The 2016 conference took place from Oct 13th to Oct 15th. It was a nice 60°F. 😀
With the tagline STEM is a girl thing, the 21rst annual Women of Color in STEM conference kicked off at the Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan. My managers decided to send me to this event because as an engineer I am very involved with the science, technology, engineering and math initiatives that our organization sponsor at the K-12 and college levels. It is a uniqie opportunity to network with all of the minority groups considered of color in the USA without having to limit the participation to engineering students and graduates. If you work in any of the STEM fields and can pay the admissions fee, you will be taken through a behind the scenes look of what women endure in this male doninated environment and what they are doing to bring more young ladies into the field.
As a corporate sponsor, my company gets the perks of hosting break out sessions and reception events throughout the conference. After landing in DTW and checking in at the Crowne Plaza, we gathered in the Richard room of the Downtown Renaissance Hotel for a quick meal and registration check in. It is interesting to be around mostly women engineers and scientists, educators and leaders of the STEM world. Lots of heels, make up, skirts, boots and people of all ethnicities and genders.
Day 1: #STEMisagirlthing
We started the day with a breakfast with our corporate HR leaders and award winners for my organization. To recognize our participation, they gave us a few trinkets and a book to get us revved up about the possibilities of women in STEM. Many may not realize the challenges our predecessors had to get to the high ranking jobs, to become emgineers, managers and VPs. Sadly only 1% of board seats are occupied by women, and we need to fight to earn more pull to be represented at the table. Women are strong, smart, fierce and dedicated hard workers; we never give up and we never surrender. It is our ability to adapt to change for the benefit of our families that make us the best candidates to affect workplace reform and make it stick. The time is now, and we must rise to the challenge for the sake of our daughters.
The day was filled with conferences, meet and greets and lot and lot of networking. The first break out session Think, Act, Achieve Extraordinary Results – Winning Executive Coaching Strategies for the Leader and the Coach focused on the differences between mentorship and coaching, diving deep into the motivations behind both categories: Coaches will help you find your own way versus a mentor who has a specific mastery that you need to learn or harness. Coaching is all inclusive and you have to work to develop the entire individual not just the professional within. This was really eye opening because as a mentor we are told to focus on the technical excellence side forgetting that the attitudes and thoughts of the individual affect their performance inside and outside of the workplace. We are human, not just lawyers, doctors or STEM professionals and we need to nurture the soul to be able to get to where we need to be. To become better.
What I found fascinating about this talk was that as an Engineering Performance Coach my job role aligns more with mentoring than coaching. Why? Because a coach’s job is to assist a person to be introspective and learn about themselves to take the next steps necessary to succeed; it is about being honest, having integrity and keeping things confidential. What I do work wise is to help people master a system tool or process without any other interactions before or after the assistance is provided. Based on what Harrie-Marcia Shakir and Cheryl Jefferson conveyed coaches aren’t there tell someone what to do but rather facilitate their introspective journey. I like the idea of making my job more about helping people become better and take action during the process of discovery. Of listening more than talking.
The big take away from the session was that if you don’t have the time to coach, mentor; if you can’t listen, share your story and advise. Being a good listener is they key to be effective as a coach and you must be willing to stretch yourself and your own goals to grow into the role. With passion and caring you can assist the other person reach their goals effectively. As a coach you must ask questions to reach moments of clarity and genuinly care and support the person through their process of self awareness. If you only tell people what to do and how to do it you are doing them a disservice; you must engage their inner thought processes to figure out what their game plan should be. Don’t give solutions to other people’s problems, help them find their own.
Phew! Lots of brain power was used in this session so I was tempted to take a break. But the show must go on so I bravely trekked on to the next session: Daring to be Different; Breaking the Glass Ceiling and Riding the Glass Escalator presented by Lockheed Martin. Wouldn’t you know they decided to break us into groups to socialize! My introvert heart is about to go into arrest. I like talking to people but not to this extent. Grin and bear it, I guess!
Cheri Larkins, Melonie D. Parker and Dionne Mack guides us through real life exercises that touched base on how to break the glass ceiling. They also introduced the concept of the Glass Escalator where men are promotef faster in women dominated careers. The thought is that there is an unconscious bias towards women, making them appear inferior to men just by virtue of gender bias. Hard to overcome both in the workplace. Not even the jobs traditionally dominated by women are safe anymore! Imagine that, men making more money and being promoted over women just because they are men…(sarcasm). Y’all need to learn how hard women have it. It ain’t easy.
After the signature seminar I grabbed lunch at Granite City Food and Brewery. The Duke Pale Ale hit the spot. Ahhh. The weather is holding nicely around 60 degrees so the pictures and walks are turning our rather well. Gotta love autum in the Canada-Michigan border.
Around 2pm, we continued on our self awareness and improvement journey. I went to NASA’s A Perspective from Executives and Trailblazers to learn more about the unknown triumphs and contributions of women of color at this space agency. Two of the panelists were from Puerto Rico, Dr Dionne Hernández-Lugo and Deputy Chief Marla Pérez-Davis. Woop woop! They discussed work life balance and how to get ahead while using mentors and coaches. It was a nice open discussion to compliment the morning lecture.
Fasr forward to 5pm. My new buddies and I went to dinner at Santorini in nearby GreekTown. The meal consisted of flambé appetizers, seafood and lamb combinations and rice pudding for desert. It was delicious and exquisite. Our waitress Amber was really sweet and attentive.
We paid our bills, drank our wine, water and sangría, and took a stroll back to the hotel. Once in my room I checked in with my family back home, watched TV and read the book given to us during the breakfast. The amount of accepted LinkedIn invitations filled my inbox and prove that today was a good day. (This introvert is extremely tired and inspired. 😎)
Day 2: You do you, boo.
For the second day, I had a late start because I needed some rest due to the jet lag. After a quick lunch, I swung by the career fair and checked out the booths. GM, Lockheed, Boeing, Northrop, Aerotek, NASA, USDA Forrest Service and Consumers Energy were a few of the companies that had prime real estate as sponsors but there were many more to see including universities and other government entities. Many students, male and female, took the opportunity to share their resumes and compete for interviews. It was truly a goodie bag paradise. Hehe.
Once I had checked out the Career Fair, I went to a session called Woman to Woman in which we sat in tables as groups to discuss hard hitting questions about women of color in the workforce. I totally forgot to introduce myself when I was sharing the talking points from my team, lead by Angela Barbee-Hatter from GM Global. Without thinking twice the moderator had me go up there to mention who I was and to the cheers of the group I took over the show for a few minutes. Now I am famous. 😎 Never ceases to amaze me how easily I can commandeer a room. Selling myself short is never possible when I get in front of the microphone.
A quick dinner and reception later, I found myself at the Awards Gala. One of our VPs of HR wad being honored at the event and after meeting her I can honestly say she is a very deserving honoree. Hopefully I will be up on stage someday getting recognized for a job well done and for inspiring others to become the leaders of tomorrow. One needs to dream big and aim even higher. Right after the evening ended, I went off to bed since I have to wake up early tomorrow to make my flight back home. Hopefully the Detroit Marathon won’t cause too much of a delay. With the weather we have been having, it is a nice day for a run.
Until next time!