Befriending Dragons

Transform Tech with Anti-bullying Cultures

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Remotely Biased – A Befriending Dragons Story

Humaaans generated image of a dark skinned woman in a blue skirt and long sleeve top facing left and walking quickly with arms outstretched.
Embrace anti-bias in remote work

Last week @VeniKunche tweeted asking for “remote work” tips for managers. I immediately replied with a whole string of tips that reduce bias. Veni said, hey, blog that. And I thought, sure, that’s easy. And yet here it is, days later, and I hadn’t written much more than a paragraph until I accepted Amy Cuddy’s invite to Quarantine Writing Hour. I can literally feel the anxiety sitting in my chest, aching. Folks, this is what it’s like to work during a crisis, personal or global. It’s not because I’m remote, it’s not because no one is watching over my shoulder with an eye to punish lowered productivity. It’s because we’re stressed, we’re worried about family and friends and the future of the world, we are fidgety, we miss our community, we are overwhelmed. Luckily I’m not feeling sick, but many are and without sufficient testing we don’t know who actually has COVID-19.

Some of us have done remote work for a while, some are completely new to the experience. As the need to maintain “social distance” grows with the spread of COVID-19 there are fountains of advice on the practical aspects of how to work remotely. But what about the social justice and leadership aspects? How do we keep bias and bullying from creeping into every aspect of working remotely? How does this impact various folks differently? How do we take advantage of this social disruption to drive positive changes into our workplace, changes that could linger long after the novel Coronavirus is under control?

The reasons it took me so long to write this story are the same reasons we can’t expect high productivity out of people working from home right now. It’s not the working from home part. It’s the stress of working in an unfamiliar environment, underprepared, while we’re worried about everything. Many folks have unfamiliar, inadequate equipment in a home where they may also be caregivers for other stressed out folks. There may not be enough devices, internet bandwidth, or “included” data for everyone to work and learn at once. We may not have physical or emotional safety.

Kindness

“You can be rich in spirit, kindness, love and all those things that you can’t put a dollar sign on.” — Dolly Parton

Change causes stress. Even when we’re able to use stress to push us forward, it can still negatively impact our lives. So prioritize kindness over niceness and politeness.

Center the folks most marginalized on your team, and do all you can to uplift them even if means making other folks uncomfortable when you point out bias. Don’t tolerate COVID-19 jokes, insensitive comments that trivialize the danger to the most marginalized, or point blame at Asian people. Practice now how you will reply to anyone making ableist, racist, or sexist comments.

Where’s the bias?

“The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist.” — Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist

Well, women and people of color are much more likely to be caregiving than white men are, and that takes time and energy. We’re crowded into unfamiliar situations where we have to navigate all sorts of family dynamics that we’re not used to, and typically that will fall mostly to one person, using up their already limited energy. As somebody living alone with my cats, I’m also going through this chaos because I’m fielding calls and messages from friends and family with problems they need help with, things I may or may not be able to help them with. I get really stressed when I can’t help people who need me! I’m constantly bombarded with news snippets and feeling compelled to dig deeper, because my curiosity is always in the forefront of my actions and there’s so much new, vital, literally life or death information ALL THE TIME. That makes us less productive – don’t penalize that right now!

Women, especially BIPOC, are more likely to be cooped up for days on end with an abuser, to have lower savings (hey, pay gap!), to be expected to deal with everyone else’s stress, to rely on a community that is now less available, and all those other inequities we’ve been talking about and doing so little to actual address.

When we’re stressed or short on time we fall back on deeply embedded patterns, and that means we rely more on stereotypes and bias. We have to be very intentional to pay attention to this and compensate for the bias that will ALWAYS creep in.

The Tweets aka the Advice

I’m going to make this ultra-simple on myself, I’m going to paste below my replies to Veni’s tweet. I welcome comments and questions.

Cindy Gross (she/her) #BefriendingDragons@CindyGross This is for university professors but it could be adapted to workplaces. Be flexible, lower expectations (folks are scared, sick, overwhelmed, facing change), put family and health 1st, things will get messed up – expect it and don’t punish it, be kind. https://anygoodthing.com/2020/03/12/please-do-a-bad-job-of-putting-your-courses-online/

Some of your employees are going to spend a whole lot of time in enforced close proximity to their abuser. Some are the abuser, perhaps triggered by stress and frustration. Be kind.

Not everyone has enough bandwidth, may face a datacap. They may not have great, fast devices at home, may have to share one pc. They may have many folks in the house streaming classes, meetings, large files. Keep your emails and optional files simple & small.

Folks react differently to isolation. Offer but don’t force virtual coffees, open “water cooler” zoom calls where people can come & go, gracious space questions for folks to reflect on how they are creating success in chaos with a focus on finding the ways they are doing great.

Put on your anti-bias hat. Don’t over-reward the folks who over deliver during this time. They will be disproportionately white men because that’s how our white patriarchy is set up. Statistically men have more flexible schedules & fewer child/elder care duties.

All sorts of biases will be exaggerated as everyone is under pressure, managers have to be extra careful to be great allies. Ppl who aren’t white may not always code switch at home the way they do at work. You may see more of their authentic self – reward this, don’t punish it.

Remember at review/reward/promo time that this virus has disrupted the year. Highlight & reward folks who build strong relationships, strong containers, strong stakeholder outreach. A lot of “soft skills” that ppl who aren’t white men have to develop to survive can be showcased.

Change is everywhere right now, fill the cracks with anti-bias. This is hard work, but may actually be easier since disruption is already on full swing. Rebuild with anti-bullying and anti-bias.

Managers, now is the time to bring in folks like Veni or me or any of the myriad of anti-bias, pro-belonging, pro-DEI folks to take hold of this disruption in work life and come out the other side stronger. #BefriendingDragons

And some tweets from other threads

Summary

Be kind. Center the most marginalized over the most powerful. Be anti-bullying, anti-harassment, anti-racist, & anti-sexist.

Going forward, allow more folks to work from home regularly without penalty. This disproportionately helps folks with disabilities and those who are caregivers. It builds trust and refocuses everyone on the work. It’s good business, good for your employees, and good for the environment.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world. - Fred Rogers
Look for the helpers – Fred Rogers

Pledge to really work hard to address the bias head-on in your next round of reviews and/or rewards. Don’t reward productivity in and of itself. Reward those who help others through this, who build and nurture relationships, who reduce other people’s stress and tension. Those people are the true leaders.

Want receipts on these bias factors? Search on terms like:

Check out my Befriending Dragons reading list if you want to dig deeper.

Be kind, lean into checking your biases, and reflect on how to thrive during this stressful time.


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Befriending Dragons Happy Hour

I have so many thoughts and ideas about where my passion will lead me next. I haven’t yet settled on any one thing for a new career, so I went back to the basics. Listen. Listen to my community. I envision my community as marginalized people in tech. So I have started a meetup group where we can get together and talk. Where we can listen to each other. Where we help each other. Join me and let’s go on this journey to our futures together.

#DatesWithDragons in the snow

A gathering place for people forging new paths after harassment at work.

This is a safe space – no hate speech, bullying, harassment, or discrimination is tolerated. We value input from a variety of identities and will center the views, needs, and decisions of those who are not cishet white men.

I’m a 50 year old white woman leaving the tech world. As I talk about the harassment, bullying, and discrimination I’ve faced over the years other women open up about their own experiences. So many of us have no place to talk to others with the same experiences. Let’s share our stories, our growth, our pain and joy. This is a place to talk about surviving and thriving, about careers, family, friends, life, work, play, and about disrupting the white patriarchy to nurture a new way of doing things.

#Words4Justice

Befriending Dragons – Life After Workplace Harassment

Bellevue, WA
3 Members

A gathering place for people forging new paths after harassment at work.This is a safe space – no hate speech, bullying, harassment, or discrimination is tolerated. We value …

Next Meetup

Befriending Dragons Happy Hour

Sunday, Feb 10, 2019, 3:00 PM
1 Attending

Check out this Meetup Group →


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Befriending Dragons | #Words4Justice

Today is my last official day at Microsoft.

I no longer feel safe, comfortable, or valued working in tech. Going forward I’ll be working to actively disrupt tech culture and systems to reduce harassment and discrimination. Keep an eye on #Words4Justice. 😊

Be kind. Be brave. Go beyond ally to accomplice to actively disrupt bullying and discrimination.

cindygross@outlook.com 
@cindygross | @SQLCindy #Words4Justice
https://befriendingdragons.com/

My experiences

Shared Experiences Meetup


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Where are the Women in Technology? #BoiseWIT

Where are the Women in Technology?

The Event

This year’s Boise Code Camp has an exciting new panel session: “Where are the Women in Technology?” We have a great lineup of women who will help us all understand why women in tech matter to your bottom line. The panel invites everyone of any gender to attend and learn more about how we can all help make our businesses more productive, our work culture more pleasant, and our employees and coworkers happier. The session is sponsored by “Girl Develop It! Boise”.RosieInTechWIT

Saturday, March 21 at 140p at the BSU Special Events Center

How does it impact you and your business when women are underrepresented in your tech department? Women are interested, why aren’t they working in IT? Why is the number of women in IT decreasing? What can you personally do about it? Why should you care? We can all help make our businesses more productive, our work culture more pleasant, and our employees and coworkers happier. Sponsored by “Girl Develop It – Boise”.

Why Should Idahoans Care?

We frequently hear how Idaho wants to be seen as a top tech destination. We want to attract new startups as well as existing businesses. Women are an untapped resource that can help make that happen. When women join boards and hold decision making positions in businesses, those businesses tend to outperform businesses with fewer women. Having a pipeline of women techies coming out of our local universities and a workforce with a high percentage of techie women can help attract high tech businesses. Tech businesses historically have a big focus on diverse workforces since over the years they’ve seen the benefits of having a multitude of perspectives when developing new products and services. Women are leading adopters of new products and services, it just makes sense to have women adding a female viewpoint to the decision making process IdahoMapas those products and services are chosen and built.

While tech businesses value women, they still see women exiting the field at much higher rates than men. Take game development as an example. Sexism, misogyny, and sexual harassment are worse in the areas of tech that traditionally are even more overwhelmingly male than most – like video game development. While nearly half of women who play games are women, many games are marketed with ads that emphasize women as sex objects and few games have female avatars to choose from. When female characters or avatars are present in a game they generally have a much more limited range of body types with an emphasis on highly sexualized looks. Again, that is usually attributed to the fact that most of the people who write and market games are men – they never even question what they are doing, it’s just accepted. There is an unproven assumption that women will play “boy games” but men won’t play “girl games”. Female gamers like panelist and IT veteran Jane Miceli are asked “are you really a girl?” when they play well and score high in an online game. When more women are hired into gaming companies/divisions the products change. More non-sexualized female characters appear. Games begin to have more layers to them, more ways of interacting. And then more people buy those games. That’s good for business.

When women are mentored, encouraged, and valued at work they help drive better business decisions.

The Panelists

Our panelists include three women representing a range of IT career stages. Kelsey Suyehira is a BSU senior with a math degree who has returned to school to get a degree in computer science. She is currently president of the Association for Computing Machinery Women’s group, a club that supports the recruitment and retention of women in computer science on campus. Suyehira is joined on the panel by Marianna Budnikova, a professional hacker at the locally owned MetaGeek. In addition to her passion for machine learning and genetic algorithms, which were the basis of her Master’s thesis, Budnikova loves to develop iOS and Android apps. Rounding out the techies on the panel is Jane Miceli. Miceli is a 15 year veteran of the IT industry and a SCRUM Master with a Master’s degree in computer science. She is an avid supporter of tech education and ongoing volunteering on the Idaho Technology Council’s Education Committee, Boise School District’s First Robotics Team 2122, the annual Boise Code Camp conference. Miceli is also managing director for Girls In Tech Boise. All three women show their leadership skills in the Boise chapter of Girl Develop It – a nonprofit that offers affordable technology classes to women through introductory classes such as Python, HTML, and Hadoop. These female tech leaders will talk about their personal experiences with being a woman in tech.

The panel is rounded out by two BSU gender studies lecturers. Carrie Semmelroth lectures on early and special education and gender topics at BSU. Semmelroth spends much of her time on data analysis in her department which gives her an interesting perspective on the intersection of gender and technology. Representative Melissa Wintrow is an educator, trainer, and leadership consultant who lectures on gender studies. Wintrow has been elected to represent District 19 in the Idaho legislature. Semmelroth and Wintrow will bring their perspectives as leaders and educators to help us understand how we can each have a positive impact at work.GirlDevelopItBoise

Panel moderator Cindy Gross is a long time IT veteran with a passion for changing the way businesses do business, whether that’s through adoption of new technologies such as Hadoop or by increasing diversity in the workplace. Gross looks forward to a great hour of discussion on a range of Women in Tech topics that take us from a view of today’s reality to concrete, real-world actions that each of us can take to attract and retain more women in technology. The panel invites live tweeters to use the hashtag #BoiseWIT when discussing the session.

Social Media

Hashtags: #STEM #WIT #PASSWIT #BoiseWIT @GirlDevelopIt #BoiseCodeCamp

References


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Would you go to jail for Human Rights?

AT4WFeb272014JailBus_AshtonPage

Add the 4 Words supporters being arrested and transported from the Statehouse to the Ada County Jail. Photo by Ashton Page.

I believe in justice. I believe in human rights. I believe gay rights are human rights. I believe the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees “Equal Justice Under Law”. Idaho is keeping that justice from an entire group of people – those who are gay. Gay teens in Idaho are bullied into suicide. Gay teens and adults are denied jobs or promotions. Gay folks can’t take a picture of their partner to work. Straight employees can’t take pictures of their gay adult child and that child’s partner to work. People of all orientations avoid taking jobs in Idaho or refuse to bring their businesses here because they worry about their families. What do you believe in? What are you willing to do in support of those beliefs?

I am willing to fight for what is right, to fight for everyone of every sexual orientation and every gender identity. Last week I chose to be arrested, along with 45 other supporters, in support of the “Add the 4 Words” cause. The Republican Leadership in the Idaho legislature won’t even hold a hearing to listen to the stories of those who face discrimination for their real or perceived sexual orientation – and we all have a sexual orientation. We have lobbied legislative leadership, shared poll results showing a vast majority of Idahoans across the state believe firing someone just because they are gay is wrong, and told them our personal stories. Yet still leadership silences our voices, ignores their constituents, and refuses to hold a public hearing where their own constituents could testify. What do you believe in? What are you willing to do in support of those beliefs?

With the support of former Idaho Governor and former head of the Idaho Republican Party Phil Batt, in the 1960s Idaho added a Human Rights Act. We simply want to Add the Words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to that existing act to tell Idahoans that gay folks get the same basic human rights as the rest of us. Former Governor Batt supports this modification to the act he helped create – he wants his gay grandson to feel safe while visiting Idaho. He calls the current legislature’s failure to act “disdain.” What do you believe in? What are you willing to do in support of those beliefs?

You can spend a few minutes or a few hours or a few days on an action – start as small as you want. Do one action or many. Just do something. Stand up for your beliefs, for the fact that all humans deserve basic dignity and respect and the freedom pursue their happiness. Start with any one of the items below. See how that feels. And come back for more when you’re ready. What do you believe in? What are you willing to do in support of those beliefs?

Cindy Gross - Arrested in support of Add the Words, Idaho Feb 27, 2014

Cindy Gross – Arrested in support of Add the Words, Idaho Feb 27, 2014. What will you do? Photo by Ada County Sheriff Deputies.

1) Tell Governor Otter your thoughts on Idaho’s reputation with regards to human rights, especially gay rights. This is even more important for those of you don’t live in Idaho. Would you visit Idaho? Would you start a business here? Would you bring your family here for a job? Give him a personal story.

2) Follow @AddTheWords and @AddThe4Words on Twitter. Now tweet why you support gay rights in Idaho and tag one or both of those accounts. Consider tagging Governor Otter, Senator Hill, your own legislators, or national folks who we may be able to engage in the cause.

3) Donate to Add the 4 Words to help cover the bail and fines of those standing up to be arrested.

4) Participate in the next non-arrest event sponsored by Add the 4 Words or Add the Words.

5) Sign up to participate in in the next Add the 4 Words arrest action – you don’t have to be arrested, you can volunteer as an observer or supporter.

6) Contact your Idaho State Senator and two Idaho State Representatives plus Senator Brent Hill. Note that this is NOT the same as your US Senators (Crapo and Risch) and US Representatives (Labrador and Simpson). There are 35 districts in Idaho – there are many different legislators. I am happy to help you figure out who to contact (cgross1@hotmail.com).

7) Tell your friends why you believe Add the Words is the right thing to do.

8) Donate to the Add the Words documentary http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/add-the-words-a-documentary

9) Follow the Add the Words Blog http://addthewords.blogspot.com/. Offer to contribute a blog post or be interviewed for a blog post.

What do you believe in? What are you willing to do in support of those beliefs?


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Interview with Julie Strauss–Microsoft BI WIT

clip_image002Julie Strauss is a very accomplished and respected Senior PM at Microsoft. Her current role is technical assistant for Microsoft Data Platform Group (DPG) Corporate Vice President Quentin Clark. She has been the public face of Microsoft BI at conferences and helps deliver great technical content and data stories to the public. Julie loves to help others so she has shared some background on herself and some great business advice that could be helpful to others seeking to improve their success.

Julie saw a job posting for the support team in Microsoft Norway (at the time Great Plains) looking for an individual willing to learn the ins and outs of the Microsoft BI products. She was excited that the posting indicated a willingness to learn was more important than previous knowledge of the particular Microsoft product. This was how and why Julie came here – she loves the technology and the data driven parts of the business and finds them fascinating.

Julie has a notable role with a wide range of responsibilities. The majority of her time is spent working on strategic projects to meet the goals of the team at the DPG Vice President level. Projects can vary in nature and cover everything from exploratory and technical projects to organizational projects. She gets to work with many areas of the business and enjoys interactions across the org. In addition to these internal facing responsibilities Julie also manages a set of customer and partner engagements for the business. Overall this role has provided Julie with an amazing learning opportunity. She gets to widen her scope while maintaining her data and BI focus and also use her years of experience from responsibilities ranging through sales, marketing, support, engineering, program management and people management. She merged these experiences into a role as technical assistant that utilizes some aspects of all those areas. Throughout her career she has chosen new jobs that allowed her to stretch and grow with a significant amount of change. But throughout it all she kept one core thing the same – her focus on BI and data. This mix of old and new in each role helps her cultivate new skills while leveraging what she already knows and expanding her influence. Within Microsoft there are many opportunities, something Julie feels is unique in the corporate world, and we can all find a way to shine and grow here.

imageJulie has an extensive network she finds invaluable in navigating all that opportunity. Her network lets her know about new opportunities and the network members also influence decision makers. She emphasizes that your reputation is everything – your network carries that reputation to others. In a strong network everyone is contributing to each other’s success. She has a large network though at any given point in time she is only actively interacting with a few people.

In addition to a network of contacts, Julie has closer relationships with a smaller group of people as both a mentor and a mentee. When Julie made the decision to move from marketing to engineering she leveraged her close mentoring relationship with Donald Farmer. Donald knew Julie and her work ethic and was willing to take a chance on Julie’s ability to succeed even though on paper it wasn’t an obvious fit. She stresses the importance of having semi-formal mentoring relationships with people at various levels. She asks various mentors for advice with experiences, projects, and specific interactions. Julie contributes back as a mentor to others – this keeps her coaching skills active. Julie observed that while she doesn’t treat her mentees differently based on their gender they tend to bucket themselves. More often than not women ask how to handle a specific situation or how to become more efficient or appear more confident. On the other hand men are more likely to ask task oriented questions such as how to make a specific change or how to write a better spec. She enjoys helping with both types of questions. Some of her mentees and mentors are people she already knew and some are people she grew to know only after the mentor-mentee relationship started.

imageI asked Julie what advice she feels is most important to her success that would be helpful to others in the organization. In addition to networking and mentors, she offered these pearls of wisdom:

  • Be willing to take risks and take on new challenges. She has few regrets because she goes after what she wants. She does wonder if having no regrets at all means she didn’t stretch enough. You have to find your own balance.
  • Be true to who you are – how people see you, your brand, should reflect the real you. For Julie it has been very important to never compromise on being true to herself. Julie’s brand is “Give me a challenge and I will work my butt off to get it done, being creative as needed, bringing in people who will make it work.”
  • Never be a victim. Women are strong.
  • Pick something concrete to improve upon and just do it. For example, Julie was ranked as the lowest presenter at a conference. She decided to become a top 10 presenter – she achieved that goal and grew to truly enjoy presenting along the way.
  • Find work you love. Julie finds data fascinating because it is very tangible and with BI you control how it leads to insights, learnings, and possibilities. She loves how data and BI let you use your own imagination and set your own boundaries.
  • State your needs and get buy-in. For example you might tell your manager that you want a promotion and lay out your plan to get there. Then you ask “Is this realistically going to get me to my goal”? Make sure your manager understands your value and gives you feedback, then follow through on the actions with appropriately timed check-ins on whether you are still on track.

Over the years Julie has lived in Denmark, Norway, the UK, and the US. She is always looking for new challenges whether it’s how to succeed in a new country or job or taking on a demanding project. Whatever she does she is working hard and getting things done. Follow her advice – build your network, find a mentor or two, be clear on expectations, and always be true to who you are.

I want to thank Julie for sharing herself and her ideas with us – it can be tough to open up but Julie did a stellar job!


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Jo Ann Morris is Igniting Women with Courage

Ignite: Inspiring Courageous Leaders - A Book of Thought-Provoking Wisdom and a Manual for Action

Ignite: Inspiring Courageous Leaders – A Book of Thought-Provoking Wisdom and a Manual for Action

Go Lead Idaho sponsored a “meet the author” talk by Jo Ann Morris this week at the Boise WaterCooler. Jo Ann is the author of Ignite: Inspiring Courageous Leaders – A Book of Thought-Provoking Wisdom and a Manual for Action and co-founder of White Men as Full Diversity Partners. She describes herself as a proud radical feminist – I wish more people, men and women, had the courage to say that!

Jo Ann’s book, Ignite, helps you to take your own courageous actions. It has a series of “thought exercises” that each start with a powerful quote. She has suggested questions to ask yourself about each quote and there is room to write down the thoughts and feelings evoked by the quote. The exercises make you really think and help you get in the habit of looking beneath the surface and really digging deep. Then you can use your new insights to take action. Thoughts need to be followed by action to be powerful.

Jo Ann talked about taking charge in many ways. We are all responsible for ourselves. And we all need to help those around us.

  • Don’t spend time being nice – nice is overrated. This doesn’t mean to be deliberately mean, but don’t prioritize being nice or being polite above getting things done or getting what you need.
  • To be successful we need to take risks.
  • Don’t wait – step up and offer your ideas and actions.
  • Demand what you’re worth.
  • Be comfortable being uncomfortable.
  • Choose courage.
  • Be vulnerable to be courageous.

Courage!

Courage!

Courage encompasses four things. It can be manifested when you do one or more of these things:

  • See and speak the truth.
  • Champion an unpopular or risky vision.
  • Persevere.
  • Collaborate with AND rely on others. If you don’t rely on those you collaborate with you aren’t truly collaborating or being truly courageous.

In life we need truth, courage, and risk – they can’t really be separated. Women have the power to change the world. Don’t be “honorary men” – lead the way to a world that has a great combination of “feminine” and “masculine” ways of doing things. Have the courage to be the change!

Step up now – in your every-day life, in relationships, at work – and take charge of your own life. Be courageous, be uncomfortable, and be vulnerable. Stand up for yourself, help others, and be a proud radical feminist!


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Go Lead Idaho – Get in the Game

This past week I attended another great Go Lead Idaho event – A Legacy of Leading. Go Lead Idaho helps women build leadership skills and helps women engage in politics, public advocacy, and public planning. The speakers this week, Marilyn Monroe Fordham and Rose Bowman, are two veterans of being “first”. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how recently and severely women’s work and political options were limited to a small subset of opportunities.

Both speakers talked about being strongly discouraged in the 70s and 80s from choosing challenging, non-secretarial type degrees in college and from applying for jobs that were at the time typically reserved for men. Marilyn talked about staying in a banking job for years trying to break through the glass ceiling of “no women can be bank officers”. She eventually left to start her own business as promotion after promotion passed her by. They didn’t even hide why they wouldn’t consider her – they flatly stated it was because she was a woman. The powers that be also talked about the possibility that she might someday get pregnant as a roadblock to many roles – those were the days when women were expected to quit working as soon as they “showed” their pregnancy. While today few people would come out and say so, and many may think they’re being totally fair when evaluating people, there are countless subtle perceptions and reactions that still keep women from being completely successful.

This doesn’t mean we give up or sit around complaining – we need to stand up for ourselves. Don’t get discouraged, keep things positive, and stay focused on the goal. How other people perceive you matters – but don’t let it define you. And don’t try to do it alone. Ask for help and give help to others. Step up to help with projects – you will learn a lot, make new contacts, and show people what you can do. Even if you’re volunteering or doing something outside the scope of your core job you’re still showing people your skills and giving them a reason to remember you the next time an opportunity arises. Always be ready to help others, especially women who may be looking for a female based network. Help others feel confident and build their own circles.

When you are choosing new projects and opportunities challenge yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others and what they could do with the job, project, or role – think of what you can contribute and be creative about it. Others don’t really know more about how to do it than you do – and what you do know how to do could be exactly what is needed whether it’s typical or not. Stretch yourself and don’t focus at first on the practicalities. Figure out what needs to be done then come up with a plan that combines your needs with the needs of the job or project. Many times the schedules and specifics are much more flexible than they seem at first – ask for what you need.

Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to redefine it. Marilyn recounted how she sat on boards with a mix of men and women and there were often 1-2 people who tried to “win” and dominate discussions. However, as she joined boards that were composed of all women she saw a lot more of a focus on solving the problem and collaborating. Over the years the boards she was on became more efficient as they spent less time “playing golf” and instead focused on getting the work done sooner so they could get back to their responsibilities such as families and full time jobs. This wasn’t because of the inherent gender differences but because the women had different goals in mind and focused on them. They stated their needs, got things done, and made the job better.

When Rose ran for US Senate in Idaho in 1972 she was the first woman to do so. People were less likely to give money to a woman and she was running in the primary against the husbands of friends. She got out, made contacts, networked, but still lost the primary. But she was out there, she showed everyone that a woman could run, and she leveraged the contacts she made into appointments to multiple statewide offices. She made a difference. So what was next – what women have run for US Senate since then in Idaho? None. Women haven’t stepped up. We all have our excuses – we’re too busy, we don’t feel we have the skills, or it just seems like too much work. But really – why hasn’t any woman run again in the last 40 years?

You don’t have to start out with a national political office – but start somewhere. Do something new, extend your comfort zone, grow  your network, and get in the game – any game! Go lead Idaho!


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Leadership – Influencing Others

Leadership – Influencing Others

 

A good leader is able to influence others, whether it’s directly or indirectly. Influence is about your ability to have an impact; it’s not about getting exactly what you want. Generally you are participating in a joint effort and you may be delegating actions to others with or without authority. However, influence goes beyond getting a specific task or project done. It’s really about building relationships. If you’re a good influencer you use your influence for good and don’t stoop to manipulation. Most people influence others to some degree all the time whether they know it or not.

As you decide where to focus your networking time you’ll want to factor in both who you need for your success and the success of your projects and who needs your help to be more successful themselves. Have both a long term strategy and short term tactics in mind as you foster your networks and decide who try to influence and what influence you will accept from others.

In order to influence effectively you need to build trust. Be authentic, admit when you are not sure you will be able to help or have other uncertainties, and be willing to open yourself up in return for others’ openness. Once you have given and earned trust you will find it easier to get others to buy in to your goals and make their own contributions. When you keep long-term trust in mind you stay in the “good” arena of influence and are less likely to lower yourself to pure manipulation. This helps build your credibility and image.

A successful influencer is good at understanding and communicating “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) for everyone involved. There may be direct, easily visible, and/or immediately applicable reasons as well as less tangible “good for someone’s career” type motivations. What is an obvious advantage from your viewpoint may not be easily seen by others or may have unseen and/or unintended consequences you haven’t thought of. Verbalizing WIIFM is key.

From a tactical perspective, make sure you engage people before decision making points such as meetings. Have 1:1 conversations and get a feel for who will be supportive. Pay attention to body language and tone of voice. Give credit to others when appropriate and don’t feel you have to get visible credit, no matter how deserved, for every item you contributed. If someone else puts forth an idea that you’ve already expressed don’t assume bad motivations. It could mean the circumstances have led multiple people to the same conclusion or it could be that something you said earlier sank in over time and was well received, whether they consciously remember where they first heard the idea or not. If you feel you really have to point out that you already presented an idea, try phrasing it as “thank you for articulating that so much better than me”.

Make sure you celebrate successes and give praise. Praise should be specific and include the impact, not just the action. For example: “Susie provided a key resource for this project that enabled us to include a highly-requested feature in the program that would have otherwise been cut. This has led to increased sales (of X%) and increased customer satisfaction.” Celebrating success leads to more success.

When you influence others you are practicing a skill that is key to your success. Build your networks, build trust, give credit and rewards when appropriate, and learn to think in terms of WIIFRM. Being a good influencer can have a positive impact on projects, people, and your own career.

Take a look at my other leadership blogs and share your own leadership stories! http://blogs.msdn.com/b/cindygross/archive/tags/leadership/

Influence is a key takeaway for me from my Women Unlimited sessions.


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Leadership – Strengths and Weaknesses

Leadership – Strengths and Weaknesses

As part of my attempt to grow as a leader I took the StrengthsFinder survey. I got this one from the Go Lead Idaho sessions I am attending. It’s based on a Gallup survey and is all based on self-assessment. It was a quick and painless survey with clear, concise output. It’s based on a series of questions created and vetted over many years by Gallup, the experts in polling and finding out what people are thinking. Some of the questions seemed nonsensical and all were time-limited. If you can’t decide in 20 seconds where you fit on the scale then it’s not a defining question for you. The premise is that there are 34 themes that people are strong or weak in. Based on talking to a couple of career coaches the results are remarkably accurate for most people, no matter how much you resist the names of the themes. You take your top 5 strengths and concentrate on those. Don’t try to “fix” your weaknesses since that would focus your attention in the wrong area. Focus on your strengths instead. In that vein, the output from the survey only tells you your top 5 areas. Not the top 6, not a ranking of them all, not a clue what your “worst” 5 areas are. There’s a worksheet that helps you highlight which aspects of each area resonate with you and you should pick a key point from each to focus on. As an illustration of the themes, my strengths are listed below with the points I feel best describe me included below each item.  

  • Harmony
    • You rely on collective intelligence and wisdom of experts to guide you towards the best solutions or answers
    • You regularly point out what is wrong
    • You zero in on difficulties, glitches, obstacles as early as possible so individuals can deal with them easily
    • Key terms: Logically, unemotionally, practical thinker, consensus
    • My key point: You help others see things as they actually are
  • Consistency
    • Set up clear rules and adhere to them
    • You study and examine plans before you leap into action
    • You want everyone including yourself to be happy
    • You go out of your way to treat every person you meet with the same amount of respect, care, concern, and hospitality
    • Key terms: unsentimental, realistic, streamline, overlook no detail, concentrate on facts, practical
    • My key point: Because you check so many things beforehand, the number of misunderstandings and miscommunications between people is likely to decrease dramatically
  • Learner
    • You fill your mind with new ideas
    • Process of learning, rather than outcome, excites you
    • Accumulate facts, data, stories, examples, or background information from the people you meet
    • Want to be kept in the information loop
    • You gravitate to people who converse about ideas at a deeper and more thoughtful level than most individuals are capable of doing.
    • Small talk is seen as a waste of time
    • You capitalize on your ability to ask questions and listen to people’s answers
    • Key terms: thirst for knowledge and new ideas, continuously improve
    • My key point: examining the interaction between various parts is as important to you as knowing what each part is designed to do
  • Achiever
    • Resist being held back, restrained, or controlled by people or events
    • Prefer to be in charge
    • Need fewer detailed explanations than many people require
    • Prefer people who are trustworthy
    • Key terms: stamina, hard work, busy, productive
    • My key point: outstanding results and demanding standards (on self)
  • Analytical
    • Want to understand how one idea or fact links neatly to whatever precedes and follows it
    • Search for causes and reasons, think about all factors that could influence a situation
    • Automatically double-check your work
    • Prefer company of people who carefully listen to what you say
    • You make sure you know as much as possible about a contest before you decide to enter it
    • You revel in gathering data and evidence to get answer before being told answer
    • Key terms: examine, sound reasoning, reader, values information
    • My key point: reduce things to their simplest parts

 Note that many of these things can be described in less flattering terms by those who don’t appreciate these strengths. For instance, pointing out what is or could go wrong is to me a key strength. From my perspective if I don’t point out a weakness no one can address it and make the final output stronger. In my world you create a list of things that don’t seem quite right and things that could go wrong, you look it over and see what’s worth addressing, and if what’s left isn’t insurmountable go ahead with a good sense that things will succeed. But over the years I’ve been told I am trying to make projects fail, that I am too negative, and that I am making things overly complicated. It took me a while to find a job where that was seen as beneficial, and I also have to temper my approach. So take your strengths, own them, and make it clear that they are strengths. Don’t let others define you and your traits.

One trait most people share is that they tend to hire and reward others like themselves. That includes preferring people with similar strengths. Therefore many teams have a lot of people who are good at the same things and big gaps in other areas. That means there are potential strengths that the team has difficulty exploiting. Other teams have a good mix of strengths and team members can rely on other team members to fill in their own gaps. That sounds great, but you have to be able to manage the inevitable conflict. As an Achiever “down in the weeds” implementing something I will be annoyed by the Activator who from my perspective is always starting things and never finishing them. The Activator is annoyed by the Achiever who can’t keep up with their new and inventive ideas. Alone the Achiever works on the unimportant projects and the Activator never gets anything done. But together we can define the strategic, game changing projects and get them implemented to near perfection – as long as we recognize and utilize each other’s strengths. Asking an Activator to slow down and follow through (or from their perspective getting stuck in the weeds) is asking them to work in their weak area and holding them back from doing what they do best. Asking an Achiever to abandon a project (from an Activator perspective move on to something new because they’re done with the last one) is only asking for frustration.

One key point is that you have to satisfy your motivators every day. A great example came from a Learner. She figured out that she was getting sidetracked with meaningless web searches and Wiki reading during critical projects. But when she purposefully looked up a few interesting topics each morning or read a chapter before starting work, she had satisfied her learning motivator and could concentrate on her work. Find a way to satisfy your motivators in a way that moves you forward.

The themes themselves are simple. You can take them at their face value or you can spend hours upon hours diving into the explanations and action plans around them. How you approach it will reflect your individuality and your personal strengths. However you get there, find your own strengths, surround yourself with smart people, and lead from your strengths.