Just when you think it’s safe to have gender workplace discussions, Jill Abramson gets fired by the New York Times and stirs up a really big hornet’s nest. I don’t pretend to know very much about gender issues, but having spent 20 years writing about an incredibly male-dominated (technology) field which suffers from all the warts of a male-dominated field, it’s hard not to notice the issue. Since I began covering computer security conferences back in 1996, the number of women who attend has surely skyrocketed (compared to the 3 or 4 who used to brave hacker trade shows). But women still represent a tiny fraction of chief information technology officers, and are noticeable minorities in nearly all environments.
But there are also plenty of women who succeed. Not all have 7-figure book deals. Today I begin a new occasional feature where I give these women a chance to express their feelings about women and tech, and dispense advice if they choose. In each case, these women would have written their own story if they weren’t busy with other things. I’m merely the transcriber. Just trying to add to the voices people hear on the topic. Feel free to suggest another subject (even yourself!). Now, here’s JoAnne Kennedy, a 40-something Seattle-area tech industry manager/executive for 20 years working at Microsoft, MSNBC.com, NBC News, and various other tech firms. I asked her for some thoughts. Here’s what she said:
Today’s advice for women in Tech: don’t take things so personally. Have a decent discussion. It’s okay to disagree, then go have a beer.
I often advise woman to ask for positions or projects they are unfamiliar with. They feel like they always need to ‘know’ everything. They don’t! They are too afraid of missteps. For me, I am willing to try anything and don’t mind a belly flop. The worst thing that can happen is admitting a misstep and then dusting yourself off and moving on. Guys do it all the time.
In my late 20s early 30s I tried to put on a man’s shoes and when you do that, people just look at you and get confused. In my 20s, I took over team of peers, I did that, and people who knew me and said, “What are you doing? Just relax and be you.” As a woman, I hate being called “mom,” but I’m still comfortable being a women, being caring. I’m easy to collaborate with. People think you actually have to be a jerk to be successful, but in my career it’s just the opposite. My job is to bring out the best in people.
I am not the person who provides unconditional love at work. I am the person who provides the leadership and support you need to do your very best and reach your potential. Part of my success as I go through my career is I lead in a very driven way where I am truly engaged with my employees, I try to get to know their hopes, their desires. I build trust so they can be vulnerable with me. That’s where all the learning happens.
I have four kids, and they help me balance and prioritize my life. Many women are surprised I have kids and a career, but it is possible.”
Also, women tend to be more competitive with each other, playing the, ‘how much more can we can we act like men” game. You don’t have to “switch.” That’s what confuses people, when you have a female manager and you feel like you can trust her and then she switches and says something really snarky, and that’s her shtick.
Just be yourself. It’s ok to be feminine and not act like a man.
One more thing: Failure doesn’t define you. The lessons learned and the way you recover is super important. If you wallow in your pain, people can perceive you as damaged goods. If you can bounce back, admit your misstep and announce your new path, team members will perceive you as resilient and mimic the same behavior. You want to demonstrate risk taking.
(NOTE: JoAnne was a co-worker at msnbc.com, but never my manager. Now, she is a friend.)