Some thoughts on women, management & work #wmwc

I’m lucky enough to be attending the Women, Management and Work Conference in  Sydney today. There is a great turnout, with many familiar names and faces from around Australia.

So far there has been an impressive line-up of speakers.  Yet these impressive speakers each talked about the issues around gender pay equity (which does not exist here in Australia yet). They also touched on the changing nature of work and patterns of work – since many of us no longer work in the same field from beginning to end of our careers.

Paid parental leave was also touched upon – Heather Ridout noted how important she sees this issue for business.  I agree, this is one area that is critical to driving productivity growth for Australia.

Mark Lennon also made a plea for people to realise that trade unions are still relevant.  Not sure he made his case strongly enough to maintain relevance?

I look at the landscape for women in the workplace (especially in management) and remain disheartened that we have made so little progress during my working career.  We seem to be having many of the same conversations about equal pay, equal opportunity in the workplace, discrimination, sexual harassment and parental leave as happened twenty years ago.

The strident complaints (or the hidden seething resentment) of men when women are appointed to positions ahead of them remain.  Access to board roles remains distressingly low, although the Australian Institute of Company Directors is working hard on this at the moment.  You can check out Tony Abbott having a bit of a gripe about gender here.

Yet I look at the landscape in Australia and am encouraged to see women in power at various levels.  It is especially encouraging to see women as: Governor General, Prime Minister, Deputy Leader of the Opposition, State Governors, State Premiers, Mayors, local Councillors and other business leaders.  But this is a very rare alignment of the  constellations, rare enough that it is commented upon.

We have not yet reached a stage where having a woman in a position of power and authority is so completely normal that it is not even worth commenting upon.

Social media: blurring the boundaries

In the past we used to be able to separate the public from the private and business from the personal quite easily. But this was an aberration.

Privacy was a tiny blip in the long history of human existence. Going back only as far as our great grandparent’s generation privacy was relatively rare. And in the generations before that privacy was considered almost absurd, even for the very rich.

Most people lived in small cramped houses and shared their space with many others. In those days even conjugal relations were not private for most people.

Most people lived in villages too, where just about everyone knew each other’s business. But for a very short period, during the mid to late twentieth century, privacy was possible in the western world due to a new standard of housing.

It was the post World War 2 housing – where each nuclear family had its own house – that made privacy possible. Finally Mum and Dad had personal space and sometimes even the kids had their own rooms. For a brief period in the twentieth century privacy became the norm.

But with the Digital Revolution in the early twenty first century we have made a return to the village. And this time the village is virtual.

This digital village means that the boundaries between public and private, business and personal are becoming increasingly blurred. I’ve taken to drawing them as a Venn diagram.

As we adopt the various social computing platforms in our personal lives – such as Facebook, Digg, Slideshare, YouTube, or Twitter – we blur the boundaries between public and private by our own making. Then, as companies and other organisations adopt the same technologies for business purposes and ask us to drive them, we begin the blur the boundaries between business and personal.

As a result we are turning into:

“ambient broadcasters who disclose a great deal of personal information in order to stay connected and take advantage of social, economic, and political opportunities.”

Source: Mike Sachoff

And, by means of this broadcasting of our information, we are paying the social media platform providers through our data. These providers are not making their platforms available to us for free. They are doing it because our data is the goldmine of the twenty first century. We are paying them by giving away data about our lives, which are increasingly exposed online in the virtual village.
web21-300x197This view of data as critical to the new internet (often called Web 2.0) was explained by Tim O’Reilly back in 2005 and is summarised nicely in this diagram by Ajit Jaokar.

And this new interactive and easier to use web is compelling to many of us. It enables us to do many things including:

  • Build friendships
  • Find and form communities
  • Seek or share help and expertise
  • Build reputations
  • Find out who is trustworthy and reputable
  • Do business and make money
  • Find jobs
  • Have fun

But let’s put all of this aside for a moment to consider human nature. And to start let’s consider an old saying:

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. ”
Source: Ecclesiastes 1:9-14

Thus one thing we need to keep in mind about this digital village we’re living in now is that no human behaviour happens online that does not already happen offline. What is different, however, is the the amplification effects of the web and the way that the medium facilitates amplified responses.

We’ve all seen the poor secretary somewhere who writes an email only have it go global almost overnight and then lose their job. That’s the amplification effect of the web. In the past that conversation might have got out to a small group of people via word of mouth. But now it truly can go global in a matter of hours.

And, while this digital village gives rise to an enormous number of benefits and opportunities, it also gives rise to some risks.

The three key risks I see are:

  • Reputation. The amplification effects of the web mean that news moves fast and bad news moves faster.  Thus while it has become easier and faster to build a reputation online, it is also easier for unflattering images and commentary to proliferate.After all how many times have you gone out with friends only to find the pictures are already up on Facebook or Flickr by the time you arrive home? Here is a great example of this phenomenon (no it’s not me in that picture 😉 ).
  • Job. The blurring between business and personal currently gives rise to a number of conflicts in the workplace.  Some employers frown upon online participation by their staff, others demand it of unwilling staff.In any case, we are still working out the boundaries for social media and social networking in business and the workplace. And, until we settle on the new norms, there are going to be some casualties.  I know several people who have lost jobs due to their online activity.
  • Personal safety. This risk is especially linked to the ease with which disputes can be amplified in the absence of physical interaction.There is much more effort involved to escalate a dispute if you have to walk over to someone’s house, knock on their door, ask their parents or partner if they are home, and then have a fight. But if there has been insults flung back and forth in the equivalent of a digital village square then physical action can seem to be a logical next step.An example of this is the tragic case of teens who escalated an argument online (effectively in public in the digital village). The result was one was killed due to a perceived loss of face.

This leads into the question of how we can mitigate these risks.

  • Use commonsense – if you wouldn’t disclose offline why do it online?
  • Trust your gut – if you are not comfortable doing something why do it?
  • Ask your friends
  • It’s just like the ‘real world’ so look for patterns
  • Be conscious of the power of amplification online and use that power wisely

The main thing is to:

Accept the changed landscape and plan accordingly

The human race has survived the advent of many revolutionary technologies – including the printing press, the telegraph, telephone, radio and television. Each was predicted to cause disaster to our kind and, miraculously, we appear to have survived. But, rather than the doom predicted, each of these technologies has opened up remarkable vistas of opportunity, wealth and social good for humankind.

I predict that we will adapt to the digital revolution and be as unable to imagine life without it as we can imagine life without the telephone.

Note: This post is based on a presentation at Social Media Women on 13 July 2010. The slides are up on Slideshare.

Annalie Killian … a woman Catalysing Magic

Here is another post in my series on inspiring women.

This time it is my friend Annalie Killian, who is also known as Catalyst for Magic (yes that is really the job title on her business card) or as @MaverickWoman on Twitter.

I’ve known Annalie for many years and have always been inspired and energised by her. Over the years she has evolved as an organisational change agent (catalyst) and intrapreneur. Yet several constants have remained with Annalie over the years, for example, her:

  • passion for change,
  • generosity of spirit,
  • extreme curiosity, and
  • deep joie de vivre.

Here is a bit of insight into the life journey of this woman who has challenged stereotypes and travelled far. In her own words:

How/Why I’m doing what I’m doing now?

Let me start with what I am doing now, then I’ll try and cover the how and why.

Since 2000, when I moved to Australia from South Africa, I have worked as “Catalyst for Magic” at AMP, a large iconic Australian Financial Services brand. My role is Director of Innovation, Collaboration and Communication, and I see it as championing the spirit of “ubuntu” – a Zulu word referring to our inter-connected Humanness” – in all its rich and imaginative and complex essence- and directing that magic towards meaningful and purposeful work and business outcomes. Call it culture, call it engagement, call it creative collaboration, collective intelligence– it’s all of that, and it’s what sets one company apart from the next.

Why I am doing what I’m doing now?

My best friend, who unfortunately died of cancer at age 33, sent me a card after a particularly trying incident working for an extreme bully, GM of Human Resources at the time at the Bayside Aluminium Smelter in South Africa. She said: “You will outlive him…you are a survivor- it’s inevitable”. At the time, I didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now….and I think the essence of what she was referring to is my resilience, resourcefulness and extreme adaptability.

So why do I do what I do? Maybe it was inevitable…I thrive in it! As a corporate maverick, I dodge, weave, swim upstream and take a lot of set-backs but keep on purpose when it comes to innovation and bringing others along. And yes, it is unsettling for some who want to cling to the status quo or the past.

How do I do it?

If “life is what happens when you are making other plans”, then I guess I don’t make too many plans but rather find ways to apply my strengths to opportunities I spot and shape my work that way. I have an insatiable curiosity and am highly attuned to faint signals that others often don’t notice. Believe it or not, these skills were forged in childhood by personal circumstances and it taught me to pick up on almost imperceptible signals and anticipate scenarios- giving me the best ability to cope and navigate through challenges. And I am

Who would have thought that this was preparing me to become a change agent, working in innovation in a large corporation, nurturing the adoption of ideas and collaboration among many to anticipate disruption, embrace change and overcome threats?

My proudest breakthroughs include facilitating the first democratic elections in South Africa in the Zululand region to a peaceful outcome in 1994, establishing the first Community Foundation in Africa and building that into a powerful transformational agency, and establishing + producing the AMPLIFY Innovation & Thought Leadership Festival since 2005. The latter two were the result of spotting signals early and converging many ideas into a powerful vision.

What is the best piece of advice you have ignored to get where you are?

Sticking to the straight and narrow road! I have always meandered down ally-ways and side-streets, and these have yielded the richest discoveries and sometimes set me on a totally different trajectory.

How many times did you nearly give up when things went wrong & what kept you going at those times?

Know that cartoon about the frog trying to strangle the Pelican that’s eating him? That’s me. I can be almost compulsive-obsessive when I want something. I NEVER give up. I just find a different way. And, I have learnt patience…I can bide my time. This is the hardest of course, but I have been rewarded more times than not by letting go of something and then revisiting it at a later time when circumstances caught up. Ideas can be way ahead of their time and one must be willing to cultivate the eco-system to prepare it for an idea. (This feels counter-intuitive because we know how slow organisations can be to change- but there’s no point forcing something so hard that it forces YOU out!)

Are you actually happy?

Yes! Unequivocally yes! I don’t have a perfect life, or actually perfect anything…but it’s sort of all working and there is harmony most of the time. I still have lots of ambition that I hope to realize and it would be great to really push my talents to see where the limits are. There are a few big dreams still looking for a physical manifestation- I’d like to play in a larger international arena and I would also like to help my 2 daughters achieve their dreams. One wants to be a musician and learn Mandarin so she can sing in China, and the other one wants to be a fashion stylist/ editor. I’d like to study Alternate Health like massage therapies as a hobby. (I love spoiling people!)

What do you wish you hadn’t sacrificed to be such a success?

It’s a flattering question, though I don’t think of success as a destination, more as a work-in-progress.

I have not been balanced at all times…favouring the mind and not honouring the body equally. I don’t sleep much…there’s so much living to be done! But no, I have never regretted not sleeping more!

I think my daughters have missed not coming home to cookies and milk served by me, but I don’t do guilt. I know they have gained in many other ways through the way I parent them, like a belief that being deeply immersed in doing something you love and becoming good at it is one of the most pleasurable things in life, and that all mastery requires effort. It’s very funny when I hear them sharing these thoughts with their teenage friends!

What mistakes did you make and what did you learn from them?

I make mistakes all the time…it comes with taking risk and learning. But it’s crucial to be very observant and spot a mistake quickly, then fix it immediately. It helps to have low ego and attachment to a process so you can amend it without feeling like it’s a loss of face!

Outside of a criminal offence, there are few mistakes one cannot overcome professionally or personally. But some mistakes can shadow you throughout your life. One of those is choosing a partner that is not right for you- and being tied to a bad scenario for a lifetime until your children are adults. That’s about the only warning I can give! And…mistakes should not be wasted, they are vessels of personal growth.

What would be the point of a mistake-free life? Can’t think of anything more boring!

Jo White – a woman in a … startup

I am very privileged to know a number of truly remarkable and inspiring women who work in, on and around geek stuff. One of my notions for this year was to share some of their ideas and experiences with everyone.

The first woman who sprang to mind is Jo White (a.k.a. @mediamum on Twitter). She’s been a friend and an inspiration for a while now.

There are not many women who combine a career in journalism, a large family, activism for breast-feeding, postgraduate studies, teaching, co-founding a startup, and moving to the other side of the world. Jo has done all that and more.

Jo’s response to my idea was to say: “You have officially turned into the Andrew Denton of the internet. The ‘Are you happy’ question had me thinking for a few days.” (Being compared to Mr Denton is hardly the worst thing anyone’s said of me ;))

Her responses got me thinking and helped me to consider my own experiences differently. Here are the questions and Jo’s answers about how she got to be where she is now…

How/Why I’m doing what I’m doing now.
We moved to the US to pursue this company launch because of a few reasons. Firstly, I firmly believe that my children should see us working hard and really chasing dreams. They saw me do my undergraduate degree by distance education that took three years, and went to Queensland with me and saw me graduate. That kind of thing makes a lasting impression on kids. I want them to have big dreams, and put in solid work to attain them.

I also wanted to demonstrate to my husband the full commitment and faith I have in our ability to travel this path together. There are simply not many husband/wife startup relationships that are celebrated, and this was a massive move for us.

Finally, of course I would never have made this leap unless I firmly saw the vision behind the company itself. What we are seeking to provide the world with is a tool that will help everyone navigate the web, find credible information, and inform us all on what and who the best resources are on the web.

I want to really encourage everyone to create more content, and to make it the best content they can pull together, no matter what their space is. TribeVibe will really make that come together.

I have just written my Masters thesis on the strength of social media communities, and have been accepted the offer of a fully funded PhD position at Colorado University’s ATLAS program. I will be working in the EPIC Project Colorado Lab, researching social capital and other aspects of communication online as they relate to crisis informatics (disaster relief, information dissemination and communication).

I am also the Program Director for the 60 Weeks Program at Boulder Digital Works, connecting world leading graduate students in cutting edge digital with the best minds in all aspects of digital, innovation and business.

What is the best piece of advice you have ignored to get where you are?
I try to never ignore advice, however there is some I’ll give more weight to than others. Successful women entrepreneurs are people I really pay attention to, especially if they have had aspects of the journey I share. I turn into their biggest fans. There are not many of them.

There remains a view that startups are too risky for people like me – a mother of four. I also ignore the people who say you can’t manage a family, an academic career and a startup. What they’re really saying is that they can’t do it. Not that I can’t. And that’s okay.

Are you actually happy?
I stewed over this question for a while. I’ve come to the conclusion that it depends what you mean by ‘happy’. If you mean content, no I’m not. But I don’t think anyone who loves working in startups is ever content. Being content commonly relates to being stagnant.

But the people I know who are successful are insatiable. If they find themselves ‘content’ then they enjoy it for a short time, and begin looking for the next challenge. That’s me. I’m happy because I’m working towards something I know is enormous. I’m surrounded by the buzz and stress and pressure, but I’m completely absorbed in it.

There’s a lot of laughter and our home is always busy. My children have never said “I’m bored” and they don’t hear it from their parents. That’s a happy environment for me.

How many times they nearly gave up when things went wrong & what kept them going at those times?
I’m not a great quitter. I might feel like it, and spout about it to my closest friends and of course my husband – but I am really bad at throwing in the towel. It’s far easier to say “I’ve had enough” than it is to follow through and close it down.

Lots of people celebrate failure in the world of startups. I don’t. To me, failure is when you stop. Failure is when you allow a problem to be the brick wall that stops you. That’s not good. I see issues as the speed bump you found a solution to, or the lesson you learned to make yourself better. It’s only failure if you stop. I keep going because I like success.

What do you wish you hadn’t sacrificed to be such a success?
I don’t think I’d call myself ‘such a success’ – there’s a long, long way to go. But so far, so good. I have had numerous successes that are the result of hard work and strategic planning. I have learned so much since making the move to the US.

I wish I hadn’t sacrificed a certain amount of my own faith in my ability. It’s hard to explain but I think that the sense of security that comes with a regular job in an office with a company that’s been there forever gives you a sense of establishment and reinforcement of security, even though it’s in a comfort zone.

In a startup, that is never available for you. You’re always creating your own success, and the only affirmation you have is what you create.

What mistakes did you make and what did you learn from them?

Mistakes are plentiful. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to make them. (Sometimes, it seems, numerous times a day!) I am big on metrics and informal evaluation, and I use this in all areas.

I disengage from those people who sap my energy or frustrate me. I also surround myself with close friends whom I respect and learn from all the time, just by being around them – and whose personalities make me happy.

My biggest mistake has been to try to forge paths with people who were having negative relationships with me, and try to turn them around instead of looking elsewhere for positive relationships. I think I pretty much have that sorted now, but I learn all the time.

Also I don’t just trust lawyers and advisers, especially on things that are going to affect me and my kids rather than my co-founders and the business. I double check stuff, and on more than one occasion this has served me well.

Thanks to @victeach, @everydaycook, @150dominos, @silly_billy_boy, @lyrianfleming for their help with the questions.

Random acts of kindness

I’ve been reflecting on the people who’ve influenced my life. The ones who have shaped my thoughts and helped me to work out what kind of person I am and who I want to be.  There’s a lot of them.

They range from family members, to friends and colleagues.  Many dsc00078-150x150of them never even realised what they were doing.  They did not realise that their casual conversations and encounters with me were shaping my life.

It’s a big responsibility when one considers that even casual daily interactions are shaping other people’s lives in similar ways.  Thus the creation of the future really is in our hands.

It is there in simple everyday things that we say and the actions that we do.  Our actions and words help to shape other people’s future development.

And, for those who believe that words cannot hurt people, there is some research that indicates that the feelings of pain recollection are stronger for social pain than physical pain. It does seem that words and acts of social exclusion can wound.

I’d like to thank all the people who have been kind, truthful and encouraging to me over the years. You have helped me to become a better and kinder person.

In a strange way I’m also grateful to those who were cruel, unkind and vicious – you’ve also taught me a great deal. From you I have mostly learned what I do not want to be.

What are you doing today to create loving and peaceful futures?

Ada Lovelace Day 2010: call for women’s history #ald10

Today is Ada Lovelace day, the day that women around the world celebrate the achievements of women working in technology.

ada-300x234While I could write about a woman in technology – there are many whom I admire here in Australia – instead I am putting out a call for documentation of the achievements of Australia’s women pioneers in technology.

It saddens me to discover that I can find little record of the achievements of Australian women in technology online. We have lost contact with our heritage of Australian women pioneers in technology – I know from anecdotes that women worked on many seminal technology projects.

My recent investigations have found lots of information about US women in technology but little equivalent information for Australian women.

There is the Timeline of Geek Feminism (HT: @piawaugh) and I do recall seeing some women in technology history on an old incarnation of the Australian Computer Society’s website (but that seems to have disappeared in a site restructure over the years).

Recently FITT celebrated their 20th anniversary and posted this slide show.

We need to capture these stories and celebrate the history of the women who made our current achievements in technology possible. We need to uncover the stories of heroines who challenged the status quo and made the idea of women working in technology commonplace. We need to discover the barriers and challenges these women faced in order to pursue their passion for technology.

If you know a story or have a link to a story about Australian pioneer women in technology please add a comment to this post.

International Women’s Day 2010 #IWD

It is fascinating to note on this International Women’s Day that one of our major newspapers has an article titled “Gender pay gap shows no sign of abating

The gender pay gap can cost women up to $1 million over a lifetime

* Women earn 17pc less than men
* Pay inequality worth $1m over lifetime
* Women have more self-managed super

WORKING mothers and daughters can expect to be $1 million worse off during their lifetime, compared with fathers, as pay inequality and financial bias keep their incomes and assets low.

By Karina Barrymore
March 08, 2010 6:34AM

What does this tell us?

It tells us that even on International Women’s Day and even in Australia, the right of women to a fair go and equal treatment still has a long way to go.

It tells us that women’s higher participation in education still does to not pay off equally with men’s participation in education.

It tells us that women still need to strive together to achieve parity with men in many areas of life.

The recent Febusave campaign by ANZ also highlighted the need for women to take control of their financial destiny. Better finances are an important component of choice and freedom for women.

But these are all first world problems.

There are terrible and sad situations with women in many developing parts of the world. In those places women suffer physically and mentally due to oppression, violence and war.

On this IWD think about how we might help those women too. There’s microfinance ideas like Kiva or Unifem.

Why not reach and help a woman in developing world this IWD?

#febusave update – nearly 9,000 women signed up

Nearly 9,000 women signed up for the Febusave 2010 campaign, for example:

  • 2,307 pledged to give up buying lunch
  • 1,118 pledged to give up treats
  • 162 pledged to give up taxis

These might not seem like much; but little changes like this can make a real difference to your finances.

My pledge was to stop using the car to drive to work every day. The savings from that are now going into paying my mortgage. This means that it will be paid off several years earlier and save us thousands of dollars in interest payments.  I’m going to keep up this new habit of savings going even after Febusave is over.  It’s been a really good learning experience.

Some other great bloggers who have been sharing their journey All For Women, Inside Cuisine, Strawberry CommunicationsRainbowtatt, Liz and Jarrod, Little Lioness and Beautiful you by Julie

You can see what some of the other bloggers have shared via the #febusave hash tag on twitter.

Don’t forget! If you have registered for Febusave,  at the end of February simply complete the online entry form at the Febusave site and answer “what was your secret to achieving your FebuSave goal?” in 50 words or less and you could win $5000!

Progress report on my #febusave pledge

For the month of February I decided to give up driving to work and bank the savings. It’s been surprisingly easy to catch the train each day, even if it does mean I need to plan ahead a bit more.

The savings have been a real eye-opener, especially when one of my friends mentioned how much that adds up to over a full year.  Putting that money into my mortgage is really going to make a difference if I keep it up after February!


Over 8,000 women have already signed up, pledging to cut back in various areas to kick start their savings for Febusave.

There’s still time left to sign up now.

Ada Lovelace Day 24 March 2010

Last year many of us supported Ada Lovelace Day, the international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology and science.

ada-300x234It’s now time to pledge your support once more for Ada Lovelace Day, 24 March 2010.

To sign up, please go to and add your details to the brand new pledge!

If you’re not sure who Ada was I really encourage you to find out a bit more about this remarkable woman here or here.