own your expertise – a conference for women developers

Yesterday, <Write/Speak/Code> had a one day workshop for women developers called “Own your Expertise.” The idea is for more women to start “Building the foundation for  Thought Leadership, Conference Speaking & Open Source Contributing.” I had mixed feelings about going to a female only event. I asked a teammate to join me though and off we went. In this blog post, I’ll share some of the “gender” topics that came up and my reaction to them. [The rest of the workshop was more content driven like brainstorming topics].

Networking

There was lots of time for networking. Some of it was just general time. Some was structured networking.

My reaction: The environment was set up well for people to talk to each other and share experiences. Unlike at a core-tech conference, there were more icebreakers and “natural” opportunities to talk to people. I also felt like there were less people on laptops all day (presumably because it was Saturday) or with a group of colleagues that all came together. This made it easier to approach people. Also, there was a good mix of employed people, students and those looking for jobs. There were also a lot more career changers than at the typical tech event I go to.

Impostor Syndrome

  • Women have more trouble internalizing accomplishments
  • Proof of success is dismissed as luck/timing
  • This is common even in high achieving women
  • Even as kids, guys tend to attribute failure to luck or bad judging
  • Women tend to underestimate abilities.

My reactions: 

  1. I was surprised at the number of hands that went up when asked if the audience was not sure if they were as good a developer because they didn’t start coding when they were 12 or code for fun. (I do code for fun and started when I was a kid.) It’s ok not to code for fun. That said, practice makes perfect. And I believe those who code for fun are likely to become better developers and faster.
  2. A lot of this resonated from the book “The Confidence Code“. Which helped me realize that guys are more likely to sound confident even when wrong. Which is a problem because it encourages management to see that “the guys know what they are doing.” Making this a self fulling prophecy.
  3. Personally, I saw this last week when I gave a presentation. I’m not normally nervous when giving a presentation. For this one I was because my exposure to the topic was one day of a vendor showing us the product. I was fine. I knew almost everything I was asked. At least I didn’t APPEAR nervous.
  4. I also see see this when guys sound more confident even when wrong. I feel a resistance to challenging someone who sounds 100% confidence because it makes me doubt whether I’m right. I’ll check after the meeting, but sometimes the moment is gone then.

Stereotype Threat

People tend to perform worse when worried about refuting a stereotype

My reaction: I agree with this. It becomes a distraction. Or you feel like you have to do more because of it. Luckily, I’m good at not noticing. Every once in a while, someone will point it out and then I’ll notice. For example, there was one point where I was the only female under my officer’s part of the company. (I work for a bank; our senior managers are called officers.) This meant I went to a meeting every few months with all guys. I hadn’t noticed until someone started talking about the topic. Then I had an “oh, yeah” moment. Luckily, I do believe that the guys didn’t care either and moved on quickly. But it was certainly a distraction for the day or so that it was on my mind.

Negative feedback loop

The work too hard loop:

worry –> work hard –> good job –> approval/relief –> worry

My reaction: While I didn’t experience this one personally, I have seen it in a few others. Of both genders though. It does highlight an important lesson about not worrying (excessively) about things you can’t control.

Objective feedback/support system

  • Have people you can talk to who you trust to be objective
  • What’s the problem? What’s the worst that can happen? Is what you’re feeling objectively true or just your perspective?

My reaction: This is definitely important. Since we were in a workshop that frequently brought up gender, I ran through a tally of the genders of the people I talk to when having difficulties in a tech environment.

  • At CodeRanch, it is 3 men and 1 woman. (Most of the senior moderators are guys so I suspect this is talking to who is available.) At CodeRanch, most of the “problems” are someone saying something in the forums that is mean/hurtful. But sometimes, I’ll ask these people for advice on how to deal with an anonymized work problem if the people I’d ask at work are too close to it.
  • At work, it is 4 women and 1 man. Interesting how this is the reverse. Granted, I talk to other people about problems (like my manager at the current time.). I’m only counting the people that I feel like I can say anything to. While I’ve come close to that point with managers, I don’t think I could get 100% there.

Qualifying accomplishments

  • Women tend to use words that downplay what they do. Words like “just”, “only”, “good timing”, “luck”, etc make the person sound less skilled.
  • The idea is not to brag, but then it gets over done.

My reaction: They did an exercise where you were given an accomplishment and just said “thank you.” That was really easy. While I do use unnecessary qualifiers, I don’t do it a lot. And I don’t tend to do so in response to a compliment. I think when I use the qualifiers, I’m thinking about precision or not taking credit for something others do. That said, this is something I definitely see when talking to people. “I just figured out …”

Look at the data

Record positive feedback, measurable progress, accomplishments.

My reaction: Right on! At my first job, I was given the advice to record what I accomplish throughout the year so I remember it when it is appraisal time. This is excellent advice. I have a document at work with just that. I also have a list of public (non-work) accomplishments on my CodeRanch bio. It contains certifications, public conference talks, book contributions/tech editing, robotics and CodeRanch. I started posting this list to establish tech credibility. Then I continued because it is cool! I like that it is on CodeRanch rather than Linked In. This makes it about sharing rather than looking for a job.

“You guys”

The presenter said “you guys” once and  corrected it to “you ladies”

My reactions:

  1. I use the phrase “use guys” all the time. I consider it a gender neutral phrase. The problem is that “girls” maps to “boys” and “ladies” maps to “gentleman.” Girls is no good because it implies children. And ladies seems oddly formal.
  2. I don’t mind if someone uses an actual male phrase (online or at work) as long as it doesn’t keep happening. At CodeRanch, it is because Jeanne isn’t recognized as a female name internationally. I’ve corrected “sir” a number of times online.

Your body language shapes who you are

We saw a snippet of this Ted talk. The major themes in the snippet we watched were:

  1. you should just do something and eventually you’ll become it
  2. power poses increase confidence (and guys take up more space)

My reaction: The Power Pose thing felt stupid. Not passing judgement on it though. New things sometimes to feel stupid/silly. Google has millions of hits on it including yoga, so there is presumably something to it.

Credibility

  • Knowledge
  • Expertise – There was an exercise where everyone said “I’m an expert at ______ because ________”.
  • Shiny bauble – you have a small amount of time to convince others they should listen to you. Grab attention

My reaction: This was easy for me because I’ve done a lot :). It was interesting to see what others said. I was also in the same group as my teammate for the expertise exercise. It was nice to hear her say her expertise confidently.

Help others

  • Teach things that you already know
  • Ask the first question so someone else doesn’t have to
  • Connect with others
  • Reframe bragging into sharing and helping others

My reaction: Funny, I do ask the first question a lot. I agree with the helping others. That’s a part of robotics mentoring and CodeRanch and Toastmasters. All hobbies of mine. While I don’t like “be a good female role model”, I don’t think about that much. Most of the time, I’m me and I happen to be female. Now let’s go talk about tech!

 

4 thoughts on “own your expertise – a conference for women developers

  1. Re “[not] as good a developer because they didn’t start coding when they were 12 or code for fun”

    When talking to developers whom I admire, a common theme seems to arise: they code for fun (or, at least, used to – some have since given up on coding in their spare time). Many of them (not all) also started young. I don’t think this is coincidence – if you are passionate enough about coding to do it as a “fun” activity, then that passion will also follow into your work life. But for those of whom coding is a “chore” that is only done when being paid for it, then the chances are good that they will end up being a code monkey.

    The whole confidence aspect is interesting – I’ve also noticed that Americans tend to favor the loudest voice – it is something that I have to work on, since I tend to talk quietly unless I am deliberately projecting. I would be curious to find out whether women are brought up to be “quiet / demure ladies” and therefore are not the loudest voice in the room, which would come across as lack of confidence?

    Re: “I was given the advice to record what I accomplish throughout the year so I remember it when it is appraisal time” – I also heard that many years ago, and I have passed it on to many of my colleagues / employees. It is amazing how much that can do for your career when your boss is looking at a laundry list of things you’ve accomplished, versus trying to remember what your coworkers have done. 🙂

  2. Andrew: Yes. in the US, women are brought up to be quieter. Not as much in Asia, but still quieter than boys. You are rewarded for being a “good girl” and not causing trouble. There’s also the problem that it’s a lot of effort to “speak over the guys” when they are speaking loudly. On my team, I raise my hand high when that happens. My team respects me enough that they will give me the floor when I do that.

  3. Being quieter and not feeling comfortable trying to talk over other people is not just a question of gender. We have a few people, both men and women, who raise their hand to talk. Even that may be more than some valued contributors are prepared to do.

    On the one hand, at a certain level everyone is expected to be able to speak for themselves and not require hand-holding. On the other, the manager/supervisor/technical lead/moderator can easily create an environment where even the most shy and introverted person feels comfortable sharing their opinions. e.g. When a new question or subject is brought up, go around the group and give everyone 15 uninterrupted seconds to give their opinion. Obviously that one hint isn’t the full extent of how to run a meeting, but I hope you see what I’m saying.

  4. ” they d[on’t]…code for fun.” This is a dumb question. Nobody expects a surgeon to perform appendectomies for fun, or lawyers to file lawsuits for fun.

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