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Kimberly Blessing

My Nerd Story

8 min read

Rosie the Riveter reminds you that we can do it!These are cute totems. I have the Tesla doll.

A few days ago, I was directed to Crystal Beasley's Nerd Story post by Kirin Kalia, my Bryn Mawr College classmate. She asked me to share my own "nerd" story.

I hesitated. I hesitated because I saw that Crystal was prompted to write her story in response to one of the current sexism-in-tech spotlights. (I'm not trying to downplay whatever is going on currently -- I'm just not following it and can't speak much about it.) I hesitated because I know that my story is laden with the exact kind of privilege that is often attributed to white men in technology. I know that some women don't so much see me as a potential role model as part of the problem.

Still, I considered it. Then I went back to Crystal's post and read the comments that had been left and thought, "I don't need to deal with this shit." Crystal's post had brought out the trolls, haters, and real misogynists. While I've read my fair share of hate mail, I am past the point where I want to deal with online harassment because it wastes *my* time to have to handle it.

After thinking about it some more, I figure that if my story guides or inspires just one other person, or validates something going on in their brain (or heart), then any grief will be worth it. So, here goes.


I grew up in a middle class family that was extremely focused on education. My grandfather was an engineer in the midst of the CAD revolution; my dad and aunt were pharmacists dealing with the computerization of their field. Math, science, and tech geekiness ran in my family.

I started elementary school in 1980 and, from day one, got used to seeing a variety of TRS-80s in the building. Soon, I got used to using them on a regular basis, first through the gifted program, and later through a before and after school program, which I've written about before. BASIC was my first programming language. I wrote programs to make sounds, change the screen color, print text to screen, draw shapes -- all of which culminated in me programming a TRS-80 CoCo 2 to play the harmony to "Yesterday" by The Beatles, while I played the melody on the flute.

TRS-80 CoCo 1My TRS-80 CoCo 1, salvaged in 2008. I don't like getting rid of old tech.

Meanwhile, at home, we had Pong, then an Atari 2600. Playing games was fun, but I wanted to write programs. I got a Commodore 64; in the summer of 1983, after seeing War Games, I spent weeks trying to program my own "Joshua" artificial intelligence. Thankfully, no one ever discouraged me from working on that fruitless program. I don't think they even knew that building an AI wasn't possible. I sure as hell didn't.

The Commodore 64 eventually became a 128 and was a mainstay for everything from gaming to doing homework to getting online. In 1985 or 1986, my aunt purchased an Epson Equity PC (8088) and thus I was introduced to DOS (version 2.11, and all of the upgrades from there!). She was using it for basic word processing; I quickly figured out how to do mail merges for her, create spreadsheets, and other more "office-y" type things with it.

As I made my way into junior high and high school, my interaction with computers was limited to home and the library. Whereas every classroom in my elementary school had a TRS-80 or an Apple IIe, the only computers in the upper schools were in special computer rooms, which were mostly used by the "business prep" students. Honors/gifted students, apparently, didn't need to use computers. At home, with more and more homework to do, my computer use became much more practical -- checking math and typing papers. There wasn't time for programming.

In reality, I didn't make time for programming anymore. It wasn't in the classroom anymore, so I suppose I didn't see it as important anymore. Although I started seventh grade already knowing some trigonometry, I went back to algebra. Yawn. Science was still fun, at least, but my language and music teachers were much more encouraging of my work and progress. I turned my focus to where I got feedback and positive reinforcement. By the time I graduated high school, I had dropped out of calculus but took AP French. I had skipped the one and only programming class at my high school -- but when I saw the homework assignments, I yawned again. They would've been pretty repetitive for me.

Thanks to my grandfather, I started college with a brand-new Packard Bell 486/33, which came with 4 MB RAM, a 120 MB hard drive, a sound card, a 2400 baud modem, and Windows 3.1 -- better than my boyfriend's! In my single dorm room, I had plenty of time to noodle with my new tech. Word 6 and NCSA Mosaic had just been released. I had accounts on AOL, Prodigy, and Compuserve but also quickly learned how to dial in to my college's UNIX server. That computer lasted me one year; I built a new computer the following year and upgraded it consistently, until I got to grad school and bought a fancy Dell machine with a Pentium processor.

At the same time, I was rocking my liberal arts education experience, with my intended romance languages major, until the reality of completing the quantitative (i.e. math) requirement reared its ugly head. I wanted to love calculus, but I struggled. Where to turn? Intro to computer science, of course. I figured it should be easier than suffering through more calculus. I didn't count on it changing my educational direction.

I wasn't a great student, that first CS class. Instead of really trying to learn something new, I relied on my existing knowledge and prior experience to get me through. But I guess it was clear that I "got" it enough to warrant the encouragement of the professor, my friend Deepak Kumar, to continue studying CS. So I did. It was as simple as someone saying, "Hey, you're good at this. Ever thought of majoring in it?"

Me in college with an X-TerminalIn the X-Term lab. I think Sarah and I were writing a program to play Konani.

Being a major in computer science at a women's liberal arts college with only one CS professor wasn't easy. I had to lobby the school to be a CS major, and I had to take classes at other colleges and universities in order to complete my CS requirements. I remember taking computer organization (my favorite subject) at Carnegie Mellon University, and being one of about four women in the hall of perhaps 200 people. It's only strikingly odd to me now; at the time, I knew I was a rarity, but it didn't really faze me. (Later, in grad school, the ratio was a bit better because the classes were smaller.)

I made friends with Sarah Hacker (yes, her real name) who had already decided on a CS major; she worked for campus IT services and helped me get a job. Because I knew UNIX, I made an extra 25 cents an hour! Sarah introduced me to HTML (and helped me fix my first markup bug) and I started cranking out websites on Deepak's server. Other members of the team taught me everything I know about software and hardware support. It was a perfect storm of interest, opportunity, and encouragement. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, after 20 years of experience in large internet/tech companies (AOL, PayPal, and Comcast) and other organizations, I head up the web development team and growing technology consulting practice at Think Brownstone. I've architected and built some of the coolest publishing systems and web sites in the history of the internet -- and I still get excited when I'm presented with a challenge that requires strategic thinking, technical know-how, and organizational savvy. I've been able to take my experience and turn it into book contributions, conference presentations, and a for-credit CS class at my alma mater. I'm still a technology junkie, but as a manager and leader, I get the biggest kick out of coaching younger talent and helping them grow their skills.


Disney's Kim Possible

The moral of my story is: discouraging a young mind can stop its progress, but encouragement can help get things moving again. If you're an adult, figure out who you can encourage today. If you're a young adult, avoid the discouragers (as much as you can) and find the encouragers.

Write your own Nerd Story -- don't let it be written for you.

Kimberly Blessing

'Change' Is Not a Four-Letter Word

1 min read

A repeat performance of my AccessU keynote, delivered at the end of the two-day, online Accessibility Summit. If you're not familiar with the Environments for Humans conferences, check them out! (Powerpoint slides with notes)

Kimberly Blessing

Empathy is for Every One

3 min read

Title borrowed/tweaked from this Pastry Box post... with thanks to Viviana for the reminder.

I screwed up this week. I didn't mean to, of course. I did something, made a decision, for good and right reasons. I just did an incredibly poor job of communicating that something to others. Normally, that's not a really big deal, but in this case, it was. And so my screw up ended up occupying too many people's minds and time for too much of the week.

The first word in the name of this blog is People. I've realized that, throughout my career, when People didn't come first, things go wrong. And you can't just say that you're putting People first, you have to actually do it. To me, putting People first means having empathy for each individual, and considering their needs. Empathy is a crucial part of respect and trust, in my opinion.

I am best at putting People first when it comes to my team. Wherever I've worked, I have found empathy for those who reported to me, and I think/hope it has made me a good manager and leader. It hasn't always been easy, although it usually is. This week, my empathy for my team was running very high.

When it comes to the other end of the organization -- my peers and those higher in the leadership chain -- I realize that I sometimes forget about having empathy for the individual. Sometimes I get caught up in referring to "the management team" when all I see is bureaucracy. I have to stop and remind myself to see the People instead.

While empathy on my part can go a long way, it's ultimately a two-way street. I think we complain about working for our bosses, The Man, or Corporate America because those roles and organizations don't exhibit much or any empathy towards us. Too often, they demand respect due to their authority -- they intimidate and instill fear rather than communicate to understand and build trust. This, my friends, is debilitating.

Ultimately, I wasn't in a debilitating situation this week. I felt empathy for a member of my team, and I acted in that person's best interests. But I wasn't feeling any empathy for those I needed to inform about my actions, and I botched the communication. I'm shifting perspective and making amends, and writing this blog post to remind myself, because I know it will happen again.

Time to write "Empathy is for Every One" on a sticky note and put it on my monitor. Or, maybe have it tattooed on my hand.

Kimberly Blessing

Change Is Not A Four-Letter Word

1 min read

It was my great honor to be invited to give the keynote at the John Slatin Accessibility University (aka AccessU). This year's theme, "From the Margins to the Mainstream," really struck a chord with my inner change agent, and thus my keynote address was born. (Accessible PDF or PowerPoint file with full notes)

Kimberly Blessing

Blog, Interrupted

3 min read

I started this blog in January of 2010, with the intention of re-contextualizing myself as an authority on career development for web development professionals. My goal was to post weekly about topics that would be relevant for early and mid-career web developers, or for new managers. The first month went decently, I thought: I had a long list of topics I wanted to address, I had a set time for writing (on my train commute), and I got great traffic and decent responses to what I published.

Then things got busy at work, and weekly posts turned into monthly ones. As issues and frustrations crept up at work, more time went by without posting. Without regular practice, constructing coherent opinions was time consuming and, due to what was going on in my day job, I found myself injecting too much cynicism and negativity in to my posts. Still, many readers and colleagues encouraged me to keep at it, and occasionally a post appeared.

Then, in February of 2011, my life changed when a family member became ill and I took on primary care-taking duties. Most of my time was taken up by phone calls to various state and government agencies, doctor's visits, shopping trips, extra laundry... and what wasn't taken up with care-taking work was spent trying to chill out. Now, almost exactly two years later, with that family member happily situated in the proper care facility, I have time to myself again. With this time, I'm starting to understand how much I've changed, and how much this experience has taught me about myself as a person, but also as a leader, a team member, a technologist, an advocate, an educator, a student -- the list goes on and on. I am still me, but my brain has been rewired. And, I think, it's for the better.

As for the blog, I do intend to continue with it. I still have a long list of topics to write about, and I need the writing practice! But change is constant and time is in limited supply, so I know that the posts won't be produced quickly. I can't promise that I will respond to every question I've received in the past few years, although I'd like to, since they were all wonderful and important questions I hear many people asking. I do hope that whatever I do write here will impart some knowledge that you, dear reader, find useful or interesting. Thanks for sticking it out with me.

Kimberly Blessing

WaSP's Work Is Done, But Mine (and Yours) Isn't

2 min read

Yesterday, on March 1, 2013, the Web Standards Project (aka WaSP) -- a small, grass-roots group of web standards advocates assembled nearly 15 years ago -- announced that it was formally wrapping up shop.

I was invited to join this small group of passionate and dedicated people almost nine years ago. My first email arrived on March 24, 2004 and, for the next few years, engaging with WaSP members and working on its projects were practically daily activities. Thinking I was a web standards "expert" when I started, I quickly learned that I had miles to go in terms of both technical knowledge and leadership growth. WaSP was a wonderful learning and growth experience for me.

Activity within the group slowed in more recent years, in part due to individuals moving on in their lives and not having as much time to dedicate to the mission, and in part due to the industry changing and naturally embracing what WaSP had advocated for so long: that implementing and following the specifications would make the web a better place for everyone. So, while the group exits the stage quietly, it's not without having had a tremendous impact. And so, to my cohorts, I say congratulations on a job well done.

The final WaSP blog post closes by entrusting the ongoing WaSP mission to the reader. Don't think you can change your team, your company, your country? WaSP's legacy proves true the old adage: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." So go on, now -- go change the world.

Kimberly Blessing

Pausing for a new year reflection

3 min read

Reflection, by Kimberly Blessing

Since my last real post here, over four months ago, I've been asked countless times why I don't blog more. I've received numerous emails from people who've thanked me for the advice I've offered here, and I can tell from the stats that people are still visiting. Don't worry -- I haven't given up on the blog, and I get that you're still interested in what I have to say. To which I can only say, thank you! I will get back to posting soon. But let me update you on some changes in my world.

Last month I transitioned into a new role at CIM: that of senior software architect, focused on web front-end engineering. It's exciting and it's scary, as any change is. I've put a lot of time and effort into developing my management and leadership skills and changing some bad behaviors, but I don't think any of that will go to waste in this new role. One becomes a software architect, in part, because of one's leadership skills, and having experienced managing some of the people I'll continue to work with only gives me greater insight into their talents and strengths, so I can help them accomplish more. From a technical skills perspective, while I've kept up on HTML, CSS, and browsers, there are a whole host of languages and technologies I need to brush up on or get acquainted with. I don't need to be the expert on everything, but I do need to hold my own in conversations with Java programmers, system administrators, and even other front-end developers. Most importantly, though, I need to buckle down and write more, so that my thoughts, research, ideas, and questions are available both to myself and others. As you, dear reader, can probably tell, sitting down and making myself write out my thoughts is not one of my strengths!

I will also be busy these next few months teaching a web application design and development class at Bryn Mawr College. I first had the opportunity to teach this "recent topics" computer science class at the end of 2008, and it was popular enough that the students asked the department chair to bring me back! I'm honored that every space in the class is full, and I hope to challenge both the students and myself by looking more into creating single web experiences which adapt nicely to the mobile environment. I am still thinking about whether I will re-present or make available the course materials to a broader audience, online.

I'm also preparing to present at some conferences this year and I'm working on a few other projects. I joked, on Twitter, that my theme word for 2011 should be "over-committed" and that's definitely true. So the mantra I'm repeating to myself is one I recently got in a fortune cookie:

You cannot be anything if you want to be everything.

A good reminder to all of us. Happy new year!

Kimberly Blessing

What You Can Learn From Jamie Oliver About Creating Change

5 min read

Jamie Oliver's Food RevolutionJamie with school officials in episode two Jamie Oliver, with Rhonda the administrator (middle) and Alice the cook (right). From abc.com

I finally watched Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution this weekend. I've been a fan of his cookbooks and cooking shows for a while and I love what he is trying to accomplish with his food revolution. (After all, I love a good revolution for positive change!) However I couldn't help but feel a bit of déjà vu as I was watching the show -- with over ten years of experience as a standards evangelist and change agent, I've been through the wringer a few times. Making change is difficult, no matter how much experience you have.

So, with that said, here is my perspective on how Jamie's done so far in the show. There's a lot you can learn by watching him!

  • In the first two episodes, a lot of Jamie's messaging about the need for change is negative. Pointing out that Huntington was the most unhealthy city in the country put people on the defensive. Telling them they were dying because of what they were eating was going to create a feeling of hopelessness. Jamie should have started with a positive message to sell his idea. For example, telling people they can live longer, healthier, and happier by eating better, and then telling them that he's there to help them do exactly that probably would have won him more allies early on.
  • Since Jamie's early statements caused some prickles to go up, he was walking into a negative environment in the elementary school. Perhaps his biggest mistake there was to say, "I've done this before." What Jamie probably thought he was projecting was an assurance of success and a reason to trust him. Instead, he came off as an intruding know-it-all: as though he was dismissing their concerns and not leveraging their knowledge and experience. By saying, "I've done this before," he was actually giving cause to his audience to resist change even more strongly.
  • Once the cooks, especially Alice, started digging in their heels, it was clear Jamie was getting frustrated. I don't have an issue with that, really -- it's hard to contain your emotions. But I didn't like Jamie's snippy and sarcastic responses to Alice. From the get-go, she was going to be the toughest convert -- but potentially also his biggest ally. Jamie should have swallowed his pride and focused on the result he desired -- cooperation! He didn't need Alice to buy-in to the change yet, but he did need her help. Jamie should have disengaged from her negative behavior and instead sought to re-establish a positive context -- for example, asking her help with the spec sheets. (Speaking of which, he broke a few too many rules for my comfort. Making sure you're getting done what needs to be done, like the spec sheets, keeps people off your back and allows you to maintain focus on change.)
  • Some of the best moments of the show are the ones where Jamie engaged directly with the elementary school kids, one of his key audiences. Even when his tried-and-true demonstrations didn't go as expected with them, the kids were always going to be the easiest converts -- and, as we know from the advertising industry, some of the most effective in terms of putting pressure on adults! Seeing Jamie dress up as Mister Pea was priceless: an image that won't be forgotten by those kids anytime soon.
  • At the high school, Jamie went one step further -- he recruited like-minded teenagers, empowered them with tools to create change, and gave them a voice. As he connected with teens whose lives are being directly impacted by the current situation, he created a strong network of change agents who could help infiltrate the high school and advocate the change agenda to a variety of audiences. Then, he gave them a taste of success by having them first cook for a large audience and then speak directly to that crowd about their experiences.
  • There are two questions which are crucial to answer (and regularly reassess) when creating change: What's holding you back and What you need to move forward? Jamie answered both. He realized that the french fries were the crutch that everyone fell back on, so he removed them from the lunch line. Then he realized that to go forward with his plan, he needed funding to train more workers. Once you know these two things, you can create a plan for advancing change, which is precisely what Jamie did!

As I got to the end of the third episode, I realized I was excitedly jumping up and down on my couch, with tears in my eyes. It's always an awesome feeling to witness someone's success as they build momentum to create positive change! Watching the previews for the next episode, I can't wait until Jamie re-encounters the radio DJ -- it looks like he's finally going to have a breakthrough with him.

If you've watched the show, what behaviors or actions have caught your attention? And do you think Jamie can truly help the United States launch a Food Revolution?

Kimberly Blessing

Epic Management Fails

6 min read

"who's able here to honestly say 'I have a great boss'?" two hands raised... 320 persons in the room... Via Daniel Glazman on Twitter

Although I always identify myself as a technologist, I've been managing people for a while and that is the primary focus of my full-time work. Managing people is an art, not a science. It's very hard work, and I didn't completely understand this before becoming a manager. Honestly, I don't think most people -- even managers -- understand how hard of a job this can be.

I think that I've become a pretty good manager -- with time and experience, with feedback and mentoring. There were times when I wasn't so great, though. In an attempt at radical honesty (hat tip to Erica O'Grady), here is a list of my epic management fails and what I've learned from them.

  • I tried to keep my hands in the code. Somewhere I once heard that coders who become managers and still try to write code only do so because they're arrogant and they end up sucking at both. While I don't agree 100% with that statement, I can agree that diverting focus from management responsibilities can have a negative impact on people and projects. As a manager I've gotten so deep into code that I've trampled on the responsibilities and goals of my direct reports. I've also made commitments to deliver production-ready code but then been so distracted by management responsibilities that I caused project deadlines to be missed. While attempting to code for production work isn't a good idea for managers, I think that coding for practice -- to keep one's skills in shape or to have experience with what the team is working on -- is definitely a good thing. A technical manager who can coach a team on both a personal and a technical level is a huge asset.
  • I didn't prepare for one-on-one meetings. One of the top priorities of a manager is meeting with direct reports on a regular basis to review expectations, set and track progress of goals, provide feedback, and coach for achievement. If you ignore this responsibility as a manager, you're not doing your job, period.* Over time, I've realized that some managers avoid these meetings because they're not prepared. I've certainly made the mistake of meeting with an individual without having an agenda, or without having deliverables ready. Ever had an awkward review with your boss? Chances are, it was awkward because they weren't prepared. I find that I have to practice difficult conversations before I walk in to a meeting, and I even like to rehearse giving feedback. When I'm nervous about a meeting, I know I'm not prepared. When I realize this, I'll try to reschedule the meeting or, worst case scenario, I'll admit to being unprepared and beg forgiveness.

    However, even if you conduct regular one-on-ones, you can do it very poorly. For example, I've had managers who've spent most of my one-on-one time talking to or emailing other people, just talking the entire time without listening, and even zoning out (staring at the ceiling, a piece of furniture). Other faux-pas include glaring at the person (or eye-rolling, laughing at inappropriate times), only giving negative feedback, never offering assistance, and never asking for feedback.

  • I wanted more (or less or something different) for someone. I'm an overachiever and I've always had a vision for what I could and should be doing in any job. I know that not everyone is this way, yet somehow this fact escaped me early in my management career. Some of my earliest supervisees were just doing a job, with no vision for themselves in the future, so I adopted a style of pushing my own vision for a person's career. I could pat myself on the back for the times in which this worked out, but there were times where this approach certainly backfired -- such as the strong generalist who I thought should specialize in an area they didn't care for, or the developer who I saw moving up the tech ladder when they wanted to move into management. Having a dialog not just about about an individual's current role and goals but also about their future is crucial. I like to do this at least twice a year, now, to ensure that my direct reports and I are on the same page.
  • I hired someone despite having concerns about their ability to do the job. This is a tough one to address in generalities, but I'll try. Any hiring decision should be backed up with evidence gathered through a rigorous interview process. Every new hire presents some level of risk, but you want to have primarily positive feelings about a hiring decision, not concerns. I have, on occasion, made hiring decisions based less on evidence and more on what I thought could be possible, given training, coaching, and mentoring. Sometimes it has worked out wonderfully. Other times it's been a painful experience for both the individual who was hired and for me. I do believe in giving people a chance, though, so I can't totally knock taking these risks. These days I try to be open about expectations prior to hiring and I reinforce those expectations once the individual walks in the door in regular one-on-ones. I don't usually out-and-out express my concerns, though -- this can kill a person's confidence! But if I must, I'll also express my support for the person and assume responsibility for making sure the right things are in place for the person to be successful.
  • I let my own issues get in the way of my responsibilities. Anyone who's followed me on Twitter for the past year has seen this one first hand. I started a new job last January and spent almost the entire year unhappy with my role, the work, and number of other things. I focused on the frustration, vented publicly, and let public response further fuel my discontent. All of this distraction consumed me; meanwhile my team languished. I began planning an exit strategy and engaged an awesome career coach who ended up reminding me of my strengths and reignited my passion for creating positive change. I set to work on creating a plan to address not only what was making me unhappy but also what I felt was missing from making our organization a powerhouse. I'm now executing on that plan and seeing small successes, which I hope to grow into larger successes this year.

Do you recognize any of these epic fails, either personally or in a manager you've worked with? Does your organization have a strong culture of coaching and mentoring managers to prevent against these and other fails? Share your story below for others to learn from. I'll share my epic wins later!

Kimberly Blessing

Tips for Women in the Workplace

5 min read

From the New York Times, The Mismeasure of Woman:

"For the first time, women make up half the work force. The Shriver Report, out just last week, found that mothers are the major breadwinners in 40 percent of families. We have a female speaker of the House and a female secretary of state. Thirty-two women have served as governors. Thirty-eight have served as senators. Four out of eight Ivy League presidents are women. Great news, right? Well, not exactly. In fact, it couldn’t be more spectacularly misleading."

Sadly, it's true: making up half of the workforce has not brought women equality in the workplace. American work places are still largely ill-suited for us and our employers do not fully recognize or taking advantage of our talents. What's more, we're still far too often demeaned, belittled, and treated as sex objects -- usually behind closed doors, but sometimes publicly, too. What must women continue to do to gain equal footing?

In Ten Things Companies -- and Women -- Can Do To Get Ahead, employers are reminded that a lack of gender diversity in executive and board positions hurts both the company, as well as professional women, and provides some great tips for companies seeking to increase female presence. While all of the tips were good, those which I'd personally recommend, from personal experience, include: (emphasis mine)

  • Make Mentoring a Priority: Research shows that mentoring programs can be powerful tools for advancing the careers of professional women. Every young professional can benefit from having a mentor. But for women in male-dominated corporate environments, the need is even greater. Women with mentors, research finds, are more likely to apply for promotions.
  • Retain Your Best Women: What does it take to keep talented women in your organization? Asking them directly is a good place to start in getting an answer. However, research finds that flexible work hours, generous maternity leave benefits and coaching for women returning to the workforce can make a difference.
  • Measure Your Results: When companies put goals in writing and track their results, things gets done. Companies need to know where they stand and make managers accountable for the level of gender diversity in their organizations.
  • Move Beyond Tokenism: According to McKinsey, companies with three or more women in senior management scored higher on measures of organizational excellence than companies with no women at the top. It is not enough to add a woman here or there. The best performers build a critical mass that gives women the power to have their views heard.

The article also provides some suggestions for women -- again, all good tips. Here are the ones I'm always telling other women:

  • Dare to Apply: McKinsey, citing internal research from HP, found that "women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men respond to the posting if they feel they meet 60 percent of the requirements." That by itself, if it holds true across the corporate world, could be holding back a lot of talented women.
  • Know What You are Good At: Instead of just focusing on what you are lacking, take time to inventory what you have to offer. Evaluate your potential based on your skills and competencies, not merely the jobs you have held in the past. Many of your skills could be applicable in jobs -- or in fields -- you have not considered.
  • Know What Success Means to You and Move Toward It: If you want to get somewhere, it helps to know where you are going. In the book "Stepping Out of Line: Lessons for Women Who Want It Their Way...In Life, In Love, and At Work," author Nell Merlino says: "You have to see it before you can devise a plan to get there."

Some of the best advice I've read lately comes from an unlikely source -- Forbes. (They've published a number of sexist pieces in the past year or two.) The article states what many people won't acknowledge, telling women: "Sexism, whatever you call it, hasn't disappeared. But it's better to know exactly what you're up against." Amongst their list of unwritten rules: (emphasis mine)

  • Men get the benefit of the doubt. Men generally get hired on their promise and women on their demonstrated experience. Men are usually taken at their word, while women get challenged more, required to deliver data and substantiation for their views.
  • You won't get sufficient feedback. Professional development depends upon rigorous, comprehensive, ongoing feedback. Your (male) boss may not feel comfortable delivering that information to you. You need to be direct in asking for it from him and from other colleagues and team members.
  • Women are rendered invisible until they demonstrate otherwise. If you want to be noticed, you've got to offer your ideas, approach a mentor, ask for the assignments, build a network, convey your aspirations and communicate your achievements.

I feel very lucky to have worked with some great women and men in the course of my career who -- regardless of whether or not they acknowledged that sexism still exists -- proactively mentored me, instructed me, and helped me overcome any roadblocks which could have set me back. Still, I see too many environments in which sexism, however subtle, is part of the status quo and managers and leaders are unprepared (and, sadly, sometimes unwilling) to change their own behaviors, as well as those of their teams. I realize that I make people uncomfortable in raising these issues and pushing to address them. But what others must realize is that I live according to a rule my mother taught me long ago, which is reiterated in the Forbes article by Ann Daly, and which I can't say often enough to other women: "Don't let them sabotage your ambitions".