Tag Archives: women in STEM

ACT-W Conference: Dr. Helen Sun keynote

Dr. Sun keynote was definitely the best thing out of the whole conference! The talk was called “My Personal Journey and Transformation Story”. To be honest ], my first reaction when I heard about switching career from the English professor to the information technology was rather skeptical, but the more I listened to the talk the more I started to realize how close is it to what I believe in, and what I consider the most important things in life and professional career. I find it very true what Dr. Sun said about the leadership. She cites the quote from Bob Gates that “Leadership is when people choose to follow
you, even if there’s no consequences of not doing so”.

But the most interesting thing happened at the very end of the talk. Dr. Sun said: if somebody will be talking to you about work-life balance, do not believe them. There is no such a thing as a work life balance. It can only be a work-life integration!

And that was the word! For many years, when I was telling people my personal story, and when I was telling young women seeking a career in IT: you do not have to choose between work and family, you can have them both if you set up your mind accordingly. But the word “integration” never crossed my mind and yet it describes perfectly how I feel about this subject.

And then Dr. Sun continued, talking about how she always would make a point to talk to her son on Skype every day when she was away on business trips, and about tons of other things that she did. and most of them would be exactly what I did. And what she said about her son not being upset, that she often could attend his events, and that he was proud of her, and how she gave him a positive example – I could say it about my kids, word to word.

So when she was finished, I raised my hand for a question, and told her how much I’ve enjoyed her presentation, and thanked her for giving me that word – work-life integration, and told her how my life journey resembled her’s.

And I think she was really glad to hear that 🙂


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About ACT-W conference

Last week I was at a conference which was not a database conference for a change. And taking into account the fact, that I am “chronically busy” at work these days, there should have been very compelling reasons for me to attend this conference.

The name of the conference ACT-W stands for “Advancing Careers in Tech for Women”. What I especially liked about it’s organization was that although the conference itself was only one day long, there were some conference-related events in the evenings of two days before the conference.

The first one (Oct 18) was the screening of the documentary “She started it” followed by a panel discussion.

There were some things I liked about the movie, particularly a message that if a woman does not see anybody around her modeling some behavior, doing certain things, she will never even think and that it’s possible. And from this perspective I think it it is very important to show these young women being entrepreneurs, being tech leaders, daring to enter this field.

There were other things which I didn’t like, mostly that the technical side of each of the projects which were showcased did not sound convincing. But overall this movie was a great discussion starter.

The second day (or rather evening) was pure networking. And again I think it was a great idea to allocate time outside the conference for people to meet and to learn more about what others are doing.

And finally, the conference day. Unfortunately, I was only able to be there for half a day, but the most important thing was that I was able to listen the the keynotes.

The first one was by Jenny Farver “How Leaders Talk”, and the second one was Dr. Helen Sun “A Personal Journey and Career Transformation”, and I am going to write about both of them separately.

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How women networking should NOT be organized

There was one small episode during ICDE 2017, and although it has been a month already, I still feel like I want to write about. Here is want happened

Among other booths of different vendors there was (as usual) the Amazon AWS. And one of their reps told me,that on Thursday they are going to have a “women event”, and whether I want to sign up, and if I just could leave my email with them. I told her: well, there is a conference banquet on Thursday, at what time precisely your event is going to be? And she said reassuringly: after the banquet!

Now, the banquet would start at 6PM, and on Wednesday evening I receive the following email:

Hi Hettie,
I wanted to reach out on behalf of AWS and invite you to attend the AWS Women in Engineering Networking Event tomorrow on Thursday, April 20. Our recruitment and engineering teams are coming down from Seattle for the ICDE Conference and we’d love to meet you in-person at our happy hour at Blue Door Winery in San Diego (around 3 miles from the conference venue).
There will be wine tasting, artisanal bites, and a raffle on-site. Please feel free to bring guests, the more the merrier!

I am clicking on the invite, and guess what start time it shows? Yes, you are right – at 6PM.

Let me tell you that. The banquet is the most important social event at any conference, and I would always make a point for the younger generation about the importance of attending a conference banquet. There you can be introduced or just introduce yourself to anybody, you can talk at length with the authors of the papers which were most interesting for you. People just are more relaxed and do not run to attend the next session. And if somebody organized a “women networking event” at the same time – how this should be perceived? Like “kid’s table”?! How much this kind of networking would worth? And if the event organizers didn’t bother to look at the conference program when scheduling this event, it’s even worse…

Fortunately, at least at the first glance, there was not that many women who would trade the banquet for this networking event 🙂

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Once again about women in science

A friend of mine have sent me this link almost a month ago, but it’s just now that I got to writing about this article in The Guardian.

I liked it a lot; the most important thing it is stressing – women are already doing science, so there may be less need at this point “to encourage girls to do science” The statistics show the actually in many areas of science there are more women that man!

Then the question comes – why in this case there are less women being published?

The New Scientist blames the “choice” to have a family. It points to a study in this month’s American Economic Review that shows women incurring earnings penalties in science if they have children. A recentHouse of Commons science and technology committee report goes into more detail, saying that scientific research careers are dominated by short-term contracts with poor job security – at the very time of life that women need to have children (if they want them). The female postdoctoral scientist faces difficult decisions while stuck on fixed-term contracts before tenure, with very little in the way of institutional support. Women should not have to choose between career and family, says the science magazine. But surely male scientists face similar choices?

Turns out – not. And what follows is something we all knew for a very long time. I remember how may years ago, when I was a consultant at the City of Chicago my single-mom-consultant co-worker used to say: I need stay at home wife!

Not a husband mind you :). So, here is how the article goes:

Apparently not. European social science research shows that male and female scientists often have different types of partners: male scientists more frequently have a stay-at-home partner looking after the children, while female scientists are more likely to have another scientist as a spouse. So male scientists might not need family-friendly working practices to have a successful career but female scientists do. Hence the loss of women in the “leaky pipeline” of scientific careers. And that is to say nothing of the research that found scientists perceived job applicants to be less competent when they had female names.

Sad, but true.

You know what it made me to think about? At ICDE and other conferences of the similar caliber the organizers usually report the submissions and accepted papers stats by countries and regions. Why not to report by gender? Some of my friends have already asked me looking at the pictures from the conference – why there were so little women?!

I understand, that it’s not always easy to derive gender from the name, and I also understand, that you can’t mandate people to submit their gender. But I was thinking that at least when you register for the conference, you might be ask – specify your gender (and you might “prefer not to answer”, there should be always be this option).

Ideally though I would love to see the stats on something like: how many women among the authors how may are the main authors, how many are registered for the conference, how many actually come and who is presenting:)

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What women want – why I first liked, and then disliked this article

I saw this article in one of many LinkedIn emails I am receiving weekly, so most likely at least a half of my readers already saw it last week. There are no groundbreaking news in the article; I guess it caught my attention exactly because it repeats all these things we hear about so often…

The name of the article is “6 things women want at work”, and it starts for the statement with which I agree whole-heartedly:

What do women want at work? The same things every worker wants: fair pay and the ability to work on projects and solutions that fuel their passion and allow them to make a difference — not just in the workplace, but in the world at large.

If you ask me, I’d say – that’s it. Women are people. They want, what everybody else want. But the article goes on over the same familiar list:

  • equal pay
  • flexibility and paid leave
  • role models and mentors
  • recognition and representation
  • opportunities for advancement
  • meaningful work

Out of this list probably only the first item is “gender-specific” – the payment gap is not even close be being gone. But let’s look at the other “5 things”.

Flexibility – why only women would want flexible hours? I think it’s just plain wrong. Flexible hours benefit both men and women, and in my company I can see, that when men have this flexibility, they tend to be more involved in the lives of their children. And it’s not only about having a “work from home” policy on place, but also having this culture – that it’s not something extraordinary, that the fathers stay at home with sick children, or come to work later to attend events at kids schools. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard something like – I am going to work from home tomorrow: my daughter is sick, and my wife has an important meeting.

Role models and mentors – again, why this should be gender-specific? I mean, I get it, women need to have role models specifically because too many people are ready to explain that “you can’t have it all”. But at the same time I feel that an example presented in the article – having the company website which features people of different race, gender and ethnicity should be (and is) appealing to male and female alike. As I’ve being repeatedly saying, I believe it’s very important to foster a gender-blind environment – for everybody.

The next two things: recognition and opportunities for advancement aren’t gender-specific either. As much as women often get overlooked in recognition (due to the gender bias), the real problem is, that people are often not recognized enough in general. And I hear more often from male that from female, that they do not understand what is their career path…

As for the last item in this list – meaningful work, I have some comments regardless of gender. Here is a quote:

One of our partner companies did a test recently where they let internal employees ‘freelance’ within the company; to choose which projects they wanted to work on. They were skeptical at first,” Ames says, thinking surely the employees would work fewer hours and be less productive when given more freedom. Instead, she says, the results were just the opposite.

“The employees worked longer hours and were much more engaged and passionate about their work, and the work was done quickly and with an efficient use of resources,” says Ames. That approach can maximize all your available talent, not just women.

Here I have a problem with associating “productive” with “long hours”, because I do not think this is correlated, and I do not like when people judge somebody’s productivity by the number of hours they spend on the project. But besides this, the final word – not just women – says it’s all.

… Isn’t it like I am trying to say that “women are people”?!

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I am featured in the Huffington Post

This interview was recorded in October, and I was told it will be published sometime in the beginning of January, so by mid-February I almost forgot about it. But here it is – in today’s Huffington Post Women in Business section.

I will be honest – am shamelessly proud of this publication, and I really hope that it will help me to promote my ideas at work, and to accomplish all these great and wonderful things I am dreaming about:)


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The statistics of inequality

A year ago, when I was getting ready to present my talk at the Moscow chapter of ACM/SIGMOD, I was a little bit panic-ing, since it was a totally new experience for me. In order to deal with this panic and to convince myself there is nothing scary about it, I decided to watch a presentation of the talk given on the previous seminar. And after I watched it, I’ve started to panic even more.

You know why? Because a presentation was given by a guy, and after it is ended, all the questions asked from the audience came out in male voices. They never turned the camera around, so unfortunately I can’t tell, whether there were any women at all in the audience, but if there were some, they were silent.

When I’ve realized that, I decided to go over a complete list of all presentations given at the Russian chapter of the ACM/SIGMOD since the seminars started – in October 1991. I’ve counted all the presentations, and then counted all the presentations, where the speakers were female.  The results of my statistics gathering were crushing….

You may be wondering, why I am recalling this now, a year later? Well. Because last week the Moscow ACM/SIGMOD chapter had one more female presenter, and guess what – that was the first time since I’ve presented a year ago!

This being said, at this point the statistics look like this. Out of 175 total presentations given so far only 11 were presented by female speakers. And ironically out of those eleven five researches started their scientific career at the Database research group of the University of Saint Petersburg (including myself).

Now let me add something else. I’ve being asked, why I am bringing this subject again and again. After all, there is no real “rejection” process happening at this seminar. Well, I am bringing this up mostly for the sake of women in Computer Science themselves. How many times I’ve heard recently: “I do not like to speak in public”! A lot! Even from my younger co-workers, who should not have any of this baggage.

I really wish women would be more bold in volunteering to speak publicly, and I also wish that the organizers of such evens as the ACM/SIGMOD seminar would seek female speakers more actively. I am sure everybody will benefit from this.

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