Kate Hardy

Own Your Own Football: Conflict Communication

Figure out what drives your heart, then own it. And by God, they will let you play.conflict

In the evening of Tuesday, September 27th in Cambridge, a group of about thirty women engaged in industry, academia, law, entrepreneurship, and more, gathered around a conference room table. They were there not just to hear Michele Whitham speak about how she came to “own her own football”, but to connect and share ideas about handling conflict in the workplace.

Michele Whitham is a powerhouse of a woman with a list of accolades and accomplishments that easily make her one of the most admirable women I have ever met: she is a lawyer that is heavily involved in social justice, activism, and community engagement, is a 2015-2016 Inductee into the National Association of Professional Women and the Association’s VIP Woman of the Year, was a co-leader to launch the inaugural Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts’ Women’s Leadership Initiative, and so much more. Even more impressive is that behind her stunning achievements, she is a kind, empathetic, insightful, and strong-willed woman with a story that so many of us can relate to.

Miriam Margala & Michele WhitmanLeaning into the table and talking to us like old friends do, Michele described how she discovered a love for football at five years old. She set her sights on becoming a football player, and would practice throwing the ball around with her father and her neighbor, Al Cowen, a well-known footballer in Texas. She started going to pickup football games, but time and time again she was the only girl, and she would never get picked to play. Undeterred, she continued to return to these games until a few years later, her father came home and surprised her with a gift: an official NFL football, signed by the one and only Cowen. The very next pickup game she went to, she proudly brought her own football, and not only did she get to play, but she got to be the captain.

The message of her childhood story was simple: listen to your heart and what drives you, be Michele Whithamconfident in it, bring it to the table, and the people sitting across from you will let you play because you are owning the part of yourself that put you there. That is the first lesson in conflict communication: practice the art of self-empowerment and cultivate your professional presence. Consider what you are aiming to achieve, and decide how you are going to approach a situation. Have confidence in your abilities to do all that you can do, and be committed to listening and learning as much as you can about the motivations and values of other people in the room.

There were six other points highlighted throughout the evening that sum up the most important nuggets of wisdom that Michele presented as the keys to her continued success in dealing with conflict:

  1. Everyone deals with conflict differently; appreciate those differences.
  2. Don’t take conflict personally; someone else’s reaction is not a reflection on ourselves.
  3. Be willing to listen to what the other person is saying, and if needed, express that you need to step away to process.
  4. Make an effort to maintain your credibility, to be mature, and to not let your emotions get the best of you. (Step away if emotions are running too high!)
  5. Become proactive institutional anthropologists: observe and learn the motivations/desires of your colleagues even before conflict arises.
  6. Cultivate a circle of key informants, or people that you trust to lend insights into how someone else may be conceptualizing the conflict.

de la femme membersBy the end of the evening, more than half of us in the room had joined in with Michele’s pointers to ask questions, provide thoughtful insight, and share our own positive or negative experiences. Conflict is something that we all have to deal with, and none of us are in this alone. Approaching a conflict with maturity, a willingness to listen to others and a sense of your own self-are three important pieces to successful resolutions. And we must not forget to lean on each other for help when we need to see more sides to the story.

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Paving the way for a female POTUS?

When I turned to my internet news source today, I was delighted to see the first headline on my page talking about the first female CEO of General Motors (GM) being named. So, being from the Motor City (ahem, Detroit, MI), I would be remiss if I did not write about it.

Starting in January, Mary Barra will take over from the current GM CEO, Dan Akerson, to lead one of the top auto makers in the country, if not the world. Her career started as a plant engineer on the GM factory floor in 1980. Soon enough, she moved up the male-dominated ranks of the motor industry by obtaining an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, working as an executive assistant for a former GM CEO, and more recently, acting as senior vice president for global product development for the company.

I was very excited to read about Mary Barra and her journey through the management division of GM mainly because it was similar to that of many hard-working successful women. And it provides a great example of how women can navigate through an industry that was formerly dominated by men. However, after mentioning this story to a friend of mine, he asked me one question that I never thought about myself: Is this a small step to the US maybe finally being ready for a woman president?

That was a difficult question to answer. I want to believe that yes, this is a great leap to dissolve gender inequality, however, it seemed more like a stepping stone rather than a leap. Afterall, this was 2013, and we are NOW just talking about a CEO for the Big Auto 3? Yes, Mary Barra is a high-ranking female executive. She has personally experienced and led positive changes in the male-dominated automobile industry culture. But because this industry has been an integral part of US culture for the better part of a century, many will likely first see how Barra fares before they pass judgment on women in leadership roles.

Many other countries have had great women leaders, as my friend reminded me. But how much more will women have to do before the whole “frail female” stereotype has been dissolved? Many had criticized the decision Marissa Mayer, the president and CEO of Yahoo, made to return to work so soon after giving birth last year because a mother should spend that time bonding with her newborn child. Here she was trying to abolish this stereotype and be responsible as the president of her company, but the media was trying to fit her into a gender-specific role. This only highlights the fact that in order to fully accept women into high-ranking executive and leadership roles, we must change the culture’s perception on women in business, science, and in other areas of society.

Women still have a long way to go before being fully accepted as leaders in American culture, but women like Mary Barra help make it possible even one step at a time. Her journey (and others) are great examples of how to overcome obstacles and help to pave the way for female officials, even for the next female POTUS.


*Thanks to Ishan Mahapatra for the great idea!

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Want to give a better presentation?

I was recently reading a great opinion article by David Rubenson of “The Scientist” magazine where he provides advice on how to improve your skills for giving a biomedical research talk.

Although I completely understand why he specifically targets scientists (he is writing the “The Scientist”, after all), I think his points could well be applied to others looking to improve their talks. So please feel free to check out the link below to get a better grasp of giving presentations — whether it is for your next science talk, big board meeting or even job interview.

David Rubenson. Opinion: How to give better talks. The Scientist.


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The windy, curvy road to success

After reading an article written by Nathaniel Koloc for the Harvard Business Review (1) about being successful, I took a step back to think about my own road to success.  Was it as easy as many movies had lent me to believe it would be (Hello, Legally Blonde!); or was it a windy road full of obstacles that led me to become the person I am today?

Of course, it was a no brainer. I was a “windy-road” sort of girl. The road to success is never easy, but it is nonetheless very meaningful.

So what are the keys to success? Nathaniel provided quite a bit of advice on the topic in his own article (1), so I will just add a few of my own which I think we should all think about:

Be goal-oriented. Most of us have no idea what we would want to do for the rest of our lives. And that’s OK! I think this is most prevalent in women finishing with their PhDs in the biological sciences (of course, I am speaking from personal experience amongst me and my friends). Now that we have our PhDs, what do we do? Rather than thinking what do I do, think what CAN I do. Ladies (and gentlemen), you have gotten this far. You were driven, motivated and goal-oriented. And keeping those skills and using them in your new professional life can only help. So if you want to use your degree to, say, teach children about science, then research how you can get there.  Talk to other people in the area and network.

Talk to people. If you are interested in any sort of job, try to reach out to as many people as you can to learn more about it. For example, if you have always wanted to be a nurse, why not talk to the nurse at your doctor’s office about hers (or his) job?  If you are in the sciences, talk to more people at conferences. And don’t be nervous or scared.  The fact of the matter is that most other people are just as nervous or as scared as you.  Be outgoing, chat, and learn about what they do. At worst, they just won’t talk to you. At best, you have managed to get a new contact.

Network, network, network. They don’t have seminars on this for nothing, folks.  Networking is one of the most important tools we have in our job-search arsenal. Not only does it help you learn more about your prospective new job, but it also “adds a face to a name” when you are applying for jobs. Let’s say you talked to person X at a meeting. Months later, you send person X an email about this-that-or-another. The chances of you getting a response are much higher because this person will remember you.

Get started now. While it may seem like a daunting task, just simply doing a Google search or sending an email will not only bring you one step closer to getting the job you want, but it will also relieve some of the stress and concern with job searching. Why? Because you have started doing something. The worst that can happen? You don’t get a response. However, sending multiple emails will increase your chances of hearing back and learning more about your potential future career.

You can always change your job. The best advice I have ever received about careers was from my cousin, actually. As I was looking for jobs last year, he told me “Monica, do the job you want to do now. You can always change later.”  Even though that last sentence seemed so obvious, I never thought of it. And hearing it (and subsequently letting it sink in) was quite freeing. I can do the job I want to do right now.

Now, while that advice was what I needed to hear at the time, now, I realize that any job I have should be a stepping stone to the career that I want. Admittedly, I am not sure of what the career I want actually is at the moment. But I know that every job I have and every volunteer opportunity I take will help me to figure it out. And it will bring me one step closer to the career that will make me happy.


(1) Koloc, Nathaniel. Build a career worth having. Harvard Business Review. http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/08/build_a_career_worth_having.html

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Being your best “whole” person: advice from a Harvard professor

There still is hope for female scientists.

A recent blog post came out in Scientific American by Radhika Nagpal where she talks about her life as a tenure-track academic professor at Harvard University (1). Many of us have already imagined the stereotypical life of a Harvard professor — constantly working, hunched over a desk writing grants into the wee hours of the morning. We believe that every academic professor is not able to maintain a good work-life balance. In fact, one of my own female advisors gave me this piece of advice: “If you want kids, the quality of the time that you spend with them is important; not the quantity of time. So make sure you get a good nanny.” A good nanny? So that as-a-matter-of-fact statement solidified for me what the life of an academic professor would be like. And I certainly didn’t want that.

And then I read Dr. Nagpal’s account of her life as an academic professor where she is able to maintain a wonderful work-life balance…at Harvard, no less! She seems to seamlessly be able to integrate her family life into her career. To be quite honest, I cringed a little just typing that sentence — how I have been conditioned to believe that your family life needs to integrate into your career. Regardless, here’s my take-away from her blog.

“I stopped taking advice”: And she’s right. What works for one person may not work for you. Yes, it is great to listen to the roads that others’ took to get to where they are, but it was their road and not yours. Listen to yourself (read: see the “best ‘whole’ person” you can be section below). There is no one road to success, and the roads vary from person to person.

“I work a fixed number of hours and in a fixed amount of time”: This section of her blog really stuck with me. Within the last year, I’ve graduated with PhD and left the big city that I had lived in for 6 years to go to another big city where I have a job as a post-doc in the biological sciences. I went from working over 80 hours a week in graduate school to cutting that time in half in order to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I also stopped “working late Friday night and I don’t open my email client until Monday morning.” (1) Dr. Nagpal is right; people do adapt. If it was an urgent message, my colleagues know how to reach me on my cell phone. But honestly, no experiment has been that urgent — as least not yet (I hope I just didn’t jinx myself!).

“I try to be the best ‘whole’ person I can”: And being a “whole” person can mean a lot of things, but most importantly, it means taking care of yourself and your wellbeing. Once you do, only then can you put good, solid effort into other areas of your life. For me, it means taking the time to care for myself by working out, reading a good book, or seeing friends. Dr. Nagpal is right, being your best “whole person” is giving yourself your very best. And I, at least, will not settle for anything less.

So if you haven’t read Dr. Nagpal’s great advice yet, I certainly encourage you to do so (1), even if you aren’t in the sciences. Her musings about her “feelgood” email folder and trying to be the best “whole” person you can be is easily applied to all who want to have it all. This post really helped me realize that as women, we can have the family and the career, and maintaining a work-life balance certainly helps with that. And by doing so, you are able to give 100% in every aspect of your life.

(1) http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2013/07/21/the-awesomest-7-year-postdoc-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-tenure-track-faculty-life/

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