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GHC

Equality

Why women need sponsors more than mentors

I was on a panel at GHC 2012 last week “Sponsors or Mentors – which will get you there?” Standing room only in a large room, it was clearly a topic of great interest to the female tech students and geeks at the conference. And the questions were priceless…

The panel, lead by Anne Losby of Thomson Reuters,  was prompted by a report Catalyst put out last year on Sponsoring Women to Success. In it the research clearly shows sponsorship is a powerful differentiator at the top and key to overcoming the barriers for women. And while we are making good progress as a gender, and women make up more than 50% of the workforce, they still only make up 3.8% of the CEOs of the Fortune 500. So plenty of room to improve the ratio.

First – do you know the difference? Mentoring has been talked about for
years but talking about sponsorship is a fairly new fashion. Mentoring is about advice and coaching, helping the younger employee figure out the system and skills. My advice to people seeking mentors is seek someone willing to tell you the truth about yourself. Seek someone who will hold the mirror up to you (and your behavior), even is the image is ugly. And a great mentor will put the time in to teach you.

A sponsor, however, is not a mentor. A sponsor has power and the ability to help you get ahead. They know you — strengths and weaknesses, talents and warts — and are ambitious for you. They help you prepare for opportunity by steering you into the right experiences and the right training. They will advocate for you and make the case when you are not in the room for why you should get the next promotion, the next cool project. They win when you win be because the company, and possibly their reputational capital in the company, are stronger when you do.

I experienced this myself in my first 12 years in Silicon Valley. I worked for 2 companies – one for 4 years, one for 8, but was never in the same job more than 21 months. I had two sponsors (although I could not have labeled them as such at the time) who were watching me, grooming me and putting me into opportunities to learn and stretch. Both were men, because back then there were no women in the organization above me. I would not have become a tech CEO at 36 without their sponsorship.

So why is this so important for women?

The tough reality is that women face a double bind. Catalyst research has shown that women who advocate for themselves can be penalized in the workplace. Women get labeled as “aggressive” when the same behavior in a man would be labeled as “assertive”. I’m not complaining, it’s just reality and so sponsors can help women get ahead by advocating for them and helping them avoid the double bind.

Sponsors are also important for women because men tend to know what they want and ask for it, women tend to wait to be asked. There is unconscious sterotyping going on with the men judging the women who do ask, but there is also stereotyping going on by the women who restrict their own behavior. Afraid to appear “pushy” or “too aggressive” they moderate their own behavior to meet the expectation of humility from women.

And this is where the questions lead on the panel. All the discussion, in the end, led to the double bind. How to get ahead and ask for the project, the job, the doctoral research without offending the men around you and being judged? Lots of advice ensued, but in the end I told the group to “Just go for it and course correct when you are in the job. Don’t tap down your natural energy and your drive, we need that in our companies!” Strong women (and men) – apply here.

Equality

Women Computer Scientists – Yes They Exist!

Published earlier today in the Huffington Post

Women are doing some amazing work in Computer Science and
Engineering, how come we don’t know about them? We all know about
the stereotypical hot start-up out of Silicon Valley led by some
twenty-something white guy but we don’t hear much about women
entrepreneurs, computer scientists, researchers and business leaders in
tech. How come?

Is it like the research study recently reported in the New York Times
where a scientifically oriented resume with a women’s name at the top
was consistently rated lower by professors than the exact same resume
with a man’s name? Do women have to be substantially better than men to
get recognized?

Maybe today, but the 7th Annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC), going on this week, is all about changing that.

Downtown Baltimore is teeming with technical women today. Three
thousand, six hundred of them! More than 1,500 are students, passionate
about developing new technology, and not afraid to say so just because
they are girls.

And here at the conference they are surrounded by other technical
women who don’t fit the tech frat boy stereotype that Silicon Valley is
so known for, but who instead just set about changing the world of
technology from a diverse point of view.

Consider Lilli Cheng who is GM of the Future Social Experiences
(FUSE) Labs in Microsoft Research. She leads a team who invent, develop
and deliver new social, real-time, and media-rich experiences for home
and work, and she speaking on Creativity, Learning and Social Software.

Or Lori Beer who is the EVP for Enterprise Business Services at
WellPoint and manages over 30,000 people developing new health care
products for you and me, and is speaking today on Transforming Health
care Through Data.

Or Ann Mei Chang who is a Senior Advisor on technology at the State
Department and has the Silicon Valley engineering who’s who on her
resume, including being a Senior Engineering Director at Google. She’s
speaking on Leveraging Mobile and Internet Technology to Improve Women’s
Lives in the Developing World.

Or Nora Denzel, who was both funny and wise in her keynote today, and
has led large, cutting edge software and business teams at IBM, HP and
Intuit, and can go nose to nose with anyone on technology.

Imagine 3,600 confident girly geeks together, mingling with each
other as students and mentors, inventors and developers, investors and
founders. Women working together to change the ratio of women in
technology by recruiting new young women into the field and helping them
stay in the field, despite the odds. Less than 25 percent of the STEM workforce in the U.S. are women, more than 50 percent of women who start in engineering drop out
of technology in the first 10 years of their careers, the numbers of
women graduating in computer science has been dropping over the last 10
years, and yet by 2020 the U.S. will graduate less than 30 percent of the engineers we need to be competitive.

It just makes sense to get more girls into technology. It’s an
incredibly exciting field and women make great computer scientists.
Thousands of them are at GHC in Baltimore today. Join us and change the
world!

The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is a program
of the Anita Board Institute, which is funded by the world’s best
technology companies to help industry, academia, and government recruit,
retain, and develop women leaders in high-tech fields, resulting in
higher levels of technological innovation. You can learn more at www.anitaborg.org
.

Career Advice

Techniques for Advantage-Makers

I had the great pleasure of traveling to Bangalore before Christmas to attend the first full India Grace Hopper Conference. I’m on the board of the Anita Board Institute so I had two hats on for the conference i) as the resident board member to meet, greet and press the flesh and ii) to be on a panel hosted by our India MD, Aparna Gupta.

The first was fun to meet so many new people who are running India-based operations. The second was, as these things usually are, very interesting.

The term “advantage makers” comes from a book by my friend Steven Feinberg called The Advantage-Makers: How Exceptional Leaders Win by Creating Opportunities Others Don’t and the panel put together experienced execs from the US and India to talk about some of the techniques that work.

Some good stories in here – from IBM experience, from old Oracle days, from ThoughtWorks and what we’ve learned — and my experience building companies. I spoke on the need to pull back and look at problem more completely – pulling back above the traffic to see how to get through it.

Equality

I Am A Technical Woman – Anita Borg Institute

I am at the Grace Hopper Conference today in Tucson Arizona – here as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology. Check out the video the team made last night (and which is at the top of Digg this morning) – it will make you smile and give you sense of the power of this group of young women.

The conference is a spectacular success – 1600 attendees – 99% technical women and 50% students. The energy and enthusiasm for technology is contagious and exciting to see.

The Institute is all about women AND technology: helping women come into and stay into technology – particularly computer science today although we are expanding – and helping the influence of women on technology. We’ve gone from barely surviving 6 years ago when Anita died to now being a thriving organization with a budget of over $3M and an annual conference that is a sellout even in a recession year – and I fully expect that we will continue to grow from here.

Today we are very strong in the IT sector – the majority of our sponsors like Google, HP, IBM, Sun, Cisco, Microsoft, NetApp (to name just a few) to our newer sponsors like SAP and Symantec – are in the IT business but we have strong interest from the financial services sector and the government and defense sectors. I bet today we are going to be talking about how we staff up and bring up some sectors specific programs to bring the leaders in financial services into the Institute. I had the pleasure of meeting with senior women from companies like Goldman Sachs and BP last night and no matter how diverse their businesses are they need and use technology and want diversity in the workforce – and we can help!