Sunday, October 7, 2012

An Inspiring Panel on Women and Innovation at GHC

I was really looking forward to this panel, as I struggle to see myself as an innovator... and I wanted to be inspired. I was. The panel was moderated by  Dr. Francine Gordon, who is one of my colleagues in the TechWomen mentoring program, but far beyond that, she has a  Yale PhD,.... runs  TED Women Bay Area... and has many more honors I cannot even count. I knew she would run a truly useful panel. The panelists included Rahima Mohammed of Intel, who was also a TechWomen 2011  mentor, Nina Bhatti, product development engineer at Hewlett Packard, Judy Priest, Cisco office of the CTO, and Kathleen McKeown, director of a new institute for Data Sciences and Engineering at Columbia and Winner of the ABI Women of Vision award for Innovation in 2010.

This panel helped so much with realizing where and how I already innovate. Rahima challenged us that  one thing women can do as innovators is to "think of the problem in a slightly different way"

Nina Bhatti pointed out that innovation is only that when it actually gets into a user's hands, and that the implementation and user focus of an idea is something many women excel at.

Judy Priest, Cisco office of the CTO pointed out that  innovation means targeting things "in the right time and place" - not pushing too much on the envelope and telling competitiors what you're doing.

Moderator Francine Gordon suggested that many women don't think of ourselves as innovators... but as problem solvers. Girls have as many characteristics as innovators as boys... but they (like women) see themselves as problem solving when they innovate.

Francine also ran through an amazing list of great women innovators such as Helen Greiner, inventor of the Roomba, Judy Estrin - co-founder of Cisco who wrote The Innovation Gap... about private/public/university collaboration for innovation, and Margaret Knight - holder of 26 patents - invented a machine that allowed paper bags to have square bottoms and several patents arond the combustion engine... called by some the "female Edison".

Questions for panelists:

What does innovation mean to you?

Rahima: It needs to be new, and be solving a problem that has a real need base, someone has to *use* it. Its not enough to have an idea, it has to be brought to someone who uses it.

Nina: when you get irritated by something, this should move to a problem solving point and then looking for innovation. Another place to look is a greenfield area, at the front of technology, because other people aren't there yet. You can get to the problems first, and the first solutions, wrong or right, set the trend. A key part of innovation is figuring out where to put your energy, that serves you organization's needs and a perceived market need or desire.

Judy: You also can innovate in integration, and in business models, not just technology. You need to expand your definition on innovation and find new ways to apply it. There was a famous story of a woman who invented the rotor thats in vacuum cleaners, because she was tired of sweeping the floor. Alas she didn't patent it. And the same mechanism is now used in amusement park rides.

Kathleen: what is the difference between innovation and invention? Being at a university, my first reaction was "I don't know", and I looked it up on wikipedia, and the definition there was that innovation is something new that has a *use* as a product, while invention is something novel, a new process or technology, and it doesn't have to have a use necessarily. So as a university person, the line blends. So for me, innovation is building a new system that does something cool. I don't think as much about the customer or user, though I do think about needs.

Francine: What attributes help you to be an innovator?

Kathleen: I like going into an area where I can be first, where no one has gone before. I often feel very afressive about that, wanting to push for it. Usually in the beginning I get a lot of "no"s, and my reaction is determination and almost anger. These people are wrong, and I know they're wrong, and Im going to show them.

Rahima: I like to figure out the most critical problems, and where will I get the biggest return on investment with the resources I have. Also really questioning and experimenting, and connecting the dots, associating the problem with another problem, after that also to build a network, try the idea with different kinds of people. To be successful doing something new you need a strong passion, the first time it doesnt work, second time doesn't work, but maybe the third time. Don;t give up when you hear a "no".

Francine: you can't take no as a no. It means try again another way.

Judy: One of the biggest questions I get is "where do the ideas come from" - most ideas are not siloed, problems are more complex than that. Talk to your friends. A good idea will solve a *significant* problem.

Nina: I pitch my ideas to people who I trust and who I know will listen to me, and see how their reaction is, I look for them to light up. If they don't, I go back and rethink. Then I go to experts in the area.

Francine: Failures?

Kathleen: in the academic world this is about not getting a grant or losing the grant once you had it. I sometimes wrote 5 or 6 proposals and didn't get funding before I finally did get it.

Nina: If you're trying to do something you havent done before, there is always a possibility of failure. Go for the risk area first, not last. You should not have a failure of execution. That's just a planning failure. There are failures of fit or agenda within organization. There is also a failure *To take the risk at all*. Are you failing to live up to your potential?

Judy: Failures are like bad relationships, not a black and white thing, good parts and bad parts, but a good innovator knows when to pull the plug and when to course correct. There's always something that can be gleaned or leveraged for the next thing, too.

Rahima: in many companies there is an employee review process, and people worry if they fail it will affect their review. So we fear it. But there can be failures even when all the risks are calculated. So you need a system that helps you tolerate failures. You really should have a strong handshaking agreement with your management system about your innovation. If you're not updating them about the risk, this is where you can fall flat. Get people excited, and communicate, and then even if it fails, its okay, you move on, and you are ok with management.

Judy: you also have to assign a timeline and not let things run on forever, and negotiate that up front.

Francine: remember that what some people call a failure another person calls a success. Many inventions we use today were "failures", penicillin is the most famous, but saccharine is another example, someone was trying to find new uses for coal tar, and he didn't wash his hands, and then tried to eat, and it tasted sweet, and they discovered saccharine (ew?) but...

Francine to panel: wht are the differences between your male and female team members?

Kathleen: I do always watch the women in my group. Right now I have a team and we are building a large system with a huge amount of data, and getting it done on the grant timeline is a challenge. I notice that the men on the team are very strong in stating what they think should be done, and why, and they state it in a tone of authority. They're often right, but watching the people, the women on the team, they are working extremely hard and very knowledgeable but much more soft spoken about it. I've had this experience a lot and seeing who speaks the loudest and who speaks more quietly, the quirt spoken people often know quite a bit. One of my roles is to manage communication and make sure the quiet ones get heard.

Rahima: I am very blessed in my team, I'm always looking for women, so almost half my team are women, and yes, the men are strong communicators, and women are strong collaborators, they want everyone to agree... the women want a nod from all four people on the team to proceed in an idea.

Nina: I have a no jerks policy. Innovation is a risk and I want everyone to feel safe. I had a boss, once, who was a problem and I called him on it, he was harassing one of my team members, and he didn't even know he was crossing the line, but it was really important. A culture of safety is critical. People have to be safe saying half formed ideas and know they wont be jumped on. So for me its not a man or a woman, I had quiet guys and balanced women, maybe because I auditioned people for fit with the team.... that is the key.

Judy: if someone on the team says "that's the stupidest idea I've ever heard" about aything, that person is a dream thief and they need to be off the team. Its hard for women to feel comfortable with 30% definition, women seem to want 75% definition. As an innovator, though, your job is to find the constraints and risks and then proceed boldly.

Question from the audience: Who do you define success as an inivator?

Rahima: It could be solving a problem you're working on. We think it has to have a patent, a trade secret, whatever, to be a success. Even solving a small problem can be innovation and save a lot of time or resources or otherwise be very important to your organization. Its not useful if nobody adopts your idea, it remains a discovery or an invention, does not become an innovation.

Kathlee: in the University setting, there are successes along the path, but when you see people pick up on it, thats huge success. When people download your software, that's success. Another way is it gets picked up by the TechVenture office, or people from outside the University come to you and say they think your software will solve their problem.... it takes time and you see it in stages, but the feedback is where you see it.

Francine: lets move along to patents for now. First question: what's the value of patents?

Nina: there are some things you *don't* patent because you want it to stay a trade secret. Sometimes women controbute to the ideas (not just women) and then they dont get their name on the patent, and, if you came up with any idea, you need to be on it or it invalidates the patent. Really. Also writing a patent is like publishing a paper. You can then discuss it publicly. There is a value in patenting because then when you leave th company you can still discuss it.

Francine: how do you know when you have a patentable idea?

Judy: we have a committee at Cisco, patents are very expensive, so we have to assess carefully. It costs us 30-50 thousand dollars for one US patent. The patent committee looks for the business case, the business value, is it detectable? Is it novel? If we patent it are we just telling someone else how to test a new product? This is important.

Judy: something to consider is whether its more important for things to be known as "your" idea vs the idea getting through... that depends on the situation. Think about it, but also don't give up, an when you can, own your work as yours.

Truly, this panel inspired me not just to be bold, but in how to foster a culture of innovation, and to see how I already *am* an innovator. This was a fantastic session and I hope it is a theme we see in the  future at Grace Hopper.

TechWomen in Baltimore - Grace Hopper!

It has been so much fun to be at Grace Hopper this year with 41 women from the 2012 TechWomen class, four returning members of the 2011 TechWomen class (who did a fantastic panel... see my other blog:  Technical Women in the Arab Region: Challenges vs. Aspirations) and quite a few of the program mentors. Running session to session I saw participants everywhere - engaging at all levels, together, separate, checking out booths, in sessions, sitting at our TechWomen tables. TechWomen is an initiative of the US Department of State which brings highly qualified technical women from the Middle East and North Africa to the San Francisco Bay Area for a mentorship with a local professional technical woman (industry or academia) and this year all the participants came to Grace Hopper, a wonderful opportunity for all involved.

The Emerging Leaders were honored at the Thursday plenary, which is wonderful. Many excellent sessions followed - I particularly enjoyed being with the Emerging Leaders at a session on mobile phone apps in developing nations, and the "Women and Innovation" session where mentor Francine Gordon moderated and 2011 mentor Rahima Mohammed (Intel) was one of the panelists. There was one great moment Thursday night, when two of the Emerging Leaders and I were watching the dance floor from up above. I said "this is what a mosh pit of technical women might look like?" and we just all kept saying "technical women mosh pit!" and laughing - because it was so inspiring and fierce and fun. But even better was watching the Emerging Leaders participate in the community of technical women - each with her own unique voice.

Saturday morning the delegation from TechWomen moved on to Washington DC for another phase of our program... and as the bus pulled out, I felt sad, because, I've come to love Hopper so much...  here's to next year. 

TechWomen Change Scholars Return to Hopper: Panel on Technical Women in the Arab Region

I was so honored to get to blog about the panel "Technical Women in the Arab Region: Challenges vs. Aspirations" - this panel was made up of graduates of the inaugural class of the TechWomen program, for which I have been honored to mentor emerging leaders for the last two years. TechWomen is a project of the US Department of State, which, working with the International Institute of Education and the Anita Borg Institute, has for two years brought emerging technical women leaders to the US for mentorship and for the second year has brought these women to Grace Hopper. (For more information, visit

“Technical Women in the Arab Region: Challenges vs. Aspirations” was one of GHC12 interesting and motivating panels which answered the main question posed by GHC this year “Are We There Yet?” from the perspective of the Arab Region and went on to explain that, if not, then “How can we get there?”

The panel was the fruit of the efforts exerted by four dedicated and ambitious professional technical Arab women who work for national and international bodies located in various countries of the Arab region. These ladies are Ms. Sukaina Al-Nasrawi (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Lebanon), Ms. Maysoun Ibrahim (Office of the Palestinian President, Palestine), Ms. Reham Nasser (Hewlett Packard, Egypt) and Ms. Hania Gati (LVSC Mediterranee, Algeria). They succeeded, after a highly competitive process, in formulating a panel on Arab women in computing. The latter was regarded as a breakthrough as it was the first of its kind in the history of the conference.

The panel, moderated by Ms. Katy Dickinson (Huawei Technologies, USA), constituted a forum for reporting on successful trends as well as areas that remain complex in the field of technology. It provided an opportunity for sharing personal experiences of technical Arab women who are professional in their field and successfully went through the experience of the inaugural class of TechWomen 2011, participated in GHC 2011 and received TechWomen Change Agent Scholars awards.

Panelists tackled the status of ICT in the Arab region along with the status of technical Arab Women. They explored the opportunities, hopes as well as the diverse challenges facing Arab technical women in the region. Discussions highlighted the global and national gender gap that exists in the region while attributing special attention to the gap at the level of ICT literacy and employment. Each of the panelists shed the light on social and cultural issues leading young girls to desert technology. Common issues for the region exist and others are particular to certain countries.

The panel highlighted many achievements in the field and at the same time focused on the needed strategies for increasing the interest of girls in majoring in technical fields, as well as achieving their career goals. The theme of this panel was of high importance as many Arab countries are witnessing a rise in female participation in the ICT sector; however this rise remains very modest and varies enormously from one Arab country to another.

The audience of the panel was very diverse. It included researchers interested in exploring the status of ICT in the Arab region and status of technical Arab Women, academic leaders, Executives, exchange programs’ mentors, and members of the class of TechWomen 2012. The panel was also delighted by the attendance of Dr. Telle Whitney, the President and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute.

At the end of the session, Katy invited all, 2011 TechWomen, 2012 TechWomen, and mentors past and present, to take a photo together:

So inspiring to see that the question "are we there yet", when asked about Technical Women in the Arab Region, can be so enthusiastically answered with "look at what the future holds!"

*All photos in this blog are credited with thanks to Katy Dickinson and Jessica Dickinson Goodman

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

GHC! Office Politics for those who don't like Office Politics

Office Politics Session at Grace Hopper - facilitated by Jo Miller, Women's Leadership Coaching Inc.

Jo first suggested that we shift our mindset about office politics. She suggested that  cultivating a network of people who understand you and will collaborate you and understand you in your goals.

Key Mindset Shifts:
  • Work less! Work will expand to fill the time you give it, so....
  • Get out of your in-box! - go do the *things* that position you as an emerging leader
  • Reframe "office politics" as "organizational awareness" - people who navigate well with savy through organizational awareness means being someone who observes the communication and relationships that surround you in your organization: between individuals, and teams, etc.  Women can be especially good at this!
This is where it got really good. 

Jo showed us an org chart. But then we got into the truth of it. Where people are in the org chart doesn't tell us everything we need to know to navigate well. Say goodbye, it doesn't tell us the full story.

Jo then introduced a new concept: the shadow organization. Here's how you map out your shadow organization:

Draw out your 5-10 key people you work with in something like an org chart. Then using multiple colored pens/crayons, notice and mark down the strong relationships, the broken relationships, the paths of influence, and the coalitions. Find the islands of one. How did this come to be? What draws a group together? Then add key influencers, both positive or negative ("halo or horns!") and then the last key idea is "verticals" - people above who help and mentor from an upper level creating a vertical relationship and there is then a group of people "below" them who get promoted, seen, advanced, more often. 

How to gather more information for your shadow organization doc:

  • One crafty woman suggested that one's manager's calendar... might... be... viewable... and you can learn who *their* influencers are.  (I won't tell you who she works for!)
  • Watch who is having coffee with who and what they're talking about.
  • "Never miss a happy hour"
  • Stay present in meetings, don't just watch your laptop, watch *people* when you can.
Notice where the gaps are in your own relationships, in the shadow organization, and work on them. Make notes on where the gaps are and think about what specific actions you can take to build coalitions that will work for you and your goals. Find a colleague who wants to do the same exercise who you have a strong relationship with and share ideas.

Observations and questions from the room of hundreds of women doing this exercise: 

"all my influencers are on one side of the org chart, and all the conflict people are on the other side of the org chart. So do I... even keep trying with the other side?"

"We manage people who want our guidance, who feel that they have a bias against them in the organization, that they did something 10 years ago that they can't shake, and how do people change an image of themselves that has been with them a long time?"

Jo suggested that as women, sometimes we spend too long in a situation that's not positive for us to grow in. Is there fear or misplaced loyalty involved? But you *can* also turn around your persona inside an organization. You can turn around a reputation in as little as two months but it takes incredible focus. Figure out what you want to be *known for. Branding yourself is how it works. In every interaction, demonstrate the new persona.

Xerox person... who was this? "Its not enough to have a bright technical idea... you have to engage the entire human fabric" Ask who collaborated with you on this business plan, how cross-functional was your plan? How robust is the idea?

"Epiphanettes" from reviewing the map with others at our tables:
  • "there might be people missing from my chart who I need to build relationships with who, I didn't think of"
  • "When one is in an IT division inside another organization, building the relationships *outside* the IT division might really increase one's sphere of influence"
  • Its easier to be well connected with your own management than it is to go up another level and have a good relationship with your manager's manager (director, vp...)
  • being a trustworthy person and a good observer will go a long way in solving the shadow map puzzle.

How to rise above and stand out as a leader:

Jo: the senior people in your organization need to know who the rock stars are in their organizations and what your goals are so they can call on you when they need someone solid. Make sure they know who you are and what you do!

Every organization has unwritten unspoken "Rules of the Game". Find them out! What are ways to navigate ethically and effectively within these rules?

Rules people in the room observed:

  • When you know the rules you feel really bound by them, if you know less, sometimes you have more options, actually. Stop asking so many questions!
  • Its mostly a negative experience, but sometimes you only learn the rules by tripping over them.
  • Jo: you need to know what the rules are, but you do not need to do things that break your ethics. The example she gave was that the influential coalition she observed in her team was the smokers, who talked outside while smoking. But she didn't want to be a smoker, so she found another way.
Five ways to generate quick wins in office politics and building organizational awareness:

5. Find the person who is great at navigating in your organization. Take them out for lunch or coffee or have a call, and ask them how they do it. Ask for tips. Lean from them! Share what you know, too. This person navigates well at all levels, and keeps "institutional memory" they can share with you. This is also someone who gets a "quick read" on new people and groups. 

4. Build an influential coalition. This is bigger and easier than it seems! It can be quicker and easier to get great things done from the grass roots. Who are you likeminded with? Who shares your passions and values? Educate them on what you're about, and get onboard to support them in what is important to them. At some point, it will be clear that you can now ask this person or group of people for their support in something really great that you want to do.  What action can you take to build this?

 "Never underestimate the power of the meeting-before-the-meeting." - Iesha O'Deneal, SVP Diversity, Bank of America. Notice where the real decisions are being made. Learn how you can insert yourself into *those conversations.

3. Don't like the unwritten, unspoken rules of the game? Become a game-changer! This is a mid-level career position, where you are now respected in your role. Find the other people who are playing along with rules they don't like. Change things! (great example given of changing "happy hour" so that sometimes its at a relatively early hour - like 4-5:00 on Friday - when working parents can actually attend sometimes!)

2. Manage upward. Leading your leaders is easier than you think. Take your queues from others around you who are doing it. 

Quick tips on managing upward:
  • Think and act like an executive. 
  • Notice the behaviors, thinking style, etc, of the senior people in your organization and mirror their style. Ask them what their goals and hot button issues are. 
  • Notice how they exert influence. 
  • When you need to propose something to them, you can come armed with what they will listen to and get ahead of their needs. 
  • Remember that they are relying on you to be the expert. Don't be deferential. 
  • Always have talking topics in your back pocket in case you get a moment with a senior person to talk.
And for the #1 tip... we had to wait till  after another break (coffee coffee coffee)

1. Jo's top tip for quick wins in office politics is!

Sponsors versus mentors... a sponsor goes beyond the advice level and uses their connections to help them move forward. Senior women are "over mentored and under sponsored" in their organizations. (from an article in Harvard Business Review on "Why Men Get Promoted More than Men")

So the top tip is to enlist senior level sponsors and advocates to help you move up in your career.

Cindy Kent: "A sponsor is someone who will use their internal political and social capital to move your career forward within an organization. They will argue your case with senior management behind closed doors."

Qualities of a good sponsor:

1. Senior leader with influence
2. Well respected, credible person
3. Familiar with your strengths
4. Has a track record for developing talent
5. Provides exposure opportunities for proteges
6. Provides 'air cover' from negative or damaging publicity

Michelle Johnston quote:

have 3-4 advocates *outside your direct management chain* to broaden your reach and find opportunities that might not be apparent to you and also inocculate you against changes.

How to cultivate sponsorships:

1. Outperform! Deliver great work.
2. Don't just work hard, but make your value visible. Step away and network. Take on stretch assignments.
3. Observe the protocols. How does sponsorship work in your organization's culture?
4. Ask who the leaders are who really develop talent... and who are the ones who don't.
5. Network across your organization and beyond your direct management chain and make sure when you get someone senior's ear that you tell them what you do and what you're great at.
6. Look for exposure opportunities to work for or with senior leaders
7. Have clarity about your career goals.
8. Share your career goals with your leaders.

Table Topics:

There were several table topics, including but not limited to "How to navigate office politics in an office of mostly men", "How to manage upward", and my topic of choice "how to navigate office politics in a virtual team".

ISC has about 60 staff in 10+ countries, and all over the US, so the topic of my table, "how to navigate office politics in a virtual team" was especially interesting.

We determined that mostly, every political dynamic that you have in a physically co-located team exists in a virtual team, as well as some additional dynamics. Constant communication is the key, but balancing it with getting enough work done is tough. The critical thing is to take specific efforts to humanize the people behind the voices and typed words. One team represented at our table has a meeting twice a year where each member prepares a short presentation about themselves with photo and things they like to do for fun, etc. This humanizes their team, which meets in person extremely rarely. We agreed that while it is *hard* to reach out above or across teams when working virtually, it is even*more* important than in a physical office. Skip level 1:1s and other such tools are critical.

In addition to the specific issues around office politics, we discussed a few other aspects of virtual team work. We discussed how teams who develop software with scrum might adjust for virtual teams, too, and it occurred to me this might be a useful future Hopper topic (key hint: have more than one standup per day for timezones, and have a shared chat room that the whole team logs into while working).

Jo wrapped up the session by encouraging us to reach out to her anytime, and to continue to work on specific actions toward all the concepts discussed in the workshop. You can see all Jo's excellent slides at:

Grace Hopper is kicked off for 2012!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The potential purposes of this blog.

I've been on the internet a long time. I think I didn't have my own full time forever email account until 1991, though. I had a geocities website, yahoo mail, livejournal (still do), facebook, google+, I think I briefly had a MySpace account. I've blogged on lots of other people's sites, too, but I don't have a public corner for musings, and I'm being asked a lot lately to blog and submit a specific feed to another blog or event or whatever, so that is what this is for. Topics likely to vary widely.