Putting a STEM in STEM for Women

Putting a STEM in STEM for Women

We often look at the world of tech startups through rose colored glasses. After all, these companies are the future IBMs, Oracles and SAPs – long-lived, large scale organizations that have generated not just large returns for shareholders, but massive value for customers, employees and partners. Yet despite their obvious focus on future value building and innovation, startup tech companies have a startlingly poor record when it comes to hiring women. Ann Hoang from STEMINIST explains: Women make up less than 40 percent of the workforce at Apple, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter, and no more than one-fifth of the technical workforce at those companies. Blair Hanley Frank takes this further, citing “a 2011 study found that 15 percent of women who graduated with an engineering degree did not go on to work in engineering, while another 20 percent entered the engineering workforce and then summarily left for another industry.” Clearly there are not just factors that prevent women from taking up STEM related roles – there are also factors that drive them elsewhere once they have them. Lynne Y Williams refers to this phenomenon as IT’s vanishing women. “A 2004 study by the National Center for Women & IT revealed that a large number of women who already occupy upper-level IT-related positions are leaving the industry at a startling rate, with “56% of technical women leav[ing] at the ‘mid-level’ point” (Ashcraft & Blithe, 2010) of their careers, a rate almost double that of equivalent male colleagues.” Williams calls out the “hostile, macho culture” in the IT workplace along with isolation, lack of opportunity and support from and...
Are Your Top Executives Running on Empty?

Are Your Top Executives Running on Empty?

You know the drill … into the office to get the day started. You are beset by distractions, dramas and issues, all of which keep you away from the important work that is (or should be) your focus. Yet, each and every day you work intensely and return home drained, catching up into the evening on emails that you missed or responses that need attention. In amongst all this, there is a lingering sense that the work that we do continues to mount and that our daily efforts amount to little. Sound familiar? A 2013 Gallup report indicated that just 30% of American employees feel engaged with the work that they perform. This extends across the entire employee base – which means that your top executives and even your leadership team are feeling the strain. In fact, they’re running on empty. To understand how leaders at all levels can address this challenge, Harvard Business Review, in conjunction with The Energy Project, conducted a survey of more than 12,000 mostly white-collar employees across a range of industries. The results were surprising – and enlightening – identifying four core needs that when met, vastly improve employee morale and performance: Physical: We respond well to opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work. This means a physical break of some kind. Emotional: Feeling valued and appreciated is far from a “soft skill”, it’s a powerful motivator. Mental: The opportunity to be removed from distraction helps employees focus and achieve tasks and through this gain a sense of satisfaction. Spiritual: Connecting your work to a higher purpose – beyond oneself – also has...

Using the Force to Manage Employees

I am more of a Star Trek: The Next Generation fan, but this infographic from Mindflash caught my attention. Based on the Star Wars series – the Jedi Trainer’s Guide to Employee Management outlines some of the trials that we all face. And while this is a little “tongue-in-cheek”, it is worth sharing with the first time managers in your teams. Regular readers will not be surprised that my favorite skill is identified here as the “trial of insight”. Powerful communication is one of the hallmarks of a leader – to be able to listen, engage and respond – and ultimately to action requires a great deal of effort and experience. Aspiring leaders should never underestimate the importance of communication – nor as the graphic points out – that communication is often coupled with courage. As leaders we need the courage to communicate – and to follow that communication through with action. Sometimes it is indeed our actions which communicate most forcefully. Nina Nets It Out: A great chart for the aspiring leader – it reminds us of the challenges that come with leadership. We must listen, evaluate, decide and communicate. In the words of MY favorite sci-fi leader, Jean-Luc Pickard, only then can we “make it...

The Buck Stops With You

President Truman famously kept a sign on his desk with the words “The Buck Stops Here.”This sign indicated that, ultimately, decisions cannot be passed to anyone else. President Truman was acknowledging that decisions can be hard – that there are always other options to consider, approaches to balance and people to convince. He was also acknowledging that the role of the leader is to take those decisions and make them stick. And “making them stick” is often the hardest part. When  you are clear about your role and responsibility within an organization, and when you have a clear sense of vision and the strategy that is being followed to realize that vision, then – as a leader – you have a great platform for success. What you have is a framework for your decision making – and it can prove very effective from a timeliness as well as a risk point of view. You should be able to: Clearly identify where a decision will align with strategy – and where it goes against the grain Determine which decision will receive the blessing of your stakeholders and which will not See a path to realization of your decision through your teams, technologies and processes In How Great Leaders Decide, Lisa Petrilli explains this as the combination of the goddesses Nike and Athena: A great leader portrays the best of Nike and Athena when they: Make a strategic decision Commit to the decision Communicate the decision Champion the decision Hold others accountable to executing according to the decision But as Lisa points out, Nike is also the Goddess of Speed. A...

What Leaders Can Learn from Conan and Leno

Watching the way that NBC has been handling the Conan vs Leno debacle has me thinking … why do experienced leaders continue to make poor decisions when it comes to succession? Many organizations now have systems in place that help identify emerging leaders – the rock stars of our businesses – and opportunities and challenges are funnelled in their direction. With this comes responsibility, accountability – and hopefully mentoring and support. But all this is a two way street. If we expect accountability from our rising stars, we must also expect it of ourselves. When we are thinking through succession plans – we need to consider not just who’s coming in, but what’s going out. That’s right – when a leader leaves, it marks the end of an era. She will take with her, her whole way of doing business – and the impact of this will be felt right through your business. Perhaps NBC weren’t ready to deal with this type of wholesale change – communicating the way in which this transition would be handled should have been clearer, unambiguous and ongoing. Communications around succession needs to be handled over several months, and in some cases, one to two years. After all, we all crave security. Part of this stability comes from “doing what you say”. In NBC’s case, making an offer and then rescinding it has created confusion and uncertainty. Not only will this impact the financial performance of both shows (think of the advertisers and sponsors – or in your business, your various stakeholders), it also sends a morale breaking message to all your other up-and-coming...

Striking the Right Balance

President Obama recently sparked an interesting dialogue about empathy when he stated that he would nominate a Supreme Court justice “who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract theory. … It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives,” to replace the outgoing Justice David Souter.  In short, he wants someone with judicial empathy.  This has caused outrage from some and applause from others.  Regardless how you feel about this issue, it is interesting to see so much attention being paid to empathy within the context of the Supreme Court. Personally, I am a definite believer that empathy has a place in leadership and business in general.  That said, it must be properly balanced with power in order for long-lasting, sustainability to be achieved.  Karl Long wrote a wonderful piece discussing this balance.  Leaders must find a way to appeal to those that they lead and simultaneously command the respect of these individuals.  Some people respect a leader who demonstrates care and concern for them.  Others respect a powerful authority that leads based on a command and control approach.  I have written about a related topic in the past in a piece entitled “Democratic Dictatorship“.  In this piece I made the point that a leader is ultimately responsible to the organization’s best interests, not those of any particular individual.  However, to be clear, this does not imply that a leader cannot show empathy toward individuals within the organization.  On the contrary, it is often in the organization’s best interests to keep the people who work there satisfied.  In fact, loyalty expert Fred Reichheld, has...