Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ten important things I learnt at the Grace Hopper Conference

Was in Phoenix Arizona last week attending the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference. I have been to a lot of conferences in the last decade but this was special because this was the world's largest gathering of women in computing. You actually did not stand out in a sea of men if you know what I mean J

Many of my learnings were not really ground breaking or brand new. However this time, I was able to talk to a lot of other women and validate that many of these findings are real and apply to a lot of women out there in the technology workforce. To keep it simple I am listing the 10 points that stick out in my mind. It is also not in any particular order of importance. Here you go:

1)   Don’t become the best kept secret in your organization. You might be doing great in your sphere of influence but when change happens and we all know that change happens in large organizations make sure that you have an influential network within and beyond your organization.

2) It is not always about getting mentored. Mentors give you feedback based on your performance and usually after a particular growth level you end up with the feedback ‘I think what you need is another great mentor’.  
But the new buzz word is to find a SPONSOR. Yes a sponsor who is willing to make your case behind those close doors when promotions are being discussed, when a raise is being considered etc. Find out your potential sponsor/s and map them within your organization, they need to be people who truly believe and understand your true potential. You need to of course build up a network of more than one sponsor if possible, even people whom you know very well from outside your organization.

3) Satya Nadella the current CEO of Microsoft was in discussion with Maria Klawe about women in technology. This is a discussion which is definitely worth listening to. But pay attention to what Maria is saying in this conversation and see how she naturally navigates the whole conversation and touches upon all the sore points that exist for women in the workforce. I particularly liked the point where Maria actually disagrees with Nadella about relying on your good karma to get a pay hike!!

4) When you are having a difficult conversation at work don’t try to ease a topic of concern into a conversation you are having. As women we tend to start a conversation where everything is fine at the beginning, in between we quickly bring in the uncomfortable bits and then at the end quickly make sure that the conversation is ending on a positive note. 
In this scenario the person on the other end of the conversation assumes that everything is fine, of course he/she is a little bit amiss but you tend to give the impression that you have found peace with the situation at hand. So again, have those difficult conversations with the right amount of focus and calm. It is important.

5) My highlight for you is a new word in your vocabulary – all of you who hate being part of the office politics, think of it now as ‘organizational awareness’. See how the whole negativity is gone out of the window when you consider it as ‘Organizational awareness’.  You have to be aware of the networks that exist and remember that avoiding this completely altogether can be deadly for your career.

6) Also important don’t continue to work in an area where you already know that you are going to regret having done this later on in your life. Trust your experience to move on at the right time!

7) Ok here’s the thing ‘What’s the simplest way to get a promotion?’ Ask for one! But before doing that ask yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 how capable you are of performing the job today? What you need to be aware, based on an internal survey @ HP is the following:
a.   Women will apply to a job when they believe they meet 100% of the job requirements.
b.   Men on the other hand will apply if they meet 60% of the requirements.
c.   So the learning for me was: If you are 60% ready for the next job you want to have – GO FOR IT!!

8)  Make sure that you are being judged by your potential and not be experience only. I learnt that often men are promoted based on their potential and women are often evaluated for promotions primarily on performance. 
For this to happen your management needs to be aware of your accomplishments. Like I mentioned in point 2 you also need the full backing of your sponsors and also help in building a corporate culture where career accomplishments are recognized.

9) Ok this is one is key too – if somebody does a good job let them know about it. If that somebody is a woman make an extra effort to explicitly mention that, promote that in discussions. Help other women in their journey in navigating the complex boundaries at work.

10) A tiny data point related to point 4 – ‘Don’t avoid difficult conversations’ Have you noticed that difficult conversations taken between five and fifteen minutes and often actually a lot less. This short and uncomfortable conversation can be far less stressful than a long period of bearing with the situation at hand.
Don't avoid the difficult conversations!
Hope you took something out of my learnings from the Grace Hopper conference. If any of you would like to discuss any of the points above in detail with me, send me a note and I will be happy to have that conversation with you. 

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