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Raising a woman warrior: A father’s perspective

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Recently I attended a tech conference panel session in Barcelona that featured a group of industry leaders discussing what it means to be a woman in the technology industry. The panel discussion was great…AND, as I looked around the theater, I was disappointed to see so few men in attendance.

The message delivered is especially important for men to hear: Diversity matters, and not only from a leadership perspective but from a buyer persona perspective. As moderator Amy Hatch stated, “Companies that have a diverse workforce perform 15% better than their peers in the market.”  Read about the other great highlights this panel session delivered.

Men play an important role in promoting equality

Men have critical roles to play in the elimination of gender gaps and imbalance. For me, a white male in a management role of a male-dominated industry, the session reinforced the opportunity and responsibility I have to empower the women on my team to take leadership roles with their projects. It is also important for me to create opportunities for them to be able to demonstrate their expertise and command of the topic in front of management and leadership.

As for the “other” me: I am a father of a daughter beginning her college career. “By 2018 more than 9 million jobs will be in this space, requiring STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) as a foundation,” declared Supriya Iyer, VP of Strategy & Solution Management at SAP Hybris…and as soon as she did, I immediately thought about my role as a father to a daughter, and my daughter’s own positive experience with STEM.

It led me to further think about the many other steps that my wife and I guided her with towards her development into the strong, confident young woman that we know today. So, fathers (and parents): Take note of the following steps that worked for us. In the end, I hope it gives you the opportunity to see whether you are doing all you can to foster the potential woman warrior in your daughter.

Surround her with strong, smart women

Our daughter was fortunate to grow up in a household that values strong women as role models. The importance of education AND the instilled belief that “you can do whatever you want to with your life” came from many different sources. Her mom, aunt, grandmother and great grandmother all led successful careers in various leadership and executive roles.

At a very young age, she learned that anything was achievable, and the only barrier to her success would be ones that she self-imposed. For those of you who may not be as fortunate to be surrounded by strong women in your home, look for examples out in your community. Start at a young age to share these examples with your daughter and, when there is an option, get her involved in groups (sports, music & arts, volunteering) that are led by strong women.

Help her develop her voice

Another thing you can do at an early age with your daughter is get her exposed to opportunities where she has the chance to get up in front of a small group to develop her own voice – share a story, song or other talent. Through school theater she developed a voice, and soon she switched to guitar, then took to the stage with me (I’m also a musician) and eventually on her own as her confidence blossomed.

She said to me, “I felt myself becoming less small. I had a sense of presence, and through sharing my talent with others I was being valued as a person.”

There are, of course, other environments besides music and arts where a daughter can learn how to stand and perform with confidence. Help her discover her passion and encourage her to share her talent.

Consider single-gender environments

As our daughter made her way through elementary school (in a co-ed, public school), she took notice of the fact that she didn’t entirely feel part of the community she was in. She noticed (herself) that she demonstrated a maturity level that was different – more developed – than most of her classmates.

We recognized this as an opportunity for her to reach beyond her age, and enrolled her in a summer course at a local, private, all-girls school. Her experience that summer was significant; she noticed that all the girls in her class “had their shit together” (again – her words!) and that above all, the community gave her the affirmation that “it was OK to be smart.”

Her enthusiasm about her experience led us to make a significant but important investment – we enrolled her at AGS for her 6-8th grade school experience. The investment paid off in a huge way for her. She felt more confident speaking up, and was actively involved in the student government, where she learned to flex her leadership muscles.

When she concluded her eighth-grade year, our daughter was armed with intelligence, confidence, and a professional presence which set her up for her next experience: STEM high school in a co-ed environment.

Encourage STEM

Our daughter’s development in a single-gender school meant that her re-entry into a co-ed public school environment happened with confidence and excitement, not hesitancy and trepidation. The STEM environment itself was very diverse and enriching, and not just from a gender perspective.

The school hosted students from very diverse economic, ethnic, religious, and sexual backgrounds. Her technology experience also meant that it felt “natural to be working in a technology environment.” The STEM experience for her was all about experimentation: Using STEM disciplines for problem solving and using technology as a problem-solving tool.

There were times when technology did not work – time to problem solve! Learning how to create a new means to solve a problem WITHOUT technology. Finally, there were non-STEM classes – humanities and psychology, for example – that ultimately provided a stronger understanding of how STEM has a cultural and personal impact (and not just a technological one).

Travel if you can

We live in a house that was built in the early 1980’s. For some unknown reason, pink kitchen countertops were a thing back then. Every year my wife and I look at the countertops in disgust and declare that it is now time for them to go. And every year, we hold off on the investment and instead use the available funds to find a new place to travel to.

Our daughter had a passport when she was six months old, and she has had the good fortune to experience travel. For her, travel eliminated fears. Saying “yes” to doing things that might she might have initially considered to be odd or uncomfortable has led her to some amazing opportunities and experiences in her life.

If traveling isn’t a possibility, consider enrichment programs at local libraries or colleges where she can learn about other cultures and traditions.

Raising a woman warrior: Breaking barriers

Our daughter is now enrolled at NYU. While her focus has evolved from technology-based to Global Liberal Studies, her path has nonetheless brought her to a position of being able to make choices in her career path and pursuits.

I know that some of the choices that we made for our daughter required financial investment, and that we were fortunate enough to be able to make those choices to invest in her and not the countertops. But the environments described exist in many forms and locations not requiring financial investment; you just need to look for them (or create them).

So, fathers: Be good to your daughters. Invest the time and energy now so that she can become a woman warrior in technology or ANY path she chooses to pursue.

Tim Porterfield
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36 shares
December 1, 2017
Tim Porterfield

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