One Year Anniversary

Today is a special day.  It is one year since the day I first shared my story in the Cy-Fair Writers’ Meetup.  I remember entering the room hesitantly but also feeling a sense of eagerness to share my work for the first time.  It was a case of happy serendipity that I saw this meetup on the bulletin board of library events.

Barbara was the first person I met.  She was warm and welcoming.  I am happy to say that we continue to encourage each other’s creativity.  The key takeaway from my first meeting with Barbara was that when you enter a new place and are feeling timid or hesitant about sharing your work (as many fledgling authors are), a warm and welcoming individual can make all the difference and help you feel like you made the right decision.  I try to do that for new writers who arrive now, as a manner of “paying it forward.”

Writers’ pieces were read in the order of arrival.  I had arrived early in order to go first and get the spotlight off me because I am shy!  But I wanted to share my work. 

Audrey was sitting across from me.  I asked her if she would do the honors of reading aloud.  My entry was a YA piece and her tone and manner fit the bill perfectly.  When we went around the table, people were respectful and dispensed positive feedback first, which made me feel good.  I was also more open and receptive to their constructive criticism as a result.  Martha, who is my good friend now, suggested that for one sentence, I need not list all the different types of genre.  My initial reaction was, “Oh no!  I can’t take those words out!  They are so dear to my heart.”  But when I got home and was in front of my computer, I thought, “Well, maybe I can give her suggestion a try.  I mean, I can always put the words back.”  When I attempted her recommendation, I was surprised to discover that “it sounds better this way.”  This experience has had a lasting impact on the way I edit my prose and review the prose of others.

I still have the original copies with written feedback from my first and subsequent meetings.  It is a good reminder of the creative process to review those early attempts and witness how far my work and I have come.

When I read the guidelines for Cy-Fair Writers – 7 pages, double-spaced, with line numbering.  Bring copies for everybody so that you can get their feedback in writing – I was intrigued and considered sharing my work, just to see how people reacted.  One item in the description that was especially helpful was the following:

HELPFUL TIP:  To do line numbering in Microsoft Word, go to Format > Document > Layout > Line Numbers.  Click “Add line numbering” and “Continuous”.

It may sound like a trivial item but the clearly laid out instructions resonated with the Software Quality Professional part of me!  I have written many a defect report with similar instructions.  Developers like it when issues are clearly explained, minimizing the need for back-and-forth clarification.   

Fledgling authors and artists will actively look for reasons (even minor ones) to avoid sharing their work.  In this case, if I hadn’t been able to figure out the line numbering in the space of a few minutes (and then proceeded to worry about whether this was, in fact, what the group was expecting), I might have succumbed to stage fright and skipped the meeting.  I would have missed out on several positive outcomes as a result:

  • I’ve developed close friendships with three attendees from the first meeting
  • Through these friendships, I’ve nurtured the inner strength to continue writing, even in the face of abrasive criticism
  • I’ve attended a second writers’ meetup and discovered friends with whom I now exchange letters
    One of these pen pals is a former French teacher and our correspondence has helped me keep the French portion of my Canadian education and upbringing alive
  • I’ve founded my own Writers’ Group
  • I release a weekly podcast
  • I feel happier and more fulfilled.  My work now brings me joy.
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Farewell, Kevin Frankish

On June 1st 2018, Kevin Frankish retired from a long and prestigious career at Breakfast Television and City Pulse News.  He will forever be an icon of my childhood and adolescence in 1990s Mississauga.  My parents and I had just moved to Canada and we started watching Breakfast Television.  My dad would gesture at Kevin and say, “This is the kind of diction and command of the English language to which you should aspire.”  Despite this parental injunction, I liked watching Kevin on BT because he had a personal and approachable manner.  He was not intimidating to a ten-year-old newcomer to Canada.  Peter Jennings delivered “grown-up news” but Kevin Frankish felt home-like.  I remember eating Shreddies for breakfast while hearing Kevin deliver the news before hurrying off to the school bus stop.

One particular BT episode stands out in my memory.  Kevin had brought his three-year-old daughter, Brianna, to work.  She was wearing a blue-and-white dress and Kevin gave her the BT microphone so she could lisp daintily, “This is Brianna Frankish reporting for Breakfast Television.”  It was a very sweet moment.  I liked it when the staff displayed these little pockets of family life; it made them seem like real people, not just anchormen and women who made a living out of the news.  It was once said of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt (when they were married) that fans found Brad intimidating because they only saw him on the silver screen.  The same fans would not hesitate to approach Jennifer to say how much they loved her because “she was in their living room every weeknight.”  It was a similar phenomenon with the staff on BT because they felt real and made an appearance in our living rooms every weekday morning.

In recent years, Melanie Ng covered a story about students being rude to the Peel District School Board Twitter account when they did not get the snow days they were anticipating.  It reminded me of how as a student, I would eagerly watch Breakfast Television in the hopes of Kevin announcing that all Peel District schools were closed for a snow day.  Sometimes they were and I would exclaim in relief that I could finish my book report.  Sometimes they weren’t and while I was disappointed, I never once thought of getting angry with Kevin!  I knew it wasn’t his fault!  On Twitter, people tend to forget that there is a human being at the other end of the tweets.  With BT, the staff delivering the news bulletins had a face, name, voice, family and heart.  And so we treated them as such.

Some Kevin Frankish moments that stuck with me are:

  • When he expressed frustration that his kids didn’t thank him enough but then asked himself, “How often did I thank my dad for all the things he did?” Kevin concluded that the goal of parenting is not to be thanked (although that is nice!) but to get your kids to pay it forward.  I thought that was a very compassionate, poignant and touching reflection on the human experience.
  • When Kevin read out the final medal tally for the Vancouver Olympics and commended the U.S. on winning the most medals, “but not as many golds as us!”
  • There was a 1990s episode where Kevin’s wife, Beth, was a guest on BT. She was asked how she handles a household of four children when her husband has a demanding job that gets him up early and home late.  “The news never sleeps!”  While I don’t remember all of Beth’s reply, I do remember her saying happily that she gets flowers every week.  Amidst the chaos, hectic schedules and heavy workload, it was clear that those flowers from Kevin meant a lot to her.

My parents and I enjoyed the BT episodes featuring trips to Muskoka (a favorite family vacation spot!), the EdgeWalk on the CN tower and the annual Christmas parties.  However, the everyday episodes where Kevin bantered with Frank, Dina, Melanie, Winston and all the rest and where they shared funny family moments will remain my favorites.

Kevin did not prepare a script for his final farewell because he felt that it should come from the heart.  This reminded me of my dad’s early exhortations that “manifestations of affection must come from within the heart!”  Kevin’s farewell was very touching.  He faced the camera with his wife, Beth, on one side and his co-host, Dina, on the other.  “The two women in my life!”  He said that, “It’s been an honour.  It’s been a privilege.  Many of you would come up on the streets of Toronto just to say hello.  I hope you won’t stop doing that.  This is a family here” … he indicated the crew as well as the on-air staff … “Be good to one another.  That’s really what it’s all about.”

I recollected my dad becoming emotional at his retirement party as well.  Somewhere along the line, your workplace becomes your second family, if you’re lucky, which I think my parents, Kevin and I were.

We wish Kevin Frankish and the Frankish family well as they commence the next chapter of their lives.

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Unpacking Your Unconscious Bias to Advance Your Career

This immensely useful workshop took place on Day 3 of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.  Camilla Heinzmann and Kelly Watson of Orange Grove Consulting were our energetic, engaging and impactful presenters.  Camilla started by emphatically stating, “We want you to take things away you can immediately use!”

She discussed our unconscious bias and how it provides an instantaneous way for making decisions.  Unfortunately for women, most of these decisions are detrimental to our career.  She illustrated this with a riddle, cautioning us not to share the answer if we already knew it.  “Let the rest of the group have a chance to think it through!

A man and his son are in a car accident.  The man is pronounced dead on the scene and the son is rushed to the hospital.  The surgeon takes one look at the boy and says, “I can’t operate on this child!  This is my son!”  How is this possible?

*answer at end of post

The brain ingests an astounding 11 million pieces of information per day.  It processes about 40 million.  This is due to the filtering process that unconscious bias creates.  Filtering is necessary for our survival because there is simply too much stimuli in the world.

Camilla shared an experiment.  A panel was presented with the bios of 2 candidates.  The credentials and experience were identical.  One candidate was male and the other was female.  The gender-diverse panel unanimously preferred the male candidate because he was “likeable” and “confident”, whereas the female candidate was “unlikeable”, even “cocky”.

When we recognize our unconscious bias, we are capable of doing something about it.

The stereotype threat usually occurs when we are multi-tasking.  We have stuff going on in our head as well as in front of us.  A racing mind can lead to increased blood pressure, and short-term memory loss.  Brain scans reveal that women’s brains are active in different regions than male brains.  This heightens performance anxiety and leads to rumination and over-effort.

This is often completely unconscious.  Claude Steele and Howard Ross conducted a study where men and women were given a test.  When women encountered a question they couldn’t answer, they became distracted by the mental chatter in their brains.  “A question I can’t do!  Ack!“.  This unhelpfully activated other memories of when they had difficulty on tests.  Camilla also recommended the book The Orange Line (presenter Kelly Watson is one of the authors).  This book outlines how women can effectively navigate work and home.

We can change what we think the rules of engagement are.  When female professional progress is stalled, there are 3 key factors:

  1. Career Ambivalence
  2. Role Disconnect
  3. Unconscious Bias

Women have an unconscious belief that their work and home life are in continual conflict.  They see it as a cold either-or dichotomy:  The Career Ideal vs. the Woman Ideal This creates a fundamental disconnect.  What do we believe constitutes the Ideal Woman?

  1. She does it all
  2. She looks good
  3. She’s nice

Men have a somewhat different view of the Ideal Woman, as I learned in the short story The Ideal by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  You can find it in the collection At The Altar.

After a group exercise, Camilla humorously declared, “I can tell by the talking that you’re ready for the next part.”  Kelly explained that women are not actually bad at negotiating; we just don’t want to when it’s for us.  We will gladly (and effectively!) negotiate for other people.

Kelly shared a personal anecdote where she became the youngest VP at her company at 35.  She was instantly demanding perfect performance from herself, comparing herself to the 55-year-old VP who had just retired.  Her manager asked her why she was being so hard on herself.  When she explained that she wanted to be like the VP who had just left, her manager said, “Yeah, but give yourself 20 years, girl!

Kelly explained how women often obssess and agonize over emails they have sent.  “I’d like to retract that email.  It had a typo in it.”  Kelly asked us if this was a good use of our time.  The answer was a resounding no!

In the book Women Don’t Ask, it is estimated that women leave an astounding $1 million on the table, due to a failure to negotiate.

Camilla said, “Let’s get down to the why.  What’s at the core?”

Kelly discussed various anecdotes, all of which resonated strongly with the audience.  These are all real-life quotes from bona fide women whom Kelly has personally counseled:

  • A woman said that when her child arrived at daycare without a sweater, the daycare staff phoned her at work, even though it was her husband who did the drop-off
  • He’s a man and he’s a provider…”
  • Somehow, we have a gene for cleaning the house!
  • “The guys are awesome at feigning incompetence to get out of work!” (tremendous laughter from the audience at Kelly’s spot-on delivery of this quote)
  • One woman spent hours each night helping her teenager with his homework:
    • as a result, she was exhausted at work the next day
    • the boy’s father felt no such compulsion to help with homework
    • despite the fact that he was, by profession, a high school teacher!
  • One woman would not place a car seat in her husband’s car because “he drives too fast

Kelly related a personal anecdote that was actually extremely upsetting.  She and her husband once worked at the same company.  She was the senior manager.  They were both promoted and given the same salary.  When Kelly questioned this decision, she was told, “It’s a package deal.”  The audience gasped in disbelief and dismay.  Kelly persisted, “But I’m the senior employee.”  She was told, “Now you’re just being selfish.”  Just hearing this anecdote felt both unpleasant and uncomfortable.

Kelly explained, “We (women) are supposed to be selfless.  In other words, find your passion!  And do it for free!”  This is humorously illustrated in the Pajama Diaries comic strip by Terri Libenson.

While these anecdotes were humorous, they also felt depressing and discouraging.  Camilla and Kelly encouraged us by stating, “You get to choose whether or not these are true.”

In Part 2, we’ll discuss a model for change.

*riddle solution:  The surgeon is the boy’s mother.

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Managing Your Moods at Work

This session was presented by Beth Budwig, Mamta Suri and Harika Adivikolanu of Workday.  Harika is a new graduate.  The number of young speakers at GHC 17 is incredible!

80% of people feel stressed at work.  25% of people feel angry.  10% of people are afraid of experiencing violence at a co-worker’s hands.  Audible gasps resonated from the audience as these statistics were revealed.

The goal is to use more of our rational brain and recognize that:

  • Other people are not under our control!
  • We can only control our self and our responses

Beth was certain that the way she interacted with her boss and her boss’s boss “almost certainly cost her my job“.  The audience murmured in sympathy and admiration for her candor.  Beth saw a doctor to handle her job loss, the stress she felt over it and her interpersonal skills.  Beth amused us by showing us a slide of an orange cat in a white lab coat with the nametag Dr. Morris.  She assured us that her real doctor did not look like this!

The doctor prescribed Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which is based on Cognitive Mindfulness.  The word dialectical refers to holding 2 opposite truths in mind, such as:

  • I’m fine the way I am
  • I am ready and willing to change

It is essentially about emotional regulation.  Beth shared her website:  Tools for Managing Your Moods.  She joked that her JavaScript skills are not that great and she doesn’t look at the back-end so therefore, “Your data is perfectly safe.  No one will know your answers except you and your cache“.  When the audience responded with laughter, she said, “Wow, I didn’t expect that to get a laugh.  But given the audience …”  There are certain in-jokes at GHC 17 and Nora Denzel makes most of them!

Beth described a lunch hour walk with a colleague.  The colleague spent most of the walk complaining about what was preventing her from being effective at work.  Beth reframed this by asking her colleague, “Who do you admire?”  The colleague mentioned various staff members.  Beth then surprised her colleague by asking, “In what areas could they improve?”  Beth’s colleague was surprised to discover that there are areas in which we can all improve!  In other words, we’re all human.


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Retaining High Tech Women Once They’re in the Door – Part 3

Continued from Part 2.

Karen emphasizes the importance of “Role Models – people I know who inspire me.”  20 years ago, Karen was considered a “mystic” and a “heretic” for speaking with customers to define the user experience.  Today, this practice is the norm.  Karen identified Supreme Court Justice Ruth Brader Ginsburg (RBG) as one of her role models.  Karen discussed role models in general:  they typically have a “zillion” children, are VP of their company and travel incessantly.  Karen has news for us:  hearing about these majestic role models doesn’t help women feel better!  Amen to that!  I remember the heroine of Allison Pearson’s novel “I Don’t Know How She Does It:  Life of Working Mother Kate Reddy” muse on this concept after reading an article about a similar “role model”.  “Name:  Elizabeth Quick.  Sister to Hannah Haste and Isabel Imperative, presumably.  Don’t these women realize how their accomplishments can be used as a stick to beat other women?” Kate wondered (speaking metaphorically, of course!).

Karen reviewed the advice generally given to women aspiring to senior leadership positions:

  • “Here’s a mentor” (Well, what if they don’t click?)
  • “Go network” (How?)

Women need local role models,” Karen stated.  “Have you been in your work over a year?” I have been in the workplace for 12 years now.  “Then you are a local role model.  Every decision you make, how you manager your home life … you are a walking, living, breathing role model for everyone a little less experienced.

This statement certainly gave us pause for thought.  Although I’m an active mentore in the American Women in Math Association, I had not thought of myself as a role model.  After this, when I hear the media bemoaning the lack of female role models in technology, I will think, “I am one and so are the other 14,999 GHC 2016 attendees!”

Karen showed us a picture of a baby carriage.  The slide read, “Nonjudgmental flexibility is the whole story for business“.  “This is really the easiest problem to solve,” Karen said.  She explained that parenting is forever.  “I still call my mom and my kids still call me.”  SHe also explained that juggling kids and work is not a distinguishing characteristic of our indecustry and re-iterated the earlier statement that women may say they left for their kids but the survey framework has uncovered entirely different underlying reasons.

“Self-confidence is a dependent variable,” Karen stated.  80% of survey resondents agreed with the statment, “Criticism is a necessary part of my job”.  50% agreed with the statement, ”


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Minimalism at work

Smartly attired in a black sequined blouse and plain skirt, speaker Nandini Bhatt opened her lecture by asking how many people in the audience were attending Grace Hopper for the first time.  Several attendees raised their hands.  “I was you last year,” Nandini said with a smile.  I was impressed that even though this was only her second time at Grace Hopper, she was a speaker!

Nandini shared the following inspirational quote:

On the last day of your life, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.  Anonymous

How’s that for pressure?  Time’s a-wasting so we’d better get started!  Nandini explained that minimalism has its earliest origins in art and music.  The simplest, fewest elements create maximum effect.  She also reviewed the Pareto principle:  80% of the results come from 20% of the cost (paraphrased).

Nandini is a mother of two young boys.  With her second son, she experienced an onset of post-partum depression.  She needed to do something to regain mental health and general happiness.  Her friend suggested a book about minimalism.  Nandini discovered research that stated

  • Mothers’ stress hormones spiked during the time they spent dealing with belongings and stuff

Nandini showed us a picture of her living room and explained that when she eliminated the non-essentials, she found herself feeling freer, calmer and happier.  This reminded me of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  Kondo recommends asking the following question of each item, “Does it spark joy?”  If not, discard it.  Of course, this also reminds me of the TV series Gilmore Girls:  A Year In the Life.  Emily Gilmore, the grandmother, has recently buried her husband of several decades.  One day, her adult daughter finds her disposing of everything in her massive home.  She demands to know why her mother is giving her evening gowns to the maid.  Emily says, “They didn’t bring me joy.”  Eventually, Lorelai gently explains to her mother, “Mom, nothing is going to bring you joy right now.  You just lost your husband.”  Decluttering has its limits in the face of extreme emotional trauma.

Back to regular life.  Nandini elaborated that she used to buy her sons several toys in order to make up for the guilt she felt over “not being there”.  Her focus is now on creating memories and experiences for her children.  I found this very touching.

Nandini explained that mindfulness calms the amygdala.  With practice, you can have a less reactive amygdala.  Nandini outlined a 3-step approach:

  1. Find Your Why
  2. Focus on 3 Things That Bring You Joy (hello Ms. Kondo!)
  3. Get Rid of Stress-Inducers at Work

Nandini quoted Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich.  “When your desires are strong enough, you will appear to possess superhuman powers to achieve them.”  She encouraged us to focus on our purpose in life.  What do we really want out of our time on this planet?

For step 2, Nandini outlined a 3 step approach:

  1. Focus on becoming the best version of you.  90 days; 90 minutes; 1 important task nothing else.  For the next 90 days, spend 90 minutes doing 1 important task and nothing else.  Nandini also recommended cultivating a gratitude mindset.  Ask yourself, “What am I thankful for?”  The answer could be something as seemingly minor as “My son hugged me today.”
  2. Focus on making your job interesting.  It is easy to fixate on why your job is dull, boring and meaningless.  Even the most interesting jobs can seem this way sometimes.  To infuse new energy, celebrate even the tiniest wins.  Also, remind yourself of why you accepted this role in the first place.
  3. Focus on creating a work family.  There has been a lot of humor tossed about regarding a person’s “work wife” or “work husband”.  This is essentially the individual’s go-to person:  a shoulder to cry on, a sounding board and someone with whom to share successes.  Going beyond the spousal humor, create a work family of individuals who resonate with you.  Go out for lunch together; have team building events; share photos.  Nandini took this opportunity to state that one of her priorities is having dinner with her family so she does not do evening team events or networking.  She is happy to cultivate professional connections over breakfast and lunch.  This is a theme that I heard throughout the conference.  Diane Boettcher also emphasized the importance of dinner with family and the decision to network at breakfast and lunch.

The next step is to identify 3 things of which to let go.  These are items that add:

  • clutter
  • stress
  • no value!

1) Let go of becoming someone else

  • Be true to yourself
  • Think of yourself as a market niche
  • You cannot please the entire market so don’t change yourself!

2) Let go of saying “yes” all the time

  • Be strategic about saying “yes”
  • Say “yes” to things that meet your career goals

3) Let go of “office politics”

  • Cease worrying about how others perceive you
  • Say “no” to gossip!
  • Focus on doing your best work

The goal is not to change who you are but to become more of your best self.

Recap:  Nandini’s hope for the audience is that they will take one step today.  “You can make a change but will it be one day or will today be Day One?”  Take one small step today.  Identify your why, identify one thing that brings you joy and identify one thing you can let go of.

Nandini’s talk was extremely well-received and the audience gave her a prolonged and enthusiastic round of applause.  Very well done for a first-time GHC speaker!


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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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