My Take on Challenges for Women in Technology

I can’t possibly know the challenges other women face; I will however attempt to share mine in the hopes that (a) they might be helpful to someone else and (b) maybe in time we can all share, aggregate and form meaningful changes.

(1) Taking space to innovate and create something new is not only risky it is very expensive. The expense comes in the form of your earnings at this critical time. To clear your mind means you have to stop doing other things that were paying you well and devote lots of time to unpaid conceptual thinking that no one will pay you for. When you are 42, like I am, in your prime earning years and with kids you help support, this is a very stressful and risky endeavor. I won’t even call it an opportunity cost; it is an earnings cost. This is true for women and men, but as women have a statistically much more difficult time with re-entry to a comparable job after exiting a strong job, the danger is more acute.

(2) Keeping your skills of-the-moment is also expensive in terms of TIME. It is really tempting to just want to keep learning on your own, through the web, through reading, through doing, through some professional development. However, I think it’s imperative to go through more rigorous learning constantly, things like the 8 Weeks of Awesome at Techstars, and conferences at the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship, #TwitterDrive, courses with colleagues like the Data Mining course at CU Boulder, and online courses with entities like lynda.com. You have to be a Learning Machine as Brad Feld calls it. Each of these is time consuming in terms of driving to them, showing up, fitting it into your already busy life, making time to focus and create. My partner and husband, Kurt, is extremely supportive. I can’t even imagine what it would be like without having someone there to back you up. Time is precious and scarce for each of us. Again this is true for men. However, women are often juggling caring for their children and aging parents as well as their own careers.

(3) Letting go of perfectionism
I’m not talking about doing things well or doing things accurately. I am talking about needing to do everything to the Nth degree. Last night, at an NCWIT lecture Lucy Sanders mentioned the data that show women will apply to a job when they have 50 of the 50 required skills while men will apply when they have 20. At my son’s school, the gifted curriculum tries to help kids overcome that perfectionism. It’s a quality of many highly gifted & talented individuals, not just women. I think it’s linked to intelligence. You can see how things could be done and so you set out to do it. You just can’t spread that level of detail out to all aspects of your life. Not enough hours in the day.

(4) Embracing your kickass ability to generate ideas
When I was 18, I bought this book called Help for Women Who Do Too Much. Kurt hilariously pointed out that there are likely no books entitled “Help for Men Who Do Too Much.” I realize now that this was me trying to “fix it” instead of understanding my ability to generate ideas.

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Are You a High Jumper Dog?

When I worked in AT&T Global business, my colleague Phyllis, a very gifted writer and kind person, said to me: “You are a high jumper dog. I know that behavior. I see it all the time with my dogs.” I knew Phyllis raised Alaskan Malamutes and entered them in competitions. She explained that she always had one dog that would curl up in the corner, sullen and quiet, until the bar was raised high enough. Once that bar was raised high, the dog would jump the highest. Until the bar was high, the dog just sat there.

It is one of the most insightful things anyone has ever said to me.   It is profoundly true. If I’m not interested, I just don’t perform. I am sure this is true for most people. For me, it runs deep. Though I try to control it and be competent at most things I try, the reality is you can see an enormous difference in those things I am truly passionate about. I use that insight all the time to evaluate whether I should work on something: does it ignite genuine passion in me? Game on.

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Why Value Art?

I’ve had a contemporary art gallery in Denver, Colorado for 4 years. I am so deeply troubled by the systemic structures we assign to this economic model, I don’t know how to begin to describe my experience. I hope to contribute some useful possibilities for innovation to the field, and so I will begin simply with what I think of as getting back to basics.

BASIC #1:  Why does society value art?

It’s not a given that society will value art. Over time, however, art has been highly valued in different ways. The first step for a contemporary analysis is to set aside the temporary financial values we assign through art market transactions like auctions and art fair sales.

One answer today is that society values art because it is the tangible expression of an idea. My son asked me when he was 8 years old and reading a book on Roman civilization: “Mommy, how have things changed so much from Roman times until now?” “One idea at a time, honey”, I answered him.

So, to evolve, we must protect the notion of ideas; that’s how we change. However it’s the sharing of ideas that has value and so we try to reward that. In comes art.

Art often deals with ideas surrounding the human experience. When I see a xxxx sell for $100million, I don’t take offense at perceived art market vagaries, rather I think “wow that’s cool that humans value the reflection on our own experience that much!”

Really powerful expressions of ideas, the ones that effect change, often produce somewhat of a state of “shock.” It’s such a fundamental shift in how we think about something that we feel surprise.

Often people will confuse that sense of “shock” or “surprise” emanating from true change with the desire to simply produce “shock” and “surprise” as if that in itself could produce change. And so you see lots of work that sets out to shock.

We see this run rampant in the contemporary art world, often leading to disdainful reviews of art. Fundamentally, truly, while we want to respect everyone’s expression, some expressions simply don’t effect as big a change of state as others. And that’s OK; we need to fundamentally embrace the notion of failure as part of the process of creation. Perhaps down the road, when seen with a different set of circumstances, that very same work can take on more power. Or not. And so it is our job to encourage the expression of ideas and not to dismiss/destroy them too quickly until they are more fully understood,  and to share them.

We value the work as “good” based on criteria that keep changing because we are in fact judging it against a changing human condition. This fact often leads to a sense of injustice on the part of artists. In a legal sense, for example, “justice” involves knowing your accuser and knowing of what charge you are accused. In the art world you are judged, but not sure by whom and for what. No one will give you formal criteria: “your technique is bad” for example because those have been dismissed as notions that miss the whole point of art.

So if you look at why society values art, it is mostly because of the inherent power of the expression of an idea to induce a change of state.

This begs the question, “do our social and systemic structures support or thwart this process?” It’s clearly an important process in human advancement, just as important as any scientific advancement.

I will use that lens to analyze one of the most prevalent means artist’s have of receiving some economic support to carry on this activity: the contemporary economic model of an art gallery.

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Ideaphoria

JohnsonOConnor

The researcher, Johnson O’Connor, studied aptitudes as a way of measuring intelligence as opposed to “IQ.” Interestingly, I was reflecting today that this notion seems to underlie much of gifted education.

In the book “The Unique Individual”, he wrote of “ideaphoria.” We all know the story of the absent-minded professor who crosses the street without looking. I would venture to say that person had ideaphoria.

For me, the most moving anecdote in the book is the story of the teacher who has extremely high ideaphoria and frustration as a result. O’Connor offers advice at the end:

“Although ideaphoria is the top trait of teachers, when too high and combined with extreme subjectivity it leads to a feeling of frustration which not only stops actual progress but may lead to a nervous breakdown. A fourth-grade teacher came with a feeling of inferiority which had twice driven her to seek psychiatric help. Every afternoon by three-thirty, when school closed, she was exhausted by refractory disciplinary problems. In personality she scored probably objective, but only three significant responses away from the extremely subjective division. As worksample 35 is inaccurate to this extent, the Laboratory considers it wiser for her to assume herself extremely subjective.

In ideaphoria she scored at the 100th percentile, 460 words written in ten minutes where 341 is grade A for women. She wanted to write, but whenever she tried her vivid imagination raced ahead at a speed which her pencil could never equal, and she grew discouraged and gave up.

She then thought of editing a collection of children’s stories. This gave the counterfeit satisfaction of having produced something without the long laborious hours demanded by actual creation. But secure editors score highest int he reasoning work-samples, analytical reasoning, worksample 244, and inductive reasoning, worksample 164, in both of which she scored low. Also editors score lower in ideaphoria, where she ranks at the 100th percentile. Continued editorial work would give her little permanent enjoyment.

College teaching involves fewer disciplinary problems but demands more inductive reasoning than the grades. A change from public to private school seemed likely to give a congenial atmosphere for her subjectivity. But the only enduring solution hopeful of lasting satisfaction is actual creative work. She should force herself to write a regular two hours each day, devoting ten minutes of this period to scribbling at top speed exactly as in the creative-imagination test. Instead of throwing away these crude outpourings, like most high creative people, with nothing to show for her efforts, she should bind them carefully in some sort of loose-leaf book, where they will not be lost, and then each day spend the balance of her writing time amending them phrase by phrase, word by word.” (p. 84-85)

Interestingly, below are the traits O’Connor associated with a writer (p. 81):

writing-attributes

 

For more info:

O’Connor, Johnson. The Unique Individual. Human Engineering Laboratory Incorporated, Boston: 1948.

The Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation in New York works to advance the research of Johnson O’Connor.

 

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Learning from our Cultural Differences

There is no question that my mind works vastly differently than my husband, Kurt’s. I try to learn from him every day, and over time we have learned to divide our labor according to our natural skills.

He is a German computer programmer descended from inventors and tinkerers. I am a Spanish art & technology entrepreneur descended from farmers, scientists, business people and teachers. I often wonder if we were attracted to each other because our skills are so complementary: are we biologically trying to produce something better than ourselves?

Kurt’s grandfather was an inventor who worked at Bosch on technologies that would later contribute to voice recognition technologies. Kurt’s mother, Renate, has early memories of smuggling parts in her pockets from her father’s laboratory across the Berlin Wall checkpoints as her family still lived in the East. Kurt’s father, Ron, was an extremely prolific photographer who photographed art all over the world.

Our pediatrician said to me a few years ago: “I am so glad the computer programmer married the art gallerist.” She was referring to the vast difference in the way Kurt’s mind works from the way my mind works, and that together our children would be able to utilize their brains in nearly opposite ways at the same time. I hope so.

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What’s in a name?

My parents emigrated from Cuba to Spain to the US. My grandparents were Cubans and Spaniards; I grew up in the United States from the time I was 9 months old.

I have two passports: American and Spanish. In my blue, US passport I am Carmen Garcia Wiedenhoeft. I left “Garcia” in there as a bridge after I took on my husband’s last name. In my burgundy, Spanish passport I am Carmen Teresa Garcia Marchante. It always strikes me how different the names are from one another: yet they’re both legally valid for me any time I want to exercise one. German colleagues seem to be the ones to most notice the dichotomy of “Carmen” and “Wiedenhoeft”: the stereotypical stormy Spanish temperament coupled with the cool German intellect.

Spain passed a law in 2007 called The Law of Historical Memory. For the first time in my lifetime, it allowed one to apply for Spanish citizenship without renouncing another citizenship (for me, US). This fact was pretty key as I’d never want to jeopardize my US citizenship, which was conferred on me as a 7-year-old child. I acquired my Spanish Nationality under that law in 2011 at age 39.

My guess is that the vast majority of men in the United States don’t think about the ramifications of their name as much as women do. The notion of “maiden name”, whether to change your name, and what to do with your name following divorce with kids seems a distinctly feminine issue.  In Spain, women don’t change their names upon marriage. That makes it easy to figure out your family history: you always know who the mother is even if there was question of the father throughout history!

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The Difficulty of Innovating

It’s difficult to imagine New York without Central Park, the lungs of the city and the space you can retreat to in the urban jungle. Yet that took vision and foresight in a time when urban planning and public spaces weren’t as valued as they are today.

The Denver architect David Tryba recommended the biography of Frederick Law Olmsted by Rybczynski ,  “A Clearing in the Distance”, to me. It’s a good read to think about urban spaces, public spaces, framing the community dialogue and the importance of innovating.

The most interesting passage to me was that in which Rybczynski describes the difficulty of being yourself, of innovating before something is widely understood in society:

“Olmsted was an organizer when organization was considered a symptom of “monomania,” and a long-range planner in a period that thought of planning as “mysterious.” He was a landscape architect before that profession was founded, designed the first large suburban community in the United States, foresaw the need for national parks, and devised one of the country’s first regional plans. Above all, he was an artist who chose to work in a medium that then– even more than now– lacked public recognition. He was an innovator and pioneer largely by chance. But, as Louis Pasteur, an exact contemporary of Olmsted, once observed, ‘Chance favors only the mind that is prepared.’ Olmsted’s preparation was not based on formal training or education. What laid the groundwork for his later achievements was an amalgam of sensibility and temperament, coupled with an unusual set of formative experiences.”
(page 23, Chapter Two)

 

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“Big Game Hunting” in business

A colleague in my past work used to call me a “big game hunter”.

I can see that. It’s true: I set my sight on a big target and start methodically preparing. When my son, Sebastian, was born I didn’t want to leave him behind while I traveled around the country visiting clients. Kurt has always been supportive of my ideas, improving upon them. We bought an RV and I drove for ten weeks at a time over the course of three years going to meet clients in-person. I took 10-month-old Sebastian, Kurt, a babysitter, a cousin, my parents, whoever was up for the adventure. Those were our most lucrative years, hands down, in our business. You have to go TO the client.

Below you see Sebastian in 2006 (age 2) “dealing” Uno cards with his toes on one of our many road trips!

Sebastian Playing Uno

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From Analog Surrogates => Camping

Airstream copy

A gifted teacher changes you. Linda Tanis taught an experimental, gifted program in the public schools of Hendry County, Florida, in the late ’70s, and the two years I participated changed my life. She was a volunteer firefighter who would overturn old school buses and set them on fire to practice fire rescue and train the men in town. She went camping in Canada with two friends for a month each summer and brought us films on reels with the most pristine forest views one could imagine. Her passion for conservation filled my soul with awe. She showed us films like Soilent Green. She put 4th graders to work on computers in 1978; I remember the dreaded haunted house trap doors awaiting in a single text word on screen and the ensuing gasp. She formed the conviction in my mind that women are fearless.

I dreamt of camping from the time I saw her first film and could fumble through the camping section of the Sears catalogs of 1979. I’ve now (tent) camped in nearly every state in the union except maybe Washington, Oregon and Minnesota. Several years ago we also bought an Airstream from 1973 on eBay to take our boys around Colorado on more extended trips. Kurt and I got tired of breaking down camp for 4 people and moving it every two days.

When we speak of digital surrogates, as in a digital image standing-in for the original work of art, I think of those catalogs as “analog surrogates”. They don’t “stand-in” for anything; what they do is light a forest fire in your imagination. I think of 7-year-old-me lying in bed basking in the campfire glow on the printed page. I never bought a thing. If you looked at them from a consumer/advertising perspective, you’d miss the whole point. Yet I would say they are a huge part of my childhood for the camping gear sections were the *only* access to camping I had at that time. I think I’ll go look for one of those ’70s catalogs on eBay…

SearsCatalog1979 copy

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Enjoying Ideaphoria

It’s probably pretty safe to say many entrepreneurs have what Johnson O’Connor calls “Ideaphoria.” Ideaphoria demands modifying your behavior to feel joy. Here are some things I learned the hard way.

Flesh Out the Ideas
O’Connor wrote: “Although ideaphoria is the top trait of teachers, when too high and combined with extreme subjectivity it leads to a feeling of frustration which not only stops actual progress but may lead to a nervous breakdown.” (p. 84) He recommends: “The only enduring solution hopeful of lasting satisfaction is actual creative work. She should force herself to write a regular two hours each day, devoting ten minutes of this period to scribbling at top speed exactly as in the creative-imagination test. Instead of throwing away these crude outpourings, like most high creative people, with nothing to show for her efforts, she should bind them carefully in some sort of loose-leaf book, where they will not be lost, and then each day spend the balance of her writing time amending them phrase by phrase, word by word.” (p. 85)

Stay away from people who don’t get it
This is easier said than done because most people don’t get it. However, you can calibrate how you internalize what others say. It starts when you are a child and you hear this:
“stop asking so many questions”
“you think too much”
“you’re too deep”
“that’s complicated”
As you get older you start to recognize the response and it takes this form:
“wow, you really have a lot of different interests”
“did you invent a new business today?”
“that’s too ambitious”

The gifted education curriculum takes this into account. Many kids who have a strong ability in one area (a “giftedness”) are often teased in public schools, bullied into “toning it down.” Whereas in a curriculum that understands and supports these strong aptitudes, kids are encouraged to run with it. My son, for example, is doing algebraic expressions in 5th grade that I didn’t encounter until 9th grade. That is because he is in “pull out math” and allowed to progress at his own pace at his school.

Don’t Chastise Yourself or Try to “Fix” It
When I was 18, I bought this book called “Help for Women Who Do Too Much.” Kurt hilariously pointed out that there are likely no books entitled Help for Men Who Do Too Much.” I realize now that this was me trying to “fix it” instead of understanding my ability to generate ideas.

When your thoughts are too scattered
Do something manual. For me it is cleaning or playing tennis first thing in the morning. Rollerblading in Central Park also had that mind calming effect on me. Cleaning is something I’ve done as a coping mechanism since I was a child. It gives me immediate control over a messy situation and I have instant gratification in seeing it resolved. It’s like the more complex the problem, the more my mind is working on it, and can’t reach a conclusion. So instead I try to clean up my environment. I find the process of doing that helps organize my thoughts too.

Don’t Let Others Question Your Work Methods
When I was under lots of stress and would start cleaning, Kurt would say, “What are you doing?! Why are you spending time on that? Get to work; you have so much to do!” I know he meant well, and in his more aware-of-the-clock biology, it makes sense. However, for me, the cleaning wasn’t a distraction, it was in fact a fundamental part of my work process.

 

 

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