It's time to make it cool for boys to aspire to parenthood and for girls to aspire to be leaders in the tech industry. But, before it can be cool, it has to be normal, according to Mary Stanhope.
From Stanhope's perspective as vice president of marketing at data network services specialist Global Capacity , the biggest hurdle for women in the comms industry is overcoming preconceived notions about their intelligence and competence simply because of their gender. Fixing that requires changing attitudes, but also may necessitate starting with girls when they are young -- both exposing them to STEM and making it cool to explore it.
She caught up with WiC on how to create a new normal for both girls and boys and shared why it'll have an impact on the future of our industry as well.
Women in Comms: What is the number one challenge for women in comms that is different from the challenges faced by men? What was your biggest hurdle?
Mary Stanhope: I have found the biggest hurdle to be preconception. When you walk into a room there is a preconception of your role or depth of knowledge. There is a short window to turn the preconception around with the first words spoken and topic addressed. This is not a challenge that only impacts women but it is one of the greatest to overcome. My experience has been that the window to turn the preconception around is smaller for women than men, and often is a contrary thought process in how to first engage a group.
WiC: What is the biggest advantage to being a woman in the comms industry?
MS: Quite frankly, we have the opportunity to stand out and be noticed. Ladies, leverage the uniqueness to your advantage.
WiC: How can we, as an industry, encourage more young girls to enter -- and stay in -- the comms or STEM space?
MS: Simply more -- more science, technology, engineering and math in our day-to-day. As individuals and members of our community, we need to strive to make STEM not a program or an annual event but a constant part of each day. STEM is cool for girls and boys. Before it can be cool it needs to be "normal," something that everyone can do; that we all learn. Invest and sponsor programs in your local communities. Attend science fairs in your community. Have the science fair as part of the "Town Day" festivities right next to the ring toss.
As an industry and as individuals, we teach the next generation. And this may get touchy, but we need to create cultures and communities that enable women to have a work-life balance with a high work focus. That means creating communities without the preconception that women have the primary family responsibilities. If STEM is cool and can be a lifelong goal for girls, then running a family is cool and can be a lifelong goal for boys. Girls and STEM is not the only gender bias that needs to be broken down to achieve "normal."
WiC: Are there any programs you or your organization is involved with that you'd like to highlight?
MS: Any STEM program is valuable. Google one local to you. These are great programs for all kids and will normalize gender and race in technology fields. There is a Girls STEM in Boston that I contribute time to. Another national program to check out is the National Girls Collaborative Program. There is a lot of educating and teaching for testing going on in schools. Kids, and in particular young girls, need to know that it's okay to get "geeky," it's ok to be passionate about "techy" things. It's the baking soda, vinegar volcanos and potato battery lights that spark the curiosity and passion to embrace a life of science, technology, engineering or math. These are not on standardized tests.
WiC: As a leader, what is the number one piece of personal advice you would give to help women achieve their goals in a male-dominated field?
MS: Do not get hung up on the gender. Be passionate about something and know with that passion comes the confidence to walk into any room, any group, any company and communicate and make the best decisions. Focus on the passion of it, whatever it is, not on the politics and personalities around it. And remember it's not personal -- it's general -- so use that passion and confidence to prove that it does not apply to you.
— Sarah Thomas, , Director, Women in Comms