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...
The Perils of Linear Leadership

The Perils of Linear Leadership

Throughout my career, and undoubtedly those of many of my readers, people have asked the question of their respective organizations, “Why do we do it this way?” Most often, the truth of the matter, and the specific response is, “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” But, having been engaged in various companies across my career, one thing that I have learned is that the best way to do something might not be identified by those that have done it the same way for years. Why not look towards industry best practices? Or for “out of the box” thinking and innovation? For example, if I wanted to know the best way to run a help desk, I might look to an icon in customer service such as Nordstrom’s or Ritz Carlton. Not that I am seeking a retail or a hotel perspective, but I am seeking the best way to manage customers and their expectations. But, for sure, no one does customer service better than these companies and it is their methods, processes, policies and overall mindset that can teach us things that can be applied to customer service within any context. Without understanding that great ideas can come from an outside vantage point or from someone not entrenched in the paradigms that have led to the current ways of doing things, people can easily get caught up in what I call “linear leadership”. Sadly, doing so can have grave consequences and organizations would do well by encouraging its employees to think “outside the box” and to hire those that come from different backgrounds and offer different perspectives...
From the Athena Doctrine to the Five Forces of Kibbutz Leadership

From the Athena Doctrine to the Five Forces of Kibbutz Leadership

In 2011, when the wall of water hit the Kinoya seafood factory in Ishinomaki, Japan, 800,000 cans of seafood were swept away. In the months and years that followed, as Japan worked to recover from the massive impact of the tsunami, a remarkable movement grew out of the devastation. Volunteers began collecting the cans. One-by-one the cans were cleaned of the sludge and debris that covered them, brought back to the factory and repackaged. About half of those recovered were saleable and were sent to stores around the country. The cans soon became known as cans of hope. However, there was a problem – the labels had been washed away. This meant that the contents were a surprise to the purchaser. Undeterred, the Japanese public began decorating the cans, leaving messages of hope and encouragement. The story of hope had taken a whole new direction. John Gerzema shares this story at the start of his TEDx talk as an illustration of a powerful leadership trend that I have observed for sometime. He calls it the “Athena Doctrine.” At the core of this is an approach to business and leadership that is breaking away from the traditional ways of working – leadership that is more collaborative, flexible and nurturing. Gerzema suggests that this style of leadership is more “feminine” than “masculine.” The Athena Doctrine was built on research carried out with over 60,000 participants in 13 countries. And one of the core findings was that 57% of adults are dissatisfied with the conduct of men. A fact with which 54% of men also agree. The most powerful aspect of this...
You Can’t Lead by Consensus

You Can’t Lead by Consensus

I was recently speaking with a friend about some professional challenges he was facing. To the outside world everything seemed fine – he was achieving his KPIs, his team were working well and his customers were happy. But my friend could see trouble ahead with this well oiled machine. He just couldn’t identify the cause. After some time I shifted the conversation to culture. I wanted to understand the way that the team operated and why. I wanted to know what worked and what didn’t – and also what happened when things go wrong (as they inevitably do with even the most harmonious teams). And suddenly the lights went on. This team had spent a considerable amount of time “as a team”. They worked well with each other and often could second guess decisions that each could make. And while this had provided them cohesiveness over the years, it seemed to me, that they had fallen into the consensus trap – confusing alignment with consensus. There seemed to be no clarity around responsibility, accountability or even role. During team meetings, the point of view of each person was canvassed and debated. Decision making unofficially required a consensual team view. This meant that a large proportion of collaborative time was spent reaching an agreed view and discussing the fine points of disagreement. Not only that … untolled hours before these meetings were devoted to lobbying particular view points and gaining support. The end result was a roaring sense of group think that had turned this high performing team inside out. I turned to my friend and suggested that it’s time...

Are You an 18 Second Boss?

I have a task for you. During your next customer call, or a team meeting – ask about pain points. Delve into the issues that your customer or your team has. Ask for the number one issue and ask for the context so that you can adequately understand it. Now, time yourself. How long does it take for you to interrupt? How long does it take for you to offer a solution? How quickly do you step into this conversation? In this interesting video from leadership guru, Tom Peters, we learn that many professionals (in this instance he profiles doctors – but extrapolates to a wider business audience) interrupt their team within a very short time. So short, in fact, that it can be measured in seconds – 18 seconds. Now, even if you quadrupled the amount of time that you listened to your customer – or your team – you’d still only be “listening” for about a minute. Is a “one minute boss” better than an 18 second boss? I’d suggest that we need to follow Tom’s advice here and recast how we act and perform as leaders. If we did, indeed, place “listening” ahead of strategic plans, how would our organizations change? If we did actively engage in “strategic listening”, how would our teams perform? What would our customer satisfaction ratings show? So once you have listened – well beyond that 18 seconds. Well beyond that one, single minute – how do you respond? How do you build on the moment? I am making a leap here – but it strikes me that listening and empathy go...