History, Hidden Figures, and One Engineer’s Advice

Book clubs have changed. I know of some that don’t read a book at all (emphasis on wine). My book club DOES read, and takes reading seriously, but we would rather someone join us even if she hasn’t read the book yet. When Hearth and Soul hosted a book club centered on the book Hidden Figures recently, I attended even though I had “only” seen the movie. I appreciate their hospitality and learned so much from the event.

The organizers of the Hearth and Soul Hidden Figures gathering had invited Charmane Caldwell, Ph.D., to share her experiences as an African-American female engineer. She is an alumna of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering (2011) and currently serves as the Diversity and Inclusion Director at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.

Female Engineers

Dr. Caldwell talks with attendees at the Hearth and Soul Hidden Figures event.

Dr. Caldwell’s takeaways enhanced our understanding of the book, but more than that, they incorporated messages that any young woman would be wise to consider.

The Difference Between “How” and “Why”

As Dr. Caldwell explained her evolution from college student, to engineer, to faculty member, she said she discovered an important truth along the way:

The person who knows how will always get a job but the person who knows why will always be their boss.

Ever since I read an account long ago of how pilots’ knowledge of the “old fashioned” engineering behind aviation, of having to KNOW and mentally calculate adjustments in order to fly planes rather than relying on automation, resulted in the fact that 185 out of 296 passengers survived the crash of United Flight 232 on July 19, 1989, I have felt strongly that the “why” is critical to know in addition to the “how.”

I encourage my kids (a high school senior and a college junior) to understand the “why’s.” Especially in an age of automation, where we barely have to lift a finger to get directions from point A to point B, to order a pizza, or to share a picture with a friend a world away, it’s important to understand what makes all that automation tick. It will make you more valuable as a potential employee and it must might save your (or someone else’s) life someday. 

The Value of a Growth Mindset

A “growth mindset” is one of those things that most of us would probably say “yeah of COURSE it’s important to have a growth mindset.” But what does “growth mindset” really mean?

My friend Jon Mertz defined “growth mindset” well in a recent post:

Individuals with a growth mindset learn and encourage others to do the same. While having a growth mindset is essential, we encounter many who are fixed in their thinking and ways of doing things.

Fixed mindsets are confident in what has been set, and no amount of effort or talent will change what is already known. Growth mindsets know continued practice and learning move us forward to better thinking, plans, and outcomes. Even with solid past results, constant learning and practice propels us forward.

For me, I’ve always aspired to be a lifelong learner, to “dig deeper” on almost any topic. Personally, the bigger challenge is “encouraging others to do the same” as Jon pointed out above.

In this post, Terence Brake of TMA World shares a growth mindset moment from Hidden Figures (movie version):

…Dorothy, who did the supervisor’s job in the “Colored Computer” room—without the appropriate title or pay—was fearful of the large IBM computer that had been installed. She was afraid of the computer’s impact on the jobs of her people. Instead of taking a hammer to the machine, she taught herself Fortran, and then taught it to the others in the pool. When the IBM mainframe took over from the human computers, she became official supervisor of the computer section, and took all of her people with her.

I could blame my reluctance to help others on feeling I don’t have enough time to train someone else, but honestly it’s more often a lack of confidence in my ability to teach them. I am reminded, though, of feedback I received from my staff at Healthy Kids. Almost everyone mentioned a process we had jointly developed (rather than me holed away in my office drafting something) as a favorite memory. They learned, they took ownership — it mattered to them to be asked and to be given an opportunity to grow.

In addition, a growth mindset is beneficial to all of us. Not just emotionally or learning-wise. As my Weaving Influence boss Becky Robinson wrote recently, “any time you can train someone else to become proficient at a task you typically do, you are creating margin for yourself in the future.”

Having a growth mindset helps us do more, for our intellect and for profitability. It’s a win-win.

Don’t Dumb Yourself Down

As book club wound down (well, that’s sort of a relative term — the “formal” book club wound down but many of us stayed long after the formal end to keep talking), I asked Dr. Caldwell to share the ONE thing she would tell today’s female students.

Her answer? DON’T DUMB YOURSELF DOWN.

So much truth to this, and I suspect we parents and supporters of young women *may* inadvertently facilitate this dumbing down without even knowing. How do you impress on a tween or teen girl that the real power is in embracing the subjects they love, even if they aren’t “cool” among their peers?

Sometimes there’s no fighting the pull of peer pressure, but we can support the young women in our lives and model how to have high aspirations, how to tackle subjects that appear difficult, how to confidently be the only girl (or minority, or both) in the room.

Here’s an interesting conundrum — when I started poking around the internet looking for great links about how girls should not “dumb themselves down,” almost everything I found was about how women shouldn’t “dumb themselves down” to get a man.

I think Dr. Caldwell meant something different, more fundamental, and more applicable to an 11-year old (although many of us adults would do well to remember the advice too). I think it was something more related to the advice Liz Ryan gave in Forbes to a job-searcher who wondered if she should dilute her educational background in order to be more appealing to employers who might be scared off by her higher education achievements:

Anybody who needs you to pretend to be less smart and capable than you are is not someone you can afford to work for.

As a practical matter, when you hide your flame in order to get hired, your mojo will leave you. Your mojo is the fuel source for your career and your life. You can’t afford to squander it!

“Mojo” is something that can be inadvertently snuffed out in a young girl’s psyche early in her life, and resurrecting it after she has stopped believing in herself is a Herculean task. Why not keep it alive and thriving from the beginning?

Read The Book, See The Movie

If you have been around my blog for long, you know I am a huge fan of NASA and, from a “women in tech” standpoint, consider hearing Former Deputy Administrator Dava Newman speak to be a pivotal personal moment. She made history by becoming Deputy Administrator of NASA. She made history partially thanks to women who took risks long before her, women whose lessons we in the general public are just now starting to appreciate ….. to learn “why” and not just “how,” to have a growth mindset, to not dumb themselves down.

Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures, said it well:

Female Engineers

Editor’s Note: I asked Dr. Caldwell to elaborate a bit more on “how vs. why” and here is her response:

I’m glad people enjoyed the article. I made the comment about life in general, but specifically as engineers we go through the training (Physics, Calculus, etc.) to be able to determine the why of problems.

All About Audiobooks

Note: This post contains affiliate links to some of the products mentioned. If you purchase a book through that link, I will receive compensation.

The first time I really remember adding audiobooks to my listening habits was years ago (I think it was 2005) when I was returning from dropping Tenley off at gymnastics camp in Athens, GA. Back then, it was not uncommon for me to listen to audiobooks on cassette. Over the eleven years since then, I’ve migrated from listening on CD, to listening to them on my old iPod, to finally listening to them through the Audible App on my phone. There’s usually still a cassette involved, as I use an adapter to send the sound through my car’s audio. (Right now I have a rental which routes it through a USB and I feel all techie when that happens!). The first book I prominently remember reading via audio was Life of Pi. I’ve lost count of how many there have been since then. Hundreds?

Audiobooks Are Big Business

Just how “big” are they?

According to the Pew Research Center, 14% of Americans have read an audiobook in the past year.

The Wall Street Journal says audiobooks are the “fastest-growing format in the book business today,” citing the Audio Publishers Association as stating “sales in the U.S. and Canada jumped 21% in 2015 from the previous year.” I can say I’m certainly doing my part to make that true.

For more on the history of audiobooks, this On Point show is really interesting.

That Voice In My EarAudiobook Readers

This post is partially inspired by a conversation I was having with other reading fanatics. Some of us had read Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale in a traditional format, and I had read it via audiobook. I had shared how much I loved narrator Amy Landon’s voice, how I liked it so much I could listen to her read the phone book. That led to a discussion of other narrators we love (or don’t love….).

Another of my favorites is Cassandra Campbell. She has narrated many notable audiobooks, including being part of the ensemble narrating The Help, but it was her narration of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks that really blew me away. Just the way she said “culture” (which is said OFTEN in that book) was worthy of “I could listen to her read the phone book” status.

I also typically enjoy it when authors read their own memoirs. Memorable books in this category include Between Breaths by Elizabeth Vargas, The Diva Rules by Michelle Visage (visit my blogs about this book here and here), Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, Troublemaker by Leah Remini, and Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew.

I also credit Jenna Bush Hager’s reading of Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope with giving me a deeper picture of her as an individual, and by extension, her family. She has some VERY particular pronunciations of things (like saying “buddon” instead of “button” but for that one book it worked).

Narrating an audiobook is a skill (and art), for sure, as demonstrated here by Amy Landon:

What Is It About Voices?

Since I don’t plan (right now) to post about it separately, allow me to take a slight detour on the topic of voices in general.

I wonder what it is about voices that lead us to conclude they are “pleasant” or “unpleasant.” As audiobook readers who frequently pay discretionary income for books (there are some sources of free audiobooks out there I must mention), we certainly have a right to voice our preferences.

For my mother-in-law, who was blind, and listened to many of her books as voiced through the impersonal generic narration of the books on tape she received from a talking books service for the visually impaired, I’m pretty sure she would have agreed that variety is GOOD (as technology improved, she was able to listen to audiobooks with a variety of narrators. I really regret that she didn’t live long enough to take advantage of easily clicking on a book she really loved, with narration she also really loved. She was so close with the ownership of an iPhone. SO. CLOSE.)

It’s quite impossible for me to write about voices, though, without thinking about NPR’s underwriting-credit announcer challenges. I have to admit I can’t remember what Frank Tavares, who did it for years, sounded like, but I vividly remember the uproar when Sabrina Farhi took over and illuminated vocal fry’s moment in the spotlight. I’ve always felt a little sorry for her, even though I, too, was not a huge fan. I never criticized her via social media, but I certainly sent her successor, Jessica Hansen, a congratulatory note praising her work. Jessica Hansen has another voice I love.

Is it Reading or Listening?

I’ve often heard the debate: is consumption of an audiobook reading or listening?

That’s easy: IT IS READING.

Although I feel strongly that it is reading, I can understand why book lovers ask if consuming an audiobook is “really reading.” Forbes takes a stab at answering the question here, asserting that “reading and listening are strikingly similar cognitive processes.” (It’s a fascinating article; I encourage you to click through and read it.)

While I am somewhat alarmed at my diminishing focus on reading paper books, I cling to the idea that listening is still reading. Audiobooks have kept me in love with reading and expanded my exposure to ideas, people, and concepts while pushing my imagination to new horizons.

To that, I say, turn the page; click the button for the next chapter. Whatever you do, JUST KEEP READING.

Audiobook Readers

thoughtful-thursdays4

Fathers, Daughters, and Careers

I suppose this would be the perfect time to write a “year in review” post but, instead, I’m going to elaborate on my thoughts about Kathy Caprino’s post “7 Ways Your Father Affected Your Career.”

I read Kathy’s post back on December 23, when it was published by Forbes, Inc. I made a hasty comment at the time but knew I wanted to come back to it. The post had seven points. I’ve included each one here (in bold) along with a concise paraphrase (unbolded) and my thoughts (in italics).

1. Who You Associate With ( “girls with uninvolved dads tend to go through puberty at least five months earlier than other girls“) For my experience, this doesn’t correlate. My dad was overseas a good bit due to being in the Navy, but he wasn’t uninvolved. The fact that I went through puberty very early probably is purely biological. The people I associated with could hardly be deemed “rebellious, acting older than they were” or anything else destructive. This one didn’t seem to mirror my experience.

2. Speaking Your Opinion (“when a father encouraged his daughter to express her opinions growing up, she would generally become more confident at expressing her opinions in school and throughout her life”) I wouldn’t necessarily attribute issues I have as an adult expressing my opinion solely to my father. At 49, it doesn’t really matter (ultimately) why I have had challenges with this and hopefully a round of therapy in my early 20s helped me make peace with my childhood influences. On the other hand, I have been compulsively telling people that my “Word of the Year” for 2014 is “freedom” as in “freedom from being so #*$&#)*@# deferential to everyone.” It’s easier for me to write my opinion than to say it. I can’t blame my dad for that. I can work on improving.

3. The Career You Choose My dad was in the Navy; my mom was a housewife who spoke nostalgically of her working days. I don’t think my dad’s choices directly influenced mine. I sure did want to be Mary Tyler Moore tossing that hat in the intersection, though. When I didn’t want to be a stay at home mom. I think I am destined to discover that career choices can change and evolve even as you approach 50.

4. Your Ambition and Competitiveness (“are fathers at least partially responsible as key influencers re: women’s ambition and competitiveness”?) Hmmmm……I think about this a lot and have never given voice to it in my blog (or, really, much of anywhere!). I am ambitious and competitive BUT my concern is that as an only child who got a LOT of praise for pretty much anything, I have an overinflated sense of my “specialness.” I’m not saying this to be amusing …. I like nothing more than a good competition and earning rewards fair and square. Having entered kindergarten at 4 and always been told “aw so smart for so young” it became easy to crave being the exception rather than the “hard worker.”

5. How You Interact With Men (“Without an involved father, the challenge of interacting with men, particularly in the workplace, can be challenging at best (and debilitating at worst) for some women.”) Cue ominous portentious music here. This doesn’t have to do so much with my father’s involvement or lack thereof. Maybe more of the only child thing or maybe just because I am wired the way I am. I’ll never be “one of the boys” but that’s exactly what I craved sometimes (when I didn’t want to be the treasured princess (hey no one said this had to make sense!). I do love love love having men for friends. But that’s different than being able to shoot the sh*t around the water cooler (thereby gaining an “in” into office hierarchies). On the other hand, for the past 19 years I’ve worked in an office that is about 90% female so maybe I am in an unusual environment to start with.

6. How You Are Mentored By Men (nurturing by a dad of a daughter (vs a son) is much easier because of the lack of testosterone) This one I struggle with — but to be fair I have struggled with very authoritative women too. I also can’t name many true mentors, especially male mentors, in my professional history. Maybe this is a gap I need to fill.

7. Your Leadership Style (“How your father interacted, particularly with you, and also with your mother and other authority figures in your family life set an example for how leadership works or doesn’t.”) This one is a tougher nut to crack. Did my parents influence my leadership style? Was I always meant to be the way I am regardless? If anything, a southern childhood of “be polite” messages probably didn’t help in any way but again I am captain of my own destiny, right?

Having worked through all of the questions, in a way I think my original response to Kathy, hastily tapped out, still encapsulates the core of my response:

It is thought provoking; I don’t think I am going to be able to dash a quick comment off in the comment box on your blog! You can never change the pros and cons of your parents’ styles (in this case, father …) as I’m sure my own children will prove on their own therapists’ couches someday. If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing retrospectively, though, I think I would wish for a bit more messaging along the lines of “sometimes you have to push back, often you can do that diplomatically but there are some times that won’t be possible. Have courage in those times and don’t back down.”

"Dad"

“Dad”

What are your thoughts on the topic? Share them here or directly on Kathy’s blog.