Monday, March 10, 2014

On International Women's Day

It was International Women's Day on March 8 - just a couple of days ago.

I was at the Women TechMaker's Summit at Google Mt. View (won a lottery ticket) and I was blown away by the incredible women that presented.

And several women asked me if I had written a blog for IWD.  So, of course, I had to....

Some of my thoughts over the last year have been dictated not so much by technical issues as by everything else.  So, I'd like to share some of that...

  • Life is unfair -  Yup, deal with it. There are times when no matter how hard you work, how dedicated you are and how much you accomplish, you might never get recognized for your contributions, be passed over for promotions/rewards/raises, not have your friends/family understand how important it is for you to to do what you do etc.  It's not you - c'est la vie.  Not everything will be successful even if you gave it your all and tried your best.  Don't let it get you down for long - evaluate changes that you think/feel you can make to put yourself in a different place/project/situation and understand that everyone goes through difficult times when despair creeps up and engulfs you.  It will not last - only you have the power to dispel it and try again.  That is the key.  And try not to blame others (even if it's warranted) - it will only drain you of valuable energy and balance.  Rise above it and try again.
  • Don't whine - Nobody likes complainers or whiners - face it, if someone complained to you all the time about all sorts of stuff, you'd be avoiding them too.  Sometimes, it's really hard to not complain - especially, if you're boiling up about something and know it's unfair (see above).  Take a deep breath, go to a place (physically or mentally) that calms you and put yourself in the shoes of the person you want to complain about.  What sort of life must they have to make them that way?  Maybe they didn't have some of the good things in life that you did and that might be triggering their behavior.  Give them a break and don't waste time thinking about this for long.  Find something constructive to do and focus on and you will see that others around you will also do the same and follow your lead.  And, yes, that is what leaders do.  They find a way to get themselves and others out of serious messes.  And if you see someone else doing this - make sure you take the first step and let them know you appreciate their efforts.  They probably don't expect it but, it will make YOU change and take a step into a better frame of mind (and world).
  • You cannot have it "all" - Focus on what is important to you.  Even if it conflicts with cultural norms, isn't "cool"/"trendy" and people think you're nuts and not following the "right"/"predetermined" path.  And there are times when you will go through self-flagellation about various things that you expect of yourself and failed at.  But, you cannot have it "all" - sacrifices and hard choices are what make you who you are.  If things are easy (money, fame, friends, status, family, support etc.),  we tend not to value them.  So, make those choices and sacrifices, take the harder step - the one that no-one else around you is taking because they know it's going to be killer-hard - and give it your best shot.  Even if you fail (in many cases, especially, if you fail), you will know that you gave it your best and tried what no-one else would/could.  That itself will transform your personality and character (as long as you keep a balanced view of your trials/failures) and you will be a better person because of it.
  • Watch that competitive streak - Competition is what our industry thrives on.  As engineers/developers, we are born with tremendously competitive streaks.  It is what pushes us forward, brings the new/better ideas, gets us to the next level.  But, be careful - make sure you can control this particular character trait.  There are times to be competitive (technical achievements, competitions etc.) but if you let this trait penetrate your personal/ close friend circle, it can destroy many things.  Be wise and learn when to throttle this - there are times/situations in life, when not being competitive will reward you with more stability, harmony, faith/trust, integrity and closeness.  These are the things that life is built on.  And it is hard to do - I struggle with this everyday.  But, practice makes perfect.  Keep at it.
  • No - it is not THE MEN - We all face challenges in industry as women engineers.  In many instances, challenges are the result of culture, practice and apathy.  We are not the only ones facing these challenges - EVERYONE - regardless of race or gender has to deal with challenges at work or at home.  Per the ABI study on why women leave the industry, 30% of women that leave the industry, leave it because of working conditions such as low pay, no advancement and lots of work.  I have met and spoken to many men who would also like to leave the industry for the EXACT same reasons - except they can't.  They have families to feed, clothe and provide for.  And sometimes, the wife wants new things all the time and he has to "provide".  So, before rushing to judgmental thoughts, think about the most important question - "Why" ?  We are engineers/scientists/mathematicians/physicists - it is in our DNA to ask "Why".  And let's not try to make sweeping generalizations about "men" being the problem.  It goes deeper than that.  Think about it.  Question and keep an open mind.

Lastly, I thought about Pavni Diwanji's talk and how her father mortgaged his house, her mother worked as a banker (extremely rare in India in the 70's/80's) and how they stood up for her to give her every possible chance to pursue her dreams.  And how their sacrifice, in turn, made Pavni fight harder and smarter than everyone.  It is hardship and perseverance that sets people apart -  not a life of ease and complacency.  That said, there needs to be balance - so each of us has to find our own equilibrium, so to speak.

Happy International Women's Day - may your hardships and sacrifices define you and may you be a beacon of light, impact and positivity in this world, despite them.

And, as always,

May the code be with you....