Archive for the 'People' Category

Listening: an important management skill

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Today I’ve been reading about listening skills and how we convey our interest and attention. To be an effective manager you need to spend a lot of your time listening to your team. When someone is speaking it is important to show your interest because it is one way to form and build a relationship.

Body language is a key element to this. One aspect of that is eye contact. It is important to use the correct amount of eye contact, though it’s very difficult to tell what the correct amount is. Too much eye contact and you are going to make the listener think that you are threatening. Too little eye contact and you are going to appear as if you aren’t actually listening at all.

This is a complex enough area when you are dealing with people from the same culture. From various things I’ve read it appears that the British are taught to look into people’s eyes when they listening. People who don’t do this can be considered to be untrustworthy or unfriendly. Of course they could be just be shy. However, in Japan it is considered rude to look into the eyes of someone who has a higher position than you do – whether they are your boss, your teacher, or your elder.

If body language is so important in showing that you are interested and actively listening to someone, how do we deal with this in the virtual workspace? Many people now interact with their team mates primarily through electronic means. When you are talking to some one over Skype, how can you tell if they are listening to you? Does this make it much harder to manage a virtual team because you are missing one of the tools for relationship building?

Female Role Models in Technology

Monday, May 28th, 2007

For the last few days I’ve been thinking about the reasons why there are so few women in the Open Source or Free Software communities. I have asked female system administrators why they don’t want to attend the meetings of their local linux user group. They make going to a group like that sound as likely as getting one the guys from the linux group to go and have a pedicure or to enjoy going shopping for clothes. Not impossible but unlikely all the same.

I have accepted for a long time that women just don’t want to do these things and haven’t really seen it as a problem. But now I want to know why. What is it that stops a woman for even going once to see what it’s like? Why do they automatically think it’s something they wouldn’t enjoy?

A lot of research has been carried out in this area as it isn’t just me who wants to know this. There are many different reasons cited but one I’ve never thought about before is the impact of role models. I have a 13 year old sister and she’s quite happy to tell me that when she grows up so wants to be like Jordan or Nicky from Big Brother. This horrifies me. But it’s not that surprising since the media is full of stories of celebrities and their glamorous existences.

Looking back on my childhood the strongest female role model was that of Margaret Thatcher. She showed that a woman could become the leader of the country. But the things I remember most about her was that everyone seemed to hate her and that she was described as the Iron Lady and supposedly had balls of steel. Well, I wasn’t quite sure what all of that meant but it certainly didn’t seem like something I wanted to aspire to when I grew up.

The Information Technology Association of America released a report [pdf] in 2003 which stated the following:

Underrepresentation of women and minorities in IT leads to the inevitable “vicious cycle” of fewer professional role models for those who wish to enter the IT profession. The Panel believes that the scarcity of adequate role models and mentors has a direct correlation to the perceptions that female and minority candidates will develop about IT. These candidates may tend to view the profession as lonely and isolated or may find assimilation into mainstream networks of companies difficult due, in part, to a lack of common interests or a sense of just not belonging.

When my little sister thinks about what she wants to do when she grows up she doesn’t think about going in IT. To her it’s full of geeks and weirdos like her brother-in-law and her sister’s friends. Because of the generation she is growing up in she is much more aware of computer technology than I was. She spends hours on bebo and MSN. But she sees a computer as a communication tool and not something that she needs to understand. In the same way that I had no interest in how the phone worked when I was 13.

I don’t know what can be done to change the perceptions that woman have or to provide them with role models that they will aspire to be like. But I am starting to realise that although I expect to be accepted by any community of technologists that many woman do not feel this way.

When in Japan…

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

Today, for the first time since I was five years old, I went out carrying a parasol. And yes I did feel stupid. Being very fair I usually have to wear sun block on my face and I really don’t like it. So, I’ve decided to try the things that Japanese women do to protect their skin.

Parasols are very popular in Japan. The shops carry a large selection of them and nearly every young woman I saw today was carrying one. They aren’t like the parasol I had as a child. I think the only reason I remember my parasol was because my mum thought it was an umbrella. I can remember the one day that I took it out. It was made of cotton and the rain came through it. And the blue dye ran all other my arms, face and clothes. The labels on my new parasol claim that it will protect me from both the sun and the rain.

My tutor arrived this morning carrying a parasol and wearing a hat. I also bought a hat and the second time I went out shopping I decided to try that instead of the parasol. I preferred the hat to the parasol but it felt really strange wearing a black floppy hat with jeans. It’s the sort of thing I would wear to a wedding.

It’s going to take me a while to get used to it but today my skin hasn’t been burnt and also hasn’t been irritated by sun block. Maybe by the end of the summer I’ll think that everyone should have a parasol.

Is Sexual Discrimination Really an Issue in the Perl Community?

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

I’ve been reading the comments on Jono’s post regarding discrimination and a couple of them are asking for actual examples of sexual discrimination in their communities. I’m a member of the Perl community and I was trying to remember if I’ve ever had a problem with sexual discrimination. My first thought was that I haven’t at all. And then I occurred to me that maybe once, and I mean once in seven years, that assumptions were made because of my sex.

I went to register for a YAPC conference I was speaking at. The person in front of me was also a speaker and during the registration process he was given a ticket to the speaker’s dinner. I wasn’t given one when I was registering so I asked if I could have one. The person who was doing the registration looked at me and said “Oh I thought your husband was the speaker”. When I said that actually it was me that was speaking and not Marty I was given a ticket to the speaker’s dinner.

This did annoy me and made me rant a bit at the time but it’s the only personal example I can think of. Any other problems I can think of really can be explained by the fact that in any group of people there are going to be some that don’t like each other. It’s nothing to do with sex and everything to do with personality clashes and differing opinions. I really do think that sexual discrimination is low down on the list of things that are causing problems in the Perl community.

Discrimination Against Women in Technology

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

Jono has been writing about discrimination and in particular discrimination towards women in technology. This is a subject that I have mixed feelings about. I don’t believe that anyone, male or female, should be treated badly simply because of their gender but I do think that it’s very hard to treat men and women in the same way as they are different. I’ll give you an example. As part of my job I used to have to move computer equipment between labs. Some of the men who worked with me found it very difficult to let me carry heavy equipment. Was this sexual discrimination or mere politeness on their part? Or was their reluctance to let me lift things something I should have been annoyed at or something that should have pleased me?

I also get concerned because we often overlook the fact that woman can discriminate against other women. I can remember working on a team at ICL were it was very noticeable that the woman on the team would only ever ask the men for help if they had a problem with their computer or printer or any other piece of hardware. They never expected a woman to be able to help with these things and I couldn’t quite work out why. But I did get the impression that they thought that if they didn’t know how to fix the computer another woman wasn’t likely to know either.

I also worked in a couple of schools and on more than one occasion found myself explaining to a female member of staff that I didn’t need to get help from one of the male technicians to fix a computer. They expected me to be equally skilled with using the computers but only when they were working.

I have been discriminated against in the work place regarding my programming skills but I never felt it was because I was woman. My male team mate just didn’t like me. This happens everywhere. You end up on a team with someone who treats you badly, puts you down and tries to make you look stupid. This is wrong but sometimes we are too quick to label this as sexual discrimination if someone of the opposite sex is causing the problem.

I am also guilty of making it look as if I couldn’t do something and needed to get a male member of the team to help. I used to work on a client’s site where women were expected to wear suits with skirts. I never wanted to crawl under a table and sort out cables dressed like that. So, if the problem was under the table I used to go and ask one of the men on the team to come and sort it out for me. The men I worked with knew that I just didn’t want to crawl under the table but I was probably making the customers think that it was part of the job that I wasn’t capable of doing.

I am also not sure how I feel about “women in technology” groups. Every time I hear about one of these I want to know where the equivalent “men in technology” group is. Why do we need separate groups for women? Does this separation promote discrimination? I’ve been to talks at conferences such as E-tech that were promoting women in technology but I usually end up feeling angry. I’ll give an example of a topic that really angered me. The underlying theme was that qualification requirements should be relaxed to allow more women into the software industry. How insulting. Why should the bar be lowered for women? We are every bit as capable as men to getting qualifications. It really offends me to think that any woman would think that other women are somehow not capable. I never want to get a technical job merely because I am a woman. I want to get the job because I am the best person for the job.

As I said at the start I have mixed feelings about this topic and I am never sure how to articulate them well. However, I do think at times I’m treated differently because I’m female but I believe that men and women will always be treated differently. I expect both to be treated with respect.

It Looks Like Rain

Friday, May 18th, 2007

There are many things that we learn without ever realising that we have learnt anything. It isn’t understanding that we gained by going to classes or by actively researching a topic or by discussing it with someone else. Sometimes we mistakenly call this “common sense” when really some of the things we are referring to really aren’t going to be commonly understood at all. These are also things that hinder us from being able to communicate effectively with other people as we just assume that everyone knows these things. But of course everyone couldn’t just know as we have learnt these things through our own life experience and no-one else lives exactly the same life.

I realised that I spend quite a bit of time in Japan thinking about the weather. I haven’t got a clue what the weather is going to be like on any given day. Even looking out the window now I can’t tell if it’s going to rain – though it looks a bit overcast to me. But does that mean it’s going to rain or is it overcast because it’s inclined to be foggier here because of the heat? My tutor told me that it’s heading into the rainy season so I can expect it to get much wetter over the next month or so – but that doesn’t help me work out if it’s going to rain today.

But the Japanese know. I don’t know how they know. The best way to tell whether it’s going to rain is not to check the various weather websites but to stand on my balcony and watch the Japanese walk by. If they are carrying umbrellas – it’s going to rain.

This knowledge regarding the weather isn’t something that a normal person from Japan could articulate. They wouldn’t be able to tell me why they know it’s going to rain – it’s just something they know and not something they would be able to teach another person how to do. Unfortunately it’s going to take me years to learn this through experience and I suspect I’m going to end up very wet during the learning process.

Black Ink

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

Recently I’ve been reading about handwriting and how much is given away about personality and emotional health in one A4 page of writing. I’ve been aware for a long time that everything I say and every movement I make can be communicating things I may not want other people to know. But I must admit I’ve never before thought about the colour of ink I habitually use to write with. I am aware that I made a deliberate decision to use black ink. It didn’t seem like a big decision though as really the only ink colours I could choose from were blue, black, red and green.

Writers who habitually and from choice use black ink are not so much revealing an emotional state as an attitude towards communication.

Such individuals are concerned with precision, exactitude and in the clear understanding of all aspects of the message they are attempting to convey. They have a strong desire to make themselves clear and to avoid confusion. Frequently the use of such ink is associated with people in professions which demand a high degree of precision, such as accountancy, engineering, mathematics and so on. [The Hidden Language of Your Handwriting, Greene & Lewis]