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Work/Life

How to make the most out of your Mentorship

First things first, what is a mentor and what does mentorship mean?

You’ve probably heard the word mentor AT LEAST 25 times in your professional life – if not more, but it’s possible the reference could have been made in a variety of contexts. For all intents and purposes, how I will refer to it in this blog is as “an experienced and trusted advisor” – straight from Merriam-Webster.

It is important to understand that a mentor is someone that provides professional guidance and advise to help a mentee evaluate their professional landscape and grow in that realm –  even if they are a professional within a certain field, a mentor is not providing a mentee services to that end (ie. lawyer, doctor etc..). The mentorship is the period of time the mentor provides the mentee career and professional advice. The time period can vary from a very short period (a day to a few weeks or months) to years, depending on the relationship formed. The connection could be made through an informal or work connection or a more formal program, like our annual mentoring program (learn more here: https://womenaccelerators.org/mentoring-program/).

A mentorship can have a huge impact on your professional life IF you take advantage of what it can provide. In nearly all cases, a mentor is senior to a mentee and has a wealth of knowledge AND consequently, a strong network in a certain industry or realm. Most importantly, a mentorship is a relationship based on trust and respect. A mentor is someone, with experience, that you can discuss insights and issues. A space to discuss, without judgment, can help you sort through issues with a new perspective which can help you overcome those issues – reaching career heights you may not have thought possible before.

So you have a mentor, now what?

Take time for introspection

Take time to think about your ‘WHY’. The better you know yourself and your goals, the better you can navigate through the benefits of mentorship.

Think of this as a journey, if you don’t know the destination – how can you make it there?

To start, consider the following questions:

  1. Can you summarize your current professional experience? Make a list of highlights.
  2. What are your short and long term professional goals?
    1. If you don’t know – check out this HBR article for extra considerations: https://hbr.org/2018/07/how-to-mentor-someone-who-doesnt-know-what-their-career-goals-should-be
    2. Still struggling? Look at the career histories of people you admire or want to emulate, see if you can find anything that aligns with your passions and goals to use as a taking off point.
  3. Is there an aspect of business/professional life that particularly intrigues you or you want assistance navigating?
  4. Can you make a list of what you hope to achieve from a mentorship? (ie. are you looking for ideas to obtain skills, reach a new level, learn leadership tactics, increase your network etc…).
  5. Consider what your personality type is, are you an extrovert, introvert or analytical in nature?  And what kind of work environment or management style meshes best with your personality?
  6. Try taking personality tests such as Myers Briggs, Insights Discovery,or a DiSC personality assessment tool, etc. for additional insight.
  7. Think of anything else you may want to learn or know – professionally and personally.

Make a plan

As the mentee, unless your program dictates otherwise, you are responsible for driving the program.

  • Think of a few major topics you want to focus on throughout the mentorship and touch on them your first meeting.
  • Plan to bring your mentor up to speed as much as possible about your personality type and communications preferences.
  • Keep a list of things you are interested in discussion for quick reference.
  • Consider the timeline of the program and how many interactions or touchpoints are specified. If there is not a concrete schedule, draft one and have a discussion with your mentor to see if it works for them.
  • Pre-plan meetings! Have questions and topics ready before you meet with your mentor. Send them a note or email in advance with those topics to help facilitate conversation.
  • Write a summary of your discussions or key points, and plan for action items for the next meeting.

Take Action

Mentorships are WORK.

They take coordination and investment of both time and emotional capital from both parties. As the mentee, it is important to set the schedule in advance. Plan the meetings, follow up and facilitate the discussion. No one understands what you are seeking out of the mentorship better than you. Use the time wisely and act on the above guidance to make the most out of your mentorship!

We’re excited to see you grow and reach new heights – Be sure to stay tuned for more mentoring resources coming soon!

Finally, remember that we are in this together. Empower, Engage and Elevate!

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Mentoring Meeting Recap

It has been a wonderful year for de la Femme. We want to thank our speakers who generously shared their time, networks and insights with us.

Our meeting in July was a recap of our six-month inaugural mentoring program that started last December. We had an informal discussion between the mentors and mentees, talking about their experiences and what they’ve learned from their team members.   We also had new attendees who came to learn more about our mentoring program.Attendees Mentoring

Everyone felt they had gotten a lot from the mentor program. One mentee talked about how her mentor has helped her to transition her career. Another mentee said that she learned how to better navigate the politics within her company.   A mentor said that it was a wonderful experience for her to help guide the mentees. Some of the mentors commented that they would have benefited if they had mentors earlier in their own careers.

How to find a mentor?

There was a lot of discussion on how to find mentors and strategies to ask someone to be your mentor. Instead of asking for a formal mentorship right off the bat, the group suggested to let it happen naturally by interacting informally first.Robin and Melissa

When is the right time to start a family?

A question was raised on when is the right time to start a family without penalizing one’s career. I was surprised at the degree to which young women today still have to worry about this type of issue. Unfortunately, we still see this happen quite frequently that women who choose to stay at home and take care of their families for a significant amount of time, end up coming back to much more limited career options. I believe that this varies in different industries; some are definitely more accommodating than others. In some EU countries, new mothers get a year off and the employer retains their positions during their leave. It remains to be seen how the recent Netflix publicity over their new one year of paid maternity and paternity leave and similar policies will affect the career trajectory of women.

Thank you for the group’s feedback in helping us to improve on our next mentoring program.

Looking to the Future

Some people ask me why we need yet another woman’s group when there are so many already. My answer is that there are so many different types of women, in different stages of their career, with different interests. We need everyone’s help to bridge the gender gap, and to provide more support and opportunities for networking. I am happy to report that our members have found jobs and made friends and gotten support through de la Femme.

I am looking forward to our salary negotiation meeting in September, as well as Creating and Branding your LinkedIn profile, and Women and STEM/STEAM, and many others this fall and winter.   Please spread the word about de la Femme and let us know if there are other topics that are of interest to you.

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RESET Your Stress Event with Dr. Kristen Lee Costa

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Dr. Kris has been a clinical practitioner for over 20 years. In that time, she noticed that people would come to her only at a point of crisis, particularly when they were “oversaturated with stress.” From her practice and experiences working with her patients, she gained insight into how various institutions affect well-being and physical health; these insights prompted the question “how do we sustain ourselves through complexity?” Various online resources will provide what she referred to as a “cookie-cutter” solution, such as “Five Easy Steps to De-Stress Your Life.” While a quick solution such as this might provide immediate respite, the solution doesn’t provide a sustainable, renewable method of dealing with stress and complexity. Moreover, every individual regards and handles stress differently, so a one-size-fits-all option is not a viable solution. Enter “RESET,” Dr. Kris’ method of self-care. Simply stated, Dr. Kris’ RESET method of self-care builds upon introspection and helps you to carve out a space that enables you to engage in a productive self-care strategy; importantly, this method can be tailored, modified, and adapted to the individual and their needs.

Our event started with a discussion on the definition of “Resilience.” Many incisive contributions came from the interactive audience and Dr. Kris added a new facet to the term that resounded with the audience: resilience is a process that “helps us to adapt.” Resilience is paramount in not only surviving, but also thriving, while navigating through complexity. One example of complexity that was discussed at length—and both women and men in the audience could identify with—was what Dr. Kris referred to as “Institutionalized –isms.” Examples of these inimical “-isms” are racism, sexism, culturalism, ageism, and manifest in the way we respond to the people’s perceptions of us based on their biases and attitudes. The RESET method helps one to become cognizant of the “isms” at play, to adapt within the complexity, and avoid frustration while maintaining the ability to navigate this complexity.

How does one cultivate resilience? How does one cultivate strength and the ability to bounce back? A cookie-cutter approach to dealing with stress is to “squash it,” but this doesn’t truly eliminate it. In fact, this cookie-cutter approach, as Dr. Kris suggested, might actually perpetuate stress. One component to Dr. Kris’ approach to dealing with stress is to recontextualize it. Instead of viewing stress as a wholly negative or antipathetic entity, realize that it can be a powerful teacher that can help cultivate resilience. Change and flux are part of the human condition and natural occurrences in life, and may occur more frequently in the lives of those who enjoy challenging themselves, are driven, and self-motivated. In this context, stress can be a “sign of conscientiousness” (e.g., you worry about doing your job well because you care about doing your job well), and can provide new perspectives and growth that the aforementioned “squashing” would’ve otherwise precluded. Harnessing stress in a new way helps you build “emotional muscle” that strengthens your inner grit and resilience, and ability to be self-sustainable. While the concept of harnessing stress seems paradoxical and counterintuitive to self-sustainability, understanding the context of the stress, knowing the change you can effect within it, and having a personalized RESET method enables you to harness stress, learn, and grow in a self-sustainable way (be sure to read more on this topic, specifically “natural stress” versus anxiety, in Dr, Kris’ book “RESET: Make the Most of Your Stress, Your 24-7 Plan for Well-Being”).

A key component to maintaining your resilience and self-care is “Emotional First Aid.” Dr. Kris states that emotional first aid is the preventative [self-]care that “helps avoid disaster”—don’t neglect yourself! Proper “emotional hygiene” allows you to become efficient and prevent burnout. The RESET method teaches you proper emotional hygiene through time management to find spaces for self-care.

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So what is this RESET method? Without giving too much away (I highly recommend you read the book—it has changed my life profoundly for the better!), RESET is

Realize

Energize

Soothe

End unproductive thinking

Talk it out

Realize

Oftentimes stress triggers a raw, visceral reaction, or the “primary appraisal.” Trying to problem-solve or make sense of things in this stage is dangerous because thinking patterns often lead to self-sabotage and intense frustration. In this stage, Dr. Kris urges you to be cognizant of the primary appraisal stage and to not let its effects affect you. After waiting it out, you enter the “secondary appraisal” stage that allows you to get a sense of the resources available to you, to avail yourself to these resources so that you can lean on them, learn from them, and gather more information. This allows you to build better behavioral and thought patterns and harness the stress in a new and productive way. Furthermore, this process is important for those with Impostor syndrome, which is prevalent amongst high-achieving women. For those with Impostor syndrome, bolstering your appraisal process is key in realizing your value and resources at hand.

Energize

Mind-body wellness is important. Movement of the body affects your ability to reason and process, your mood, and memory. Movement can also help bring anxiety down to a normal level. Also, sleep is necessary, as it provides the body with an opportunity for recalibration. Sleep-deprivation has serious consequences and the RESET method helps you to be more efficient so that you can carve out time for sleep. In addition to moving and sleeping regularly, nutritional value is important, as the body needs to receive “the right signals and messages” from what you consume.

Soothe

Our generation is the first to die faster from “lifestyle diseases” than from communicable/infectious diseases. This is why energizing our bodies and giving them a chance to recalibrate, and knowing how to soothe our bodies properly are absolutely essential to our self-care. Soothing can be as easy as taking a walk, unclenching your fists, or smelling the proverbial flowers. Maladaptive soothing, such as participating in impulsive or destructive behaviors, can occur and it does not help the body recalibrate.

End unproductive thinking

Dr. Kris discussed “rumination,” a term she described as “a negative emotional state where we chew on fixed thoughts or ideations and keep chewing on them.” Rumination robs us of opportunities for productive thinking and ultimately depletes us. Recognizing when rumination occurs and setting boundaries and limits to it is important in self-care.

Talk it out

Becoming overwhelmed by stress and participating in counterproductive processes like rumination can leave us feeling lonely and isolated. Oftentimes in isolation, negativity is suppressed, which causes it to fester. Talking it out involves finding a community of like-minded, supportive people, people that “get you,” and mentors that you are comfortable conversing with, being inquisitive and learning from. Naysayers and “dream bashers” will always be out there, so finding a community that bolsters you is an important part of self-care and defeating negative habits and thought processes.
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The RESET method empowers you in a very unique and edifying way. As Dr. Kris stated, it gives you “permission to say ‘when we struggle, we can find resources, and connect in thoughtful ways, rather than depleting ourselves and burning out.’”

The event was simply amazing. Dr. Kris is a gifted speaker and an empowering, motivational, and genuine woman. It was a pleasure to host her and a privilege to learn from her. I think it’s safe to say that everyone in the audience left inspired, empowered, and equipped to RESET and successfully navigate all complexity!

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June 3: “Reset your Stress: Cultivating Resilience in Today’s Complex Market” event

Register for de la Femme’s next event at: http://dlf-reset-your-stress.eventbrite.com

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Reset your Stress: Cultivating Resilience in Today’s Complex Market

How can we maintain wellbeing given today’s hypercompetitive marketplace and increasing demands?  Join Dr. Kris, a researcher and practitioner specializing in preventing professional burnout and increasing resilience in today’s complex work arenas, for a discussion that will help participants in examining complex contextual factors that create barriers for professional and personal success.  Participants will be supported in understanding the importance of engaging in practical strategies that cultivate excellence and resilience at work and beyond.

Participants will learn:

*Common stressors today’s women face within organizations.

*How to avoid the trappings of professional burnout.

*Practical, proven methods for increasing longevity and sustainability at work and at home.

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Kristen Lee Costa ’11, EdD, LICSW, known as “Dr. Kris,” an award-winning professor of Behavioral Science and a Doctor of Education faculty member at Northeastern University in Boston, where her research and teaching interests include individual and organizational wellbeing and resilience. Dr. Kris operates a clinical and consulting practice devoted to preventing and treating burnout and is the author of RESET: Make the Most of Your Stress, winner of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Motivational Book of 2015.

Dr. Kris is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker known for her advocacy in promoting increased mental health integration in social policies and institutions to facilitate access and improved health outcomes in the U.S. and across the globe. She has served as a U.S. federal grant reviewer for the Departments of Minority Affairs, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, and Health and Human Services.

Dr. Kris’s signature ability to engage with a diverse range of audiences in implementing strategic self-care practices has led her to be invited to speak nationally and internationally to educators, health and mental health professionals, business leaders and general audiences.

Dr. Kris holds a BS from Worcester State University, an MSW from Boston University and an EdD in Organizational Leadership Studies from Northeastern University.

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RESET: Make the Most of Your Stress is based on the RESET© model of self-care developed as a therapeutic framework to prevent and treat burnout. RESET© blends substantive theory with practical tools for readers to draw upon at work and home, and has been called “a breakthrough model that reframes our ideas about stress” and “provides a clear strategy for self care that is compelling, creative and motivating for those leading high stress, demanding lives.”

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Register at http://dlf-reset-your-stress.eventbrite.com

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May 7: Can You Work And Have A Life?

Thursday, May 7: Can You Work And Have A Life?

Paula Rayman HeadshotRecently, the book Lean-In challenged women to be more assertive in their workplaces in order to better able to climb the ladder of success. However, through blogs and twitters, thousands of women have responded with compelling reasons why this is counter-productive to a woman’s well-being, and instead offered the prescription to reject male patterns of power-over with an ethic of power-with. Others noted the importance of focusing on changing public policies and corporate practices that would give both women and men more choices about work-life balance throughout the life course.   We are excited to have Professor Paula Rayman, author of Beyond the Bottom Line: The Search for Dignity at Work, a world renowned scholar and Senior Fulbright Award recipient, who will lead a conversation on the work-life equation.

Date/Time: Thursday, May 7, 2015 at 6 PM
Location: The Broad Institute (Olympus Room), Kendall Sq, Cambridge, MA
Dinner and drinks will be provided.

Register at Eventbrite: Registration is required, sign-in upon arrival.

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Paula Rayman, Ph.D., is Professor of Sociology at University of Massachusetts Lowell. She is Director of the Middle East Center for Peace, Development, and Culture and Executive Director of the public sector hub of the Women in Public Service Project. She was the Founding Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies program at UMass Lowell.

Dr. Rayman is a Senior Fulbright Award recipient. In 2014, she led trainings on non-violent social action for a coalition of Israeli and Palestinian women leaders and spoke at the United States Embassy in Israel as part of the Distinguished American Speaker series. Her new project with United States Institute of Peace is focused on the implementation of United Nation Resolution 1325 and development of National Action Plans to combat violence against women.

Dr. Rayman is also a nationally recognized scholar in the field of work organization, labor, and public policy. She is the author of Beyond the Bottom Line: The Search for Dignity at Work.  She was the founding director of the Radcliffe Public Policy Center at Harvard University. Rayman has also worked extensively on issues related to women and science. She was the Principal Investigator for the National Science Foundations Project Women and Techforce and WORKING WISE (Women in Science and Engineering). She is the co-author of The Equity Equation.   She was the recipient of the Pathways for Women in Sciences award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Professor Rayman has been recognized for her leadership on advancing women in STEM from many organizations including the Weizmann Institute, Israel, the 1995 United Nations Woman and Science Tent, Beijing, and the Council on Competitiveness, Washington D.C.
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Selected Publications:

  • From Birmingham to Budrus: Nonviolent Resistance in Conflicted Regions. Dorothy Cotton Institute, Cornell University, In Progress 2013
  • The Eight Peace Pillars: A More Inclusive Approach to Building Positive Peace.
  • Co-authored with Suyheang Kry, Peace and Conflict Studies Program, University of Massachusetts Lowell, In Progress 2013
  • Working WISE: Intergenerational Voices of Women in STEM Fields. National Science Foundation, Washington D.C. 2009.
  • Beyond Coexistence: Israeli Jewish-Arab Relations. Fulbright Senior Project. University of Haifa, Israel. 2008.
  • Beyond the Bottom Line: The Search for Dignity at Work, Palgrave St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2001.

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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.

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*Thanks to Ishan Mahapatra for the great idea!

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Frances Toneguzzo emphasizes that each career step is a learning opportunity

The quote “Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder” by Patti Sellers, mentioned in Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”, was definitely echoed at Frances Toneguzzo’s talk at our de la Femme event last night.

Frances shared the story of her career journey from academic science to becoming Executive Director of Partners Healthcare Research Ventures and Licensing.  It was refreshing to have Frances speak in such a candid manner, and to hear from an extremely successful career-oriented woman that she took a circuitous path in her career.

Frances divulged that she wasn’t necessarily successful in every stage of her career path, but she emphasized that she gained important skills each time.  She encouraged us to work hard and to view each step in our careers as a learning opportunity.  Also, we should realize that no decision is forever and that it can be changed so we shouldn’t worry unnecessarily that we are making wrong decisions.  The correct decision is the decision that is the best for us at that time.  And, yes, major decisions can be quite scary, but we need to trust in ourselves and our abilities and always work hard.

Another part of our conversation that was quite memorable for me and I applaud Frances for having shared it, was that she took time off from her career when her children were young.  She didn’t regret it and had always planned to go back to her career afterwards.  She suggested that we can and should stay current with what is going on in our field during time off and that this would help ease our transition back.  In Frances’ case, she maintained enough of a presence by doing some consulting that had a low time commitment.

Another lesson learned from Frances that resonated with the group was the importance of self-promotion and self-confidence.  She said that generally men are better self-promoters and they are not shy about asking for promotions and salary increases.  She also mentioned that women in general feel that their managers will notice their good work and they will be recognized appropriately, but this might not always be the case as the hard work might go unacknowledged if one does not self-promote.   Everyone in the meeting resonated with this topic and some members suggested practicing self-promotion among their peers in order to become comfortable doing this.

Frances also talked about career options in the technology transfer field and how to go about applying in this field for PhD graduate students.  She suggested they could gain some hands-on experience by applying for internship programs at tech transfer offices.  These careers could be viable options to gain valuable business skills.  And, besides the traditional role of licensing managers, there are emerging jobs such as project managers and alliance managers that can help accelerate research projects and partnerships with industry.

We thank Frances Toneguzzo again for sharing her amazing story and lessons learned during her career.

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A review of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In

For those of you who haven’t had a chance to read Sandberg’s book, please do.  It was a thought-provoking and fast read.  Although Sheryl doesn’t go into extensive detail about many of the studies on gender inequality that she highlighted in her book, it was nevertheless a fantastic overview of the status of the current gender gap, with references for those who wanted to delve deeper.

I must admit that before I even picked up the book, I had read some opinion pieces that charged Sandberg with blaming women for the gender gap and so I already harbored some level of skepticism about her views.  However, having read the book in its entirety, I think she did a fantastic job of arguing that there are various causes that lead to gender inequality, with many obstacles imposed by institutional, social, and cultural norms.  All these things lead to a lack of support and encouragement for women in career advancement, leading them to think it is in their best interest to lean back from the work place, making it less likely that these women will become leaders that can change and remove those obstacles for future generations, thus generating a self-perpetuating cycle.

In addition, Sheryl made it very clear that if a women chooses to lean back from her career to spend more time with her kids, she still has a full time career as a mother and not only is this OK but it is very admirable.  But the key word here is CHOICE.  What she does argue is that, in our world as it is today, women don’t yet have real choice.  Some women might choose to lean back from her career because the world has made it harder for her to continue choosing to have a career – so then is this real choice?  Lastly, she argues that similar attitudes can be seen for men, that our society still lacks full acceptance that it is perfectly normal for men to choose to lean in to raising their children in order to support the women leaning into their career.  I acknowledge that I’m not yet at the stage where I have to make the decision between a career and children, so I don’t know how difficult it can be, but I hope that I have real choice and no matter what that choice is, I also hope I am not criticized for it.

Overall a worthwhile read to get people thinking and discussing this important issue.  This topic is a deeply personal and emotional one, with vastly different viewpoints.  And, although I personally don’t agree with every one of Sheryl’s points, I think it’s admirable that she is speaking out about it.  The more conversations we have, the more likely we are to acknowledge that there still is a gender gap so that we can identify ways to close it.  There is not a single solution, and it will certainly take time, but hopefully we can all work together to help close it faster.  This is what de la Femme aims to do.  Together we can make a difference.

Please join de la Femme and our speaker Frances Toneguzzo, PhD, Executive Director of Partners Healthcare Research Ventures and Licensing at our next event on April 30th, 2013.  Frances will share with us opportunities and lessons learned in her career path from academia to biotech and startup companies to the tech transfer field, and advice on how to carve out your own career advancement opportunities.  Come meet Frances for an evening of insightful discussion over dinner.  Register at www.delafemme6ft.eventbrite.com

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Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In

The de la Femme team is attending Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s talk on April 4, 2013.  Please join us if you’re free that evening.

Here is the event description from Brookline Booksmith (http://www.brooklinebooksmith-shop.com/sheryl-sandberg-lean-in):

Sheryl Sandberg – Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (In conversation with Robin Young)

Start: 04/04/2013 6:00 pm
At the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

Facebook COO and a regular on Fortune Magazine’s list of 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, Sheryl Sandberg explores why women pull back in the workplace, urging them to seek challenges, go after their goals, and lead. She tells her own story of success, recalling her own decisions, mistakes, and the struggle to make the right choices for all facets of her life. A call to action and a blueprint for personal growth, this book will spark discussion about working women. Sandberg will be joined in conversation with Robin Young, host of NPR’s Here and Now.

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Science, media and overcoming stigmas

Written by Monica Markovski, PhD, and de la Fember.

Often times women can face difficulty in succeeding in science because a persistent bias exists to undercut a woman’s self-esteem. Recently, a study has been published showing the gender bias reality that many women face in science (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/09/14/1211286109#aff-1). In fact, during my graduate career, I have also faced many of the stereotypes which prevent women from advancing in their scientific careers. While troubling, these hurdles definitely provided me with even more motivation to overcome this gender gap, if only to “to stick it to the man” (pun fully intended).

Another such comrade in arms is my former graduate school classmate, Christina Agapakis. Christina had always been a super star in my class. She joined a synthetic biology group where she designed biological systems to do just about anything she wanted them to. Not only did Christina do great scientific work, but she also loves to blog about all things science to make it accessible to the general public.

Recently, I got back in touch with Christina after she was named one of Forbes magazine “30 under 30” (http://www.forbes.com/special-report/2012/30-under-30/30-under-30_science.html) for science and healthcare. This is an amazing accomplishment, I thought! But how did she get to where she is today? What did she have to overcome in order to succeed? Well, why not ask the scientist directly? So I decided to pick her brain and ask her about her passion for science and all things art and media.

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MM: Congratulations on being named both a L’Oreal USA Women in Science Fellow and for being a part of the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Those are amazing accomplishments. How do you think these have helped you further your career?

CA: Thanks! It’s a great honor to be recognized. The L’Oreal For Women in Science program does amazing things to promote women scientists around the world, and it is so special to be part of this great group.

MM: Based upon your experience, have you found it difficult to be a woman in science?

CA: I’ve been really lucky to have never had to face any overt discrimination during my career, but I do think that the subtle biases against women in science and engineering can negatively affect all women. Because science is supposed to be objective and objectively meritocratic, these biases can be hard to identify and end up being self-perpetuating. Since there are fewer women in some science and technology fields, an objective assessment based on those statistics might ask whether women just aren’t as intrinsically interested or intrinsically able to do the job as men. These attitudes can actually harm women’s performance, as is seen in studies of stereotype threat (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotype_threat), and can influence the opinions of the faculty that can then affect student admission, hiring, and promotion (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/09/14/1211286109), maintaining the skewed numbers.

MM: What do you think can help motivate more women to pursue science or other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields?

CA: I think that the problem lies less in the motivation of girls and women and more in the cultural biases and structural inequalities that can make it harder for women to advance in their chosen careers. I think even in [the Biological and Biomedical Sciences] program at Harvard the percentage of female students was at least 50%, so we definitely have tons of highly motivated women studying science, especially biology. The numbers are more skewed in physics and engineering early on, but I think that the drop off in the percentage of women at the highest ranking positions in science largely mirrors the drop-off that happens in other careers in business, politics, law, etc. These problems are all linked and have to do with much more than individual ambition, but also with how women are perceived and evaluated, the roles of women in family and home life, and the daily challenges of the majority of women that don’t have the opportunity to worry about high powered job statistics. It’s been a complex and difficult year for “women’s issues” in the news, but I’m optimistic about the fact that these conversations are happening so prominently and for the potential for feminism to help women in all of these areas.

MM: Social media now is a huge forum for scientific discussion and debate between scientists and non-scientists alike. And you have a huge web presence. Why did you decide to promote your science in this way?

CA: Blogging and twitter for me aren’t about promoting my own research or even synthetic biology in general, but about sharing, thinking through, and discussing ideas that excite me and that I want to learn more about. With social media I can communicate with and learn from people far outside of my field, from other scientists and engineers but also from social scientists, historians, artists, educators, and writers. These conversations have really shaped my research and have led to many great friendships, online and in real life.

MM: Speaking of social media, are there any blogs that are on your must-reads?

CA: Here is a very abridged list of favorites in no particular order:

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Obviously Christina has gotten quite far in her scientific career. Her best advice on how to succeed? “[To] learn to read, learn to write, find great mentors, and never listen to other people’s advice. Young scientists have a lot of people telling them what they should be doing, what they should be reading, how much time they should be spending at the bench, and how many papers they should be publishing, which usually just translates into productivity neurosis and ‘I’m-more-hardcore-than-you’ competition rather than actual learning and good science. Do what you’re excited about, always have a side project, read widely, learn from your friends and colleagues, and don’t let the PhD-comics version of what a graduate student is stop you from being a good scientist.”

Great advice to live by. Maybe I’ll try them myself.

**Besides excelling in science, Christina also likes to have fun, whether it’s simply watching TV and doing yoga or expressing her creative side through art, reading books, knitting, or even just blogging about her scientific happenings. If you’d like to learn more about Christina or read what she’s blogging about these days, just visit agapakis.com and http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/oscillator

 

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