Back in the ‘90s, I did some volunteer work for the Boys and Girls clubs in Vancouver. My first assignment was to run a weekly session for 9-12 years – the model club. When I shared this with people, they took a look at the curvaceous young woman that I was at that time and said: makeup, hair and clothes? To which I replied: no; planes, cars and trains. It was a group where, over a seasonal session, my young charges learned goal setting, a sense of accomplishment and patience by working with model kits. In the first fall session there were 8 little boys in the group. The next spring we had 5 boys and 3 girls sign up. Though you never get the chance, in that type of volunteer work, to see the final influence you had on the adults they became – I hope that I made an impact on both the girls and the boys in my groups.
There are a number of things that have come together recently to inspire me to write this personal leadership post. I’m not going to go through them all here, but will try to distill it into the message that I want to relate. I think that it is important for strong woman in leadership roles to act as mentor to boys as well as girls.
This is an AND statement, not a BUT statement. I really do believe in the work that women these days are doing to encourage girls to enter into the technology field and for woman to embrace technology leadership roles. I believe in ADDITION to that it’s important for us to do things to change the mindset of young men so that they accept us in these positions in order to prepare them for the future date when they are business owners, hiring managers, customers and staff.
To illustrate, I recall an episode from the ‘70’s “All in the Family” – where Meathead (Rob Reiner) tells Archie (Carroll O’Conner) a riddle:
A young boy and his father were in an accident and the father was killed immediately. The boy is rushed to the hospital and brought into an operating room for emergency surgery. The surgeon walks in and says “I can’t operate on this boy, he’s my son”. How is this possible?
These days it doesn’t take us as too long (hopefully) to realize the surgeon is the boy’s mother. The writers were highlighting that in the ‘70s a lot of people didn’t automatically consider that a woman could be a surgeon. They could be stumped by the riddle.
So, as a woman in a technology leadership role, what actions can you do to help change people’s mind sets about women in technology?
Coming a little bit closer in time, in the ‘00s I worked on a few projects delivered in Korea. At that time, my position was more technical than business. I was the technical expert flown in from the head office. I was accepted as a senior advisor in a workplace environment where the women who were in technical roles were often young unmarried woman in junior roles. (Traditionally, many Korean women leave the workforce on marrying.) I believe I was accepted because I actually delivered in that role.
I had a female high school teacher who pulled me aside and said: “Make sure you get your credentials. They can’t ignore you if you have credentials.” The fuller context is that this was part of a feminist conversation and “they” was the business world that didn’t at that time embrace woman in leadership roles. She saw something in the distracted 16 year old, and wanted me to make sure I put my mind to becoming educated. It has stuck with me, all these years later. (Though, sadly, I learned they still can ignore you.)
For me, to be credible, you need to work on being worth it. I use the word worth in the sense of earning it. Continuously work on improving your skills and experiences – and then confidently demonstrate them. People will follow if you know how to lead.
Just Do It
At the same time people will follow if you lead.
Knowing how is not enough; you have to act on it. In the sense of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, you have to be present at the table to participate.
I’ve always loved Nike’s slogan Just Do It. I truly believe that the universe rewards action.
Back to the idea of mentoring, accomplishing things has a side effect of leading by example. You change people’s mindset on what can be accomplished by being the demonstrable model they can point back to.
Be truly inclusive
As a leader, foster inclusiveness when building your teams.
Funny enough, my education wasn’t inclusive either way. My 70’s high school years were spent in a Catholic girl’s school and my 80’s University education was spent in technical classes that were often 80-90% male. I stumbled from one to the other without real guidance on a path that was best for my talents and ambitions.
I guess that’s where my aversion to purposely segregated environments comes from.
I like to build up a team that has its basis in a set of complementary skills. When I have an opportunity to pick my team (sometimes I step into a team already formed). A team should have different types of people, with different experiences to be truly productive. To me, building a team with only creative starters and no down-to-earth finishers would be just as undesirable as a team of only men or only woman. I try to be really clear about the skills gaps of the team at hand and seek out people who can fill them.
Look for opportunities to mentor
Opportunities to mentor, formally or informally, are everywhere. As women we are nurturers, and that is what mentoring is all about. It’s assisting others to grow. Go up, but bring your people with you. They will support you forever.
Don’t always look for someone like you. Look for someone different than you. You will learn something from the mentoring too.
Let Go of Outcomes
As a mentor, you are sharing your knowledge and experience AND the person receiving your guidance has to pick it up and use it. What they do with it may not be what you had intended for them. They may morph it and change it.
Don’t mentor to make replicas of yourself, mentor to grow the other person.
It’s funny how the more things change the more they stay the same. It surprises me that after 25+ years in tech, there are still more men than woman in the technology field. It’s nice to see that at least these days’ people are talking about it and trying to change perceptions. I don’t know if there is more buzz about it the last few years, or it’s just that I am listening.
And yes, it’s now the 10’s and it still happens to me as it did in the 90’s. With the launch of my online store last fall Shared Universe, selling graphic novels and trade paperbacks in Canada, I am hearing something similar again. Others: graphic novels, do you mean erotica, like 50 shades of… Me: no, “comic book” books. For both fan boys and fan girls alike.