Valued at Work has two protagonists – Steve and Markus. Steve works directly for the CEO in a tech company and has traditional thinking aligning to his traditional career. His organization has high female attrition and lately has lost work due to lack of innovative approaches. Markus is a senior leader in an energy company and is driven to improve the gender balance as he wants his six-year old daughter to have infinite opportunities when she enters the workplace. Markus and Steve have agreed to be a reciprocal mentor to each other to improve inclusion of women in STEM in their respective organizations. They discuss stories throughout the book, all of which are inspired by real-life occurrences.
The following excerpt begins with Markus sharing a conversation he had with Sophia, a data scientist from an external organization, about her experiences. After sharing the story, Steve and Markus reflect on what they have heard.
Sophia continued, “I didn’t know ambition was a bad thing, but I also don’t think she knew me well enough to understand my ambitions or intentions. I spoke with one of my mentors, a man, about the situation. He said she may have felt threatened by me. It wasn’t something I had thought of, but now thinking about it, she was new in the role, of course wanted to make a good impression, and wanted to do something that she knew couldn’t fail. And here I was picking holes in it and therefore needed to be swatted.”
“So, what happened after that?” Markus asked.
“I wasn’t invited to the future meetings and I haven’t been involved since. It is very disappointing because this is a passion of mine. I’ve ended up looking further afield to see how I can add value in this area if my immediate team is not interested in me being involved.”
“It’s strange, isn’t it? You would think that women would support women especially in male-dominated fields. You know, those in the same tribe protecting each other?” Steve asked.
Markus smiled. “Is that the same as saying all guys support each other?”
“Well, yes, I see what you mean, but you would hope that anyone in the same boat or having similar experiences or challenges would help others with the same.”
“From what I’ve heard, sometimes women who have achieved senior positions in traditionally male-dominated organizations like being the “only one.” And when another woman comes along whom they see as a threat, they take action.”
“That doesn’t sound very ethical.”
“No, it isn’t. And ultimately the bullying results in people leaving the team. But I do have an example of a good experience. Mia is a project engineer who told me she’s been quite lucky. She once had a new manager, a woman, who after a few weeks told her, “I want you to be better than me and do it faster than me.” Mia said it immediately removed any suggestion of competition between them and created a sense of openness that they could discuss issues and challenges without feeling that one of them succeeding meant the other did not.”
“I think that should go without saying, but evidently it needs saying.”
“Yes, it appears that there is now a culture where everyone is looking for their own validation. We spoke about male allies before, but sometimes you just need allies, in general. Women can absolutely support other women without thinking it works against them if they are not the one in the spotlight.”
“And I’m sure there will be men in the same category.”
“Well, yes, I have heard of men sidelining women who are getting too much exposure. But I also had a man tell me, ‘My manager has all but explicitly told me he doesn’t want me on the team and thinks I’m too young to have the visibility I have.’”
“Age creeping up again?’ Steve asked. ‘I don’t understand this – if someone is good enough, they are old enough. Age shouldn’t come into it as long as they can do the job.”
“Unfortunately, it still seems to be more common than either of us would like.”
Excerpted with permission. From Valued at Work: Shining a Light on Bias to Engage, Enable, and Retain Women in STEM (Practical Inspiration Publishing; October 2023).
Lauren Neal is a champion of gender equity and career progression within STEM. Originally from Aberdeen, Scotland, Neal was named one of the U.K.’s top female computing students at age 18. She gained a master’s degree in electronic and electrical engineering and has spent over 17 years working with men and women offshore, onshore and onsite on multimillion-dollar projects across the U.K., Angola, Trinidad, Azerbaijan and Indonesia.
Chartered through both the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the Association of Project Management (APM), Neal is a certified IC Agile team facilitator and coach focused on improving team dynamics for optimal project delivery.
Neal won WeAreTheCity’s Rising Stars award in the Energy & Utilities category, WeAreTechWomen’s TechWomen100, and was named in Diverse In’s “130 Women Who Break the Bias” list. She writes and speaks regularly on gender equity in STEM.
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