Diversity in STEM Careers, Are We Starting Too Late?

 

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I recently had the pleasure of attending a well-coordinated event designed to connect educators, youth, and the workforce. The premise of the event was simple – show 8th graders alternative career paths in addition to four-year colleges.  The event showcased a local technical school and programs geared towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) in manufacturing, welding, drafting, machine shops, 3D printers, etc.

The day started with a 30-minute video that showed real people working in STEM jobs.  The examples used were snowboarding, race car driving, rock music and a transport vehicle in a 3rd world country.  The individuals in the video were exactly who you are thinking of when we talk about techies.  They were mostly middle-aged and young professional white males.

Although the video tried to use contemporary examples to appeal to youth, I still think they may have missed the mark. As I was scanning the room full of students, I realized that they do not look like the people in the video.  50% were not white, and 10% were female. I noticed this throughout the day-long event.  The difference in demographics was also reflected back in the volunteers for the day, the learning videos provided in the classroom sessions, the teachers, and the student body of the technical school.

So my question became two-fold. How can we reach children without role models that reflect their demographics, and how do we increase diversity in STEM? And further, is the 8th grade too late to prepare children to embrace a career in STEM if they have not focused on Math or Science?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How can you play a role in advancing workplace equality?” is written by Dennis Yang, CEO of Udemy. There’s been plenty of talk about…

via How Unconscious Bias Is Holding Your Company Back — Fortune

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Are You, or Someone You Know, a Stupidvisor?

I was watching Bar Rescue one night as Jon Taffer was waylaying into a set of doe-eyed employees about the behavior he was witnessing. I can’t recall the episode, but the thing that struck me was the term he used to describe the supervisor.  After questioning the supervisor about her role and her authority with the team he dubbed her a “stupidvisor”.  The owner’s jaw dropped and the rest of the team nodded their heads.

In a nutshell, he was saying that if you as an owner give the title of supervisor to an employee you have to also give them some of the power that goes along with the title. A supervisor should be able to create direction, hire, fire, discipline, and make crucial and timely decisions.  You as the owner set the tone, the supervisor is tasked with creating a successful team under that tone. Giving someone a title and then still requiring them to get permission for every little decision not only frustrates you as the owner, it frustrates them, slows the process down, and disrupts employee moral.  More importantly, the employees absolutely know without a doubt who the “boss” is.  They will sidestep the stupidvisor so that they can cut down the time in getting a decision made.  This lack of respect translates to tense relations between the employees, the supervisor, and the owner.

I’ve been in the stupidvisor position before and my boyfriend used to say, “All of the responsibility, none of the power”. It was a demoralizing situation that ended up with me seeking greener pastures. And why wouldn’t someone in this position? A supervisor that is just a title has no way of providing any real leadership to employees or growing in their own careers.  A business with this type of structure has no way of improving moral.  Think about it, the very person charged with being a cheerleader and a champion for the team and the brand is stuck asking and waiting on decisions from the owner.  What really then is the point of handing out the title?

With my role in the small business center I’ve had many owners come to me with some problem in their business that was inevitably disrupting sales.  In most instances what they described as their problem really turned out to be a symptom of a greater issue. For example, I worked with a business that came in for help in marketing, we will call them “Jack and Diane”.  I put together a 12 month detailed marketing calendar and outlined example strategies for the business.  I asked Jack who would implement it, and how it would be implemented.  He explained that he had been experiencing frequent turnover but his wife, Diane, was the manager and she would see to it that it was done.

This immediately raised some questions in our session.  First of all, why was Diane not present at the session if she was the “manager”.  And second, could he explain the reasons behind the cycle of turnover they were experiencing?  His explanations for the turnover included that they hired “young kids” that “do not like to work” and designated team leads did not “step up”.

What we uncovered during that session was that he was wanting to step back from daily operations and in doing so allowed his wife to take over the role of manager.  She was to be the person responsible for hiring, firing, managing the books, and leadership for the team.  What was really happening was that she had to ask her husband about every decision she made.  This led the employees to do the same, which led to confusion about who was the “boss”, and led both the husband and wife to work over 60 hours a week each to cover the store.  Guess what folks, Diane was a stupidvisor. And though neither Jack nor Diane realized it, you can bet their employees did.  I implore, how could any employee step up if their supervisor could not?

Many small businesses start as a flat and simple structure with “mom and pop” ruling the roost.  As a business grows owners often have a hard time shifting out of daily operations.  They see the need to hire and/or delegate greater responsibilities to employees. But in many instances do not know how to let go, thus entering the micromanager/supidvisor cycle.  It is imperative that the employees know who is supervising them.  This does not mean that the owner is giving up power, it means that they are trusting an employee to work as an extension of themselves. They will make mistakes.  Hopefully they are provided with training opportunities that will help them help you.  This will allow owners to concentrate on bigger and better things like growing the business or taking a much needed vacation!

Businesses stuck in the micromanager/stupidvisor cycle experience turnover, tense employee relations and disruptions in sales due to slow decision making, decreased moral and loss of continuity in leadership.  Jon Taffer’s solution to this problem? Either take the title away and do it yourself, or give them the proper tools and get the heck out of their way.  If you watch the show regularly you know that he relies on the latter approach.  9.9 times out of 10 people rise to the occasion, the excitement improves moral, the business turns around and the owner gets to be an owner.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

 

 

Your Real Brand Ambassadors Are Not Who You Think

Who are your brand ambassadors? If you think it is your sales people you, my friend, are dead wrong.

Let me tell you a little story about a house renovation project. These are the things that nightmares and divorce decrees are made of. But I don’t think it is because of the reasons generally brought to mind.  It’s not really about the arguing over how to do things, different tastes/styles, or money. I think it is more about the fact that everything in a renovation takes twice as long and costs twice as much as what you planned. It is in these moments of contractors slapping you with a 50% overage on an estimate, incorrectly designed cabinets, and “crown molding costs WHAT a square foot” that you and your partner find ways look the other way during personal meltdowns. Couples that have gone through a renovation can come out the other side with a better understanding of how their partner handles stressful events and how they themselves handle their partners reaction to the stressor.

Our renovation project has been a work in progress for over a year. And now in the final 60 day window we are having a problem getting the kitchen island to look like what we thought it was going to look like. Part of the problem developed when our original sales person was let go and no one at the company contacted us. After days of not hearing anything we had to start over with a new sales person and their interpretation of our concept.  Since we had kept all the documentation and the new sales person had our file, we believed we were still on track.   But lo and behold, there was a miscommunication on the design of the island which is now costing more money and holding up the rest of the project.

Things got even more botched when the team sent to fix the island was not the original team on the cabinet job.
My thoughts on how to fix the island were communicated to the sales person, but lost in translation to the production team. When the installer showed up he did not have any concept of what we were wanting nor did he have proper materials to complete the job. This in turn meant that the counter top person could not do their job that day, and as a contractor lost a day’s pay.

And boy does it turn into the shell swapping blame game from there.  The installer, feeling like an idiot, begins trying to explain that the communication at the company is nonexistent and that it is not his fault. When this happens on a consistent basis the person on the front line ends up trashing the team because they feel resentful for being in this type of predicament. Our guy was pretty diplomatic, but it was easy to see that he was left in the dark and therefore left holding the bag when the customer was unhappy.

Proper communication between sales and production would have solved this and kept the company’s reputation intact. All too often a sales force is separated from a delivery team either by physical location or lack of interest.  Sales people have been made to feel like they rule the roost – and at times they should.  If your team doesn’t believe in your company enough to be able to close deals then your company will suffer.  That being said, having a stellar sales force doesn’t mean a damn thing if you fall down on the delivery.  Typically, your delivery takes place outside of the sales floor with an installer, an IT professional, a maintenance person, etc.  THEY are your company’s reputation.  Not the slick sales person.

That story I watched unfold in my half-complete kitchen is the same thing I have witnessed time and time again in the apartment industry.  Leasing agents deliver a slick bells and whistles show stopping pitch only to have things fall apart on the delivery either because the apartment wasn’t pristine or because it wasn’t delivered on time.  This becomes a high hurdle to jump and it adds to the anecdotes we love to tell others and post on review sites.

During my career in the housing industry what made me appear successful to upper management was my ability to connect with people and close deals. What actually made me successful is how I worked hard to develop strong relationships with my maintenance team.  I knew how to negotiate a quick move in, the time it would take to turn a trashed apartment, and how to buy time for work order completion.  I also knew that through the time and attention I devoted to understanding my maintenance team they would help me out.  In the end if I made a mistaken undeliverable promise they’d find a way to get it done or at the very least, back me up instead of trashing the company.

For me, maintenance people are the heart and soul of the operation.  They are the last person in line with the sales promise and the first person in line when the customer is unhappy. Shouldn’t the people delivering your product feel like you’ve got their back? Doesn’t your customer deserve that?