danica_mckellar_580pxDear Reader,

I wish Danica McKellar’sMath Doesn’t Suck” had been around when I was young.  I wound up in a remedial math class in the sixth grade because I believed that I was not good at math.  When the other kids said to me, “Congratulations. You’re a dummy like the rest of us. We are all dummies here. Welcome to the dummies class.” I fought. I refused to be labelled a dummy. I wound up back in the advanced math class.

My mother wasn’t much help. When I returned to college as an engineering major she said, “You don’t have the brains for that. Your father can do that. You can’t.” I was reduced to tears. My father got angry and told me not to listen to her. I realized I was really good at math and truly enjoyed it in college. I was scoring ahead of class average through Calculus 2 and I remember how beautiful an integration across two chalkboards was. The jumble of numbers and letters almost danced.

As supportive as my father was he was still surprised. When I found vector analysis intriguing, he said, “You are not doing vector analysis. I do that.” When I insisted I was learning it he asked me to explain it to him. His response was, “I always thought my sons would be doing that, not my daughter. Awesome.” I’ve been lucky to have a lot of good role models. My first cousin, Donna Livant, is an accomplished cancer researcher doing ground-breaking work at her Oncology lab at the University of Michigan. And she is married with a family.

I wonder how many stereotypes arise from a misunderstanding of the different interaction and learning styles between the genders. In addition to a perceived lack of ability women are not viewed as capable of teamwork. My current department is one of the best-kept secrets in the technology field. More than 50% of the management are women as well as the workforce. In the technical field teamwork is not just good for productivity — its a survival skill.

I take a nearly perverse delight in breaking stereotypes.  Trailblazing is not always comfortable, but I find the rewards far outweigh the challenges. I am not living in anyone else’s shadow. Currently, I have the privilege of being asked to be in a series of videos published by Bridge Technical Talent to mentor and foster children’s interests in the technical field. Will this kill the pesky stereotypes? I hope so.

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imagesDear Reader,

The 10 Best-Kept Secrets of being a woman in the technical field:

  1. You have the freedom to be as independent as you want to be.
  2. We struggle with the same challenges as men.  It’s NOT always because we are women.
  3. We CAN all get along.   We DO understand teamwork.
  4. We get to create our identities — it hasn’t been done before.  We are the pioneers and we are the creator of dreams.
  5. Playing with computers is fun.
  6. We are as smart as men — and they don’t mind us being so.
  7. We are treated equally as men when we work hard.
  8. We are paid equally when we ask for what we are worth.
  9. No one cares how pretty or plain we are.
  10. And the best kept secret of all… No line at the ladies’ room!   The men have to wait!

ComputerWomanUsingLaptopDear Reader, “I have one urgent request for the CIA, FBI and other relevant agencies. After the next attack, could you please send a woman to talk to the press? You have lots of them and, trust me, they know what they’re talking about. Please do it to improve the morale of your female officers and give their daughters a better understanding of their options in life. The women are tired of being invisible.” Susan Hasler, Special to CNN.

Its ironic that in this advanced age that men still represent women who did the work. The old images and stereotypes die hard. I was saddened in a recent Facebook debate to see a woman pose the concept that no woman would be capable of being President of the United States because women are incapable of clear leadership thinking due to our nurturing natures. When I was young and we learned English grammar, generic pronouns that were used in proper writing were “him” and “mankind” and that represented women as well. I remember when women got their own pronouns. I remember 1975, the International Year of the Woman. Helen Reddy was awesome.

“I am woman, hear me roar In numbers too big to ignore And I know too much to go back an’ pretend ’cause I’ve heard it all before And I’ve been down there on the floor No one’s ever gonna keep me down again”

I am grateful for all the women who came before me and did the really hard work. Thirty years have passed since I entered the workplace in the mid-80s. Things have gotten much better and the changes are much easier won. The young men I work with are completely comfortable with me as an accomplished colleague. Now, its more a matter of awareness and perception changes. Articles like the one written by Ms. Hasler assist those changes.

Dear Reader,

It was my honor to attend this year’s 2011 Gala Fundraiser for RESPOND.  For those of you who may not know, RESPOND is New England’s first domestic violence agency and the second oldest in the nation.

They provide services for both women and men and they have shelters that will take victims with teenage boys.  During the course of the evening, I kept digging through my bag for many kleenex.  It was not all sad; however, a lot of the tears were those of joy.   I realized how far we as a society have come in such a short amount of time.   It used to be that a victim was trapped with the abuser and there were no options.   Now we have options and much is being done.

We are still far from finished, though.  Many victims stay with the abusers and the cycle of abuse continues.  I applaud and do my best to support the continued work of this organization.   I will be attending their fundraiser again next year so I can continue to see the progress being made.

Dear Reader,

Each year RESPOND recognizes stellar contributions to the work to end domestic  violence.

I was one of the awardees of the 2010 Timothy White Take A Stand Award.  This year’s Timothy White Take A Stand Award will be awarded to Diane Patrick, First Lady of Massachusetts.

Diane Patrick, lawyer, mother, educator and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, is being presented with the Timothy White Take A Stand Award for using her voice to draw local and national attention to the issue of domestic violence, leveraging her public voice to encourage dialogue and promote awareness. Mrs. Patrick has been an outspoken advocate in the Commonwealth’s ongoing effort to end domestic violence, and has been actively engaged with families, agencies and law enforcement to support victims and to identify and address the root causes of domestic abuse. Most recently, she unveiled a public service announcement in which she implores victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to seek help.

This year’s Rita Bourgeois Leadership Award goes to Nadine Walker Mooney

Turning tragedy into triumph, Ms. Nadine Walker Mooney is a woman of extraordinary strength, determination and character of evidence throughout her journey through, and out of, a relationship sevreley affected by domestic violence. RESPOND is honored to present Ms. Walker Mooney with the Rita Bourgeois Leadership Award for her courage, tenacity and leadership in domestic violence education, prevention and intervention work. Ms. Walker Mooney is the first survivor to receive the Rita Bourgeois Leadership Award and will be sharing her riveting story while delivering the evening’s keynote address.

I am thrilled to announce that I’ll be attending RESPOND’s gala again this year.   Be there or be square!

Purchase Tickets      Be A Gala Host     Place A Program Advertisement      Become A Sponsor

Dear Reader,

I was very lucky to never have been taught that I was a second class citizen because I was a woman.   Most women aren’t that lucky.  Until he passed away earlier this year, my father was my best advisor and supporter of my professional career — having had one himself as an electrical engineer.   For an example of successful women in my family, you can read about my cousin, Donna Livant, the cancer resesarcher who has her own oncology lab at the University of Michigan.

My first encounter with sexism was in 1985 at my first job after a couple years in college when an assistant manager grabbed my butt. I believed tv and this didn’t happen anymore — I was shocked and had to think about it.  The next time he did it, I told him if he didn’t stop I would have his job for it.   It never ocurred to me that I should worry about losing my job.   This same manager went on to call a female assistant manager a vulgar word I can’t print.   When I asked her why she didn’t fight it, she said; “He’s my boss.   What can I do about it?”   It took me 20 years before I understood that statement.

The first women’s discussion group I attended was in 1990 at the University of Rhode Island.   It was titled, “Is Feminism The New ‘F’ Word?”  At the end of that discussion, I thought so.    It was mostly an estrogen posse out to string up all men because they were responsible for all the ills we suffered including pms.  The topic for the discussion was never raised.  A nice man who had been there had to ask my permission to hold a door for me becasue he was now worried I would take it as an insult to my competence.  From my point of view, any woman who would have a raging fit because a man showed her courtesy by holding a door has serious issues.  I wrote a letter to the school paper stating that we now had the laws behind us and it was up to us to carve out our future rather than remaining chained by our hatred over past abuses.

About a year later, I got a summer internship at the American University doing research into artifical intelligence.    The faculty had hired equal numbers of men and women.   We women talked about whether this was an ethical practice knowing that many less women were in the technology field.   We were all qualified to be there — they had not hired anyone who wasn’t.  I decided for my part that it was ok.   I felt that we needed the help advancing and since we lacked the opportunities this was not a serious problem.

Last weekend, I was in New York City for Microsoft’s Code Camp  #CodeCampNYC on Twitter for the Tweets, and I had the opportunity to attend a Luncheon for Women in Technology.  Things have changed a lot in such a short amount of time.   The issues facing us are normal now.   How do we interview?   How do we negotiate salary?   How do we handle workplace issues as professionals?   What does that mean to us as women?

It has been my experience that the new generation is very accepting of women as equal professionals.   I think that most of the hardest work has been accomplished and now women are defining themselves in the professional world.   Perhaps feminism will be the new “F” word becasue it will no longer be needed.