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3 Important Lessons Learned from Maria Klawe

Dr. Maria Klawe sits on the board of Microsoft, holds a PhD in mathematics, and is currently the fifth President of Harvey Mudd College – where the percentage of women graduating from the computing program increased from 12% to approximately 40% in five years.

She speaks frankly on the topic of imposter syndrome:

“I have started each academic year by telling the first-year students about impostor syndrome, since I know many of them will have times when they wonder whether they belong and whether they are as talented as the other students around them. I give them advice on how to cope: Ask for help and take it, recognize that such feelings are common and are often connected to high degrees of success, surround yourself with people who encourage you, share your feelings with others, celebrate your successes, be willing to try new approaches if your usual one isn’t working, and don’t let your fears stop you from giving your best effort.”

Maria shared some important lessons in a conversation with leading women in technology and entrepreneurship in the Silicon Valley, hosted at GoDaddy last week —

Lesson #1: Importance of Negotiation (AKA Effective Communication)

Dr. Maria Klawe credits the “extraordinary gift” of Harvard negotiation training for helping her learn to communicate effectively. In negotiation training, she learned to phrase what she wanted as “a plus for the other side”.

Maria recommends negotiation training as a way to handle conflicts in the workplace:

“You have to be willing to learn a variety of skills as you move up: negotiation, conflict resolution… I think this is something that can be really useful. Talking about yourself — it’s not bragging, it’s value add. Communicate in a way that other people can hear you to have a place at the table. We are transitioning into a world where women have positions of greater power. We can then demonstrate more inclusive ways of leading than the people currently leading. Because we are moving into a space we haven’t been before, both the men and women are developing better skills. They are seeing the value of diversity. Students from inclusive environments like Harvey Mudd are more intentional in where they want to work. They want their workplace to be inclusive too.”

Negotiation in the workplace means that what starts as an individual negotiating in the context of an existing negotiated order might yield to more systemic changes, which can create an entirely different playing field for those negotiators who follow.

Lesson #2: Importance of Inclusion for Diversity

For diversity to succeed, we have to first create an inclusive environment. To illustrate this point, Dr. Maria Klawe shared the story of Accenture CHRO Ellyn Shook who worked to increase the ratio of women hired at Accenture. From rewriting job descriptions, to changing the process of hiring and sourcing, Accenture successfully increased their ratio of women from 30% to 43%.

Maria questions the traditional interview process for inclusive workplaces:

“Technical interviewing is very adversarial. It’s often the case the female being interviewed will not see another female in the process. Technical interviewing doesn’t predict for hiring the best candidate, or women. At Accenture, job descriptions were updated to stress team work, creativity, problem-solving — not particular skills.”

She stressed the importance of making sure your interview panel includes at least one woman to hire more women into your company.

In the interview process, ask more interesting questions, like:

“How would you explain Java or any other object-oriented programming language to a five year old? You are looking for the general idea — to see if down one knows an overall concept rather than particular details. Frame it less about data structures, and more about how do you understand basic concepts? How would you explain it to someone who is not an expert?”

Lesson #3: Importance of Understanding Bias

In a Q&A discussion on hiring and promoting women, the issue of bias was broached.

Part of the problem in hiring more women is a need to debug our own biases in unravelling the false promise of meritocracy. For example, research has shown that those who think they are the most objective can actually exhibit the most bias in their evaluations.

What can you do right now? Try taking some 5-minute tests for various biases to become more aware of your own biases in recruiting women or hiring women.

The other half of the problem is female candidates not applying themselves upward and being conservative in their job searches. As Maria Klawe dryly noted, “women often tell you the things they are not” to be appear polite or modest. Instead, try using “I” statements like “I want…” and “I need…” to express needs and abilities (“I can…”). Also, try applying for more ambitious jobs outside of your comfort zone.

Recognizing all our biases in the recruiting process on both sides will help women be considered for positions across the board, from entry-level to the highest levels.

Negotiation and Interviewing Advice for Hackbright Students from Poornima Vijayashanker (Femgineer)

We invited Poornima Vijayashanker, founder at Femgineer, to Hackbright Academy to speak to this summer’s class about getting interviews and negotiating.

Her talk at Hackbright covered:
(1) Getting the interview
(2) Interviewing Skills
(3) Assessing the Environment
(4) Negotiating an Offer

Get the interview: “Make yourself discoverable”

First and foremost, keep your information up-to-date online.

* Make sure your Github, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles are up-to-date and reflects where you are looking for. Students list themselves on LinkedIn as an “engineering fellow” at Hackbright Academy until graduation, at which time you change your status on LinkedIn. Updating your status online sends a signal to your network and recruiters that you are available for hire.

* For career pivots, list your previous jobs on your resume even if they seem irrelevant to one’s new career in software engineering. Poornima confirmed: “Yes, list your previous jobs! It proves you were gainfully employeed before.” In your summary and objectives section of your LinkedIn profile, be very clear what it is that you want to do going forward. You can go ahead and put as your title the job you want so you can show up in searches on LinkedIn.

* Talk about why you decided to make a career transition, as this displays a level of leadership. Make sure your information across social media profiles tell a coherent story. Practice your pitch by answering the following questions: What did you do before? What are you doing now? Why did you make the switch? Where are you headed? Be as specific as possible.

* When talking about yourself, avoid your deficiencies and reframe it as “what is it the company is offering?” Avoid the passive voice. For example, instead of saying you don’t have X skill/expertise today and want to learn, but instead ask the company if they offer any training in X. Show you are interested and understand that the hiring company can give it to you.

Interview skills: Understand the position

Poornima provided perspective in job postings: “They are hoping they can hire [an employee who knows] 10-20 things and a lot of times this is not feasible. Realize that and don’t let it stop you.”

* Understand what the key of the position is – what are the things you absolutely need to have. Take the job posting at face value, then dig in a little bit to find out what is a must-have. Some job requirements will become negotiables.

* Don’t always feel you have to be all the qualifications because they will adjust. They have must-haves and hoping-to-haves. Dig in, and first, do apply for jobs even if you don’t feel you have mastered all the requirements!

* A common mistake during interviewing is jumping into problem-solving before understanding the question. This is due to nervousness/eagerness, but you must take the time to understand and ask questions. Give yourself time to make sure questions are resolved before starting to whiteboard. This shows you are a methodical person, and this is what they are gauging – “how much time will she take to figure out the problem, or will she be trigger-happy?”

Assess the environment: “Dig in”

* Ask thoughtful questions of the interviewer(s). Ask the interviewer: “How long have you been on this team?” “How long have you been in this particular role?”

* Femgineer co-founder Kaitlin broached a good question: “Where does hitting a home run at this job get you?” You can gauge what exceeding expectations looks like versus simply meeting expectations. What will your reward be for working really hard at your new job? Are there women in management and technical leadership positions at this company?

* Dig in to the role. Ask who the boss is – who will you be reporting to? Dig into the team – ask about the team’s development process (ie. weekly vs. monthly springs? are they shipping consistently?). Lastly, dig into the long term (see previous bullet point).

Negotiate the Offer: “Why Ask for More”

Poornima made a strong case for negotiating a job offer:

* You have one chance…. to ask for EVERYTHING. Promotions happen every 1-2 years. And yearly raises are only 4-5% so negotiate your offer when you get it! They will not take away the offer becuse you asked for $10-20k more. You can ask for things like: one day of remote work a week, a sign on bonus for relocation, higher equity. ALWAYS ASK FOR MORE EQUITY!

* If you don’t ask, you will get absolutely nothing. To help you feel less greedy/selfish when asking for more, Poornima has come up with some mental games to help with the negotiation process. “Pretend you are not asking for this for yourself but you are asking for your best friend,” suggested Poornima.

* Ask for it, and shut it. Ask for what you want, and then close your mouth and let the other party have a chance to get back to you in a few days. The person making the offer to you is not the sole decision-maker. Make them go back and ask for more for you.

Poornima provided an excellent grid to map your professional and personal goals:

When you know your non-negotiables and priorities, negotiation becomes much easier.