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Kimberly Blessing

The Myth of the Queen Bee: Why Women (Sometimes) Don't Help Other Women - The Atlantic

For women with low levels of gender identification—who think their gender should be irrelevant at work and for whom connecting with other women is not important—being on the receiving end of gender bias forces the realization that others see them first and foremost as women. And because of negative stereotypes about women, like that they are less competent than men, individual women can be concerned that their career path may be stunted if they are primarily seen as just a woman and therefore not a good fit for leadership.

To get around these kinds of gendered barriers, these women try to set themselves apart from other women. They do this by pursuing an individual strategy of advancement that centers on distancing themselves from other women. One way they do this is through displaying Queen Bee behaviors such as describing themselves in more typically masculine terms and denigrating other women (“I’m not like other women. I’ve always prioritized my career”).

The point is, it’s not the case that women are inherently catty. Instead, Queen Bee behaviors are triggered in male dominated environments in which women are devalued.

Kimberly Blessing

Managing, Mentoring, and Hiring: Why is it so damn hard?

4 min read

Think sticker

The super-cool Think Brownstone stickers I gave away at BarCamp!

I had the privilege of leading a problem solving discussion at BarCamp Philly this past Saturday. The session was proposed at the last moment (while the first sessions were going on) in response to a few conversations I had over morning coffee -- I was amazed to end up in a packed room full of very vocal people! It's clear our community has a lot to discuss on the topics of management, mentoring, and hiring. Thanks to everyone for participating and making this such an engaging session!

Here are photos of the blackboard notes/mind-map -- they're a bit blurry, but you still make out most of the text and the lines connecting ideas.

  1. Define the Problem "Screen Shots": 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  2. Mentoring focus "Screen Shots": 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

A transcription of all the blackboard notes follows -- but I think the big takeaway of the session were the mentoring action steps we identified:

  1. Define mentoring: what are you trying to achieve?
  2. Carve out the time: make it important, protect it, make it part of everyone's job
  3. Ask: not for mentoring but for information, for input, "how can I help?"
  4. Do things together and make it visible
  5. Express thanks

Before you go through the full notes: I'm serious about getting together again to continue the conversation! Please leave a comment on this blog post, email me, or @/DM me on Twitter so I can be sure you get an invite to the meetup!


Define the problem

    • No mentoring at many places
    • Hard to mentor if you're not being mentored
      • No managerial/organizational support
        • Do you set aside time for mentoring activities?
    • No one gives a shit when trying to mentor
    • Bidirectional mentoring: [other party] not always interested
    • Finding people / the right people
      • People with potential
      • Headhunters [=] Noise
      • [Many] unqualified candidates
      • Depends on company: hiring for culture, skills, experience?
        • Do we even know what we're hiring for?
          • Speedy growth
          • Same job title (not description) means different things at different companies
            • Different responsibilities, different expectations (on both sides)
          • As person being hired:
            • Why am I being hired?
            • What am I doing?
            • Is it OK to ask questions?
      • Dilution of credentials
        • PhD [in CS] but can't code
        • As jobseeker, educationally over-qualified, less job experience
          • Resume format hasn't changed, how do you present yourself?
            • Cover letter still important!
          • For developers, where is the code portfolio?
      • What is the qualification to get through?
        • Puzzles
        • Quizzes
        • Essays
      • Can someone meet our expectations?
        • [Example: job posting asking for] 10 years of jQuery experience
    • Hiring
      • Tools are shitty and inhibit process
        • Broad job posting not effective
      • Expensive! Job portal posting and lots of asshats apply
      • [Managing/researching applicants]
        • Resumator + LinkedIn
        • Stack Overflow
        • Ranking candidates
          • Bullet Analytics
      • Where to post jobs locally?
        • Technically Philly job board - will have job fair in 2014
        • Local network and community
          • Be an active participant in community so people want to work with/for you
          • Most groups are for senior/advanced people
          • How to go from email to action?
        • How to find junior talent?
          • Campus Philly
          • Drexel Co-Ops (people love them)
    • At this point, we were 15 minutes into our time, so we voted on one area to focus on; the group chose mentoring.

Focus on Mentoring

  • This is a skill in and of itself!
  • Big difference between mentoring and training
    • What is the hidden curriculum in your organization?
  • Finding time
    • Carve it out
  • Care more!
    • How to make those NOT in this room care more?
      • How do we encourage more soft mentors?
        • Make it a requirement
  • Coaching
    • Helping people express themselves makes them better at what they do
  • Apprenticeship
    • Formal programs
  • Context/structure
    • "Soft" mentoring instead of formal
      • Team collaboration and valuing others' opinions?
      • Recognition is important
      • How to find a mentor as a junior person?
        • Look for someone who is passionate about what they do
        • Look for someone who is open
        • Show them what you're working on
        • Ask
          • We aren't taught to ask good questions
            • Are we hiring people who won't ask by looking for purple squirrels (super ninja rockstars are self confident)
            • [Nor are we taught] to recognize others, e.g. acknowledge someone in code comments
          • Conversation starters:
            • What's wrong with this?
            • What am I missing?
            • What have you tried?
    • Some organizations separate mentoring from management
      • [Why?] This introduces BIAS in management process
  • Why is this a corporate expectation? Why don't kids go out and find [their] own mentors?
  • Manager != Leader, Leader != Manager
    • Being a mentor is a differentiator

Mentoring Action Steps

  1. Define mentoring: what are you trying to achieve?
  2. Carve out the time: make it important, protect it, make it part of everyone's job
  3. Ask: not for mentoring but for information, for input, "how can I help?"
  4. Do things together and make it visible
  5. Express thanks

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

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

Understand and Leverage Your Strengths

4 min read

I like to know things about myself. Don't you? I've taken personality tests and behavioral assessments to be more self-aware, to learn what I should focus on in my personal development efforts, and to better understand how I related to and communicate with other people. OK, and for fun. You've probably done the same, right?

Me with my StrengthsFinder book My strengths are: Command, Deliberative, Significance, Strategic, and Learner.

My favorite self-assessment is one that many people don't know about: StrengthsFinder 2.0. StrengthsFinder is both a book and a test: the book includes an introduction to StrengthsFinder, a code for accessing an online assessment tool, and an explanation of the 34 strengths (or "themes"). The assessment results in a customized report which will help you understand your strengths and how you can use them to be more effective in both your work and your personal life.

Personally, StrengthsFinder has really helped me embrace my strengths. For example, I used to think of myself as "bossy" (because that's how people described me) and I looked for ways of toning down this "weakness". But learning that my number one strength was Command made me feel different -- it helped me understand that being the boss is a natural position for me and that people look to me to lead them. It made me realize that having formal management and leadership responsibilities would make me a happier, more productive person, rather than a cranky and bossy individual contributor.

You may already see why, as a manager, I love StrengthsFinder. We can't all verbalize what we're good at or what kind of work we love to do. For a while, I've asked everyone on my teams to take the test and share their results with me. Once I know what strengths a person has, I can better leverage their skills to make them -- and the team -- more successful.

For example, in the software development community, most programmers have one of the rational temperaments (ENTJ, INTJ, ENTP, or INTP). But if you manage a team of programmers, you can't just look at them as a a bunch of INTJs (a very common type for programmers, though a very small percentage of the overall population) -- you need to see them as individuals. INTJs are introverts and can be brutally honest, but that doesn't mean that they can't be persuasive communicators to large groups. StrengthsFinder gives me far more specific information about a person than a behavior or personality test can tell me.

StrengthsFinder Team Top 5 Grid

Once a group of people complete their StrengthsFinder assessments, you can chart their results to determine overall group themes. I've done this with three teams of employees at different companies and the results are always enlightening. For example, about half of my present team has the "Adaptability" strength -- this is perfect for our team because our product strategy has shifted around quite a bit in recent months, so we have people who can roll with those changes. We also have about 50% "Input" and "Learner": both are crucial to the way we operate. Where we have only one or two people exhibiting a certain strength, I see how I can use those individuals to encourage the overall team, to ask important questions, or to sustain us when the sh*t hits the fan (a necessary evil).

Strengths Finder 2.0

What are you waiting for? Learn more or buy StrengthsFinder 2.0 now and take the test. Learn about yourself. Share the results with your family and team. Encourage others to take it and share their results. At the very least, it should confirm what you already know about yourself -- but I'll bet you'll learn something new, too.

Have you already taken StrengthsFinder? What are your Top 5? What have you learned about yourself or others?

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

I helped elect a female president!

2 min read

Yes, I wish I were talking about Hillary! But I'm not.

Instead I'm talking about the ACM elections, and the woman I'm referring to is Wendy Hall, CBE, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the British Computer Society, co-founding director of the Web Science Research Initiative, and (if you couldn't tell) one of my role models. So the votes have been counted and, come July 1, Wendy will also serve a two-year term as President of the ACM. Congratulations!

I should also mention that Wendy received the Anita Borg Award for Technical Leadership from the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology at the 2006 Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing, for which I was the webmaster -- an awesome volunteer opportunity which just happens to be available! If you've got skills in WordPress then please apply!

And speaking of GHC, I also need to mention that registration for the 2008 conference is now open! After so many years of attending, stalking Telle Whitney, and volunteering, this year I'm finally going to be speaking on a panel! (Go me!) So, don't miss this opportunity to interact with thousands of smart, successful, techie women -- including Fran Allen!

Gosh I love being a woman in computing.

Kimberly Blessing

Meeting Bryn Mawr's President-Elect

2 min read

Due to my responsibilities on the Executive Board of the Bryn Mawr College Alumnae Association, I had the good fortune of being on campus on Friday, February 8, when the Board of Trustees appointed Jane Dammen McAuliffe as the President-Elect. Furthermore, the Executive Board had the pleasure of hosting Jane, and her husband, Dennis, for lunch on Saturday.

After a round of introductions and lunch, Jane gave us a brief bio, then spoke about her impressions of the College and what she anticipates focusing on after she arrives.

One of the first things she said, with a look that I'd describe as astonished admiration, was, "This is a place that takes the life of the mind seriously!" Of course, that brought a smile to every face in the room, as that's exactly how we know and why we love our College. In citing that Bryn Mawr is "educating the leadership of places all over the world," she was almost certainly referring to alumna Drew Gilpin Faust '68, who is now President of Harvard University, and recognizing our tradition of producing strong female leaders.

"J-Mac", as she's already being called by students, recognized Bryn Mawr's "extraordinary tradition of producing science graduates", as well as its production of non-science majors that are well-versed in the sciences. "Science literacy has become a sine qua non to be a good citizen", she emphasized, and nearly all of my fellow alumnae in the room nodded or voiced their agreement.

So, it appears that President-Elect McAuliffe came, saw, and conquered Bryn Mawr -- I, for one, look forward to her tenure.

Kimberly Blessing

Books I'm looking forward to reading

2 min read

Lately I've been on a steady diet of technical books and management/leadership books, but my required reading for an upcoming meeting at Bryn Mawr has gotten me back in the swing of reading other subject matter. This is a good thing, since I've got some very interesting reads coming up...

First up is a book by my friend, Chris Connelly. He's written Concrete, Bulletproof, Invisible and Fried: My Life As a Revolting Cock, about his life in the music industry. His career has spanned nearly three decades and has included stints with industrial groups such as Fini Tribe, Ministry, Pigface, and the Revolting Cocks (duh!), just to name a few (seriously). I'm hoping that some of the stories that I've heard over the years -- like the time he disassembled every piece of furniture in a Four Seasons hotel room with William Tucker -- appear in this book... and I'm sure there will be plenty of other crazy anecdotes, too. Chris is still making music, though of a much calmer, more esoteric variety. He has a new album titled Forgiveness and Exile coming out this spring that I'm also looking forward to.

Today I pre-ordered Hubert's Freaks: The Rare-Book Dealer, the Times Square Talker, and the Lost Photos of Diane Arbus by Gregory Gibson. The book tells the true story of Bob Langmuir, a rare books dealer in Philadelphia who discovered a treasure trove of never-before-seen prints by the legendary Diane Arbus. The photographs were taken in the 1950's at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus, a Times Square basement phantasmagoria -- an odd piece of Americana deserving of such documentation. The New York Times has an interesting article which piqued my interest... though I'll be honest and disclose that my mom went to high school with Bob, which is how I learned about all of this in the first place.

The next thing I need to work on re-integrating to my reading queue is some fiction... any suggestions?