TLDR: I won an award. Give good and ‘bad’ feedback to your mentees often and in writing. It will make it easier for you and them to do things like nominate themselves or write a recommendation. Also, when you write for a women, read it and ask yourself if you would say those same things about a man.
I am one of the 49 women and non-binary individuals who won for 2019! I am an awardee in the Code category. I was nominated by my career manager at Booz Allen Hamilton, Catherine Ordun. I am so honored to have been nominated and also honored (and a little surprised) to have won! The reception is free so come on out!
About the award: there’s an organization here in Washington DC called DCFem Tech. They are a collective dedicated to amplifying the efforts of women in tech and consist of members who are interested in lowering the barriers to entry for women in tech and creating a supportive, inclusive environment. They give out awards each year to “Power Women in Code, Design and Data in the DC region”. Awardees are nominated by the community.
Nominations were downselected by a committee of 45 judges comprised of engineers, designers, data scientists, and executives for each category and this year’s recipients were chosen based on each individual’s impact on the organization they work for, the complexity of the issue they addressed, and their work with the community, or open source contributions. The final awardees ranked in the top 15 percent of their respective categories.
I want to say a few words about the process. First, you are nominated and then if you make the short list DCFem Tech asks you to fill out the nomination yourself. I have no problem with their process, it makes sense. However, this was REALLY hard because you basically have to brag about how great you are. This is hard for me, because I have been taught my whole life - as a girl/woman - not to be braggadocious. Yes, you read that right, the word is braggadocious and I’m pretty sure it was the 5th word I learned. No shade to my dear parents who were just trying to create children that weren’t brats. But for sensitive little folks like myself, I really internalized these things to an unhealthy degree. Then, you add in a nice dose of low self-esteem (puberty sucks and kids are terrible which exacerbated that whole situation) and you end up with someone who just isn’t all that confident in their abilities despite being an expert.
If you know me, you are likely thinking that I do not come off as someone who isn’t confident. This is because i have a pretty extensive background in performing, so I’m capable of ‘acting’ confident even if I don’t feel it. Also, I’m just kind of an overly talkative (mouthy) person so that often looks like confidence.
Back to the nomination form I had to fill out. I was able to fill it out pretty quickly and easily because of something that my company and my colleagues do RIGHT! At Booz Allen (no they didn’t ask me to write this, in fact, I’m hoping they don’t get mad that I’m mentioning them by name) we have various ways to assess performance that are all subjective (mostly a good thing). The main way to give performance feedback is IN WRITING in our Workday (internal human resources site) profile. In the last year+ that I have been here, I have had almost every project manager give me written feedback in my profile and I have also received some internal awards for going ‘above and beyond’ in various ways. I also get an official performance review from my career manager. And guess what all this creates? A written record of good stuff I have done and ways that i am doing things right, as well as areas for improvement. I was able to go and copy/paste many of their comments into my application and it felt so much better than having to brag about myself.
You might say, “Summer, why are you freaking out about this, it’s the norm.” I wouldn’t know because I come from academia. In academia my advisors and principal investigators (head of the lab) would always be happy to write me a recommendation letter (needed for every. damn. thing. from a 300$ travel grant to a job application for your postdoc). Here’s how the conversation typically goes.
Summer: “Hey, can i get a recommendation letter for the badass ladies scholarship?”
Advisor/PI: “Sure, write one and send it over for me to sign”
I remember being so shocked the first time it happened to me. I didn’t know what to write. It took me a couple weeks to put something together, and then he would sign it and that was it. Let me say very clearly that none of my former advisors/PIs had any intention to harm me or my career. They were simply doing things the way they are always done. Also they are very busy. It’s very likely that this was how they got recommendations from their advisors too.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this practice is especially harmful to women who are hesitant to be braggadocious or prideful. I truly believe that this is a big way that women get hurt when applying for academic jobs. And on the other side of the coin, we have people who are great advisors and take the time to write recommendation letters, and then use gendered language or say things they wouldn’t say about a man. I have had someone say about me, “though she has strong opinions”, she is always willing to listen to the other side. I couldn’t help but wonder if he would have said it that way about a man…
Moral of the story is this: give good and ‘bad’ feedback to your mentees often and in writing. It will make it easier for you and them to do things like nominate themselves or write a recommendation. Also, when you write for a women, read it and ask yourself if you would say those same things about a man. It will help you adjust any biased language that got in there.