Tag Archives: working

Second Chances

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This truism was, predictably, repeated during the WITI Summit. In my experience, it’s (fortunately) not entirely true. When I was in college, my dad was covering my basic living expenses and my tuition was covered by scholarships. But I still needed a bit of Read More…

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

This truism was, predictably, repeated during the WITI Summit. In my experience, it’s (fortunately) not entirely true.

When I was in college, my dad was covering my basic living expenses and my tuition was covered by scholarships. But I still needed a bit of walking-around money, so I sought flexible, part-time work, preferably something that did not involve long, late hours of being on my feet.

My major marketable skills at the time were reading, writing, and typing, so it made sense to interview with a small printing company in downtown Austin that was looking for someone to learn electronic typesetting and word processing. This was around 1983, when both of those activities involved clunky, expensive, dedicated machinery, and the rest of the printing work was done traditionally.

I interviewed with an office manager not much older than myself. I have no recollection of that interview, but it ended with a standard, noncommittal “We’ll let you know” – and then I didn’t hear from her for days. I knew I could do the job as she had described it, but I also had the uneasy feeling that I had not impressed her. Having spent my teenage years in boarding school in India, I had little experience of working, let alone interviewing.

Unsure of the etiquette of these situations, I finally called and asked her if a decision had been made.

“We’d like to look at some more candidates,” she laconically answered. It was clear that she did not have any other candidates to interview right then, but she didn’t want me even as an alternative to no one at all. At that point, I had nothing to lose.

“Look”, I said, “I’m really bad at interviewing, but I know I can do this job. Will you give me a chance?”

She did. And I was great. And they loved me. And what I learned there set me up for my later jobs in desktop publishing, then CD-R and technical documentation, and…

So, yes, first impressions are important. But a bad one doesn’t have to be your last chance, and if a hirer (or potential friend or mate) is willing to look past a less-than-optimal first impact, they might just find that that rough stone contained a diamond after all.

Men, Women, and Salary Negotiation

“To get ahead in business, women need to speak up, blow their own horns, and always negotiate their salary offers. In other words: act like men.” Women hear this sort of thing often. I’ve said it myself as well-meaning advice to other, especially younger, women. We heard it from many speakers at the WITI summit, Read More…

“To get ahead in business, women need to speak up, blow their own horns, and always negotiate their salary offers. In other words: act like men.”

Women hear this sort of thing often. I’ve said it myself as well-meaning advice to other, especially younger, women. We heard it from many speakers at the WITI summit, successful women who were presumably giving this advice because it had worked for them. Research shows that it can be effective in getting that raise, VC meeting, promotion, or next job.

There are two problems with women emulating men in this way:

  1. The social rules are different for men and women. A man who is assertive and self-promoting is considered, well, manly. A woman who does the same is more often considered a bitch. Both men and women react negatively to “pushy” women.
  2. Because of Point 1 or for socialized reasons, most women feel uncomfortable behaving this way. As a male friend pointed out, telling women to behave more like men is similar to telling introverts they should behave like extroverts. It implies a judgement that the extroverted or “male” way is the “best” mode of human interaction, and we should all strive to emulate it. For some, this may be harrowingly uncomfortable – for some, it’s downright impossible.

There are reams of advice given on doing business in other cultures: how to fit in, how not to offend, how to negotiate with someone who may see things very differently than you do and may not give the cultural cues that you expect. Such advice stresses understanding and compromise, and we all agree that it would be unproductive and gauche to expect our counterparts from other cultures to adapt entirely to our ways.

So why is it acceptable to demand that women take on the modes of interaction more native to men (or introverts to extroverts)?

I have read articles about how even hirers are frustrated at the way women “leave money on the table”. To paraphrase a piece written by an anonymous hiring manager: “I’m authorized to give a higher starting salary, but only if they ask for it. The women never ask, the men always do.”

The women in these situations say, if asked, that they felt the offer was fair – i.e., they assumed the employer would treat them fairly – and/or they didn’t feel comfortable making a counter request and being perceived as pushy broads before even starting a new job. But if they later learned or guessed that they were paid less than a man (or another woman) for the same job, you can bet they resented the hell out of it, and felt betrayed by their employer.

Avoiding “politics” of this kind is a big motivator for many women to found their own businesses: when you’re the boss, you can ensure that your employees are treated fairly.

My own feeling is: if you (my employer) think my job is worth $n, that’s what you should pay me; I should not have to ask. (If you don’t know what the job is worth, I may not either – why don’t we figure it out together?)

Telling women that we’re leaving money on the table by not asking is blaming the victim. Paying higher salaries to those who merely ask rewards negotiating skills, not professional merit or hard work in a particular role which may have nothing to do with the ability to be an aggressive bargainer.

The same applies to introverts – which, by the way, often describes some of your most valuable staff: programmers. Many male engineers are naive, young, introverted, and/or socially awkward, which puts them in a similar position to women at the bargaining table. They may accept your first offer and not subsequently question their salaries, as long as they can pay the rent.

But, in a hot job market, you’re taking a risk when you pay people less than you can afford and know they’re worth. Your best and brightest (men or women, outgoing or introverted) get job offers every week, and if you’re paying them at the low end of the scale, it’s easy for someone else to make a better offer. Company rules may “discourage” your employees from discussing their salaries with each other*, but a recruiter may be happy to say: “Oh, we pay a lot better for that position.”

If you value an employee and want to keep them, it’s in your best interest to deal with them transparently, honestly, fairly, and in a way that accommodates their individual character and style. If that’s not already part of your company culture and policy, perhaps it’s time to revisit those things and think about what kind of company you want to be, in order to keep your best and brightest, and attract more like them.


* In California, it is no longer legal for companies to prevent or penalize employees discussing their salaries. Furthermore, “California’s newly effective (January 1, 2017) pay equity law indicates that reliance on an individual’s salary history does not justify a pay disparity, but the law does not specifically prohibit employers from soliciting the information on applications.”

Especially in light of a recent (April, 2017) court ruling which seems to undermine that law, the best advice is never to give recruiters any previous salary history. However, it can be difficult to avoid doing so. I have seen at least one company use a web-based form that forces you to put something into a “previous salary” field (I did not experiment with filling that field with zeroes, for example), along with a statement that falsifying any part of the form would end forever your chances of employment with that company.

GHC09: Becoming a Person of Influence

Still trying to catch up with my notes from the talks I attended at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in October… Jo Miller was a very popular presenter at GHC08, so was invited back this year to speak on Becoming a Person of Influence. Jo, an Aussie with a somewhat confused accent Read More…

Still trying to catch up with my notes from the talks I attended at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in October…

Jo Miller was a very popular presenter at GHC08, so was invited back this year to speak on Becoming a Person of Influence. Jo, an Aussie with a somewhat confused accent after years in California, does Women’s Leadership Coaching for a living, and I suspect from this experience of her that she’s good at it.

This talk had the particular merit of being useful to everyone attending, at whatever stage of their tech career.

I was amused that she started the session saying: “Anyone caught blogging or tweeting during the session will absolutely be invited back next year!”

From my notes:

The emerging leader’s quandary: you can’t get to the higher level job without leadership experience, but you can’t get the experience without the job.

How can you establish yourself as a leader while doing your current job?

Question: Are you the best-kept secret in your organization?

“In my company, influencing skills are the single most important success factor after knowing your job.” JoAnna Sohovich, Honeywell

Are power and influence good or bad? “Power is like manure: it really stinks if you keep it to yourself, but it’s good if you spread it around.”

Wanting to be an influencer means wanting to be a person who can make a greater difference than one person alone can.

An influencer arrives at the meeting early to greet everyone, and doesn’t wait for permission to speak when it’s her area of expertise. If you walk into a room with confidence and authority, people are predisposed to hear what you say.

Don’t think about influencing a specific situation but “how do I become a person of influence?”

First impressions count, but the cumulative impact of all impressions is more important.

The dog whisperer doesn’t train the dog – he/she actually trains the owner to exude an air of calm authority.

Our behavior teaches people how to treat us.

You can influence others in every conversation you have.

Jo asked people in the room to mention what they think of as leadership qualities. Responses included:

  • know the people you’re working with, and care about them. People are not a means to an end, they ARE the end.
  • be consistent and principled, good at engaging people in interesting conversations
  • a leader makes you want to be a better leader

Countdown: The Six Sources of influence Available to Women Leaders

6. Positional influence: the influence inherent in your job title/role

For example, a woman was reorged into a situation where no one knew what she did, but her boss made a point of having her meet people.

“How are you introducing yourself?” You need an elevator pitch.

Building on positional influence:

you have an important job and people need to know about it
take every opportunity to educate others about the importance of your role and how you can help them

create a 30-second commercial:
1. name
2. title
3. I am responsible for…
4. come directly to me when you need…

You may need multiples “ads” to cover various aspects of your job.

Mine might include:

I’m Deirdré Straughan. I am responsible for helping people communicate about technology. Come directly to me when you need help/advice/training with social media, especially videoblogging and video streaming.

Or:

I am responsible for building and nurturing tech communities. Come directly to me when you need help with community strategy and execution.

One pitfall with positional influence is to over-rely on it and to imagine that, if you are higher up, influence comes naturally.

5. Expertise influence: background, qualifications, experience and expertise

Make sure you don’t let someone else take credit for your work!

Ways to build expertise influence:

  • don’t wait for an invitation to speak up about your area of expertise
  • promote your accomplishments
  • present in meetings etc.
  • write
  • speak on panels, conferences

Pitfalls: “Are men smarter than women? No, but they sure think they are.” Women underestimate their own candlepower while men overestimate theirs (2008, Newsweek). Male job candidates are not shy to claim expertise they may not necessarily have! It’s not about paper qualifications, it’s about owning and making visible the achievements you already have.

4. Resources Influence:– the ability to attract and deploy resources you need to do your job well.

e.g. budget

Ways to increase resources influence:

  • become a strong negotiator – know how to ask for and get what you need
  • learn matrixed management
  • cross-train others in your area
  • gain visibility for the importance of your work and the effort it takes
  • suggest special projects as developmental opportunities for others

3. Informational influence: being an informational powerhouse, who keeps finger on the pulse on business, personnel and organizational issues

Know the above, know who the other informational powerhouses are. Walk around and gossip, but filter useful info from noise. Seek out info about changes before they occur, e.g. new projects, opportunities, resource allocations, budget, long-range plans.

2. Direct influence aka coercive

Being firm,professional and direct when someone’s behavior is detrimental to team or org (1% rule) – when something really important is at stake. But also share a vision of what would be possible for them if they changed their behavior – show that you care.

Tips: be firm, fair, professional, direct and concise with tough news
explain what was unacceptable and why
focus on a positive vision for the future

1. Relationships influence: that which comes when you know who the key people are in your organization (and other areas of life), when you reach out to them and build authentic, trusting relationships and an influential network.

The most importnat thing you will build in your career is your network, aka your sphere of influence.

McKinsey leadership project – What drives and sustains successful female leaders? Connecting.

Think about:

Which sources of influence are you most strong in?
Which do you intend to strengthen?