Last Friday, Womany and Microsoft held the"Gender X IoT Forum"to talk about how diversity function in different industries. Besides the impressive forum, Womany also had Catharine L Morris, the General Manager of Cloud and Enterprise Group, Microsoft shared her perspective on diversity and possible tool or approach in dealing with the gender issues many woman face at work.
Talking about gender issue, it often comes up with something negative like sexual discrimination, glass ceiling, etc. But instead of thinking in a negative way, Catharine look at the progress in many places and is full of hope . “Gender issue has changed in generations. It's getting better now! And I believe it would also be better in your generation!” I was curious both by her hopeful smile and firmed voice. “How could that be?” I asked myself, and couldn't wait to start our conversation.
Catharine and her mother are both engineers. The only difference is, her mother was in the 1970s and 80s when merely 1% of engineers were women, and she is in the 21th century where women work in all aspects of engineering and the numbers are growing. In Catharine's mom generation, the obstacle of women in workplace was more about underestimated capability and encountered sexual harassment. Women had to fight hard to prove professional competence while suffering unprofessional deeds from those professionals, such as sexual jokes and lewd conversations.
In Catharine's generation, there are more laws and systems to avoid gender bias and protect people from sexual harassment. However, there were something even tougher to deal with, that is the “unconscious bias.”
Catharine explained further; “People say or act without realizing the implication of the words. For example, people say “he is a strong leader if a man is direct but if a woman she is – she is often referred to as a bitch,” If a man deals with a tough challenge and has obstacles he is described as bringing a lot of friction, but if a woman in same situation she brings a lot of drama.” People don't even realize that they choose the words, because of the gender they are referring to.
Some focuses on “gender”, some take “diversity” more serious. Some say “Don't step in women's circle, don’t let gender define you. Keep a distance and be professional”, some say “Women should help women!” Some suggest there should be a formal system to raise gender awareness, such as lectures and seminars; other thinks the informal way would function better, such as social group and random meet-up.
For Catharine, no matter what's the circumstance of the gender issue in 1970s or now, possibly the most productive and effective solution is “to be made aware of unconscious biases.” The awareness of people noticing what and how they are communicating and how that translates to others. With the awareness people can revise their behavior step by step, and eventually make the society inclusive and productive than we ever imagined at all.
Though Catharine emphasized the importance of the awareness of unconsciousness biases, she also admitted that it's not an easy work. She recalled the first time when she noticed people using different words based on gender. It was a normal afternoon. My colleague and I were in the room beside the conference room, and she suddenly whispered to me “Hey, I bet you, the boss is talking to Jane!” “Why?” I asked ."Well, the boss never uses the word "drama" to a man." she answered it without a blink.
Catharine realized she had become numb to some of the biased behaviors even if they are not meant to be a put down or a negative statement. She started to take serious look into people's behavior, trying to stop those unconscious and inappropriate behavior. She took several classes online and at work plus participated in several studies for universities. "Awareness, is the most important things, not only in gender issue, but across all of our life." she said it profoundly.
Catharine took the question for instance, “How do you balance your work and family time?” Right after the question popped out, Catharine and I sighed at the same time. Deep in our heart know how frequently the question shows up, especially for women, and how many stereotype we should fight for. Catharine took a deep breath and said “ For me, it's nothing to do with balance at all.”
The first few years Catharine worked in Microsoft, she made her goal very clear, at certain age to become on certain title. Years later, when she was 40, she had the chance to become the partner, which is the very senior level in Microsoft. But once she landed there, she realized that not exactly what she expected to be. It's great to be ambitious and have high goals, but when you have family, children things change. This is where approaching your work and life as a series of trade off decisions help. When you chose, you have the power and control. You are making the tradeoff of one for the other. It's not so much about balance. What are you willing to trade off and you have to be happy for what you are trading. When I saw what I had to trade to continue to be successful, I realized I didn’t want to trade that high anymore. I took of two years to spend family time and re-evaluate what I would trade my time and capabilities for.
Through the story, I finally understand why Catharine said it has nothing to do with “balance.” The precondition of feeling in control of our lives is that we have to know clearly what we have, what we want, what we are willing to trade, by what circumstance or price we would never trade.
"Although, now I understand how important "being aware" is and maybe a little about trading off, it still sounds so hard, to make us realize what everything is going on." I thought Catharine might laugh, or make fun of my worries . Instead, she turned into a serious but warm look on her face, and talked with her always gentle voice.
"Awareness can change everything" was the last sentence I wrote down on my notebook. After a couple days of digesting what we talked, I found the spirit of Catharine is quite similar to Womany. Both of them embrace diversity, and empower people to believe that they have the power, and they can be the change, once they realize how power they are.
Even though it has been a week later, recalling the conversation we had, still makes me feel so powerful and hopeful. I would like to share it with all of you and invite you to learn to be aware of your own biases, and most important of all, that we have the power to define who we really are. Eventually, we would be the one, we want to be; live in the world, we dream to see.
Yes! I Do Have It!