Friday, February 29, 2008

Highlights from the 2/26 Discussion Group Meeting

Thanks to everyone who came out for our first evening Discussion Group meeting! We had a great turn out and fabulous discussions. Given the venue and the size of our group, we broke up into 3 smaller groups and switched places throughout the evening. This gave everyone a chance to meet and talk with almost everyone who attended.

The highlights for me weren’t so much around the topic of mentoring but more around the need for this group. The women who attended were hungry for an opportunity to network with other women and discuss meaningful topics.

I also learned that many of the attendees weren’t aware of the history of Women & Hi Tech, so please allow me to tell the story from my perspective. The beginning came when I met Georgia Miller at a meeting called to discuss bringing more technology and science businesses to Indiana. What struck both of us was the lack of women at this meeting. We both voiced this opinion and then struck up a conversation during a break. From this conversation, we decided to bring in other women we knew to continue discussing the challenges that women face in technology fields.

We had a great turn out for that first meeting, which led to another, and another. Our attendance grew with each meeting and we knew we were onto something. Finally came the time to turn these informal discussion groups into a more formal organization and just over a year later in July 1999 Women & Hi Tech was formally incorporated.

Our mission has always been to attract, develop, retain, support, and promote women in science and technology fields. I’d like to expound upon each of those concepts. The first step is to attract women and girls to these fields. Studies have shown that the “weed out” age for most technology careers is middle school. If girls don’t take the right science and especially math classes in middle school, then they can’t take the requisite science and math courses in high school that will prepare them for these majors in college. Then when these young women reach college, they find that if they’d like to major in science, engineering, technology that they may not be able to complete their degree in four years.

Unfortunately, many girls aren’t encouraged to take these classes. They’re seen as too hard and girls may not understand the need to take calculus, chemistry, or physics. Our modern media typically doesn’t portray women as scientists, computer programmers, or engineers unless they’re the homely type.

For the women who do make it through these majors in college, it’s important that they have the support to continue to develop in their careers. With the exception of medical school, the ratio of women in most graduate programs in science and technology can be as low as one woman for every 10 men. These are also careers that seem to promote and reward a macho culture of devoting most of your waking hours to your chosen profession. Many young women will have few female role models and fewer still who haven’t adopted the male style prevalent in these fields.

This is why retention becomes an issue. Women drop out of science and technology careers at a rate of 2:1 vs. their male colleagues. Young women are led to believe that 50+ hour work weeks are necessary to advance at a point in their life when they are beginning to think about beginning their families. So, many of them drop out, either into more traditionally female fields or out of the workforce altogether.

Women in the workforce face far different challenges than their male counterparts. This is difficult enough for any working woman but these issues become magnified when you are in the minority among your colleagues. I believe that few men consciously discriminate against women. However, it happens nonetheless. I’ve attended many a conference or seminar where all the speakers are men. I don’t believe the organizers purposely omitted women but they didn’t see anything wrong with a panel without women. As women we need to support each other, speak up when we see unintentional omissions, help our male colleagues, and superiors understand the challenges we face each day.

Finally we need to celebrate and promote the successes of women in science and technology. Who are the role models for our daughters? As I mentioned in a previous column, the last women to win Nobel Prizes in some fields did so in the 1960’s, though I’d argue that there are many successful women in the sciences despite this. You need look no further than the list of Leading Light award winners for confirmation of this. We can’t wait around for others to shine the spotlight on us. We need to do this for ourselves.

This is why I’ve been a part of Women & Hi Tech all these years. It’s been about women supporting each other through, networking, mentoring, and being the spotlight for one another’s successes. It’s about reaching back to help the next generation of women, to provide role models, and help them learn from our struggles. For me it’s about leveling the playing field for my daughter, my nieces and all the other young women out there.

On a final note, back to our discussion topic for all of you out there who mentioned that you are looking for mentors, please e-mail me. I’ll be happy to tap into my personal network to help you find someone who can help you.

By popular demand, these meetings will take place monthly. The next meetings will be on Tuesday March 18th at 6:45 am at B Java and on Tuesday March 25th at 7pm at D’Vine. Our next topic will be on networking – stay tuned for more.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Notes from Our First Discussion Group

This morning we had a small but enthusiastic group meet at B Java for the first Women & Hi Tech Discussion group. It was a very engaging and enlightening discussion. As promised, I’m posting some highlights of the discussion for the benefit of those of you who weren’t able to join us in person.

So, what would entice someone to go to a meeting at 6:45 on a cold, snowy morning? Everyone who attended expressed a desire to connect with other women in the community who are facing other challenges. These are all women who would like to be more involved with Women & Hi Tech but who found that meeting times and/or locations just didn’t work with their schedules. It is a constant challenge. You can’t ever choose a meeting time and/or location that will work for everyone. I am open to suggestion though. If you have alternate times/days/locations, I’m more than willing to give them a try and see who can attend.

So, now to this month’s topic – Mentoring. We began by discussing the value of finding a mentor outside of your own company. For those of us who work for large companies, we can be a bit insular and not look for best practices outside of our own walls. For those who work in smaller companies, available mentors may be few and far between, so it may be necessary to look outside for the mentoring you need.

Which led us to the topic of finding a mentor. Several of us have had the experience of being turned down when asking someone to be our mentor. You feel like you’re putting yourself out there by asking in the first place, and being turned down can be more than a little discouraging. It can even lead you to give up and stop asking. People who are known to be good mentors seem to be in high demand and tend to get more requests than they have time to support. What would be desirable in that case would be in these individuals could also provide a list of back up mentors. A no wouldn’t sting quite as much if an alternative was offered.

Another interesting topic was when is it too late to get a mentor? If you feel that you have passed up opportunities early in your career for mentoring, can you still avail yourself mid-career? Does there come a point when you should shift your focus from finding a mentor to being a mentor?

One insightful comment was that a good mentoring program consists of a social network of people with the right disposition as well as the interest to be mentors. Not everyone is cut out to be a mentor, no matter how successful they have been in their own careers. Good mentors are genuinely interested in fostering the growth of others and willing to make a commitment to their protégés. In order for mentoring to be successful there has to be a commitment on the part of both people to meet regularly. One member of our group shared a story about having her meetings with her mentor cancelled because something else came up. After a while, she just stopped trying to schedule these meetings. She said that now that she is a mentor, she makes it a priority to reschedule as soon as possible when she needs to reschedule meetings with her protégés.

So, what about the perception that your mentor needs to be someone very senior in an organization? We all agreed that this was definitely not our experience and that sometimes the best advice came from those “in the trenches” with us.

We also discussed the differences between having a male vs. a female mentor. The prevailing sentiment was that women mentors better understood our challenges of juggling work and family obligations. Whereas men will be able to tell you what you need to do to be successful. Despite talking a good game about the importance of work/life balance, most successful men don’t seem to practice what they preach.

We found the concept in the article of having a “personal board of directors” an interesting one. We’d never really thought of applying mentoring outside of our professional lives. That being said, when we began discussing the idea we all realized that we do have advisors for many phases of our lives (financial advisors, spiritual advisors, etc.), we just didn’t think of it as “mentoring” per se. It’s about having a support network we can tap into when we need advise, which is really what mentoring is all about.

We talked about the possibility of Women & Hi Tech being a conduit for matching up mentors and protégés. It would be nice if we could somehow develop a list of people who are looking for mentors in a particular area with people who are willing to be mentors. It would be great if people could sign up listing both their areas of expertise as well as areas where people would like advice and mentoring. As an interim solution, I’d like to invite anyone who is looking for a mentor to post a request on my blog. Let’s see if we can’t do some match-making.

We ended by discussing potential topics for future meetings. I’ve already begun working on March’s topic – networking. More to come on that in early March. Here were some of the suggestions from this morning’s meeting:

  • Handling e-mail and other communication – dealing with “information overload"
  • Invite winners of the recent Leading Light Awards to come and talk about the accomplishments that led to their nomination
  • Hosting a “Speed Networking” event

What do you think? What topics would you like to see us explore in future meetings or online?

I’m looking forward to the meeting next week. I’ve had a good response and there’s still time to sign up if you haven’t done so already. Can’t come to the meeting? Please share your thoughts with us here online. I’d love to hear from you.

Finally, thanks to our hostess this morning, BJ Davis. She opened B Java Coffee and Tea about a year and a half ago. It's been tough since Starbucks moved in an opened a drive-through. She is indeed, the best barista in town. Fortunately, there are people who want to support local businesses. It'd be better if there were more. If you're ever on the northwest side, stop by and check out her shop. You won't be disappointed!

More to come!


Thursday, February 14, 2008

How to Be a Good Mentee/Protégé:

When you talk to people about mentoring, most conversations focus on the mentor. However, for any relationship to be successful, it takes effort on the part of both people. So, just finding a great mentor is only the start. You also need to understand what you need to do to be a good protégé. (I prefer that word to mentee, so I’ll be sticking with it for the rest of this post.)

I’ve been talking to lots of women who are actively involved in mentoring to get their perspectives on what makes a good protégé. The number one requirement is to know what you want to get out of the relationship. Almost everyone I talked to has had the experience of having a new protégé show up and expecting that the mentor will drive the relationship.

So, step one is to define what you want from a mentor. This needs to be very clear in your own mind before you find your mentor because you want to choose a mentor who can help you attain your goals. The more specific the goal is, the more successful you are likely to be. A goal of “I want to be promoted” is a specific goal, however, a goal of “getting feedback on opportunities available for someone with my background and skill set”, will provide a better framework for discussions. While, it’s good to have goals that will stretch you, try to avoid “solving world hunger” types of goals.

Now that you have a goal and a mentor, it’s important to set mutual expectations for your relationship. How often will you meet? What kinds of interactions will you have outside of your formal meetings? What kind of communication style works best for you? Do you want someone who will be “brutally honest” or do you prefer a softer approach? What communication tools work well for both of you – e-mail, phone calls, etc.?

Another requirement mentioned by mentors is the protégés need to be open to feedback. People who are resistant to constructive feedback won’t derive much benefit from a mentor. It’s not just about listening to the feedback, you also have to be willing to make changes in response to the feedback.

Finally, all good relationships should provide benefit to both parties. If you are luck enough to have a good mentor, think about what you can do to give back to your mentor. Pass on an interesting article or recommend a good book. Or just offer a heartfelt thank you. Everyone likes to know that she is appreciated.

On another note, in response to my own challenge, I do have some examples of famous women mentors and protégés:

  • Audrey Hepburn mentored Elizabeth Taylor
  • Warren Buffet mentored Katharine Graham (chairman of the Washington Post)
  • Bob Metcalf (founder of 3COM) mentored Beth Marcus (President of Glow Dog Inc.)

I'll keep looking and post more examples as I find them. Please add to my list.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Women & Mentoring

In preparing for the first discussion group, I've been doing a bit of research on the topic of mentoring. One resource I went to was Wikipedia, which does indeed have an entry for Mentoring. What struck me was when I read through their list of famous mentor-protege pairs, was the lack of female names. In fact in the list of 23 pairs, only one woman appears - Diana Ross as the mentor to Michael Jackson. Here's the link if you'd like to review the article yourself

My first response to the lack of women's names was to be outraged. How could women be left off the list. Why I can think of dozens of examples. How could they overlook ... um ... But there's ...

I'm ashamed to admit that I couldn't think of any examples off the top of my head. I went through all the famous women I could think of and tried to come up with her mentor and came up blank. I then tried to think of who these famous women had mentored and also came up blank.

Why is this? In doing research I've come across the perception that successful women are perceived as not doing enough to help and mentor the women coming up behind them. Theories about why this is so abound. Successful women feel like they had to make it on their own, so others should too. Women feel like asking for help is a sign of weakness. Successful women don't want to be perceived as giving preference to other women. Women tend to have more responsibilities outside of work than their male counterparts and so just not enough time to take on a protege. Women aren't as secure in their success as their male counterparts and may feel threatened by a younger protege. In choosing a mentor, do women gravitate toward men since they see them as holding the "real power"?

Then there is the other side of the coin. Often men are afraid to mentor women because they are afraid that the relationship will be seen as more than just professional.

What impact does this have? Well since we're Women & Hi Tech, lets look at achievements in Science & Technology. Since 1901 only 12 women have won a Nobel Prize in science. During that time a total of 519 prizes were awarded. Two women have won the Nobel Prize for Physics; the last one was awarded Marie Goeppert-Mayer in 1963. Three women have won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry; the last one was awarded to Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin in 1964. Seven women have won the Nobel Prize for Medicine; the last one was awarded to Linda Buck in 2004. Of note, no woman has ever won the Nobel Prize in Economics.

As of 2007, only 13 women were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Only 1 woman, Angela Braly, was the CEO of a Fortune 50 company. According the the US Department of Labor, only 6% of for profit board positions are held by women.

Is lack of mentoring the only reason? Probably not, but I'm guessing that it is a contributing factor. When I ask the question, "do you have a mentor?", most women I talk to say no. How do we change this?

I also have a challenge. Let's do some research and add some women's names to the list of famous mentor-protege pairs on Wikipedia. Let's change this perception of women and mentoring!

Please share your thoughts, ideas, suggestions. Post them here or come to one of the discussion sessions.

More to come.