By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
This week, March 8th, we celebrate International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is #BreaktheBias. As stated on the International Women’s Day website, this theme is meant to inspire us to:
Imagine a gender equal world.
A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.
A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
Together we can forge women's equality.
Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.
When I began my career in this industry in 2008, I was often the only woman in the room. I lost count pretty quicky of the stereotypical comments and was put in more than one very uncomfortable situation because a man felt it was perfectly acceptable to treat me in a manner he’d never consider treating another man. When I had children, I was forced to face the realities of just how difficult the traditional corporate structure makes it for a woman to succeed as both a mother and a career woman. I combatted gender discrimination with grit and tenacity, knowing many wouldn’t have the confidence to speak up in that way – or didn’t have the privilege to risk doing so.
I’ve learned a lot from my own experiences with bias, stereotypes, and discrimination and one thing I’m certain of is that while we have most certainly made progress since I entered the professional world, we must acknowledge we have a long way to go. I still encounter comments fueled by bias on a very regular basis, and I am acutely aware that there are women who grapple with the added complexities of being women of color or differently abled or any number of other compounding factors.
One way I feel I can play a role in the need to #BreaktheBias is by speaking out about my own experiences. But another is using the Future of Field Service platform to share the stories, journeys, and experiences of other women to share different perspectives and points of view that we can all learn from. I’m grateful to have that opportunity and thought, to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, I’d share some wise words from some of the women who I’ve interviewed this year.
On What Inspires Us
While we may sometimes become frustrated by our individual or collective circumstances, or feel angry about the inequity that persists, we – women – are an imperative piece of achieving equality. We must forge ahead, and a good tool for those frustrating days is turning to what you find inspiration from.
For Jennifer Deutsch, CMO of Park Place Technologies, that inspiration comes from her team. “I get inspiration from my team. For the size of our business, I have a fairly small team, I’ve got 11 people on my team, and I am the oldest,” she says. “We have people that range in age from 23 to 58, and from the young talent and the diversity, I’ve learned an awful lot. A 25-year-old looks at social very differently than I look at social. I’ve got a 25-year-old who runs our social program, and I’ve got a content guy who used to write for Rolling Stone. I also have a guy on my team who was an agency veteran for 20 years, who was never in the tech space. He writes copy for us beautifully. The team inspires me.”
Maybe your inspiration comes from seeking camaraderie, maybe it comes from finding some solitude. Perhaps there’s a power song you can listen to that will get you back into a positive headspace, or maybe journaling is a good outlet for you. It doesn’t matter what your inspiration is, just that you find a source of it – because on the hard days that are inevitable in the face of massive change, we have to seek what we need to fuel up and keep going.
On Knowing You Have the Power to Pivot
Sometimes our circumstances can make us feel stuck. It’s important to remember that you have the power to pivot. Catherine Wood, Service Owner for Engineered Deployment at Compugen, went to school for fine arts and was a teacher before she entered the world of IT. “It's been a strange road. I went to school for fine art. I loved art, always have, but I've also been interested in computers since I was a kid,” she shares. “When I finished school and started having a family, I wanted to go back to work after my kids were in school. So, I took a computer course at a local college, but just to be able to use a computer again as it had been a while. I got a job as a teacher, teaching arts. At one point I was teaching at a private school and their computer teacher left and they asked me to fill in. So, all of a sudden, I became a computer teacher and it turned into me only being a computer teacher after a few years. And from there I went to IBM and there began my career in IT.”
Catherine’s story brings about another important point, which is that not only do you have the power to initiate a pivot – but you can also benefit from staying open to the opportunities that are presented to you. We hear all of the time about how women won’t apply for a role or accept a position unless they meet every single criteria, but sometimes things work out when you are willing to take a bit of a risk on a growth opportunity.
On Our Individual Power to Effect Change
While the overall objective of equality can seem incredibly daunting, we need to ensure we don’t see our power as too small and as a result pass the buck on our individual responsibility. If you’re a leader in a company, yes that company should have a strategy in place for addressing biases and creating better diversity, including and equity, but that corporate strategy doesn’t absolve you from your personal responsibility. Lauren Winans, CEO of Next-Level Benefits, says, “You can even make small tangible changes for your own teams. Any leader can make small changes to some of the things that they’re doing to increase inclusivity or help someone get promoted by getting more development opportunities or making sure that everyone on your team is making a fair and equitable wage for the work that they’re putting in. You have the power; we all have power when it comes to this. It’s just a matter of figuring out where you fit in the equation.”
The acknowledgement of our individual power goes for women too – just because this is an issue we are at times on the receiving end of, we are still responsible for being a part of the change. Looking for ways to lift other women up, to help, to create connections or suggest opportunities, whatever that looks like in a certain scenario – we need to be playing an active role in being a part of the solution.
On Having Hard Conversations and Exploring Unconscious Bias
Our individual power – and responsibility – also bleeds over into our willingness to speak up and speak out when we see an action, behavior, or belief that doesn’t align with #BreaktheBias. This includes being sure we examine our own unconscious biases. Latasha Reindl, Director of Service Operations Excellence at Schneider Electric Digital Buildings suggests a book on how to take advantage of opportunities to have conversations that will prompt reflection and hopefully change. “I read a book a while back called Crucial Conversations,” she says. “I thought that book was fantastic. It talks about how important effective communication is as well as making sure you take advantage of opportunities that you’re in and have that courage to speak up in that moment, because they’ll be more impactful.”
During our podcast conversation, we talked about some of the work Schneider Electric has done around improving diversity, equity, and inclusion and Latasha has been particularly impresses by their commitment to addressing unconscious bias. “I think it’s important to understand that we all have some kind of unconscious bias. Schneider Electric does a great job at sprinkling the concept of unconscious bias throughout their organization, whether it be initiatives, business processes, communications. And when they sprinkle those little topics and things throughout the year, it makes you think not only at work, but outside of work as well,” she says. “For example, I was interviewing candidates for a global position and working with the recruiter. They send you the overall package that includes the candidate’s resume and with it there’s interview tips and tricks and a specific reminder and checklist to leave your unconscious bias behind. This was the first time that I’ve experienced that before in the 20 years that I have been managing people and I’m so proud to be a part of an organization where I can see that they’re really taking tangible steps toward progress.”
On Being the Minority in a Male-Dominated Field
I often ask women how they’ve handled being in a male-dominated industry, and I’m always interested in the variety of responses. I find the answers to be incredibly telling of their personality types and while there’s absolutely no one right way to handle these situations, it is important to think about how best to be your own advocate.
Catherine Wood of Compugen first transitioned into the IT industry 20 years ago and found she was often the only woman in the room. I asked her how much that has changed, and while she doesn’t deny that there are now more women working alongside her, what is surprising is that the treatment by the men in the room isn’t all that different. “I'm not as often the only woman in the room. Men are more comfortable seeing women in IT. And we're seeing more women in leadership roles in IT, which gives other women the confidence to see themselves in these roles,” she shares. “But what’s unfortunate is some of the conversations that still occur. Just a few weeks ago, I was in a meeting, and someone tried to explain to me where the start menu is. He knew we both work in IT; he knows my role. And he's explaining to me how to find the start menu. I don't keep quiet in those situations. I used to when I was younger, but I don't anymore. I asked him as politely as possible, ‘What makes you think that you need to explain to me where the start menu is?’ My goal wasn't to make him uncomfortable; my goal was to gently educate him. Because he wasn't doing it on purpose. He was trying to help. He really thought he was trying to help, but he just was going about it in a way that he needed to be more aware of.”
This example reminds me of a lot of the comments I receive every time I travel for work, related to how much my kids must miss me, how hard my husband has it, and so on. It isn’t necessary ill intent, but they are microaggressions that – conscious or not – become frustrating. As Catherine says, this is one area where we still have a lot of work to do. “I'm asked questions that nobody would think of asking a man, because if he's in that room, he's already qualified to be there where they see a woman walk in and they think, oh, she can't possibly be technical, or she can't possibly know anything about this. Women still get spoken or talked over in meetings or dismissed or someone will say something and will get ignored. The conversation will just keep going. Those are still challenges that we deal with today. We can’t use the ‘boys will be boys’ kind of excuse. Just move on, get over it. If it happened once in my lifetime, I'd get over it. When it happens multiple times a day, it starts to have an impact on me. And maybe it's multiple people during the day and they all didn't mean it. But the challenge is changing everyone's understanding of what those comments mean and not dismissing the fact that it has an impact on the people it's happening to.”
On Diversifying the Workforce
When you consider the industries that Future of Field Service covers, they are ones who are largely in need of fostering greater diversity. Karin Hamel is the Vice President of Services for US Digital Buildings at Schneider Electric, and she’s very focused on how to create greater diversity among the company’s frontline workforce. “I’m very proud of the programs that Schneider has been driving over the past few years regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion. I think we do a really good job internally with our core values driving the right types of behavior that we want to see with our people and making sure it’s a safe, inclusive environment for everyone. When I think about the work that remains to be done, it will be all about enticing that talent, that diverse talent to come into Schneider Electric,” she says. “If we think about the look and feel of that Maytag repairman persona, and the workforce that we’ve had historically, think about the why. Why has it traditionally been white males of a certain age? We have more awareness now around STEM and we need to embrace and leverage that. So, what we’re doing is trying to find opportunities to create more entry level roles to get that talent in as soon as possible. Having programs like university recruit programs, apprenticeship programs, great onboarding and training to attract and retain that talent is a big focus right for us.”
Creating greater awareness of career opportunities that haven’t traditionally welcomed women – or that young women don’t grow up considering – is certainly important. And efforts like Schneider Electric is making to offer more entry-level positions so that experience isn’t a barrier to recruiting more diverse talent is spot on. But as you’ll read next, to dig deeper we need to explore how we begin changing the early childhood narrative.
On Changing Early Influences to Overcome Systemic Stereotypes
For our 150th podcast, we featured Shannon Tymosko whose story is just fantastic. In her late 20s, she grew tired of making low wages in childcare and other entry level positions and wanted to seek more opportunity for herself. After working on home remodel with a friend, she began exploring the trades and is now an apprentice electrician. Her story is both interesting and inspiring, and she’s begun advocating for how we make the potential of the trades more accessible to others.
“If you can see it, you can be it. Right? How often do we see celebrities more than we see anything else as children? We see Disney princesses, but do we see skilled trades workers? Do we see ladies as skilled trades workers? And so how do we believe we can do something that unless we even know it exists? And, so, the problem I think with the skilled trades is we don’t educate soon enough. There’s so much, I don’t want to say brainwashing, conditioning. There’s so much conditioning. We see us as women, we see princesses. The boys see trucks and construction workers. Well, where’s our equal balance of women construction workers to say that you can do that too?” she emphasizes.
But it isn’t just about showing it, letting young girls visualize the breadth of their options. It’s also about giving children the opportunities to try different things. “We can put the representation there all we want, but unless we present the opportunity to try, they’ll never know if they like it. Get some tools into the hands of young people. If you have a project at home, drag your kids out to experience it, get your kids involved, get their hands on the tool. You don’t know if they’ll like it until they’ve tried it, and it’s so important to give them that opportunity to try,” she adds.
Leading by Example
Shannon understands the value in leading by example. On a construction site, she is often the only woman – and while it can be intimidating, she realizes her role in not only doing work she’s proud of but in shifting these outdated perceptions of what a woman can do. “Some of the men don’t think you belong there. They don’t say it to you, but I know. And so there most certainly is this pressure to perform. With so few women in the skilled trades, I am a representation of every woman on another construction site who’s going to follow me, because men are judging me and they’re judging women as a whole at the same time. That’s not the same pressure that my fellow male apprenticeship peers feel,” she says. “Actions often speak louder than words. And being a woman in the skilled trades today means I am still a minority, underestimated and a trailblazer for other women to follow. It means I must be strong, self-aware and realistic that I’m still in a man’s world. I must be patient and not push change but be an ambassador and advocate for change. I must be persistent, work hard and show the young women of tomorrow that they too can do whatever they desire.”
I hope during this year’s International Women’s Day you will spend some time considering what you can do to help #BreaktheBias. Join us for Wednesday’s podcast, where I’ll have a conversation with Octavia Goredema around this topic. Octavia is the founder of Twenty Ten Agency, has coached leaders at renowned companies including Google, American Airlines, Tinder, General Motors, Nike, and Dow Jones, and is also the author of the new book PREP, PUSH, PIVOT: Essential Career Strategies for Underrepresented Women.