Attributes and Strategies for Successful Employment in Industry
Although not designated as an agenda topic, the attributes and strategies of women who attain successful careers in the sciences and engineering were discussed in most sessions at the conference sponsored by the Committee on Women in Science and Engineering (CWSE). In this chapter, both general characteristics of industrially employed women scientists and engineers and those specific to women managers and entrepreneurs in technology-based companies are summarized.
In contrast to Murphy's law is a guide presented at the CWSE conference by James W. Mitchell to women scientists and engineers seeking industrial employment:
- Make your decision to join the corporate sector a deliberate one.
- Construct a personal agenda that embodies 5-year plans focusing on monthly objectives and annual reviews of accomplishments as well as a commitment to industrial employment for at least a decade.
- Develop fine-tuned leadership skills that encompass communication, people-interaction dynamics, and networking.
- Analyze, understand, and exploit institutional dynamics.112
Five attributes appear to be common to women who have earned S&E degrees and successfully pursued industrial employment—whether as practicing scientists and engineers, managers of scientists and engineers, or entrepreneurs in science-and engineering-based companies. Those qualities are (1) S&E expertise and competence, (2) the ability to establish and meet goals and to take risks, (3) strong communication skills, (4) self-confidence, and (5) openness to change.
S&E Expertise and Competence
A strong technical or scientific background and thorough hands-on experience early in one's career are equally important for women and men in advancing their industrial careers. Much has been said about women feeling frustrated by a glass ceiling, "not a physical barrier erected by ill-intended CEOs [but] rather an attitudinal hurdle consisting of unconscious stereotypes and perceptions."113 In addition, conference participants were concerned about the existence of "glass walls" inhibiting lateral movement. A number of studies, notably the one by Catalyst, have made the point that lateral moves are important in career development.114 Lateral moves are often developmental assignments that challenge employees to take risks by moving into new areas of the business and learning new skills. A Families and Work Institute survey showed that women and men reported approximately the same number of vertical career moves.115 However, more men than women reported that they had had both vertical and lateral moves. This finding suggests that more needs to be done to make lateral development assignments available to women at all stages of their careers and to communicate to women the importance of accepting these sometimes risky assignments.
Technical competence is also the foundation for good management, and it includes not only a woman's own technical competence but also being respectful of the competencies of others. Not only must a woman manager be very good at what she does, she must also align her expectations with her abilities. This process must be continuous, taking into account changes in one's abilities, interests, and opportunities. A woman in a technical field needs to continue learning all her life, both how to excel in her specialty and how to be a manager if she goes into management. The same holds for men also, of course.
The effective manager also knows that the skills that are most important for a manager are different from the skills that are most
important for a practicing scientist or engineer. How one spends time and derives satisfaction at work are also different for managers than for practicing scientists and engineers. Therefore, even if a corporation encourages a woman to become a manager, she should do it only if she is willing to spend her time and derive her satisfaction from management. Furthermore, a woman's aptitude for and interest in management can change with time. As she grows older and matures, she might become more interested in management, as is often the case with men. Therefore, it is important that she keep her expectations and abilities aligned and inform her supervisors, at any given stage, what she thinks she is capable of doing and would like to do next, in the context of serving the company.
An important part of competence in management is trusting one's own instincts. Managers make many decisions based on whatever data are available, on personal knowledge, and on their own instincts. At the CWSE conference, a vice-president of engineering described instincts in management as parallel to technical intuition:
Technical skills can be learned. Very early in [your] career you make predictions about how technical experiments will come out; you analyze data, look at the results, see if your intuition was right. If it wasn't, you change your hypothesis and start again. Management skills are similar. . . . When I mentor people, I often pose a management problem and ask what they would do. We discuss the problem, and later on I tell them what I did or what some other manager did and what the outcome was. Women interested in management can begin to train themselves in this same way.116
Without developing instincts that she can trust and rely on, a woman may not have the confidence necessary to take risks and make the decisions needed in a management job. Developing those instincts becomes more and more important as a manager advances to increasingly responsible positions.
Ability to Establish Goals and to Take Risks
Many participants felt that successful women scientists and engineers in industry have personal inner strength that is necessary to combat the pressures they may encounter in their careers. In general, from a young age, women in the United States are trained to follow the rules, to take few risks. This societal programming has many implications for a woman's choice of career. Women who overcome the many cultural barriers to pursuing a technical career in industry often display a strength of character and willingness to take risks, despite outside pressure.
Risk taking may continue throughout a career in industry. There is no guarantee that employees will have their jobs next week or next year. A scientist or engineer may begin a particular line of work but later be assigned elsewhere. One who chooses employment in industry must be both flexible and willing to change career direction.
Conference participants advised women scientists and engineers to use their current situations to their full advantage. The founder of a high-tech company called this "getting involved in company politics," a term that she does not consider derogatory:
Every company has it, and you have to know who the best technical people are, who the most influential people are, who can give you the best advice, and who can help you get ahead. Tell your supervisor and manager what your goals are, because this knowledge will help them to assist you [in] meeting those goals.117
If women start playing office politics and get into positions where they are higher on the career ladders, perhaps they can change some of the corporate structure and integrate some different hierarchies of corporations and different ways of acting and addressing issues.118
Setting goals, both realistic and ambitious, takes practice. Learning how to set goals that are important to one's company may require discussing possible goals with peers and supervisors. Such a discussion with one's boss can be helpful not only in learning how to set goals, but also in learning more about the company's prospects, needs, and priorities.
Strong Communication Skills
Communication skills are important in all work settings, but especially so in industry where there is a strong team ethic:
In today's high-technology companies, teamwork is the key to developing technological products and bringing them to market, they say. And effective teamwork requires the ability to communicate both vertically and horizontally through an organization. As a result, interpersonal skills are almost as important as technical competence.119
Both research scientists and managers must be able to express themselves clearly and succinctly to supervisors as well as subordinates. This includes articulating desires—for example, for a better performance review or a promotion—in an acceptable way. Developing strong communication skills is essential for obtaining recognition and respect for one's work; one must not hesitate to "speak out to promote oneself, make oneself visible to upper management by letting them know what you have to offer the company and what you have accomplished."120 Some assertiveness and courage are required, but assertiveness may be difficult for some women.
At the conference, S&E managers noted that, too often, women assume that somehow upper management should know what they want. This is not the case. As one manager put it, "Many times in my career,
being very explicit with my boss about wanting a particular job was the biggest factor in getting the job."121 Another conference participant, a computer scientist, reported that she was told by her manager to find 10 different ways of telling her story, because she would have 10 different audiences and she needed to reach all of them. She asserts that she has learned to speak up to management and feels that, in general, she has not been penalized for making known to management some of the important issues that she has faced as a woman in industry.
Communication with one's subordinates also is important, and managers can never give enough positive feedback. Positive feedback is invaluable for encouraging and motivating employees; and receiving explicit, positive verbal feedback is enormously important for women and minorities.122 The timeliness of constructive criticism is also important.
A communication skill that is important to master from the beginning and even more so as a woman advances up the management ladder is dealing with what one woman at the conference called "jerks" in the organization. Some may be sexist, some are territorially protective, some believe that promotions are based on how many people they supervise. Often these people are in powerful positions, but one can hope to control them with strong management and communication skills.
DiTomaso and her colleagues designed a self-assessment model based on the responses of the women they surveyed. Women were less confident in their technological performance and their abilities than are men at comparable levels. In addition, women scientists and engineers were more likely to take direction rather than to set direction. However, this particular study revealed that having a Ph.D. gives women more confidence in their performance and abilities. It also gives them more
control in choosing their own work, but it does not have much effect on what kind of work they are assigned.123
Successful scientists and managers grow in self-confidence as they learn how to tackle increasingly difficult problems and as others recognize and reward their skills. Women gain recognition and respect for their work by making themselves visible to upper management, making clear the kind of work they do and what special contributions they have to offer as employees.
Self-confidence (not arrogance) is essential. An accumulation of successful outcomes makes self-confidence grow. Self-confidence enables the successful scientist or engineer to take risks, to be a leader, to defend her subordinates, and take the flak if necessary. Self-confidence is important not only in making technical decisions, but also in developing professional relationships.124
Deborah Grubbe, engineering manager, Specialty Chemicals, DuPont, summarized the views of several women managers:
Women who enter management must be comfortable with themselves and have a strong desire to move forward, on their own if necessary. Because the technical management career involves taking risks, both personal and professional, and being responsible for the direction and advancement of other people, women who do this work must be able to face themselves in an honest way and learn where they can improve while maintaining high self-regard. They must be able to ask, "What am I contributing to the situation that is not working?," rather than blaming the other person. They must consider, "How am I helping others, both men and women?" They must maintain personal integrity and consistency of behavior.
As women have gained experience in industry, they have become more realistic about their expectations and aspirations. Women managers are now better able to cope with frustrations than in the past—partly
because they have learned that everyone in industrial management, men and women, experiences ups and downs.
A woman who introduces her comments, either in presentations or conversations, with such statements as "I am not an expert here. . . ." or "I am not sure about this, but. . . ." may unwittingly undermine the competence and confidence she needs to project. A good manager realizes that she does not relinquish responsibility for what she says by using such phrases.125 On the other hand, she doesn't hesitate to admit not knowing something. She understands that positive, concrete language and direct speech have a powerful influence on others. Her language and communication style need to reflect a high level of self-confidence and the expectation that she will be taken seriously.126 Further, women scientists and engineers in industry are advised:
Stay in touch with and trust your instincts. Many men are spending a lot of effort and money trying to learn to do what you already do very successfully. Don't conform to a management style you are not comfortable with.127
Openness to Change
Another factor in one's success as a scientist or an engineer is a willingness to change or relocate if necessary. Relocation will not always occur, but change will. One conference speaker talked about the changes in her career, from industry to academe and back, from electrical engineering to computer science, from hands-on research to technical management. Women need to be open to change and not hold on to the idea that they will always be doing the kind of work they did early in their careers.
The geographical mobility required in the early career stages seemed to the women interviewed by Anne Preston to be a strong disincentive for women Ph.D. candidates and for women with Ph.D.s who have families to consider.128 Relocating a spouse and/or children may exact both a high emotional and monetary price. Traditionally, men have accepted their own relocation and its cost to families as the price of advancement. For women the problem is often more difficult, largely because custom does not expect husbands to follow wives. It is reported,
Many American men feel torn between traditional social values and some demands of modern life, but few are more brutally torn than those who are following their wives as the women ascend the managerial ladder.129
However, it is not unusual for women scientists and engineers to relocate as they ascend the corporate ladder:
Women accounted for about 18% of corporate moves in 1992, up from 5% in 1980, the Employee Relocation Council says. By the year 2000, some experts say, a third of transferees will be female, and one in four trailing spouses may be men—up from 15% in 1990 and about 7% in 1985.130
Many companies recognize the complex issues of relocating families and have made efforts to minimize moves. Lublin reports that Ciba-Geigy, Monsanto, Sprint Corporation, Marriot Corporation, and AT&T are among U.S. companies that have devised "job-aid" packages for "trailing spouses":
About half of U.S. companies now help relocated mates find jobs, usually informally, up from a third in 1986, the
Relocation Council says. A common informal approach has been for employers to try to hire spouses themselves or to seek job leads from rivals and suppliers. The number of those with formal programs—such as individualized career counseling, has grown to about 20% from 5% in 1987, estimates relocation consultants Runzheimer International. Impact Group, a St. Louis spouse-counseling firm with special services for trailing husbands, says its list of corporate clients has soared to 71 from 12 in 1989.131
General Motors Corporation is another company that has instituted mechanisms to assist spouses of relocated employees, primarily in gaining employment at the new location.
Additional Qualities of an Effective Manager or Entrepreneur
In addition to the five traits attributed to successful women scientists and engineers in general, three other qualities of effective managers emerged during discussions at the CWSE conference—having a positive attitude, a sense of humor, and a desire to help others. All three were considered outgrowths of one's own strong sense of self, described above. Furthermore, an effective manager must display strength in leadership and in seizing opportunities.
Betsy Ancker-Johnson, a former vice-president at General Motors, noted that a manager needs to be upbeat with a "can-do" approach. When confronted with a new situation, a good manager says, "Oh, yes, I've done something like that before." Then she goes off and does it.
Conference participants agreed that taking ownership of and responsibility for one's own career are part of a positive attitude. Women managers must recognize that it is their responsibility to make
opportunities, to continue to learn new technical material, to keep an open mind, and to ask for help when it is needed.
Sense of Humor
Several speakers noted the importance of a sense of humor for women managers; this includes the ability to take criticism in a good spirit and to express enjoyment in their jobs. Women must be aware that they cannot win every battle. They must look realistically at adverse situations and sometimes diffuse sexist remarks with humor. They should not "take things personally."
A vice-president of engineering shared an experience where she used humor to take the focus off herself and prevent an awkward conflict:
A few months after my division was bought out, the new corporate science board came to visit and review us. They were mostly consultants who were retired senior military officers. I arrived at the conference room about 10 minutes early, and my boss was already there. He quickly introduced me around the room, and one of the ex-military officers said, "Never had to call a vice-president of engineering 'Jill' before."
I responded without even thinking, "That is the only four-letter word you are allowed to call me today."
Everyone laughed, changed the subject, and on we went. To me, it was one of the times when I really did things right.132
Desire to Help Others
Helping others, both women and men, is also an important part of being a manager, whether one is a woman or a man.133 Supporting one's subordinates is essential to gaining their loyalty, and showing interest in
them is not difficult; it just takes time. Criticizing their performance, however, can be difficult. Very few managers are good at sitting down with subordinates individually and explaining something that is faulty or inadequate about their performance. That skill must be developed, and it is essential to success. To have a superior organization, the people in it must excel, and the manager must ensure that they do.
According to Dr. Wittels, good managers are those who have the ability to separate the problems of others from their own:
They know that because a person is uncomfortable dealing with his or her manager does not necessarily mean there is something wrong with the manager. Also, good managers believe that an employee with a problem is not inherently a bad employee; perhaps the person is insecure, immature, or having difficulty dealing with change. The good manager is one who can find a way to help such a person improve his or her performance.
As a manager moves up in the organization, she will know less and less about the details of her subordinates' work. It is essential, however, that she continue to earn their respect and loyalty by appreciating their contributions.134
A successful manager will mentor many people, men as well as women, taking the mental stance that part of her purpose is to help those who follow her. She will learn to mentor men and women of all races and ethnic backgrounds; furthermore, she will try to destroy stereotypes.
Leadership skills can be learned. Girls are just as adept at leadership as boys at a young age, displaying a natural tendency to lead as they organize games and activities.135 Girls continue to lead in grammar school through high school as they run for office, organize groups and
clubs, and exhibit all the basic leadership skills.136 Leadership opportunities, however, are not offered to women as readily as to men in industry, though some companies are trying to provide equal opportunity.
Leadership development for women is being offered by some professional organizations. At the conference, Catherine J. Didion, executive director of the Association for Women in Science, announced that AWIS plans to organize a conference on leadership skills for women scientists and engineers.
Ability to Seize Opportunities
Women who become successful high-level managers and entrepreneurs have the ability to seize an opportunity and take action. This is quite different from simply being in the right place at the right time. There are always many other people in a particular situation who do not choose to seize an opportunity or do not know how to do this effectively.
An example was presented by Robin Godfrey, a construction cost consultant who was a panelist at the conference session on women entrepreneurs. Working as a secretary for a firm that did construction cost consulting, she saw an opportunity that would benefit the company and made a simple suggestion that turned out to be "an important strategic boon for the company." Ms. Godfrey explained that this opportunity led her to learn the technical skills needed for success in the construction business, which eventually led to the opportunity to buy the business.
Success Factors for the Woman Entrepreneur
Women scientists and engineers who have become successful entrepreneurs also exhibit the key traits that effective women managers do. These are particularly a willingness to take risks, strong leadership skills, an ability to seize opportunities, and a strong managerial style. Successful women entrepreneurs recognize whether they have the necessary skills and strengths to determine if their business plans will be viable. If not, they seek out those who do—mentors, consultants, or employees.
Successful entrepreneurs have singular opportunities. One chief executive officer (CEO) believes that she is more sensitive to the work-family issues of her employees than a man might be. Her company's family leave option is available to both women and men. Another CEO described the positive feeling that most employees experience in her organization. This feeling exists because of the policies that she has established. For instance, all managers in her company have an open door policy, allowing any employee to call to make an appointment or walk in to talk. Training is made available for all employees; vacancies are posted and anyone can apply. There are many team tasks, and the most productive teams have been the ones with a mix of men and women.
Whether they are women or men, successful entrepreneurs (and other high-level managers) often create a corporate culture and a working environment that allow all workers to express their career ambitions to their supervisors.137 This is especially helpful to women employees, who often wait to be tapped for upward mobility, thinking that their competence is recognized automatically.138 Men and women should be considered equally for all promotions within a company. In other words, an effective superior is gender and ethnicity blind.
In addition, entrepreneurs must be able to deal with criticism. For example, if the achievements of a woman's company are not getting noticed, she should put the focus on performance results and be very vocal about it. She can demonstrate what is going on in the form of reports, charts, presentations, and so on. In this way, attention is drawn not to herself, but to the performance of her company.
Strategies for Success
There is much to be learned from the many women scientists and
engineers whose careers in industrial research and management are successful. The strategies they employ can serve as models for others. Sets of recommendations for individual employees and for managers developed by the Xerox Women's Council are given in Appendix B.
Pamela Atkinson, an engineering education specialist and director of Berkeley's VIEW program in the College of Engineering, has done some qualitative research in which she interviewed 14 women Ph.D.s in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. Each subject was asked to talk about her own graduate school experience and was asked what advice she would give to a young woman, just beginning her graduate education, that would help to ensure her success. Some have since entered industry, and others have moved into academe. However, a number of commonalities in their responses apply to successful careers in both industry and academe and led to a list of strategies that women can use in the workplace, as reported by Ms. Atkinson during the CWSE conference:
- Information is worth gold; acquire it and share it.
- Be professionally visible.
- Be aware of your market value.
- Negotiate for what you are worth and believe that it is a lot.
- Develop an important life outside work.
- Don't get into romantic relationships with people you work with.
- Set boundaries on work to protect your outside life.
- Trust your judgment.
- Visualize yourself with power, so that you can address any ambivalence you might feel about wielding it.
- Don't take things personally, even if they are meant that way.
- Intense criticism is worth gold; it provides a lot of information.
- Always look around for other jobs and opportunities.
- A counter offer from another job is very effective for getting a raise, but only if you are prepared to take the other job.
Many conference participants noted that Ms. Atkinson's list of strategies would be useful for both women and men. One participant opined that women used to be told that "in order to succeed, they must be head and shoulders above men in technical ability" and now are told to be superior at career management, though neither approach addresses the
barriers to successful careers for women in science and engineering.139 However, Jacqueline Akinpelu shared two lessons that she learned during her move up the corporate ladder:
Although your technical skills played a large part in getting you into management, you now have an expanded arena in which to discover, develop, and extend your skills and interests. Take full advantage of it.
Realize that, as you gain experience and grow to understand yourself better as a person, your goals may change as well. Stay flexible.
Sometimes in the process of managing, a woman may have to point out to a man unacceptable behavior not related to his job performance. This requires clearly explaining the problem, dispassionately describing alternatives, and finally stating, "This conversation is expected to end the problem." In other words, women in management must sometimes begin an education process with some of the men they work with, including subordinates, counterparts, and superiors. "Not to do so is to abdicate responsibility," according to Betsy Ancker-Johnson, vice-president (retired), General Motors Corporation.
Conference participants suggested strategies for dealing with a hostile manager or a jealous colleague:
- Keep communication alive.
- Develop alternatives that may defuse the hostility.
- Have fun outside work.
- Take jealous hostility as a compliment.
- Stay professional.
- Only go over your manager's head as a last resort.
- Find an impartial, experienced mentor inside or outside the company with whom to discuss work and career-related issues.
- Understand the importance of working in a team.
- Maintain your performance at the highest level.
- Form a network of colleagues, passing along information that will benefit other women.
It is seen that many common threads run through the various strategies and attributes for success by women scientists and engineers employed in industry. Also there is an overlap with the elements of successful corporate programs discussed in the previous chapters. The insights and experiences that women scientists and engineers were able to share about their careers in industry led participants to formulate a number of strategies to enhance their own successes. The points that were stressed repeatedly were the need for work of the highest possible quality and for developing a balanced personal perspective that recognizes one's own value while giving full support to superiors, peers, and subordinates.