I recently read a column in the Toronto Star by Lorraine Sommerfeld (Twitter | Blog). Lorraine writes about finding a picture of herself when when she was 16 years old. From High School Picture is Worth A 1,000 Words to Me, she muses:
I can’t help but think how many things she doesn’t know. Would I tell her that her first love will be killed by a drunk driver in just a few short months? No, I wouldn’t tell her that. Pain is rarely better, even with a preamble.
Would I tell her she isn’t going to be a lawyer? Another no, I suspect. Life has a way of unfurling as it should, and good things are often replaced by better ones for reasons that are larger than our present vision. Life with no surprises isn’t much of a life.
This got me thinking (and Tweeting) about what advice I’d give my 16-year-old self. In this post I’m going to focus on the professional advice I’d give beta Karen.
- When mentors you trust practically push you into your bosses office to ask for a raise, GO ASK FOR THE RAISE. One of the most costly lessons I learned early in my career was that managers rarely hand out sufficient pay increases to people who never ask for them. They take that non-demanded money and give it to he (usually) guys who ask the boss for a raise almost every month. It’s easier that way. Women almost never ask for raises. It’s not how we think about our role in business, unfortunately. Very unfortunately. We women (and men) who fail to ask for raise could be leaving $1-2 million dollars on the table during the span of our career. Remember how compounding works in loans? Well, it also works with income. In that one mistaken thought of "I’m already making tons of money" I left about $30,000 on the table I later found out. In today’s dollars that is $60,000. That’s just what they were going to bump up my salary by if I had asked. If I had pushed for more I would have gotten even more. Forget the cannoli; ask for the raise.
- When someone tries to engage you in a negative way, the only way to win is to not be negative in return. I’m still learning this message, but the more I practice it, the more it becomes more natural…and the better it feels. I tend to get all riled up when someone accuses me of cheating, of being unfair, or being overly sales-oriented. In fact, I’m so anti-cheating/unfair/salesy that I often miss good opportunities just so that I can stay far on the safe side of those issues. When people throw aspersions at me I want to go full steam ahead, seek revenge and aim to spread damage far and wide. But the few times I’ve done that, I’ve always lost out. Always. I had a great mentor (see point one) who I swear would help someone sort the items in his wallet if he were mugged. He was very patient. People thought he was weak, but he was probably the most powerful person in the office. He held that power because he was fair when things got difficult. He never raised his voice. He never sought revenge. It isn’t about always turning the other cheek; it’s about recognizing that we can’t advance a project together when people are at war with each other. By responding with a BFG 9000, even when it is entirely justified, you’re going to lose.
- "Nobody will ever remember what [you] wore, but they will forever remember how [you] made them feel". That quote comes from Lorraine’s article as well. It is related to point two above, but it also applies in neutral or even good situations. I’ve seen people doing a great job be harmed by people who want to be rude or insulting just for the fun of it. In fact, this happened in a discussion post just this week on LinkedIn. Somehow the Internet brings out the trolls and spoilers due to the physical distance between parties. Feeding the trolls just gives them more power and makes them bigger. It’s what they feed on. Don’t feed the trolls.
I remember a project manager on one of my early projects. She was not a nice person and we often disagreed on how our work should be completed. We didn’t argue, but her assignments were not in my normal toolset: "cut 50 tables out of the database ", "don’t use diagrams where a 1,000 words will work" and "we need more defects in the system so we can get follow-on work". She also had a problem with anyone smiling at work. If you’ve read my works, you probably know that I don’t exactly have a reputation for being sunny and cheerful. Snark is my normal mode. But this project manager consistently wrote to my bosses about my violation of her rules of no smiling at work. Our clients smiled and it was painful not to return the smile. My bosses offered the best advice they could: "try not to smile in front of her". She was a terror to work with. She insulted workers on a regular basis. I could not name one single thing she wore. Not one. But I remember how she treated people.
- Some of your best teachers will be people who work against you. That contractor who hired you to be a team leader for corn detasseling but turned demoted you (and cut your pay) when all the other girls quit ("I can’t have a girl supervising boys; it’s not right")? He taught you that you are going to run into environments where people think that women are less than men. When you quit rather than take the insult, you set yourself up for understanding that you don’t have to take the type of fertilizer that some people think is perfectly fine to dish out. You will survive, even if you quit a job. Even if you have to do that more than once. Life is too short to spend time in an environment that you don’t enjoy at least most of the time.
- Ditch the hot rollers. Your hair is frizzy. Work with it. Wear more hats. Life is too short to spend it in curlers.
What are the things that you’d tell your childhood self? I saw some great funny ones on Twitter, but I’d really like to hear what you seriously would have liked to have known back then. We’re using #2My16yoSelf on Twitter and in other blog posts.
I knew it would happen. As I blogged previously, SQLPASS is hosting a 24 Hours of PASS event in March and is using this event to honour Women in IT (WIT) by having 24 sessions given solely by female data professionals.
Having worked on WIT committees, programs and events for more than two decades (I was a national spokesperson for WIT here in Canada for two years), I knew that someone (and there will be more) would eventually anonymously complain that this one event should not be run with only female speakers. Trolls must post anonymously because they don’t want to contribute to the discussion; they just want to make a good thing look bad. This is my letter to Anonymous (an infrastructure DBA).
Hi Anonymous –
You forgot to mention the creepier one that most anonymous trolls give:
"What about the lack of overweight, old, ugly, grumpy white guys in the Supermodel profession?"
It’s a classic. It is the most common response I get in letters to the editor, live events and articles from anonymous posters. If you are going to go for it, please go all the way.
This witty questions does not contribute to the discussion of diversity in any profession because it makes a huge leap of logic: that there is some physical trait in females that should keep them out of the IT profession. That is flat out wrong.
By the way, there are people who are concerned about the lack of diversity in the nursing profession. I support all kinds of programs that want to address real issues of diversity in all professions.
The reason society should be concerned about diversity isn’t about making the numbers somehow magically match demographics of the full population, it is that we should investigate the reasons why certain professions aren’t diverse as the full populations and make corrective action to ensure that silly obstacles aren’t there. The most successful WIT programs focus on ensuring that young women understand the opportunities available to them and remove roadblocks they might have to considering a career in IT.
Much research has shown that young women don’t consider IT (and other STEM) careers because they:
- Don’t even know what the career is about and therefore think it is all about grumpy evil-doing nerds working alone in a dark basement drinking Jolt Cola and typing all day. Think of the Wayne Knight character in Jurassic Park.
- Hear from grumpy people that women aren’t smart enough to work in IT.
- Don’t realize soon enough that they should have taken more math and science during their schooling and therefore can’t get in to certain programs of study, even though they have the aptitude to work in IT
- Think that Computer Science programs are the only career path into IT
- Read computer science program “marketing” materials, which most programs fail miserably at creating, and think “wow, what a boring technical wasteland”.
- Think that IT is only about programming…alone, in a dark basement, typing all day. GOTO point 1.
But let’s focus on one of the main reasons (I presume) why SQLPASS wants to hold an event featuring WIT. The reasons that most women give for not submitting abstracts for speaking:
- Much more often than men, they don’t think that they are enough of an expert to give a presentation.
- Much more often than men, they think there are so many "celebrities" in the field that the shouldn’t even bother submitting.
- Much more likely than men they are more likely to feel that they are an "imposter" in the field and therefore shouldn’t even try to speak at an event.
- They have so many more outside-of-work responsibilities that traveling a ways to speak and attend a conference is a significant roadblock to participating.
- More often than men, they believe that they should be specifically invited to speak rather than just nominate themselves.
- They are more likely to worry about the catch-22 of doing anything new: you shouldn’t do it until you have more experience doing it.
- They think that no one will attend a session they give because they haven’t written a book (see point 4), they don’t travel the world giving presentations, or that someone else has already given a presentation on that topic.
I talk to many women who have wonderful thoughts, observations, scripts, data models, ideas, opinions, and other knowledge to share but won’t even consider submitting an abstract. Most of the time they give one or all of the reasons above. Please ensure that you understand all those “more often” words in the above list.
The idea of featuring only females during 24 Hours of PASS isn’t going to solve all these problems, but it can go a long way to getting more women to present because it takes away some of the obstacles that many female IT professionals give as reasons to not even try. With more women presenting at this one event, we will most likely have more women presenting at other events during the year. You may not want that, but I want that if the reason women aren’t submitting is because they’ve never been encouraged enough to submit an abstract or to gain speaking experience.
Should SQLPASS bend to address those issues? I think they should not have to do so, but often all it takes is a slight change in how women are recruited to make a real difference. Personally, I’d like to figuratively whack all these women on the side of the head like Cher did on Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck: “Snap out of it”. Sometimes, though, helping people realize their potential is one of the most wonderful thing we can do for them.
Yes, I realize for the one event, some presenters will be excluded. For this one event. I would love to have a professional, insightful conversation about whether or not the one shift in a variable is acceptable, desirable, laughable, or even hurtful. But we can’t have those conversations when one posts anonymously in short bursts of accusations. It really doesn’t help the conversation at all.
I’d love to hear opinions on this, but in a way that advances the conversation.
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