Monday, March 29, 2010

No Limits on what women can achieve.

I don't know how many of you know this but I was a Biology major in college and worked as a research biochemist for two years afterward. The significance of this was brought home to me today when a friend (and fellow alum of Mount Holyoke College) forwarded me this link of letters to the editor in the New York Times . President Joanne Creighton of Mount Holyoke talks about why women's colleges turn out so many scientists. She writes that the keys to success are having role models, a lack of gender stereotyping and a hospitable institutional culture that sets no limits on what women can achieve.

I firmly agree with this. I was lucky enough growing up that my sister had gone to Mount Holyoke before me and that I had a women biology teacher in high school who believed in me. When I got to my junior year in high school the long time guidance counselor had retired and they hired a new guy who had zero experience. I went in to talk to him about my college plans - I intended to apply to Mount Holyoke early decision, major in biology and become a doctor. He told me that he thought it was a mistake, even with a 4.0 average, that I really should limit myself to local colleges so I could live at home. ACK. Not even an option. Then he suggested I go to a teachers college in Mississippi because really that's what women should be doing - teaching.

While I think teaching is a wonderful profession, at the time I had zero interest in that and I couldn't figure out why he wasn't listening to what I wanted to do. The fact that he had so stereotyped women into a single role was horrifying to me. Without my sister and teacher as role models I could very easily have listened to that guidance counselor (who yes I think was an incompetent fool) and my life would have been very different. He was creating an institutional culture that very much set limits on what a woman could achieve.

Mount Holyoke was a revelation, women ran everything - including the college itself. Role models were everywhere and there were never any limits set. I knew women who were training for the Olympics while studying economics, a woman who was a german/econ/dance major; and one who's goal was to work in Antarctica (and she did). The professors were fabulous - encouraging, supportive and who created opportunities for me to try new things. Because I saw so many women working in biology, I chose to work after graduation for a few years to decide where I wanted to go next.

My work led me to change directions and get an MBA in Marketing but I never doubted I could do it because that's what Mount Holyoke taught me - No limits.

This is why I am so passionate about the work of the organization I am in today. We all know that there are no limits on what women can achieve and we also know that we need to be telling this to our daughters, granddaughters, nieces and any young women we enounter. So just a reminder - tell a girl, young woman today that there are no limits.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Research - A Visibility Plan

Part of my job at the Anita Borg Institute is to work with Caroline Simard, our VP of Research and Executive Programs to package and release the research that she does. We published our newest research this week: Senior Technical Women: A Profile of Success. So what role does marketing play in this process? It all started last year when we were setting our annual goals. We had identified two potential studies to put out this year. Once we had decided a general timeframe I started contemplating how we could promote this specific research paper.

First among the considerations is what is the content and how do we want to attract the attention of the news media? For this particular research I decided that instead of just the standard single press release we would actually publish two. The first described the research and some of its general findings. The second is a list of the Top Six Attributes of High Ranking Technical Women. Someone asked me why two releases. My answer was simple - the media really do like publishing lists. People in general love lists - hence the success of David Letterman's Top 10 list, The lists of Oscar nominees, and many magazines have a list of some sort featured on the cover. Our attributes list was perfect - the attributes are listed in the reseach and they have statistical data to back them up.

Doing the two press releases give the media options - they can pursue the more indepth findings of the research or if they want something that's very accessible they could publish the list.

Once we had the plan in place we had to finish off the research. From Marketing this means working with our graphic designer to create a cover that fits in with both the theme of the paper and also fits in with our general look and feel. We wanted to convey the concept of women on top. We found a number of silhouettes of people on a mountain top but they were all attired (or not attired) appropriately. So we had Alex use on of the visuals but modify it so it fit in with our overall desired outcome.

Throughout the entire process there is proofreading, at least a dozen rounds. The major challenge is that sometimes you do one fix and create a new problem elsewhere.

Once that was finished we counted down to launch. We did a media embargo with our PR firm, the fabulous Ventana Public Relations, who took our list of target media and for the 10 days before launch actively promoted the research. They did a great job and we did press briefings last week so reporters could write articles and publish them the day the research went public. We also responded to press requests this week from people who wanted to write about research post publication.

We have received a great deal of coverage - people really responded to both the research and the attributes. The media coverage includes Network World, Forbes, Businessweek, and San Jose Mercury News. I'm including a link to the Mercury News Article as an example of our coverage.

So what are our next steps? Well, we're still waiting to see if some of the interviews/briefings we did will become articles. I won't publish those names until we know. Caroline will continue blogging on her Fast Company Blog about the research. And I've signed up to write articles from some websites I know on the research. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A week of great advice

Last week was unique for me- I actually attended 3 different non ABI events during the week. The first was on Wednesday night. I went to the Women of Color Action Network meeting that we co-sponsored in our building here at HP. The women who presented were amazing. The lead presenter from Catalyst presented on their new study Unwritten Rules: What you don't know can hurt your career. Be sure to go to their website and download the study- it's a great read on all the things that you need to be aware of in your company and includes a great list of rules for advancement.

The next night I went with Rachelle to see Arianna Huffington speak at the Churchill Club, hosted by Microsoft. This was a very political talk, she was interviewed by a media person who asked questions about what's going on with the government, etc. Arianna was brilliant. I am so excited to hear her speak in May at the Women of Vision awards where her keynote will be tailored towards women. Her talk last week also addressed how she was able to very quickly build the Huffington post into a recognizable brand that clearly competes with traditional media. Some great quotes (and I may be slightly paraphrasing):
  • Self Expression is the New entertainment (this refers to all the blogging, tweeting, etc that everyone is doing).
  • The president needs to remember to encourage people to be part of the solution to the economic crisis.
  • "People with accents need to stick together"
  • Must remember Opportunity Cost (something I think of constantly from my grad school days) What we do, forgoes something else.

Saturday I spent the day at SWE's regional conference. I got to speak to an audience of about 45 on our research. I attended several sessions including one on finding a job that had a ton of great ideas come out of it. I'll share some of those in future blogs.

All in all a hectic and busy week last week but one that introduced me to a wide array of terrific women.