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].
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
The presenter said “you guys” once and corrected it to “you ladies”
- 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.
- 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:
- you should just do something and eventually you’ll become it
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!