Laurel asked, “Who here is a good girl and a perfectionist?”  She discussed the social conditioning that leads girls to believe they can’t be angry or say how they feel.  Perfectionism comes from a fixed mindset, vs. a growth mindset.  A fixed mindset requires:

  • achievement at all costs
  • failure is not allowed

This leads to over-cautious behavior.  Perfectionists tend to second-guess themselves.  For women in particular, this does not exude confidence.

Apology rules

  • Don’t apologize when it’s not your fault.
  • People would rather receive a compliment than an apology.

An audience member announced, “I am no longer a good girl at work.”  Another audience discussed her emotional and angry 13-year-old daughter.  One of the challenges she faces in parenting her child is reconciling the 21st century era of parenting to her perfectionistic mother.  “Seniors’ threshold of insults is much lower,” she explained.  “How do you break this age gap?’

Laurel said that when she was a teenager, she looked for direction.  Josie, on the other hand, said, “Don’t tell me what to do!”  Laurel provided the following suggestion:

Mum, I love you for who you are and I love you for who you’re not.  I have spent my lifetime worrying about what you think and it hasn’t been helpful.  I don’t want to pass that on to my children.  Please honor who I am as a mother and please be a role model to my children.  I have the right to raise them according to my internal values.

An audience member, Nicole, posed a candid query.  She and her brother just buried their mother.  While she loved her mother, she also found her a very strict perfectionist.  Minor infractions, such as spilt milk or food, resulted in severe consequences.  Nicole spent most of her childhood constantly apologizing.  It is so ingrained now that her colleagues find it strange when she apologizes for similar mishaps.  “Why are you apologizing all the time?  Everybody spills stuff!” they say.  Nicole asked the presenters, “How do you overcome the impact and influence of these early childhood experiences so that you can be more effective at work?”  The presenters thanked her for her query and agreed to come back to this question.

Josie and Laurel asked parents to “have a think” about the message you’re sending your son or daughte rwhen you over-apologize:

  • I’m invisible
  • I don’t count
  • Don’t worry about me

They also discussed controlling relationships, such as the one Nicole described.  One of the twins was in a controlling romantic relationship.  She had always considered herself a strong woman.  She knows now that these entrapments can happen to anybody.  “It eats away at you,” she said.  To the audience’s dismay, she explained that at one point, she found herself apologizing for the way she hung up the bath net.  Thankfully, she is well out of that relationship now.

Josie and Laurel discussed “little” shifts, such as eliminating the word ‘just’ from your emails.  They also discussed “big calls”.  Be prepared for push-back and be prepared to be called “abrasive” and all its synonyms, because people are resistant to change!

Next post:  Change in steps

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Quit Apologizing, Over-Explaining and Justifying!

The session was hosted by identical twins Josie Gillan and Laurel McLay.  Josie identified herself as the right-brained twin and introduced her sister as the left-brained twin.  Josie demonstrated her right-brained nature by indicating her loud-print trousers.  Laurel was wearing a scarf with the same loud print, which is all that Josie could convince her sister to do!

Who here thinkjs they apologize too much?  Or wonders if they apologize too much without realizing it?” Josie asked.  There were Apology Bingo charts on the tables.  They contained mitigating words such as the following:

  • um
  • uh
  • really
  • generally

Josie played a video of herself explaining this concept.  She used all these words, especially “purely generalizing“.  Laurel expressed her surprise when she first saw this video because she knows what a strong speaker her sister is!

I first came across this concept of mitigating words about a decade ago.  Tara Sophia Mohr had published a book called Ten Rules for Brilliant Women.  There was a workbook available online, which I remember completing.  One of the rules was to stop using the word just to mitigate your request.

Josie asked the audience to identify her mitigating words.  I appreciate her openness in inviting us to identify her errors so that we could learn from her mistakes!  One audience member stated that she kept starting her sentences with the word but.  Josie agreed and explained that this equates to negating herself, without realizing it.  She went on to explain the root of the word apology.  I loved this part because I adore etymology!  The word apology comes from the Greek word apologos, which means story or moral fable.  The intent is to acknowledge and honor the story.

University of Waterloo (my alma mater and also represented at GHC 17!) scholar Corinna Schumann published the following findings:

  • Men apologize less often than women
  • The threshold of offensiveness is higher for men (audible gasps from the audience)

Another author had published a book titled How to Become a Canadian Without Even Trying.  The Canadians in the audience (myself included) cheered.  Canadians are known for their tendency to apologize.  I remember a cartoon that featured the Olympic podium.  This was during the Vancouver 2014 Olympics where Canada won several gold medals.  The cartoon depicted the gold medallist on the podium saying “Sorry” to the silver and bronze medallists.  This was how you could identify that he was a Canadian!

The book outlined 12 different ways of apologizing:  the royal apology, the subservient apology, etc.  British, Japanese and Korean cultures were also brought to the forefront as master apologists.

Next post:  Good girls and perfectionists


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Let It Go – Am I My Own Worst Critic?

There is a walnut-shaped area in the base of the brain that contains bad memories.  Brain scans have shown that female brains are very active and light up red in that area.  We all file away negative experiences.  The problem is that women keep opening the filing cabinet!  (audience laughter).  Men:

  • Learn from it
  • Drop it
  • Move on

This approach is internalized early in “boy culture”.

Tammy discussed a book called The Confidence Quote.  It outlines how women tend to over-prepare.  Ariane could relate to this.  She drew a clever and original analogy:  she visualizes a racetrack around which “perfect Ariane” is running smoothly, while regular, flawed Ariane gives it her best effort.  Ariane and “perfect Ariane” don’t always run in parallel.

Kaycee agreed that repeatedly visiting the filing cabinet is detrimental to our progress and emotional well-being, but how do we stop?  What worked for her is taking an actionable step from the negative feedback.  She knows that she takes criticism personally and handles it by saying, “Maybe this is about me as a person … but it doesn’t mean I can’t change!

Dawn cautioned us to be careful who we thank for their feedback because we may not want to encourage more feedback from that particular person!  The panelists agreed that it was important to separate feedback into two categories:

  • Business feedback:  You filled out the wrong form
  • Personal feedback:  Your style really isn’t working

Tammy returned to her studies.  It appears that men have 2 core fears in the workplace:

  1. She will cry
  2. I will get angry

Ariane humorously stated that she aspires to help her managers face their fears and grow as human beings.  This led to much audience laughter.  Ariane acknowledged that she is a crier.  She has made her peace with it.  She knows that it is because she feels so passionately about her product and her team.  This reminded me of my Lean In book club with the W.I.S.E (Women In Search of Excellence) employee resource group at Dell.  One of the chapters discussed crying in the workplace.  A fellow engineer mentioned that sometimes she has found herself with tears in her eyes for exactly the same reason as Ariane:  she feels passionately about her product.  I remarked that I have often felt angry.  Another participant explained that sometimes anger can mask sadness.

After an emotional discussion, Ariane handles the situation by sending her colleagues the following items in an email:

  • Breakdown of consequences
  • Action Plan

The above shows that although there were tears, Ariane was listening, she’s actively engaged, she’s involved and she wants to grow as an engineer.

Kaycee described an emotional interaction of her own.  She had her performance review with her manager and some of the feedback wounded her.  When she exited, she was visibly upset.  A male colleague asked her what happened.  She said, “I had my performance review and it got a little emotional in there.  I may have cried a little.”  Kaycee laughingly exclaimed that her colleague showed no empathy!  He just could not relate to her situation at all.  Since then, she has learned to embrace her emotions and move through them.  When she gets feedback such as “You’re not technical enough“, instead of feeling hurt and offended, she asks probing, specific questions on where she can gain the necessary expertise.

Tammy returned to her studies.  A group of adults, male and female, were given a specific task to perform.  They were then given their results (binary –  success or failure) and asked why they succeeded or failed.

Women attributed their success to:  effort, task ease and luck.

Men attributed their success to:  skill

Women explained their failure with the statement:

  • I tried.  I just couldn’t do it.

Men explained their failure with the statements:

  • You didn’t give me enough time!
  • The instructions weren’t clear.

This reminded me of Sheryl Sandberg’s TED Talk.  She asked some successful interview candidates why they landed the job.  The men replied, “Because I’m awesome!  (Like, why are you even asking?)”  The women replied, “I’m so blessed; I’m so thankful; I had a lot of help; I got lucky.”

Tammy shared a joke she had read.  A woman tries on a pair of pants and cannot make them fit.  She stares at the mirror and thinks, “I need to go on a diet!”  A man has the same experience.  He stares at the mirror and thinks, “There’s something wrong with these pants!

Ariane talked about fixing broken builds at her workplace.  When the build notification went out to everyone as “broken”, Ariane immediately assumed it was something she had done.  She sent out an email saying, “It’s probably me” and worked on fixing the build.  95% of the time, it wasn’t her code but she found out whose code it was and also noted the solution along the way.  She thought that falling on her sword was her “doing a nice thing for the organization“.  To her surprise, it was not perceived that way.  The actual effect was that everyone assumed, “Ariane broke the build and fixed the mistake she introduced.”  In actuality, Ariane was fixing the mistakes of the people who had broken the build.  She had doubled her workload and taken on an extra side of blame as well!  Ariane learned the hard way that when she says “It’s probably me“, her male colleagues are likely to think “Yeah, totally her” and her fixing the build re-inforced this notion.

Ariane is an external processor.  She has to talk though the problem.  She already has the solution but she likes to talk it through and validate her understanding, as well as have the people around her identify potential loopholes and pitfalls.  What Ariane found was when she did this, her colleagues did not realize she was an external processor.  What she saw as “talking it through“, they say as “me having to leave my own work to help Ariane solve a problem; she doesn’t know what she’s doing!”  Ariane reframed her methods.  She is still an external processor but when she approaches her colleagues, she now prefaces her request with the following statements:

  • I’d like to talk over this challenge with you.  I already have the solution but I need to talk it through.
  • Can I have 5 minutes of your time?

She is cognizant of the fact that other people may be internal processors and strives to convey respect for their time.  Appreciate and value the differences in the workplace.

Kaycee’s major takeaway from Tammy’s statistics was, “Wow.  I didn’t realize not everyone looked inward.”  She had previously thought that everyone was like her.

My major takeaway from the session was the following mantra, which I missed out on by being a girl and not participating in “boy culture”!

  • Learn from it
  • Drop it
  • Move on!

I am already beginning to see improvements in my work and life 😉

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Am I My Own Worst Critic?

This was my favorite talk of GHC Day 1 (and I’m normally not a fan of panels!).  This panel featured seasoned software developer Ariane and two other women in the IT field:  Kaycee and Dawn.  The moderator, Tammy Hughes, began the panel by sharing some statistics, such as the following:

  • Both women and men perceive men as more intelligent (even when they are not)

Tammy explained that most of the statistics she shares are in the middle of the bell curve (most men and women; not discussing outliers).  The idea is to create visibility because “you cannot manage what you cannot see and don’t understand“.  We can use this information to determine how differences play out in the workplace.


We’re on the therapist’s couch; let’s go back to our childhood!  Tammy began by polling the audience on which toys or activities they remember playing with as children.  My seatmate, Gayle Llellewyn, and I fondly recalled reading (Roald Dahl, in particular.  We both loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda).  Gayle grew up with 4 brothers and therefore, enjoyed playing with their blocks and cars.  I enjoyed playing with stuffed animals, dolls and books.  When Tammy polled the audience, the following answers emerged:

  • Reading!
  • Biking!
  • Legos!

Tammy said that Legos always comes up when she poses this question to a room full of engineers.  These were the responses recorded in studies:

  • Boys:  soldiers, weapons
  • Girls:  dolls, houses
  • Both:  Legos

Tammy described an experiment where children of either gender are placed in a room full of various toys.  The researchers then observe which toys the children gravitate to.  This experiment has been repeated in various countries.  Regardless of demographic, economic status or culture, the results showed that boys gravitated to 3 main things:

  1. Speed!
  2. Power!
  3. Noise!

Girls, on the other hand, gravitate to toys that involve:

  1. Caring
  2. Relationships

Once again, individuals differ in their preference; what we are discussing here is the middle of the bell curve (most boys and most girls).

Tammy emphasized that “it could be the same toy.  It’s what they do with the toy.  One father said to me, ‘Yeah, my son plays with Barbies.  First, he takes their heads off and then he pulls their arms off …'” (audience laughter)

Tammy reviewed findings from the experiment (this was my favorite part, as I found it breathtakingly insightful and valuable):


  • Focused on competition:
    • Us vs. Them
    • Me vs. You
  • Winning is important!
  • Boys spend 50% of their time losing
  • That is, they learn how to take a loss (drop it, learn from it and move on)
  • Boys learn how to “not cry”
  • They take it one step further and learn how to mask all emotion entirely


  • Focused on collaboration
  • “Be nice”
  • Critical feedback from another violates the female culture in a way that is not seen in the male culture

Tammy discussed a coach who had seen both the Men’s and Women’s Field Hockey teams to the finals.  When asked whether he observed any fundamental differences in coaching each gender, he laughed and said, “Oh yeah!”  He found that he could not replay the video of the game after the fact because “none of the women would look at the video“.  When he eventually convinced them to do so, he noticed a curious phenomenon when he described an error:

  • All the men thought that the coach was talking about someone else
  • All the women were convinced the coach was talking about them
  • The women at fault also say, “My bad, guys, I’m sorry” when the coach explained their error
  • This did not happen with the men!

Panel Discussion

We then moved on to a discussion with the panelists on how often they encounter self-criticism.  Kaycee reviewed her initial communications with her immediate supervisor.  She often found herself talking about her errors.  This led to her manager having a negative view of her competence.  Kaycee concluded, “I learned to monitor the internal insecurities that I share with others.”  She is now more careful of what she self-discloses, instead of sharing the monologue in her head that constantly criticizes her performance.

Ariane shared a story about leaving her jacket behind on the plane.  Her first thoughts were:

  • Oh my God, you’re so stupid!
  • How could you forget your jacket?
  • It was a present from your husband!

Ariane stopped the flow of mental criticism and asked herself, “How would I react if this were another person?”  She realized that there were several extenuating circumstances that led to her forgetting her jacket:

  • The flight was a red-eye
  • She was operating on 3 hours of sleep
  • She only had 20 minutes to make her connecting flight

Ariane concluded, “The fact that I left my jacket behind is kind of understandable.  I happen to be a human.”  She stopped condemning herself for being a “crummy person who doesn’t love her husband“.

The name of the game in software is risk.  Risk can bring both reward and failure.  We need to be prepared for both.

Next post:  Let It Go!  (with apologies to Frozen)


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Demonstrating Value – Part 2

Therese Huston polled the audience to find that 50% of us were managers and 50% were independent contributors.  She organized a technique which I last heard from my Organizational Behavior professor, Rhona Berengut, at the Schulich School of Business in York University.  To ensure that you take action with a piece of information, use the What | So What? | Now What? technique.

Women, compared to men, receive vague feedback:

  • You had a great year
  • You’re an asset to the team


  • Your ability to debug across the whole stack meant we shipped our key feature in July

Therese explained that 60% of men receive specific feedback, compared with 40% of women.  This disparity intensifies when the feedback is negative.  For example, the statement “You’re too aggressive” is given to

  • 24% of men
  • 76% of women!

Therese asked, “What is the one word that comes up most often as a negative quality in women’s performance reviews?”  Some answers were:

  • aggressive
  • bossy
  • pushy

The correct answer is abrasive.  Therese humorously illustrated this with a slide of a dishwashing sponge (green side up).

One reason for vague feedback is protective hesitation.  Many women report to male managers.  Studies have shown that giving negative feedback to someone of a different race or gender can be especially uncomfortable.  Managers state, “I don’t want them to take it the wrong way.”  They fear being accused of racism or sexism.  This hesitation results in men unconsciously helping men move up the corporate ladder (since specific feedback is easier to address and correct).

Now what?

Companies are taking steps, such as creating requirements for performance reviews to be of equal length for both men and women.


One audience member said she would not even entertain the feedback that she was “too aggressive”.  When she received this feedback in real life, her response to her male manager was , “That sounds like a gendered comment.  Would you say that if I were a man?”  Her manager realized her point and stated, “You’re right!”  They went on to discuss specific examples and outline what she could do differently next time, in order to avoid being perceived as aggressive.



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Five Ways to Tap Into Your Power – Take the Lead! Part 2 with Mary Alice Callahan


Mary Alice asked, “How many people here would say, on a scale of 1-5, ‘I am the queen of strategic relationships and networking?”  There were not many 5s and this is typical.

Why are relationships important?  They can move you forward at work.  Mary Alice presented some relationship trivia.  Who makes up the majority of your network?

  • Smart people
  • People you see regularly
  • People you are related to
  • People you affiliate with

I guessed, “People you see regularly” but it turns out the correct answer is People you affiliate with, which is why some people call it a “man’s world”!

Approach every interaction by asking “Am I approaching this with

  • Integrity:  grounded in my own values
  • Authenticity:  with genuine intent
  • Reciprocity:  add and receive value

People think, “Why would senior management want to talk to me?  They don’t know me.”  The truth is senior management is interested in talking to us because we are the pulse of the organization.  When it comes to growing your network, people are surprised at the number of people they are already connected to.  “My head’s down, I’m working really hard, maybe I need to pick my head back up and look around to see who the key stakeholders are.”

It’s not about 6000 LinkedIn connection.  1 relationship can be worth a pound of gold.

Mentoring vs. Sponsorship

Mentor and Mentee:

  • you
  • development
  • career
  • mentees:  confidentiality, commonality, ask how you can help them (reciprocity)

Sponsor and Protege:

  • enabling job opportunities
  • has more confidence in you than you have
  • behind closed doors bringing your name to the table
  • proteges:  no B players!  Be less focused on titles

Blogger’s aside:  In Strong Medicine by Arthur Hayley, the protagonist, Celia Jordan, makes the statement that she is “hitching her wagon” to her immediate boss, Sam Hawthorne.  Sam advocated for her career progress when she was not in the room and was instrumental in her meteoric rise (she eventually became president of the company).  Sam’s actions make him a sponsor, as opposed to a mentor.

The Best Brand of You

  1. What do you love about work?
  2. What were your successes in the last 3 months?
  3. Why are you great at what you do?

Decode your power.


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Persuade Like An Entrepreneur

Great talk title!  It reminds me of Muhammad Ali’s quote “Float like a butterfly, sting like a honeybee” which is probably what the speakers were going for!  I was particularly interested to hear Christina Tan speak, as we share the same alma mater (the University of Waterloo).  Her co-facilitator was Jamie Crabb, who works for Patreon.

It is difficult to make people care about your idea and draw resources towards it.  Presenting your pitch in a structured and persuasive way can address this challenge.  The art of persuasion is not specific to entrepreneurs; they just happen to be really good at it (the successful ones, anyway).  Jamie stated that when she needs to persuade her CEO to pursue a course of action, she and team have to gather so much data.  I was reminded of Allison Pearson’s novel I Don’t Know How She Does It:  Life of Working Mother, Kate Reddy.  Kate is a fund manager and her husband, Richard, explains to her that there is a difference between persuading her boss and persuading her in-laws.  He states that with her boss, if he buys her data, he’ll buy her analysis.  But with family, it’s a different story.

Entrepreneurs are consistently drawing in resources:  money, time and support.  They are skilled because their audience often doesn’t feel like they are hearing a pitch.  Workshop participants were asked to create their own pitch.  I discussed the Systers Wiki and why the blogs and notes within would be useful to participants who could not attend a particular lecture.

Christina played a video of one of the founders of Grobo (an automated gardening app) presenting his team’s idea.  She dissected his pitch into 6 parts:

  • Problem – people no longer trust the food they eat
  • Solution – grow one’s own food (but this is difficult to implement!)
  • Value Proposition – Grobo (the automated gardening app)
  • Competitive Advantage – modular design
  • Market Size
  • Target Customer

To be continued …



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