#women #career #stem

Prof. Dr. Eleonore Soei-Winkels

Thomas Walther

Be nice, find nice people, do great things.

I’ve always been a person who loves to work, to create and build things, but I’ve long struggled with the idea that work is such a huge part of my self identification – mostly because I found that thought very cheesy and arrogant. Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that one’s profession is integral to one’s daily life. These days, I really look at my career as something that balances and complements my personality traits. Most importantly, I learned that in order for me to be happy in my career, I need to be able to continuously learn and grow in areas that I’m interested in. There are many ways to do that, and I try not to rely on just one path for it. I believe that this is something we all have in common: if we feel that we are growing as a person on an activity that we are doing, we derive a huge amount of satisfaction from it.

High performing, healthy teams.

Every now and then, you will meet a leader who carefully weighs success on a task with impact on team dynamics. Only these people create high performing teams. It is the smile on each of these happy team members’ faces that gives me enormous joy, and it is these leaders that truly inspire me.

I once had a young, smart coworker who expressed strong views that women were simply not as smart as men due to underlying genetics. His manager at the time did not share his views, but was afraid of any conflict, and thus did not take a stance on this. His views had the potential of having a devastating effect on our hiring pipeline, and it took me a lot of effort to make sure we built and maintained a gender-diverse team.

The sad part of this story is that I don’t believe that this man was really against women at the work place. He simply felt very cornered by his supervisor, and lonely at the workplace. He figured that a good strategy would be to get more people similar to him into the workplace. People he felt he could relate to, and whose work he believed would reflect well on him. This wasn’t limited to gender, but included nationality and his alma mater.

This is a poster-child example for how diversity discussions at work can go wrong. What his manager failed to see was that it wasn’t really about gender differences, but about him feeling not supported and seen at work. Had we, and in particular his manager, addressed his real insecurities, the diversity discussion would have never arisen to begin with. Instead, we found ourselves fighting a proxy fight on gender diversity for years.

If you find yourself in a position like this: try to identify the person’s underlying conflicts and needs. Unfortunately, you will rely on good people to support you and work with you, and that will often be outside of your area of influence. But if you can, this approach is a much, much more effective way than arguing about differences. I am absolutely certain that if we (and most importantly, his manager) had done that, we would have solved the conflict within days.

I don’t believe that a discussion of women vs men is always helpful. If you always do that, you automatically exclude 50% of your potential supporters. If you, as a woman, look at male-only groups, you will find that these almost always exhibit subgroups that are systematically disadvantaged, too. If you manage to outline similarities between your struggles as a woman and theirs, you dramatically increase the number of people who will eagerly support your cause. And you will feel more supported, too.

I rely heavily on my personal network. There’s not one existing career network that I can call my home, but by taking a bit from here and there, I’ve managed to build a great network and a very successful career. Most importantly, I try to only work with people that I respect on a personal level. Do that, and you will, with time, build a fantastic career network for yourself!

Forget the “it’s business, it’s different” talk. Every company is comprised by a group of people. See them as people, treat them like people, understand their individual motivations and group dynamics. That will get you much, much further professionally, and bring you much more happiness personally.

Thomas Walther

Be nice, find nice people, do great things.