What’s your passion? Mine is math and science education. As a volunteer I support the efforts of the Kilby Foundation (www.Kilby.org), IEEE (www.IEEE.org) and Sci-Tech (www.mindstretchingfun.org) In my local
If you want to have a productive workforce, everyone needs to have certain skills. These are skills like communication skills which include listening, questioning and people skills. Are those skills unique to women? No. Both men and women use these same skills. If both genders need the same skills, why should a program be delivered to just one gender? That’s what I thought.
There will always be people who have misconceptions and preconceived ideas at work. What can you do about them? Management can set expectations for performance, but the reality is that you can’t change other people. You can only change yourself. What you can do is change how you respond to these types of situations. I learned this when I had to work for a male manager who was very uncomfortable supervising a female. I was the first female professional he supervised.
At our first meeting this experienced manager stammered trying to pick a topic to make small talk. He was at a loss to figure out which small-talk topics would engage a female. What did I do? Did I tell him to treat me like one of the guys? No. What I did was figure out what he would feel comfortable talking about. He was a car buff. We talked car repair (which I was familiar with since I worked on my own car.) There was no way I was going to get him immediately comfortable supervising a female, but I could get him comfortable supervising another engineer who happens to be female. That was not too far a stretch for him. And that’s what I did.
What’s so interesting is that in a recent Harvard Business Review article, “How Star Women Build Portable Skills,” the author, Boris Groysberg, discusses the research that shows that star performers who are stock analysts often falter when they move to new companies. He found that when a star switches companies, not only does his performance plunge, but so does the market value of his new company. There was one exception—women. Why? Women had to create their own tracks for success because they couldn’t rely on penetrating the good old boy network that was at their company. Instead, they networked with their customers and created closer customer relationships which served them well when they moved.
What’s this have to do with my decision to not isolate women engineers? I realized that both men and women engineers need the same skills. They have to work together, too. As in the Harvard study, I expect both genders to learn from the program and implement what they learn differently. And wouldn’t it be nice if like the Harvard results, the women did better.