Retaining High Tech Women Once They’re in the Door – Part 1

Karen Holtzblatt began the lecture by gathering some biodata on the attendees:

  • how many students are in the room
  • how many folks with 1 or 2 years of work experience
  • how many managers (the majority of hands went up.  “We will need you!  Glad you’re here!)
  • how many men are in the room (very well represented — applause)

“I am on a mission and you are on it with me,” Karen informed us.  You have a responsibility when you walk out that door.”  Karen was an extremely forthright, impactful and engaging speaker.  Her fearless candor was refreshing.

Karen stated that she is part of the second wave of the women’s movement (after the suffragettes).  “What happens to you in high school is what you care about,” she explained.

Two questions that Karen often receives from younger women:

  • “Karen, how do you walk into a roomful of men?”
  • “Karen, do you ever lose self-confidence?” (She laughs and the women insist on a real answer)

“We have been focusing on the pipeline as the problem” Karen explained.  She referenced Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”, specifically Sandberg’s encouraging women to remain focused on shattering the glass ceiling.  “But here is the sad truth,” Karen continued.  “We (the tech industry) have the worst stats compared to the other “hero” professions.  (Hero professions are those with crazy 80-hour work weeks:  doctors, lawyers, investment bankers).  Women leave the tech industry at two times the rate of men.  At this rate of departure, no one is left to shatter the glass ceiling.”  Karen showed a new slide that read, “We excel at documenting the problem.  But what is the solution?”  This slide received tremendous applause.

“Why is the research old?” Karen questioned forcefully.  “Why are the same questions being asked after 40 years?”  She explained that the Women in Technology movement attempted a 360 deep dive into the daily lives of technical women.  She requested the audience’s help in adding survey data to the existing qualitative data.  “Everyone in this workshop can take the survey,” she stated.  “Both men and women.”  The previous surveys were only taken by women but the administrators now decided that male feedback on this issue is equally valuable.

Carol Farmsworth shared the results of the 2016 Women in Technology Work-Life survey, from Spring 2016.  The respondents were mostly Californians:

  • 70% to 80% declared that they were happy with their jobs.  They felt valued in their professions and were comfortable around their male colleagues.
  • The respondents noticed that men interrupt more than women (57% vs 34%)
  • More than 80% of the women believe they are treated “just like the guys”
  • 77% say their manager makes or breaks their job satisfaction
  • 50% say they don’t feel guided or supported by their managers

The conclusion?  People don’t leave jobs.  People leave managers.  And people follow managers.

Continued in Part 2

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Quiet: How to Harness the Strengths of Introverts – a GHC 2016 Lecture by Susan Cain

“Have any of you ever read a book that you loved so much that you wrote an over-the-top gushing fan letter to the author?” Susan Ali asked the audience.  Many hands went up.  “How many of you got a response from the author?”  There were fewer hands this time.  “How many of you were lucky enough to fast forward a couple of years and establish a business relationship with this author?”  There was one hand in the air, accompanied by audience laughter.  “I have been fortunate enough to have all these things happen to me,” Ali concluded.  “The book is ‘Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.’  It gives me great pleasure to introduce the author:  my dear friend, Susan Cain.”

Cain graciously stated that she was the fortunate one in gaining the opportunity to collaborate with Ali.  She opened her lecture with the phrase “The Problem with No Name.”  This phrase was coined by Betty Friedan in “The Feminine Mystique” and it was used to describe a curious malaise that women were feeling in earlier decades.  Cain posits that we have a new unnamed problem in the workplace today.  Introverts are now the ones experiencing a curious malaise.

The workplace is not suited to introverts; meetings and group brainstorming sessions reward extroverted behavior.  “Is the ideal technologist bold, alpha and gregarious?” Cain asks.  The answer, of course, is that there is no picture of the ideal technologist.  The lack of an environment that provides introverts with what they need to do their best work is the unspoken problem that underlies the dearth of women in technology.

Temperament matters.  Psychiatrists, who normally cannot agree on anything, unanimously state that our degrees of introversion and extroversion define how we work, love and live.  This is true across all cultures.  We have heard before that the strongest teams tare also the most diverse.  Teams that contain a mix of introverts and extroverts are the most effective.  It is this ideal blend of yin and yang that led Cain to launch “The Quiet Revolution”.

“Revolutions generally begin in childhood,” Cain stated.  She proceeded to share a telling anecdote.  She was 9 years old and attending summer camp for the first time.  Her mother packed a suitcase full of books.  This was very natural for Cain’s natal family; they were a group of readers and some of Cain’s favorite family memories include evenings where everyone read together in the living room.  Cain expected a similar bonding experience would occur at summer camp.  Instead, the camp counselor assembled the young charges and taught them the following cheer, which they were expected to repeat daily:



Rowdy!  Rowdy!  Let’s get rowdy!

The audience burst into bemused laughter.  It was a tragicomic situation.  Aristotle said, “We are what we do repeatedly.  Excellence is therefore not an act but a habit.”  Imagine encouraging a group of easily influenced, malleable 9-year-olds to a) get rowdy and b) keep at it!  Practice makes perfect … and this practice sounds perfectly awful.  I have a bone to pick with that camp counselor’s cavalier treatment of a child’s precious formative years.

Cain recalls wondering, “Why do we have to get rowdy and why do we have to spell rowdy incorrectly?!”  But, children accept things and peer behavior is highly influential (more on that later) so rowdy she got.  She was rowdy all through camp, on her return from camp (one can only imagine the parental dismay.  They probably cherished visions of returning campers quoting “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau!), all through middle school and all through high school.  This determination to prove that she could be the ideal extrovert led her to practice Wall Street law for several years, instead of becoming the writer she wanted to be.  Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project”, reports a similar experience.  Whenever she heard of college friends becoming great lawyers, she would react in a neutral fashion.  Conversely, when she heard of college friends publishing books, she became sick to her stomach with envy.  In the end, Cain concludes, pretending to be something you’re not is a colossal waste of energy, talent and happiness.

Continued in Part 2: Quiet – Solitude matters!

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Attending GHC2016

This year, I’ll be attending GHC (Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing) 2016.  I’m volunteering as a blogger and note-taker.  Writing has always been a passion of mine and I’m looking forward to combining my current profession (computer science) with my lifelong love of writing.

I work as an International Product Support Staff Engineer at Dell, providing the second-level of support for a performance monitoring application named Foglight (Java-based). I’m excited about attending GHC sessions on:

  • Quiet:  The Power of Introverts
  • Communicating for Influence and Impact
  • Bioinformatics (an ideal way to combine my interest in chemistry and computing)

Two former GHC attendees provided me with useful insights on the 2015 conference and their enthusiastic feedback inspired me to attend.  I heard about a lecture given by Sheryl Sandberg of “Lean In” fame, where she encouraged attendees to record 3 achievements at the end of each day.  Several personal development authors have emphasized the powerful effect of habit and routine.  Recording 3 achievements each night is certainly a good habit to cultivate!

Please subscribe to view my GHC Blogger posts in October 2016.  As Dr. David Sousa states in “How the Brain Learns”:

  • When we read information, we retain 10%
  • When we write out what we learn, we retain 20%
  • When we teach others, we retain a whopping 50%!

I’ll be glad to share what I learn and experience with my readers!

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My top 6 favourite literary characters

My favourite literary character of all time would have to be Anne Shirley of “Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery. This is a difficult question so there are many runners-up as well. I love Anne, who I discovered in sixth grade, thanks to my infinitely kind, understanding and loving school librarian, Mrs. North. Anne is so vivid, talkative, imaginative and open. She had so little love in her life until she came to Green Gables that her openness, receptivity and appreciation for any affection that came her way was truly inspiring. It’s obvious that despite having received little love, she had immense love to give and she both gave and received that love in large measure when she came to Green Gables.

My MBA professor, Rhona Berengut, used to say in our “Interpersonal Managerial Skills” class that “we often think our feelings instead of feeling our feelings”. Anne is an example of someone who is not afraid to feel her feelings; good or bad, she feels them deeply and thus always emerges from each experience with new wisdom and maturity.

Other aspects of Anne I love are her talent in expressing herself, her love of language and literature, her determination to succeed academically and her loyalty and gratitude to the dear ones in her life (Matthew, Marilla, Diana, Mrs. Allan, Miss Josephine Barry, eventually Gilbert, Rebecca Dew, etc.).

Now for the runners-up:

1) Mike Jackson (no, not that one): the boy-hero of “Mike at Wrykyn”, and a central figure in “Mike and Psmith” and “Psmith in the City”, all by P.G. Wodehouse. He is stoic, immensely talented at cricket, loyal, affectionate under the surface and supportive of family and friends. This is a rather pale description of a remarkable literary figure so you’ll have to read at least “Mike at Wrykyn” to see what I mean. Thanks to Arrow Publishing for reprinting Mr. Wodehouse’s wonderful works!

2) Mary Anne Spier of “The Baby-Sitters Club” by Ann M. Martin: Shy, sweet, sensitive and supportive. Extremely mature, responsible and self-aware for her age (thirteen). Gradually becomes more confident and assertive, which makes her an even more attractive character.

3) Jessica Wakefield of the “Sweet Valley” series created by Francine Pascal: My high school best friend and I agreed that because we both resembled the more steady twin Elizabeth, we naturally found Jessica more interesting. She’s fun, exciting, lively and vibrant. She always bounces back with an enviable resilience. Nothing gets her down for long! As one character put it, “she knows what she wants and goes after it with everything she’s got!” And despite a reputation for being heedless and impulsive, she has been known to make the sweetest and most tender gestures for her twin. I love her incredible spontaneity.

4) Laura Ingalls Wilder, heroine and author of the “Little House” series. My mother got “Little House on the Prairie” for me and that is one of the reasons it is precious. Laura is creative, courageous and definitely more of a trailblazer than elder sister Mary. Loved the intelligence and responsiveness she displayed as a child. The responsibility and dedication shown by the young woman makes her an inspiring role model.

5) Tintin, by Herge. Adventurous, brave, well-travelled, shows amazing presence of mind, passionate about justice, supporter of the underdog, yet is modest, fun and humorous. Can take a joke on himself very well. He is well-deserving of his dog Snowy’s loyal affection.

Who are your favourite literary characters? Perhaps we have some in common.

Look out for my post next week on my favourite authors. I’ll be including some non-fiction authors as well!

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The Girl Effect

Girls in developing countries desperately need our help as they eke out their daily existence in conditions of unimaginable atrocity. Regularly deprived of basic human rights such as food, education and health care, they and the children they bear are condemned to more suffering. It is economically and socially unsustainable to systematically ignore, devalue and abuse girls, when they are active participants in creating the next generation and in shaping the future.

What is the Girl Effect? It is a phrase and a movement designed to capture and illustrate the idea that giving a girl the tools to change herself will allow her to change her world. The key to improving female existence in impoverished countries lies in the girls and women themselves. “Africa is a rich country, but the gold is not in the ground – it is in the people.”

What can be done? The Plan Canada, CARE Canada and Because I Am a Girl web sites have several suggestions on fundraising methods. Raising money via the “Walk In Her Shoes” was an exciting initiative in which I participated. Since the key to a solution lies in the girls themselves, educating them on theories of self-empowerment, such as those offered by Dr. Susan Jeffers and Louise Hay, can be of immeasurable help. The girls are the inhabitants of their day-to-day lives and as such, their ideas on improving their situation will be at least as effective, if not more so, than those provided by external advisors.

Here are more Girl Effect posts you can enjoy. This campaign was orchestrated by Tara Sophia Mohr, @tarasophia.

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When 20 words just aren’t enough…

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Mississauga Central Library, a fitting day for my first blog post.  I have fond childhood memories of visiting the Central branch; my dad would drive us down on the occasional summer Saturday morning.  It was so delightful to be free from the usual chore of grocery shopping and instead spend the day luxuriating in the company of books, language and literature.  The Central branch was so much more expansive than my cozy home branch.

Like a homing pigeon, I’d zero in on the shelves lining the right side of the first floor (it’s been renovated since and the arrangement is different today).  There, I’d find several volumes of “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz.  Having read and re-read the two or three copies at my local branch, this was richness!  (Later, I discovered and mastered the ability to place holds.)  I’d eagerly devour the strips about Charlie Brown’s unrequited love for the little red-haired girl, Sally’s school tribulations, Snoopy’s many alter egos (including the World War I Flying Ace), Peppermint Patty’s battle against the dreaded D-minus and many more.  I’d vacillate in the delicious dilemma of which books to read on site and which to check out.

On the other side of the first floor were the turnstiles housing Young Adult novels.  Here, I’d gravitate hurriedly to the Sweet Valley High series, created by Francine Pascal and written by Kate William (no relation to the royal couple).  I’d soak in the exciting adventures of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, identical twins living in Sweet Valley, California.  Some novels would contain tantalizing excerpts of the next book in the series; it always gave me a feeling of triumphant discovery to find the newest book on the turnstile and eagerly discover the events about which I had been speculating and fantasizing, based on the excerpt.

Today, the library has changed significantly.  Children’s literature has been moved to the basement and I can no longer find the large selection of Peanuts comic books in which I used to delight so heartily.  The SVH collection, although still located on the first floor, has dwindled considerably.  Several of the changes are welcome, such as the “Lit Pit” which provides a place for patrons to eat and drink, thus making it possible to spend the “whole day” at the library, far from the madding crowd or at least Square One, the largest shopping mall in Ontario.

I am also a big fan of the study rooms on the second and third floors; judging by the challenge in finding an unoccupied space, I am not the only one.  Several computers and study tables have been added, the research facilities now available to students are more diverse and accessible than before and patrons can receive Twitter updates via @mississaugalib.  This is all evidence of a library that has kept up with the times, finding itself an integral part of the 21st century and remaining an instrumental tool in public education.

Still, when I am feeling nostalgic for “the good old days”, I wander over to the other side of the SVH bookshelf and run my finger along the M’s until I land on that icon of Canadian literature, Lucy Maud Montgomery.  Diving into “Anne of Green Gables”, “Further Chronicles of Avonlea” or “Kilmeny of the Orchard”, my soul is filled with comfort and peace.  I can go home again.

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