Originally posted April, 2014 on Women’s Center for Leadership
For Women’s Center for Leadership (WCL), we are, at our core, all about community. Our mission is about our members.
WCL is a consortium of professional women joined in developing leadership skills, sharing knowledge and building community in the Pacific Northwest.
I’ve been a member of WCL for about 10 years. My participation has evolved: from sporadically catching a monthly breakfast event at first, then attending more regularly as my daughter got older and could do more to get herself ready for school, and ultimately joining the WCL Board of Directors. I think many of our members have times when they are active, and times when they have to check out for a while to attend to other things. Many just do their best to stay in touch, even if it’s only reading the email updates and checking out a blog or two. Having to make tradeoffs like this is just part of the reality for a lot of professional women.
I went to Chicago recently to visit family and had some time to catch up with my niece Stephanie Gizzi. She is a senior at Northern Illinois University. I interviewed her to see what it’s like for young women pursuing a STEM degree these days. Here is our conversation.
Stephanie, tell me about the degree program you are in.
I’m getting a Bachelor of Science in Meteorology – it’s an engineering-based science degree. I’m done with all of my calculus and physics, so I’m taking mostly meteorology courses now.
I am getting my GIS (Geographic Information Systems) certificate to differentiate myself from other meteorologists. I am using ArcMap to analyze geospatial data. I can compare all kinds of historic trends to today’s data and graph it. It’s really practical in business for analyzing growth zones for development, visualize population density trends and things like that. For example, Walgreen’s uses it to plan where to open retail stores.
Recently, I watched an Omega Institute for Holistic Studies live webcast “Strength, Courage and Wisdom” with TED icon Brene’ Brown and Zen priest Joan Halifax Roshi.
They were talking about finding your strength and how important it is to know your capacity and own it. I loved that Joan Roshi said, “Remember to take an in-breath.” Then she posed the question “How can you take care of the world, if you don’t take care of yourself? You must love and show kindness to yourself.”
“The female identity is being a care-giver or a do-gooder,” added Brene’ Brown. The conversation went on that it’s unfortunate that if a woman does take that in-breath, in our culture she is viewed as narcissistic. What I pulled from that part is that to have power, we also need to take care of our needs and not care how others perceive us. Sometimes you have to enlist the help of others and put down that do-it-all shield.
Talk is cheap, right? To really do this, you have to overcome your fear of what others think or any other feelings of inadequacy that you harbor. For women, it takes courage to take some of those “in-breaths” in our lives. And to really have power, you have to be your true self and speak your own truth. You have to speak up for yourself. If you have a supportive family and friends, it may be a little easier to do this kind of woo woo stuff in your personal life, but what about at work?
I went to the WITI (Women in Technology International) Summit in June. Every speaker talked about STEM education – getting more of our kids to be proficient in STEM is vital for our future. Then I watched a Women of Google event and, I have to say, I’ve have had their mantra “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it” stuck in my head for the past few months. I have a middle school age daughter. I want to make sure she at least understands the possibilities and opportunities that exist in science, technology, engineering and math careers, as she gets her education. I want her to have role models – starting now, before it’s too late.
When I was a 12-year-old girl, I loved baking cookies. It was fun. I would have a friend over on a Saturday afternoon; we would bake and then snack on the cookies. I didn’t know at the time, but I discovered recently, as a mom and engineer, that baking a cake has a lot of skills in common with basic engineering projects.
This past weekend my daughter had one of her friends over. They both love to bake and decorate cupcakes, so I expected they’d be in my kitchen creating something. I didn’t know they were going to engineer such an unusual product – a swimming pigs cake!
Here are some of the engineering skills the two girls used over the course of the afternoon.
So you are not the CEO, not even the manager, but you can hone your leadership skills and start behaving like a leader no matter what you do or what level you are in the company. The HBR article “Act like a Leader before You Are One,” author Amy Gallo outlines several strategies to start acting like a leader.
I have been employing a few of these over the past few years. Here are the ones I know work.
- Knock your responsibilities out of the park
This one is a given. You have to be a rock star in your current job. Which means you have to pick jobs and assignments where there are meaty project you are passionate about. Make sure they are challenging enough to keep you engaged and that there are clear key performance indicators, so it’s obvious when you have nailed it. Or hopefully over-nailed it. And don’t be shy about letting others know what you have done. A great way to do this is to send a thank you to the people you worked with on the project thanking them for making the project successful. Build visibility and good will at the same time.
If your job is social media or working on a hot project or a project with executive visibility (or in my case, both), you are plugged in a lot – maybe even while brushing your teeth at night, flipping through your streams of communications. If you volunteer in the evenings or have kids on sports teams, you are plugged there too. It’s the only way you can keep all of that going. It’s modern life. Always being plugged in is how we communicate and stay in touch.
I am fortunate enough to work at a company that provides employees an amazing benefit – a two-month employee sabbatical every seven years. I took my second sabbatical this summer and it was great! It was great because I made some tough decisions on my plugged-in-ness. Although my job was going awesome and I was super motivated by my work, I did a full hand-off of all of my activities (and even used it as an opportunity to ditch some things that really weren’t high value). I handed off my duties at the non-profit and let everyone else who depends on me know I was going to be gone and truly not available. And I have to admit, I didn’t do all of the pre-unplugging planning that Baratunde Thurston did, as he documents in his article on unplugging, “Baratunde Thurston Leaves the Internet.” In fact, I just kind of told a few people, set out of office on my laptop, and walked out the door.