse, child or friend.

“Caregivers, there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye,” Cain pleaded on behalf of the apparent wallflowers.  “These children may be sitting beside you but they are not sitting inertly!  They are paying careful, subtle attention to the minute details and nuances of the social activity.  It is often so subtle that it goes unnoticed.”

Cain gave us an exercise:  spot the 5 differences between two pictures.  I immediately rose to this challenge, having adored this activity as a child.  Both pictures depicted a silhouette male figure seated on a bench in a city park.  I noted 4 differences before Cain moved to the next slide:

  1. The man’s face is turned to his right in the second picture
  2. There is only one bird on the tree in the second picture
  3. There is no sidewalk separator in the second picture
  4. The tree in the second picture is missing a branch

Cain explained introverts often do better at this exercise because their eyes move more often than those of extroverts.  As she said this, I became aware of my own eyes rapidly moving back and forth between the pictures, trying to spot differences.  This trait would later be labelled “attention to detail” and lead me to a career in Software Quality Assurance (QA).  I remember how often I’ve compared user interface screens to prototypes and successfully identified defects.  I even received recognition for identifying the most defects!  This led me to believe I was a good QA Analyst and motivated me to work harder.  The way Cain brought this technical skill back to its roots was truly fascinating.

The next slide showed a photo of Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg, COO and CEO of Facebook, respectively.  They were wearing sunglasses (in the tech world, they clearly enjoy a level of fame akin to that of Hollywood stars!) and getting Starbucks coffee.  Cain explained that this is a famous example of yin and yang.  Sheryl the extrovert and Mark the introvert harmonize and harness each other’s strengths.  This was, in fact, one of the reasons Mark recruited Sheryl; he observed that her extroverted nature would accomplish several people-oriented tasks more efficiently than his introverted nature.

Continued in Part 4: Quiet – Rescue Creativity and Reduce Groupthink

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Part 2: Quiet – Solitude matters! – a GHC 2016 lecture by Susan Cain

Continued from Part 1:  Quiet: How to Harness the Strengths of Introverts

Solitude matters.  “We need to rescue solitude!” Cain emphasized.  “And in the same vein, we also need to rescue leadership.”  She showed a slide that displayed a group of penguins obediently waiting to slide off an iceberg, as their leader has just done.  “The most charismatic person is not necessarily the best leader.”  This was somewhat mind-blowing.  My MBA courses never seemed to let up on the importance of charisma – being powerful, influential and inspiring so that you could lead from anywhere, even without being in a position of authority.

“Are you an introvert, extrovert or ambivert?” the next slide asked.  Cain’s book has a questionnaire that readers can complete to answer this question.  Due to time constraints, she could not have us go through the full questionnaire so she proposed the following alternative:

It’s a little new and unorthodox but we’ll give it a try.  I want you to split up into groups of 4 (groan).  I shared a personal and private story and now I’d like you to share a similar story from your own past with each other.  You will then select the most poignant story and share it with the group at large.  It may be a little uncomfortable but I really believe that if we are open and honest with each other, a greater truth will emerge.

As Cain said these words, I mentally formed a group with the woman sitting to my left (a self-proclaimed extrovert), Jessica on my right (a self-proclaimed Cain fangirl) and Jessica’s seatmate.  I also began mentally scrambling for a personal, poignant story I could share but found it hard to come up with one that I would be willing to share.  This was going to be tough …

“And I am, of course, kidding!” Cain said brightly and the audience burst into relieved laughter.  We laughed for a long while!  “I could see some of you thinking, ‘OK, how can I get out of here now?'” Cain teased us.  It was indeed amazing how she had alarmed us and how quickly and easily we accept the concept of working in groups, regardless of how outlandish and strange the premise might be (this was a session about introverts, after all!).

“Of course we’re not going to do any such thing,” Cain comforted us as we relaxed.  “But what were you thinking during those moments?  Recall the discomfort that you were experiencing.”

“Introverts are quite collaborative,” Cain continued.  “We don’t necessarily hate all group activities.”  She put up a slide that depicted a silhouette dancing, with a caption that read, “How do you feel after 2 hours at a fun party?”  I know how I felt … drained!  Cain explained that introverts feel depleted and drained after such an experience, while extroverts feel energized and recharged.  She stated that this battery metaphor describes what is happening neurobiologically.

Introverts value solitude and for good reason.  When there is too much external stimulation (noise, music, chatter), we find it distracting.  However, when things are quiet, it is as if a light has been switched on inside of us.  We find ourselves productive and creative.  I remember describing this experience as “uninterrupted time” and being told that it was a luxury I could not expect in an imperfect world.  Extroverts have the opposite reaction to stimuli; it energizes them.

Cain shared the findings of researchers:  this tendency towards introversion or extroversion can be observed in babies as young as 2 days old!  In an experiment, babies were fed sugar water.  The babies that salivated more were found to have greater sensitivity to external stimuli.  From the body’s point of view, sugar water is equivalent to a party.  The babies that salivated more grew up to react more strongly to stimuli and exhibit more introverted tendencies.

A second experiment involved adults solving math problems while loud and soft music alternately played in the background.  Results showed that the extroverts solved the problems more quickly when loud music played and the introverts solved the problems more quickly when soft music played.  This research demonstrates that there is no one-size-fits-all work environment.  The onus is on you to customize your environment to best fit your needs and in order to do this, it is essential that you know the research.

Continued in Part 3: Quiet – Attention to Detail

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