2013 Conference Management & Professional Development

Challenge Shmallenge – We’ve Got This: Women Paving Their Own Way

Aiming to overturn the idea that it’s hard to find women willing to participate on panels, this session collected 9 feisty females with lots to say:



Question 1: Joly asked about the “glass ceiling” in higher education–whether it’s real, how to break through it, etc–and it elicited some colorful responses.

Tracy considers it to be not so much a glass ceiling, but a ladder with a few more rungs to climb.

Smail let the audience in on some of her background, including a job that influenced her decision to get a degree (she knew she was “really damn good, and really damn done” with being an administrative assistant) to be able to move into a technology-related role. “It’s wrong to put labels on people,” she said. “It’s wrong to assume that just because someone is a certain gender, they should be relegated to just certain types of roles.”

Brennan-Barry doesn’t see it as a glass ceiling, it’s a Saran Wrap ceiling that she’ll just burn though once she burns bright enough (cue audience cheers and claps).

Riley talked about a previous position in which she chose to leave when, after rewriting the position description to represent her work more inclusively, was never acted upon. After leaving, the position (with full description) was posted and filled by a former male coworker. “It’s a male-dominated industry,” she said. “Women run into a lot of challenges.”

Question 2: What can bosses and/or managers do to hire and retain women in technological roles?

Wood told the audience about a previous role in which a male coworker constantly harassed her (her clothing, her mannerisms, her work style, etc) despite no other complaints or reprimands from their boss or other colleagues. The experience culminated when the coworker made inappropriate comments to a student, and Wood was forced to take the issue to Human Resources. It was eventually resolved (though not entirely satisfactorily), but Wood advises anyone going through a similar experience to begin documenting the incidents, and talk to your supervisor.

Oaks Smith brought advice from the other end of the spectrum. “I’m blessed to have a boss and a dean–both males–who are super supportive,” she said. “Their entire leadership team is made up of women.” Oaks Smith mentioned Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, and how women are prone to “imposter syndrome” in which a person downplays achievements, or feels that they’re fully capable to doing certain things; basically, feeling like an imposter at work. Her current boss forces her to accept compliments and reinforces over and over how important she is to the institution, and how valuable her work is. It’s important to pass those compliments on, she said, to keep a cycle of approval and value moving forward.

Question 3: How do you balance work and life?

Cohen recently gave birth to a baby girl six months ago, and her life (understandably) has changed indefinitely. When she used to have time for side projects, writing, and traveling, she now prays that the baby will stay asleep long enough to finish a slide deck. “I had no idea what it would really be like,” she said. “They tell you that ‘Oh, you’re going to form a bond with your child, and I get that, but what they DON’T tell you is that you’re going to be crying in O’Hare [airport].” Cohen also detailed the challenges of breastfeeding on the road (another thing they don’t tell you: “You’re going to have to turn down playing Cards Against Humanity” because you have to go pump breast milk!”), and invited a wider conversation around the topic.

Smail brought another perspective. Her children are older now, late teens, early twenties (and when they were younger, there was *no way* people would mention breastfeeding publicly, so, “…rock on, 2013” she quipped), but were much younger when she decided to go back to school. Smail’s regular day included working fullltime, getting home, putting kids to bed, and starting schoolwork at 10pm at night. “They watched me juggle home, school, work, everything,” she said. “Passion is what you need to get through.”

Packer, who’s a mother of cats, said that she acknowledges that since she doesn’t have children at home that it’s typically easier for her to get things done or to stay later at work than someone who needs to pick up the kids after school. To her, it’s up to the manager to make sure that the workload is distributed evenly, and that gender roles shouldn’t be a factor if everyone is working toward the same goal.

Question 4: What’s one or two sentences of advice you would share to women to advance your career?

Riley: You are your own best advocate. Push for what you deserve.
Packer: Respect the skills you have and do what you want to do.
Oaks Smith: We need to lift each other up!
Brennan-Barry: Get what you want. You don’t have to be everything to everybody, just be enough for yourself.
Cohen: This shit is hard. Find people to support you and do good work and take what you deserve.
Tracy: Diversify. Figure out a common thread (for me, it’s music) and diversify your skill set, interests, whatever and connect it.
Smail: Be passionate about whatever it is that you do. Follow your passion and the rest will fall into place.
Wood: Find a mentor who will support you, and raise you up (in a cute, poignant shout-out, Wood mentioned that for her, it’s Smail).

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