Q: What type of culture are you trying to build within GuideSpark’s Engineering department?
A: “I encourage people to speak up with concerns or issues, to take risks, and to fail, all without worrying about being shot down. I try to bring people together to focus on the outcomes we’re trying to achieve collectively. I do it by being intentional. Culture doesn’t happen by accident.
What it’s about, fundamentally, is psychological safety, which comes down to three things:
1. Team members have to be comfortable taking risks;
2. They have to have confidence that they have each other’s backs;
3. And they have to believe that when they speak up with their own voice, they will be heard.
If you’re on a team that has those three things, you can depend on your team to deliver, and you’ll understand how your work impacts others on the team and the company at large in order to make a difference. That enables you to foster the flexibility and strength to solve the big problems, and save the world!
Q: What non-obvious things can team leaders do for better inclusion of female engineers?
A: “Let’s face it: we’re not the same. We all come to the table with different types of social programming. To better include female engineers, you have to recognize that.
I have never in my entire career met a woman engineer who hasn’t had a rampant case of Imposter Syndrome. Every woman engineer I’ve ever dealt with, I’ve had to do damage control on. And I’ve almost never had to deal with that with men. Social programming sets up men to be overconfident and women to be underconfident – even if they’re at exactly the same level of capability.
Inclusion of female engineers starts with the interview. If you’re interviewing a female engineering candidate, make sure at least one interviewer is also a woman. Otherwise, your interviewee could feel like an outsider, applying for a position on a potentially exclusionary team. And then, in the course of day-to-day work, you have to watch the team dynamics – are women getting shut down or talked over? Call out inequities in real-time and make sure the women on your team are being heard as equal contributors.
One of the nice things about STEM is, quite often, data can drive everything. You’re not talking about a purely subjective area. You can actually prove and test and try and get results. You can get real metrics. And that helps when people try different approaches, if you can measure them and see what works. But the trick there is, you have to actually be open to trying those approaches first. You have to be willing to set up an environment not only where people can be heard, but where risks are accepted. And if you do that, you enable those discussions to occur and those outcomes to be had.”
Q: What’s the best advice you would give to women leading engineering teams?
A: “It’s pretty simple: Don’t try to lead like a man. First and foremost, speak with your own voice. I’ve seen this time and again in my career. Women often think that the best way to get ahead as a woman in a male-dominated engineering organization is to follow the example of the men in leadership. Studies show that this doesn’t work. If a woman acts like a man, she doesn’t get the same credit that he does. In fact, she gets judged way more harshly. If a man is assertive, she’s aggressive. If a man is decisive, she’s just abrupt. It doesn’t work – so don’t play the game.
Instead, lead with your whole self, not just your technical side. Women come in with a more highly-developed emotional intelligence than men, as a rule. So play to it. You’ve got people that are willing to see a high EQ in you as a leader because that’s the cultural bias. This is great because we want to build cultures of psychological safety and trust, to enable high-functioning teams. If you demonstrate that you care, not just about the what and how of what you’re building, but the people who are building it, and the why of their personal and professional journeys, you’re going to inherently create a culture that is one of trust and safety, where people are free to speak up and to execute at their highest potential.
So don’t try to lead like a man. Lead from your power. Lead like a woman.”