Befriending Dragons

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Moving Beyond Unconscious Bias – Good People Matter!

Presented at SQL Saturday Oregon on October 24, 2015

by Julie Koesmarno and Cindy Gross

Good People

We’re good people. As good people we don’t want to think we do things that have negative consequences for others. But sometimes our subconscious can fool us. What we intend isn’t always what happens. We think we’re making a totally rational decision based on our conscious values – but subtle, unconscious bias creeps in. Yes, even for good people. For 20+ years folks at Harvard have been using something called the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to help us identify our biases.

Take this IAT on gender and career – the results may surprise you: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/user/agg/blindspot/tablet.htm

Watch Alan Alda take the test, it will give you a feel for how it works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RSVz6VEybk

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Patterns and Categories

The human brain works with patterns and categories. It’s how we make it through the day. We are bombarded with 100s of thousands of data points every day – we can’t possibly think through each one every time. We unconsciously assign data points, including our perception of people, into buckets. Those buckets have values and characteristics assigned to them that may or may not reflect the individual person we put in that bucket.

This automatic assignment is called intuitive thinking or system 1 thinking. It’s easy and takes little effort. It serves us well and lets us take on many tasks every day. However, it also sometimes leads us down the path of thinking we’ve chosen the “best” person when we’re really hired someone who meets some set of assumptions.

Sometimes we use slow thinking, or system 2 thinking. It’s rarely a conscious decision, something just makes us take some extra time and we usually don’t even realize it. That’s when we stop to question what we’re doing – maybe we adjust which categories we put someone in or we adjust the category or the values and judgments associated with it. We’re good people but system 2 thinking is tiring and we just can’t do it all the time.

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Diversity Matters

Why does diversity matter at work? Personally, when we’re on a diverse team we tend to have higher personal and job satisfaction. Diverse teams are interesting and we often learn more. People who don’t feel like they’re the “only one” of something (gender, sexual orientation, race, introvert/extravert, etc.) relax, contribute more, and are more productive. And study after study shows that more diverse teams lead to better products and a better bottom line.

Companies with women on their boards have higher ROIs, more diverse companies tend to perform above average, and let’s face it – we don’t have enough STEM graduates to fill needed jobs if we don’t encourage a more diverse group of people to enter the field.

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Mind Tricks

But we’re good people and we don’t make these snap judgments. We are rational and we always know why we made a decision. Or do we?

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Optical illusions fool us all the time. Even knowing those lines are all the same length, did you have to measure them just to be sure? The same thing happens in our interactions with people. What’s the first thing that comes to mind for single parent, introvert, doctor, CEO, or programmer? That first thing hints at your categories – the categories built up by a lifetime of media saturation filled with type-cast actors.

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Back to the science of bias. Let’s think about resumes. In one study, resumes were handed out to academics who were asked to rate the job candidates for competency, hireability, mentoring, and suggested salary. Some resumes were for John and some for Jennifer. Professors of all genders rated Jennifer 25% less competent and less likely to be hired. They rated John worth about $4000 more. When asked why they gave ratings their justifications sounded rational but…. 4 industry publications was awesome for John and 4 was just not enough for Jennifer. They are good people but they (we!) are at the mercy of their subconscious and years of societal conditioning.

Moving On

We’re good people so what do we do?

Take the IATs – there are many, take at least a couple and understand your unexpected biases. Talk about this with others so we all become comfortable talking about our subtle biases. Work to consciously update your mental categories – seek out images and reminders of people who are different and successful. Now that you know your own categories a bit better, be more mindful about switching to system 2 thinking. Reach out to one person and mentor them. Spend time with someone who makes you uncomfortable. Pay attention to the “firsts” (the first autistic character on Sesame Street, the first black President, the first whatever) and see if that helps you update your mental categories.

Increase the pipeline. Participate in groups that help kids learn to code. Recruit beyond your normal network, post jobs on diversity sites, and consider non-traditional backgrounds. Join diverse groups that don’t match your own diversity.

Be careful with words. Is someone bossy or exhibiting leadership? Is someone aggressive or a go-getter? Are they emotional or passionate. You may be surprised how you assign different words for the same behavior in unexpected ways.

When you post a job, only list something as “required” if it truly is. Women for example tend to only apply if they meet almost all the requirements, men tend to apply if they meet a few. Do you really require Java experience or do you need a good coder who is willing to learn new things? Don’t ask for a specific type of leader, look for someone who can lead in any of many productive ways. Explicitly state that you value a diverse team. And beware of subtle stereotypes – words like best, rock star, action-oriented define a particular picture but may not represent what you’re really looking for.

When reviewing resumes, have HR take off names, cities, and years. Before you pick up a resume decide on your priorities – does experience or willingness to learn matter more for example? Look for people who fill gaps rather than trying to replicate people you already have. And remember, system 2 thinking is tiring so do this when you’re alert and can take the time to think about what you’re doing.

For the interviews, have a diverse group participate. Simply looking at picture of or talking about diverse people before starting interviews increases the chance you hire with diversity in mind. Don’t confuse either confidence or “geek cred” with competence. Keep an open mind about different ways of approaching problems – it’s the result that matters.

Many flowers make a beautiful bouquet – @IsisAnchalee

Let’s Do It!

What is your personal pledge today?

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Full slide deck is available at http://smallbitesofbigdata.com/archive/2015/10/26/moving-beyond-unconscious-bias-good-people-matter.aspx

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Where are the Women in Technology? #BoiseWIT

Where are the Women in Technology?

The Event

This year’s Boise Code Camp has an exciting new panel session: “Where are the Women in Technology?” We have a great lineup of women who will help us all understand why women in tech matter to your bottom line. The panel invites everyone of any gender to attend and learn more about how we can all help make our businesses more productive, our work culture more pleasant, and our employees and coworkers happier. The session is sponsored by “Girl Develop It! Boise”.RosieInTechWIT

Saturday, March 21 at 140p at the BSU Special Events Center

How does it impact you and your business when women are underrepresented in your tech department? Women are interested, why aren’t they working in IT? Why is the number of women in IT decreasing? What can you personally do about it? Why should you care? We can all help make our businesses more productive, our work culture more pleasant, and our employees and coworkers happier. Sponsored by “Girl Develop It – Boise”.

Why Should Idahoans Care?

We frequently hear how Idaho wants to be seen as a top tech destination. We want to attract new startups as well as existing businesses. Women are an untapped resource that can help make that happen. When women join boards and hold decision making positions in businesses, those businesses tend to outperform businesses with fewer women. Having a pipeline of women techies coming out of our local universities and a workforce with a high percentage of techie women can help attract high tech businesses. Tech businesses historically have a big focus on diverse workforces since over the years they’ve seen the benefits of having a multitude of perspectives when developing new products and services. Women are leading adopters of new products and services, it just makes sense to have women adding a female viewpoint to the decision making process IdahoMapas those products and services are chosen and built.

While tech businesses value women, they still see women exiting the field at much higher rates than men. Take game development as an example. Sexism, misogyny, and sexual harassment are worse in the areas of tech that traditionally are even more overwhelmingly male than most – like video game development. While nearly half of women who play games are women, many games are marketed with ads that emphasize women as sex objects and few games have female avatars to choose from. When female characters or avatars are present in a game they generally have a much more limited range of body types with an emphasis on highly sexualized looks. Again, that is usually attributed to the fact that most of the people who write and market games are men – they never even question what they are doing, it’s just accepted. There is an unproven assumption that women will play “boy games” but men won’t play “girl games”. Female gamers like panelist and IT veteran Jane Miceli are asked “are you really a girl?” when they play well and score high in an online game. When more women are hired into gaming companies/divisions the products change. More non-sexualized female characters appear. Games begin to have more layers to them, more ways of interacting. And then more people buy those games. That’s good for business.

When women are mentored, encouraged, and valued at work they help drive better business decisions.

The Panelists

Our panelists include three women representing a range of IT career stages. Kelsey Suyehira is a BSU senior with a math degree who has returned to school to get a degree in computer science. She is currently president of the Association for Computing Machinery Women’s group, a club that supports the recruitment and retention of women in computer science on campus. Suyehira is joined on the panel by Marianna Budnikova, a professional hacker at the locally owned MetaGeek. In addition to her passion for machine learning and genetic algorithms, which were the basis of her Master’s thesis, Budnikova loves to develop iOS and Android apps. Rounding out the techies on the panel is Jane Miceli. Miceli is a 15 year veteran of the IT industry and a SCRUM Master with a Master’s degree in computer science. She is an avid supporter of tech education and ongoing volunteering on the Idaho Technology Council’s Education Committee, Boise School District’s First Robotics Team 2122, the annual Boise Code Camp conference. Miceli is also managing director for Girls In Tech Boise. All three women show their leadership skills in the Boise chapter of Girl Develop It – a nonprofit that offers affordable technology classes to women through introductory classes such as Python, HTML, and Hadoop. These female tech leaders will talk about their personal experiences with being a woman in tech.

The panel is rounded out by two BSU gender studies lecturers. Carrie Semmelroth lectures on early and special education and gender topics at BSU. Semmelroth spends much of her time on data analysis in her department which gives her an interesting perspective on the intersection of gender and technology. Representative Melissa Wintrow is an educator, trainer, and leadership consultant who lectures on gender studies. Wintrow has been elected to represent District 19 in the Idaho legislature. Semmelroth and Wintrow will bring their perspectives as leaders and educators to help us understand how we can each have a positive impact at work.GirlDevelopItBoise

Panel moderator Cindy Gross is a long time IT veteran with a passion for changing the way businesses do business, whether that’s through adoption of new technologies such as Hadoop or by increasing diversity in the workplace. Gross looks forward to a great hour of discussion on a range of Women in Tech topics that take us from a view of today’s reality to concrete, real-world actions that each of us can take to attract and retain more women in technology. The panel invites live tweeters to use the hashtag #BoiseWIT when discussing the session.

Social Media

Hashtags: #STEM #WIT #PASSWIT #BoiseWIT @GirlDevelopIt #BoiseCodeCamp

References


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Taking Flight a.k.a. The Data Dragon’s Life After Microsoft

Taking flight like Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon

Taking flight like Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon

Life is a journey – we can choose to fly through it with our wings spread to catch and channel the winds, or we can let the winds pummel us to the ground. I choose to take flight, enjoy the journey, and land on my feet. Then take off again. Even when the flight happens because of an unexpected push from the nice, comfy nest, it’s possible to spread our wings and take off in the direction we choose. Especially when you’ve decided you’re a Data Dragon. Yes, that’s me. Cindy the Data Dragon.

Wha...? Huh?

Wha…? Huh?

What am I talking about? One of those life changing events that sneaks up on you sometimes.

Last Thursday I got a very unexpected call and I got to experience hearing the words “you’ve been laid off” for the first time ever. It was effective the same day, at least as far as job elimination. I am a Microsoft employee until September 15, my options are wide open after that.

I could choose to sit around and feel sorry for myself, ask countless “why me” and “why now” questions. What I did instead is remember that I am likely in a far better position than many of the other 13,000 people laid off the same day. And remember that now I don’t have to wonder and worry about the remaining Microsoft layoffs that are expected. And remember that this opens up many wonderful opportunities. And remember all the friends, co-workers, and customers who instantly offered support (thanks Sean, Terry, and Linda for the coffee followed by the much stronger drink and the rest of you for all the calls, emails, and IMs). And thank those same folks for the job leads, introductions, and recommendations on LinkedIn that immediately started pouring in – keep them coming! The Data Dragon chooses to concentrate on the good things, dive into making sense of things, and move on to new and better things. (Yes, Murshed, I again referred to myself in the 3rd person).

So now what?

I am going camping this week, I plan to make time for getting out of town again for a few days or weeks before the end of September (SLC ComicCon anyone?), and I am going to get my beautiful back yard back under control and add more colorful things growing in it. I am going to take my time finding the right Big Data job, not just any job.

Connect with me on Skype (cindygross@outlook.com), follow me on Twitter (SQLCindy | Cindygross), and send pics of you toasting the Data Dragon and her beautiful future!

Don’t stand in my way, the Data Dragon is taking flight and looking forward to all the wonderful things in my future!

Green-eyed Data Dragons like me never stay down long!

Green-eyed Data Dragons like me never stay down long!


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Interview with Julie Strauss–Microsoft BI WIT

Julie Strauss is a very accomplished and respected Senior PM at Microsoft. Her current role is technical assistant for Microsoft Data Platform Group (DPG) Corporate Vice President Quentin Clark. She has been the public face of Microsoft BI at conferences and helps deliver great technical content and data stories to the public. Julie loves to help others so she has shared some background on herself and some great business advice that could be helpful to others seeking to improve their success.

Julie saw a job posting for the support team in Microsoft Norway (at the time Great Plains) looking for an individual willing to learn the ins and outs of the Microsoft BI products. She was excited that the posting indicated a willingness to learn was more important than previous knowledge of the particular Microsoft product. This was how and why Julie came here – she loves the technology and the data driven parts of the business and finds them fascinating.

Read the complete post at http://blogs.msdn.com/b/cindygross/archive/2013/11/21/interview-with-julie-strauss-microsoft-bi-wit.aspx


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Diagnosis – Those First Moments of Breast Cancer

I wrote this Reader’s Opinion for the “Pink Edition” of the Idaho Statesman October 2, 2013 for Breast Cancer Awareness Month:

Do something. Anything. Make the cancer go away. What will I have to endure – will they chop off my breasts, make me ingest toxic drugs, poke me and prod me and stick me with needles and run me through machines? Quick; learn the difference between an MRI and an ultrasound and a mammogram – what does each really do, what does each detect, what kinds of false positives and false negatives might occur with each. This isn’t happening, it’s really a mistake. The test results aren’t really mine. Are they?

Keep Calm and Fight Cancer

Keep Calm and Fight Cancer

Deep breath. Of course it’s my diagnosis. And it’s mine to deal with. I can either panic (been there, done that – just a few seconds ago) and wallow in fear and pain or I can deal with it and move past it. Doesn’t seem like much of a choice, I guess I’ll deal with it.    It.    The breast cancer. I can fight it. I will fight it like a girl – proud and strong. I’ll overcome it. And I did. The cancer is gone. A little lumpectomy – done. A few weeks of radiation just in case there’s a microscopic cancer cell or two left over – coming in a few weeks with few expected side effects. Genetic testing – negative for the common breast and ovarian cancer causing mutations including BRCA. What a relief. I’m cured and I still have breasts that look pretty much like they did before. I’m done. I survived.

I took that fearsome cancer dragon and I turned it into something to live with. I didn’t do it alone. I have a great circle of friends who went with me to the biopsy and doctor appointments and pre-op and post-op…. They sent positive thoughts and showed they cared and they also knew when I just needed to be alone. I have a highly trained surgeon and oncologists and lab techs and nurses and even a nurse navigator assigned by the hospital. I work for a company that provides me with great insurance so I don’t have to worry about paying for all this wonderful medical care and the frequent screenings I will have in the future.

I am so lucky in so many ways. They caught my cancer early, I have wonderful friends, I asked questions and went back for additional screening after the initial false negative, and I have access to medical care many in this country can’t afford – though many more will get the care they need as more and more ObamaCare provisions are enacted.

You too can be lucky – take charge of your own life. Ask questions, take action, and be your own best advocate. Schedule your mammogram. Fight like a girl. Love your friends. Ask questions. Befriend your dragons. Help someone in need. Thank those who help you. Do, be, live, love, grow, change. And never give up.


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Jo Ann Morris is Igniting Women with Courage

Ignite: Inspiring Courageous Leaders - A Book of Thought-Provoking Wisdom and a Manual for Action

Ignite: Inspiring Courageous Leaders – A Book of Thought-Provoking Wisdom and a Manual for Action

Go Lead Idaho sponsored a “meet the author” talk by Jo Ann Morris this week at the Boise WaterCooler. Jo Ann is the author of Ignite: Inspiring Courageous Leaders – A Book of Thought-Provoking Wisdom and a Manual for Action and co-founder of White Men as Full Diversity Partners. She describes herself as a proud radical feminist – I wish more people, men and women, had the courage to say that!

Jo Ann’s book, Ignite, helps you to take your own courageous actions. It has a series of “thought exercises” that each start with a powerful quote. She has suggested questions to ask yourself about each quote and there is room to write down the thoughts and feelings evoked by the quote. The exercises make you really think and help you get in the habit of looking beneath the surface and really digging deep. Then you can use your new insights to take action. Thoughts need to be followed by action to be powerful.

Jo Ann talked about taking charge in many ways. We are all responsible for ourselves. And we all need to help those around us.

  • Don’t spend time being nice – nice is overrated. This doesn’t mean to be deliberately mean, but don’t prioritize being nice or being polite above getting things done or getting what you need.
  • To be successful we need to take risks.
  • Don’t wait – step up and offer your ideas and actions.
  • Demand what you’re worth.
  • Be comfortable being uncomfortable.
  • Choose courage.
  • Be vulnerable to be courageous.
Courage!

Courage!

Courage encompasses four things. It can be manifested when you do one or more of these things:

  • See and speak the truth.
  • Champion an unpopular or risky vision.
  • Persevere.
  • Collaborate with AND rely on others. If you don’t rely on those you collaborate with you aren’t truly collaborating or being truly courageous.

In life we need truth, courage, and risk – they can’t really be separated. Women have the power to change the world. Don’t be “honorary men” – lead the way to a world that has a great combination of “feminine” and “masculine” ways of doing things. Have the courage to be the change!

Step up now – in your every-day life, in relationships, at work – and take charge of your own life. Be courageous, be uncomfortable, and be vulnerable. Stand up for yourself, help others, and be a proud radical feminist!