Last week I had an eye opening chat with one of my favorite people, Shelley Benhoff. You can watch it on YouTube here.
I asked Shelley about her advice for girls and women who are interested in a STEM/tech career. I also asked her for advice to guys who work with women in STEM, and how they can become more supportive. This has really been on my mind lately (as I was getting ready to talk to her about it), and I just can’t stop thinking about it. I recently woke up with some very specific ideas I think will help people be more supportive of women, and really, anyone, at work.
I have to say, I think most of us are trying to make work a better place. If that is you, think about these five ideas. I know they have helped me think about how I can support others.
First, nurture an abundance mentality.
I hate hearing people are mad that someone else got a job or promotion because of reasons outside of performance. Of course, this happens. And no, it is not fair. But you need to change your focus from disgust and hate and jealousy to thinking “okay, how can we make this pie bigger?”
Abundance mentality is so powerful. Instead of thinking “they got that job, and so there is no other opportunity for anyone else,” think “they got that job, and we are doing really well, and soon there will be more opportunities.” Abundance mentality is the opposite of zero-sum game theory. Zero-sum game says “if they get something, I don’t.” But during my entire career I’ve never seen where someone gets an opportunity and that shuts doors for everyone else.
Please, I beg you, start thinking about abundance mentality. There is an abundance of opportunity. We just need to find or create it. When you start to believe in abundance mentality it becomes a lot easier to support others, even when we think they got something we thought we deserved.
Second, celebrate wins of others.
When my wife and I bought our first house we were over-the-moon excited. The house was really nice for us, and where we were at. I had just gotten my first real (big) job, and we had a couple of kids. The house was big enough for us to grow into. And it had a (very old but functional) hot tub under a covered patio!
We had friends and family come over… you know how that is. People are curious to see how others are doing, so they come see your new digs. My wife was shocked when some people made comments that expressed jealousy, or other negative feelings. She really thought others would be as excited for as as we were, and was disheartened to hear comments that were less than supportive. We had a few conversations and she taught me an important lesson: Instead of comparing our lives and wins and accomplishments with others, we need to celebrate with them.
Is this easy to do? Not always. When you feel like you have worked harder, are smarter, etc., and you deserve goodness, and then you see someone else get what you thought you deserve before you get it, it’s hard. Shakespeare wrote plenty about jealousy. The old religious books write about jealousy. This is nothing new. Recognize that jealousy is not good, nor is it healthy. Work through the jealous feelings and get to a point where you genuinely care about others to the point of being happy for their wins.
This goes hand in hand with abundance mentality thinking. If you think the pie is a limited size it’s easier to be jealous. When you shift to an abundance mentality you can think “they got goodness, and we can all get goodness!”
Third, recognize your colleague has a whole world outside of work.
It’s critical that we think about people as humans. They have a mother, father, aunt, spouse, kids, even neighbors and other friends, outside of work.
When you have jealous, unsupportive feelings about others you are discounting the goodness that others see in them. Maybe they donate their time or resources to good causes. Your lack of support impacts their ability to function and contribute to their other circles.
I think too often we see one another at work as a title, a role, and sometimes a competitor. We worry about what they’ll take from us, not realizing that when they get a raise, promotion, bonus, or even just recognition, that might carry over into how they parent, or their outside relationships. Why shouldn’t we be happy for, and supportive of them, as they have professional accomplishments?
Many times when we think about our own accomplishments we think about how that will change our home life, or our future. We need to think of our colleagues as humans, and afford them the same benefits.
Fourth, admit that you can’t possibly do it alone.
Funny story: When I was in college I had finally settled on a major. It wasn’t computer science… it was the business college alternative (computer information systems). I had two programming classes, and a handful of other tech classes. I looked at others in the college of business, especially marketing and management, and thought “well, good luck getting a job or having a meaningful career.”
Yes, I was immature, short-sighted, and dumb.
Anyway, at my low point in this thinking I remember walking through the liberal arts building with the English and history majors. I remember thinking they made some really, really bad decisions. They chose easy majors to get through school, and would pay for it later when they tried to have a meaningful career. I regret that line of thinking.
Fast forward a bit and I had an epiphany: while I might be the one to create cool technology, or lead teams that created cool technology, without people who knew how to write and communicate and do other things, I would not be able to see the success I wanted. I needed other people. I needed their diverse skills and thinking.
Since then I’ve worked with some brilliant non-technologists. Wordsmiths, presenters, negotiators, leaders, etc. My thinking was so myopic I couldn’t understand why I’d need others around me. And then, when I had them around me, and I could see their brilliance, I realized I was probably the least important around.
No… even that is wrong thinking. We all contribute. We are all needed. We all add value. Please, appreciate what others can bring, when they feel safe. Think about what you can bring when you feel safe! Appreciating this can help you move past the feelings of jealousy and into a place where you are supportive of others.
Fifth, remember others supported you, even when they maybe shouldn’t have.
At some point in your career you were wrong. You were new, stupid, immature, and probably made plenty of mistakes. I’m not saying that “marginalized people” are stupid or immature or full of mistakes, but I want you to remember that when you were a dork, or an expensive investment, someone took a chance on you. Whether that was hiring you in the first place, sending you to training, giving you a promotion, letting you work on a hard project or with a key customer, you have likely been the beneficiary of someone giving you a chance.
The reality is that someone supported you. I’m not saying they put you on easy street. I’m sure you have worked hard and taken advantage of opportunities. But I’m sure that some people thought, “Maybe I’ll give this person a chance and see what they can do.” I beg you to give this same opportunity to others. Help them with a chance, and then mentoring and coaching. Some of the most rewarding parts of my career have been when I’ve done that, and seen people step up, grow, and deliver.
Bonus, do all of this without any expectations.
I know how disheartening it is to support someone, to go to bat for them, and get nothing in return. Not acknowledgement, not a thank you, not even a head nod. Maybe, you support someone, and it bites you later.
Please support others without expecting or hoping that you’ll get anything more than self-fulfillment. The more you expect in return, the higher the chances people feel your intentions are not genuine. I’m not saying to give everything away and hope for nothing, but if you were to give and support because it is the right thing to do, goodness will come back to you. It might be through wealth and friendships, but it might just be through a peace of mind you get from a clean conscience, and knowing you have lived a good and noble path.
As you become more supportive without expecting favors in return, you’ll be more fulfilled (and, people will return the favor!).
This is our life.
Our life is too short to be a jerk, harbor unfounded hatred, and be jealous. Sure, you could do that, but you’ll live in a level of miserable that you don’t need to. Doing the things above have allowed me to have more joy and happiness than when I don’t.
Let’s all work for an more enriching, meaningful life. Supporting others is a great way to get there.