Strategies to go from merely surviving to THRIVING for women in STEM
When we are at work, we have the right to speak up on topics we have knowledge of and to share our opinions on things that impact us. As with any right we also have responsibilities to speak up when we see a problem and to listen to others who have expertise and ideas of their own. This can be a fine line for many people, particularly for women. It’s important to remember that we were hired for a reason and we need to speak up as needed.
Here are 4 times we need to speak up:
Years ago, my boss came into my office very angry and asked me to move a meeting to a different time. “Okay, why do I need to move it and when were you thinking would work?” was my response. Her response was for me to figure it out because Tom was tripled booked at the time of the meeting and so he would be able to make it. I was curious about that since Tom had accepted the meeting and I knew he was planning to call in. “Well, I looked at his calendar and there is no way he’s going to make so move the meeting.” And she she stormed out of my office to send Tom an email about managing his time better. As I was looking for a new time to have the meeting Tom calls me to let me know he got an email from my boss about the meeting time. He was working on moving the meeting with his boss and the other meeting was on his calendar for information only so he could attend as planned. Which was great as it was a time sensitive topic and no other time worked for...
Conversations, when done well, are a two-way exchange of ideas, concepts, or information. Sadly, all too often they are not done well. One person dominates the conversation or in a group one or more people are shut out and never get a chance to speak. To make the most of our communications we must learn to be assertive.
Assertive communication is a balancing act between my right to my thoughts / opinions and respect for your thoughts / opinions. It requires us to stand firm in our ideas and right to be heard while keeping an open mind and listening to the ideas of others. Stand too firmly and you become aggressive and shutdown or shut out other voices. By only listening you may become too passive and never get your ideas out into the world. Strike the right balance and everyone leaves the conversation feeling heard and having learned something new.
5 Tips to Being Assertive in Conversations
I had transferred to a new factory two weeks early when I was asked to stop in to answer questions from the field service reps. One of the reps, Pierre, was really frustrated that a problem he raised several years early had not yet been resolved. I hadn’t dealt with him at my previous location, so we didn’t know each other, and this is the first time I’m hearing about the issue. My response was “This is the first I’ve heard of the issue. Please believe me, I’ll look into and make sure we get it addressed.” He was less than enthusiastic with my response since he’d heard it for years with no results. Now I’m starting to sweat it, I don’t want these reps to be skeptical of our support or not trust us to fix problems. How do I get him to believe that I will address it and that I find the situation unacceptable? As I looked around the room, I realize one rep I had worked with several times was there. I looked at Mike, said...
Be Brilliant & Be Heard
When I started working in the mid-1980s I was a novelty in many ways, a young female engineer working on a naval station. There were no other women engineers in the Engineering Division when I started and only a few on base. Even though I had gone through an engineering degree program, I wasn’t ready for the reality of how hard it was going to be to be accepted and respected. Those first years, at multiple employers, were bumpy, frustrating and at times down-right demoralizing. More than once I questioned whether I could make it or not.
Fortunately, I had been told I could do anything, and my mom had taken the path less traveled in her short career, so I knew it could be done. With time and experience I got better at connecting and communicating with my co-workers and managers. That did more to build my credibility than anything else I did. In turn my confidence grew, which helped me be even better at communication and my credibility grew more.
When was the last time you approached someone for help and started the conversation with “Sorry to bother you”? Why did you say that? Often, we do it to be polite and acknowledge the interruption. That is all well and good, however there is no reason to apologize for asking for help.
We need to recognize that people are busy and likely engrossed in what they are doing. It is polite to recognize that we are interrupting them. It doesn’t warrant an apology, you haven’t made a mistake or done anything wrong. Save the apology for when it’s appropriate such as “Sorry I’m late getting you this information the system was down, and I couldn’t get into the database.”
When we apologize when it isn’t warranted, we diminish our credibility and it comes across as a lack of confidence. Studies show that women find more reasons to apologize then men do. Why are you undermining yourself by apologizing?
4 Ways to be...
When was the last time you asked yourself “who am I to….?” Maybe it was a situation where you needed to take the lead, or take a stand for yourself, or ask for a promotion, or point out an issue that appears to be ignored. Do you worry people will find out you are a “fraud” and aren’t really qualified to do your job; asking yourself who am I to think I can do this?
This is likely a form of impostor syndrome which leads you to doubt your accomplishments and feel you don’t deserve your success. This is pretty common, and it can happen more often when there are institutional models of competency; such as men being better in STEM fields. This can lead to women, and minorities, feeling like they can’t succeed, don’t deserve what they earned, or will fail publicly and prove to everyone they are a fraud.
What can you do if you find yourself going down this path? Take charge of your thoughts, focus on the successes and how they will...
In today’s crazy world we are too often judging ourselves by pre-pandemic standards of productivity, attention to our kids, cleanliness of the house, social engagement or personal appearance (quarantine hair!). This needs to stop! We are not living in the pre-pandemic world, in the US our world is filled with re-starting the economy, social protests, political rhetoric and general uncertainty about what’s next. All we can do is what we can do today. Tomorrow may be better; it may be worse, or it may be the same. Do the best you can each day, you don’t need to be perfect.
Here’s an interesting parable about perfection and judgement.
Cracked Pot Parable
There was an elderly woman who had the responsibility of gathering water for her family each day. Because the family lived in a very remote and dry region, she had to walk far to get the water. She could only carry two pots at a time and so, needed to make the trip every day.
The elderly woman did not have...
When you are communicating information to others how quickly do you get to the point? Do you hit them between the eyes with the bottom line or do you spend 5 minutes laying the groundwork for the decision? Maybe you fall somewhere in between. All are valid options and needed in different situations. The next question is how does your audience respond? Do they shy away from the blunt data or do their eyes glaze over at the details? To get your point across you need to tailor your delivery to the audience’s style not yours.
To understand which style to use with your audience you need to have an understanding of their preference and their needs. What do they need to get from the information and how do they like information presented to them.
Being direct is great when:
We’ve all gotten mixed signals at work at one point or another. One manager says “Speak up more” while another tells you to “Let others speak up”. So, which is it? Talk more or talk less?
What if it’s both?
If you are getting conflicting feedback from different managers take a few minutes to reflect on why they have different messages. You need to look at what is going on and driving the feedback.
Things to look for: