Creating with Gender Stereotypes

Are gender stereotypes preventing women from pursuing careers in STEM fields?  Do women innately have “softer” skills that could make them successful data scientists?  I’m an advocate for STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, arts and math).  I’m also a coach and trainer who teaches collaborative communication skills to technical professionals. Not surprisingly, I find this to be an interesting discussion.

In the field of data science, the numbers don’t lie. While the number of female data scientists is currently disproportionate to men, the employment demands and signs from academia are encouraging. We may have to fight a little harder to break down the stereotypes that have prevented women from entering STEM fields for many years, but it’s worth the fight. Setting the stage now will inspire future generations to see that they too can be a data scientist. (Quoted from Tanja Rueckert’s article Numbers don’t lie: Why women must fill the data science demand)

Rueckert cites three “stereotypically female traits” that make for a successful data scientist: communication, collaboration and perspective. Female data scientists are entering a man’s world…for now.  In coaching seasoned female executives or a recent MBA’s entering the workforce, women struggle to find their voice and develop greater confidence and gravitas.

Developing a performance of gravitas means an awareness of intonation when they speak. I listen to how a young woman’s voice rises at the end of their sentences. We play with creative imitation and use other tools of the theatre to transform how they communicate. We can learn to perform both who we are and who we are becoming. A recent female MBA graduate shared how an interviewer asked her how should could successfully manage projects, given how “nice” she is. Was she “aggressive enough” for the role? Female executives might be great at collaboration but they still have to “show teeth if needed,” as one of my coaching clients recently put it.

While stereotypes can hold us back, they don’t have to.  They can be a source of creativity for developing new performances. My guess is that the more play and improvisational performance is brought into STE(A)M education and the workplace, the more women (and men) will develop and create new ways of performing as data scientists.

Find out more about FUNctional Collaborative Communication trainings for data scientists https://careerplayinc.com/functional-collaborative-communication/

 

To Be (ourselves) or Not to Be (ourselves)?

self-portrait: to be or not to be..The Harvard Business Review recently ran an article called Do You Really Want to Be Yourself at Work? which raises some interesting philosophical questions like: What does it mean to “be yourself”? What would it look like to “be who you are becoming”? http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/06/do-you-really-want-to-be-yourself-at-work/

As a professional recruiter who is invested in human development and creating environments that support people to grow, I read this article with interest, especially when it talks about corporate cultures that are invested in developing employees.

For three years [the researchers] went around the world, asking hundreds of executives to describe the attributes of their ideal workplace. Topping the list was an environment where people could be themselves and where the company invested in developing them (and everyone they worked with) to be the very best they could be.

I would argue that creating an environment, a corporate culture, where people could be other than who they are would help people more than attempting to be “the very best they can be”.  That said, a corporate culture that is, “dedicated to developing every one of its people by weaving personal growth into day-to-day work” is on the right track.  Rather than weaving “personal growth” into the day-to-day work, companies might want to consider putting the focus on the totality of its employees growing.  How does that happen?  One way is by supporting everyone to be risk-takers – all of our mistakes and failures are opportunities for creativity and development:

In these companies employees didn’t spend any time hiding their inadequacies or preserving their reputations. Rather, everyone — from the CEO on down — was expected to make mistakes and learn from them and grow. In fact, both organizations had elaborate systems designed to promote individuals into roles a bit beyond their comfort zones to ensure that they would inevitably learn from failure. In this way people became masters not of any particular skill but of learning to adjust to new situations, which produced organizations that were remarkably resilient.

Yes and!  Learning to learn seems key.  The work that I do as a coach is about finding new performances that not only allow people to go beyond their comfort zones but to discover who we are becoming.  I was interviewing a young woman this week who constantly peppered her speech (as many young people do) with “like” and “you know”. I was coaching her to be more self-conscious of this to help her present in a more mature and professional manner.  I suggested that she use performance as a tool to do that.  She asked me, “You mean like my alter-ego?”.  As a good improviser I accepted her offer and appreciated that this is a way she could be other than who she is.

I took the survey embedded in the article to answer the question, Would you love to work in a place where you could truly be yourself?  Yes, I do “thrive in a deliberately developmental organization”!  One important way that an organization can become “deliberately developmental” is to allow people to be other than who they are – to perform in new ways, to play new roles and to perform our potential.

The non-profit All Stars Project Inc. http://allstars.org is an example of an organization that is “deliberately developmental” – it is a model that for-profit cultures could learn from.

Let’s develop!

 

Transform in a moment . . . through performance!

I’ve been thinking a lot about coaching this week — maybe because I’ve been coaching a lot this week!

In the early part of the week I had the chance to participate in a corporate training for a leading management consulting firm thanks to my colleagues at Performance of A Lifetime (http://performanceofalifetime.com) who hired me as a coach and role player for this gig. Our fantastic, talented team of improviser/role players spent the day being interviewed by teams of young consultants (fresh out of college); at the end of the day each of us coached teams of these young consultants based on feedback from those interviews.

Later in the week, I had coaching sessions with a few of my young colleagues at a client company where I’m the “communication specialist”.

It’s wonderful to give young people the chance to use performance as a tool for growth, no matter what the context!  It’s very gratifying to share how performance helps us grow and develop.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of watching a video of a talk that one of my mentors, Dr. Fred Newman, gave at Town Hall back in 1997 on “performance therapy”.  Fred is the chief architect of the methodology that I was trained in (and that Performance of A Lifetime utilizes in their work).  As always Fred had many thought provoking things to share; given what’s been on my mind this week this sentence jumped out at me:

“We have the capacity to transform ourselves in a moment through performance.”

What got me thinking was this notion of transforming ourselves in a moment.  Our psychologically-overdetermined culture sends the message that transformation is about introspection, explanation and knowing — and that it can take years of therapy! Along comes Fred Newman saying that we can tranform ourselves in a moment!

When Newman talks about performance therapy he is acknowledging the essential human activity of being who we are and who we are not at the same time.  Each of us has the capacity and can make the choice, moment-to-moment, to perform — to be other than who we are — and thereby to transform ourselves.

How liberating!

For more information about Newman, performance therapy/social therapy, and learning more about the performance approach see the website of the East Side Institute at http://www.eastsideinstitute.org

Showing who we are – A storytelling approach

I’ve been taking a class — Talking to People in Public: A Storytelling Approach with Cathy Rose Salit, President & CEO of Performance of a Lifetime and Chris Helm, a talented teacher of all things philosophical — in order to learn more about coaching whilst I improve my own presentation abilities.

At this week’s class we began making presentations that Cathy then redirected to help us develop our capacity to not only talk about ourselves but to show our audience who we are.  This was a very instructive and creative exercise.

I chose to make the presentation “Why Improvisation?” that I’ve recently made in a corporate setting.  I gave my presentation to the class.  Then Cathy shared with the class that she and I know each other quite well.  In fact we currently perform together in an improv troupe at the Castillo Theatre – The Proverbial Loons; we have been performing together for 20 years.  She made the following suggestion:  She asked me to ask the audience for a list of characters and to write them on a whiteboard; then I was to give my presentation again, only this time as the characters on the list, the class could tell me when to switch to a new character.

I did my presentation again, this time I started out as a Russian man, then I was a dog, then I was a college student barista at Starbucks and I ended the presentation as a nagging mother — it was very funny and entertaining.

Cathy was teaching me and us how to show who we are; rather than lecturing about improvisation, I improvised! We then discussed how this would impact the audience for this presentation within a corporate setting.  It was a very rich and valuable dialogue.  In my letting people see who I am as a 20 year veteran improviser (and giving them this fun experience) it might create more of an environment for them to trust me in taking them through a workshop to teach these skills, which they can then apply to their own work (cold calling and developing better communication capabilities).

This approach to storytelling and sharing who we are by demonstrating who we are rather than talking about who we are is much more intimate and vastly more creative.

I’d love to hear how you can use this approach in your own presentation work.

For more information about classes at the East Side Institute and Cathy Rose Salit please see these links:

http://www.eastsideinstitute.org/about.html

http://www.performanceofalifetime.com/principals.html

Appreciate who we are becoming

I’ve been experiencing and learning about human development both personally and professionally as I approach six months of my new professional life as a consultant and coach.  As readers of this blog know I like to quote Dr. Fred Newman who created a methodology and practice (social therapy) that has given thousands of people around the world the opportunity to develop and create their lives.

Fred used to have a call-in radio show called, Let’s Develop!. I’d take time and carefully design questions for Fred and call into the show almost every week; Fred was always very appreciative of calls from “Marian from Manhattan”. One week he responded to a question I asked by sharing that development is the interplay of who you were, who you are, and who you are becoming.

These words have come to me several times during coaching sessions with MBA students. I’m helping them develop confidence and skills as they go through their interviews for internships and post-graduate positions. Combining my experience as an executive search consultant, actress/director, and improvisational expert I give students the support and direction they need to play and pretend, practice and develop a performance of who they are becoming.

In a HBR post this week Joshua Erlich wrote a piece Developing Executive Presence that summed up the basic work that executive coaches do to help with this issue — http://bit.ly/vFjNve

This quote jumped out at me:

Practice with support. Letting a colleague or mentor know you are working on presence can boost your skills and confidence.

People need support.  Maybe that sounds obvious but I think we underestimate how much support we all need to grow in our overly individualistic culture.  In order to move in and around who we were, who we are and who we are becoming we need to build relationships that support this kind of growth — that support development. Since it’s football season I’ve been looking at the coaches on the sidelines; so much of what they do is push their players to go beyond themselves.  Off the field and in the boardroom or other settings where we find ourselves it is not always so easy to find a coach, a mentor, or a friend who will and can give the kind of support needed to grow.

Growing is emotional — going beyond ourselves, becoming who we are not, is frightening.  All too often we leave out the emotional component, which requires those of us who are coaching to create an environment and relationship which allows soneone to go beyond “boosting skills and confidence” to a place where they can pretend** (see article below).  As a coach I see my role as a director and as a developmentalist — I’m there to help people experience that interplay Fred was talking about.

A big part of how we can give support is both teaching and engaging in the activity of appreciation. Here’s an excerpt from a paper by Drs. Fred Newman and Lenora Fulani called Let’s Pretend** http://bit.ly/qcjTJ4 

“Appreciation” is a sophisticated developmental skill. It is highly subjective, in that we might all have varied objects that we appreciate. Yet, appreciation itself takes a common form in the culture. And here’s what’s important. Appreciation is fundamentally performatory.

The value of coaching as I see it is to create a space for development and help people become less alienated about our human capacity to create our lives. Let’s develop!

‘Tis the season to be playful!

Random musings about the therapeutic and developmental nature of play —

This TED Talk, “The shared experience of absurdity” by Charlie Todd, the founder of Improv Everywhere, is a wonderful example of the value of pointless play. It beautifully illustrates the joy we experience connecting with others in the activity of play.

http://www.ted.com/talks/charlie_todd_the_shared_experience_of_absurdity.html

I’m fortunate to be part of a community that is always discovering how play can help people develop in many contexts — here’s a few examples:

We recently ended a very successful three week class at the East Side Institute on humor and it’s role in development. My co-teacher Mary Fridley and I were fortunate to work with a very giving and creative group of students. In our last session we split the class into two groups and they created and performed two wonderfully humorous skits. Our students created humor out of the things they listed as “not funny” — terminal illness, abuse, our irritations at people, and various difficult circumstances that we find ourselves in. Together we made discoveries about how we can use our wonderful human ability to create with others and in that activity we find humor and joy, even when we are sure there is none to be found.

On December 9th I’ll be joining my colleague Rafael Mendez at the Social Therapy Group’s workshop: Creating the Holidays You Want to Have*.  It’s part of Therapy Play: a series of therapeutic workshops of philosophical conversation and group performance work designed for emotional growth and development.  Rafael asked me to help him create an environment for participants to play with some of the things that come up for all of us during the holidays:

Even as we look forward to celebrating with friends and family, the pressure to feel how we’re “supposed” to feel, to get together with who we’re “supposed” to get together and to give gifts we often can’t afford – can make it difficult to be “merry, happy and gay.”

In preparing to coach another MBA student who told me that he has difficulty, “letting people see my personality” I’ve been thinking about how adults have to reawaken and strengthen our play muscle. This muscle, which was so strong when we were children, sadly atrophies during adulthood.  The good news is that we can all workout in the gymnasium of pointless play in our families, workplaces and frankly anywhere we find ourselves.

Improv Everywere … indeed!

* For readers in the NY Metro area here’s a link to info on the December 9th workshophttp://www.socialtherapygroup.com/events.html

Performing our way to confidence

As a recruiting professional I often coach my friends through their career-related issues.  I recently coached two friends who needed similar kinds of coaching.  I was happy to be asked for help and pleased that I could provide a bit of performance coaching. 

One friend is someone who I had coached during a transition into a new role in a new industry. She is an extremely bright and talented professional who, like many of us, can easily become insecure in the face of having to do what she  does not know how to do. 

I think it is fair to say that with today’s economic realities many people are being asked to stretch in new ways, take on new roles, and wear multiple hats. It is a challenge to rise to the occasion and perform at the top of our game even with an underlying feeling of “there’s no way I can do this”.

In the case of this particular friend I had to remind her of all the things she’s done and accomplished without any previous experience — without “knowing” what she was doing. As she and I and many of us can attest to from our life’s experiences, we learn in the doing. Sometimes we need reminding of that. 

The performance I recommended in these moments is a performance of confidence. More than one of my improv coaches has made the offer to me that I work to create more “high status” characters, as my “natural” inclination (behavior) can be to play “low status” — characters who are do not in any way convey confidence.  Playing/performing confident takes self-conscious effort when we are questioning ourselves. I’ve learned the role of confident and accomplished businesswoman through improvisation and most of all by performing in life — and I’ve become that woman. Methodologically the “pretending” ** leads to development,  we become who we were not.  

My other friend is an accomplished and talented producer who is looking for a new opportunity after many years of working with people she knew well and built strong relationships with over many years of working together. It’s both common and disconcerting when looking for a new position to become insecure or frightened, especially in today’s employment market.

I asked her if there is someone she admires for her or his confidence. Someone came to mind immediately. I suggested that she do a “creative imitation” of that person. How is this other person in the world?  How does she express her confidence that makes her an appealing role model?   It turns out that my friend admires this other woman’s ability to take pride in her accomplishments without boasting.  That was an important thing to recognize in the other person, so as to begin to find a way to give expression to her own accomplishments in her field.  In the case of my friend, developing a performance of (just the right amount of) hubris is exactly what she needs.

**For more on “pretending” I refer readers to the paper “Let’s Pretend” by Drs. Lenora Fulani and Fred Newman: http://bit.ly/qcjTJ4