Wisdom From The Women Leading The Space Industry, With Dr. Mindy Howard of Inner Space Training
…Another myth is that in order for women to be good leaders, they have to renounce their female qualities in order to succeed. First off, I don’t find this belief that women should put a mask on and be something they are not, or anyone for that matter, to be more helpful. It takes a lot of energy for a person to have to act like someone they are not, and that time could better be spent on something more constructive. Secondly, many of the stereotypical qualities that women tend to have (e.g. empathy, good listener, team player, excellent communicators, nurturer, checking their egos at the door) are excellent qualities for leaders. Why would anyone with these qualities want to change that to have the classical male leadership traits (e,g. decisive and powerful, with a strong, authoritarian style)? I think women who display these classical male traits, because they think it will help them as it does their male counterparts, will create a backfire on themselves. What I believe is more helpful for women (and men) is to learn how to be more “bi-lingual”, being able to communicate with men more effectively in their own male language, and to be able to switch languages depending on who they are with (as we do when visiting another country).
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Mindy Howard the CEO and Founder of Inner Space Training.
Dr. Mindy Howard has set out to passionately achieve her dream of going to space. After leaving the oil industry, Dr. Howard harnessed her academic and professional skills to create the first and only psychological commercial space training program, “Inner Space Training”. Dr. Howard will train, coach, and accompany in space the winners of the “Career Astronaut” competition, in 2023. She has appeared on the Discovery Channel, and on the radio both in the United States and in Europe as a space correspondent and commentator. She has just recently published her book called, “Blast Off! Train like an Astronaut for Success on Earth”. Dr. Howard is also a TEDx speaker (“Train your fear away, like an astronaut”) and is a Guest Lecturer at the International Space University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I was the daughter of two teachers who always pushed me to do my best. My parents knew the value of nurturing talented children, and because I had lots of hobbies and talent with music and sports, I grew up with a busy schedule. When my parents discovered that I had musical talent at 3 years old, I started violin lessons at 4 years old. (This was not my instrument of choice. The drums actually were but that was totally out of the question, yet became my mid-life crisis musical instrument when I turned 40). Nonetheless, I came home from school as a first-grader, around 3 o’clock, with two parents that arrived home from work about 1.5 hours after I did. (The epitome of the latch-key kid.) I was expected to make my own snack and practice my violin for an hour. I started to be independent at a very young age, and later learned to the value of discipline and working hard for things, although I hated it at the time. In our house, if I got an A, my mother would ask me why it wasn’t an A+ which was frustrating at times, but it also had an upside that I appreciated later in life. I learned that it was always important to do my best and with hard work, discipline, and nurturing my talents, I could go pretty far in life. I think being successful was also important as a family value, which also came from doing your best. Looking back, I remember doing lots of things, and never sitting still for too long, partly because I had some form of hyperactivity. The idea of doing yoga would never have appealed to me as a child but is what I do now a few days a week as one of my hobbies. I wouldn’t have had the patience nor maturity to last longer than 5 minutes. Back then, it was all about “action” for me.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Dr. Edgar Mitchell’s “The Way of the Explorer” made a huge impression on me. It was the first time that I had heard about the phenomenon called the “Overview Effect” — that feeling of connectedness and oneness with everything and everyone, that astronauts get when they look back at earth from space, coined by Frank White. In the book, Dr. Mitchell described his experience as he stood on the surface of the moon and looked back at Earth, and how that changed his perspective on everything. From that experience, he was never the same. He went to space a very rational man and came back a changed man, and some would say more spiritual. He was transformed as a person and had a cognitive shift. I was fascinated by the Overview Effect and have made it my mission in life to experience it firsthand, as well as help others do the same as a commercial astronaut trainer. I contacted him a few years before he died and told him about how I would like to help commercial astronauts experience the Overview Effect, and he agreed to be on Inner Space Training’s advisory board up until he passed. I feel honored and blessed that I was able to have his experience and wisdom integrated into our training program.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“Success is measured by how much fun you have.” This is a quote that I heard from a yoga teacher and have tried to embrace this as much as I can. Taking life so seriously and striving for a goal, without enjoying the ride, is not what I want to do anymore. I think I went through a large part of life ticking off boxes of things I had to do in order to move to the next step, but I don’t think I was aware of what I was doing or how I was feeling for a long time. I now have modified my parents’ value of success in a way that is more meaningful for me, and I am learning how to teach others to enjoy the present moment more. This lesson is extremely important in commercial astronaut training.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the space industry? We’d love to hear it.
It sounds cheesy, but when I was 6 years old, I used to watch a lot of TV, and I always wanted to be bionic after watching the Six Million Dollar Man. I was in love with him at the time and I always fantasized that he and I could go to space together and float hand in hand. Nothing seemed cooler than that at the time. That image of me floating in space never left me, and as I got older, my dream to go to space got stronger. I learned that I needed to have a Ph.D. in a technical study in order to have any chance of becoming an astronaut (as a mission specialist), and I invested my own money and paid for different commercial astronaut training and experiences. This taught me a better understanding of what the challenges of being an astronaut are and how to overcome them with the help of training. I also discovered what my own challenges were, and I have spent my entire adult life pursuing that dream.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
I spent my entire career doing what other people told me to do in order to become an astronaut. I studied the right things, got the right degrees at university, applied to the right organizations, networked with the right people, and got pretty close to becoming a NASA astronaut (narrowed down to the last 200 people in the selection process called a “Highly Qualified Astronaut Candidate”), but still, I wasn’t selected to become one. I was gutted. Over and over I applied and sometimes I would make it down to the last 2000 and other times I wouldn’t. It was only after changing my own strategy and started to navigate my journey by listening to my own inner compass, that things started happening for me. Unfortunately, I was too rationally trained to use my intuition on a regular basis until fairly recently. I would always overrule my intuition by my head. Only after regularly acknowledging what my intuition was saying to me and listening to it as input for decision making, is when synchronicity and success finally started happening for me. I started to navigate my next move based on what I felt instead of only what I thought, and doors started to open. After I did my TEDx talk, I asked my intuition what else I could do to make things happen. My intuition told me to be patient, and that things will come. It was hard sometimes to keep the faith and keep positive, but I did. Almost one year after getting that message from my intuition, it happened. I still have to laugh when I think about getting a phone call from the head of a newly created world-wide astronaut competition that will send four people to suborbital space in 2023. I was asked if I would like to become the astronaut trainer for the finalists in the competition and also be the coach/crewmember onboard the flight to space! When he asked me, I thought I was on candid camera. Then, I hung up the phone after saying “Yes!” and screamed for joy. Who would have thought 25 years ago that the way that I would get a chance to go to space would be because someone would call me on the phone and ask me?! It seemed so random, although I had been working my entire life for an opportunity like this. All I can say is, the universe works in mysterious ways.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Well, it’s actually not that funny. I made the assumption of believing a person I was going into business with based entirely on what he told me because I am a trusting person. He told me that we should go into business together and he was very interested in my training program for space for him and his other friends who had bought tickets on Virgin Galactic. He told me that he thought that he and his future astronaut friends were interested in my training program. He also said that he would like to pay for my ticket to space and that I could be his personal astronaut trainer and coach. I guess that I was swept away by that thought, but then blindsided when at a certain point it appeared that he primarily wanted a sexual relationship with me, and even though the rest was also true. I would first have to have a physical relationship with him and then he would give me his business. I don’t think many men end up having to deal with things like this, in their day to day business dealings. I couldn’t believe that a prominent person like he was, would make this kind of indecent proposal to me. (This was years before the “Me Too” movement). I really did think that he was interested in my product, and not me in this way, but I was mistaken. What I learned from that is to do more due diligence on people that I will be going into business with, and when something feels not right, to call it at a much earlier stage instead of letting it go on.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes, that would be Dr. Marilyn Hamilton, author, professor, and probably one of the most advanced humans on the planet that I know. Dr. Hamilton and I met on a sustainability course (she was a guest speaker) and was inspired by hearing about my dream of going to space and creating a training to help commercial astronauts prepare for their journey. She not only introduced me to Dr. Edgar Mitchell which was incredible but also helped me create some of the content of the training program. The name “Inner Space Training” comes from her actually, and I think it is the perfect name for so many reasons. I was struggling for weeks to come with a name, and she just closed her eyes, meditated on that for 10 seconds, and then suggested it. I was blown away with her superpowers to be such an incredible thought leader but at the same time, so spiritually adept. She gave me the confidence to go ahead and pursue this dream and I am so grateful for all of her help and wisdom and faith in me.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I have just completed my book, “Blast Off! Train like an Astronaut for Success on Earth” which is not only for those people who are interested in going to space but for anyone going on any big journey involving a personal transformation. Blast Off! is the first book to use the techniques of commercial astronaut training to help people right here on earth maintain the anxiety-free emotional equilibrium and sustained mental focus needed to successfully overcome the day-to-day challenges and obstacles in their personal and professional lives.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The space industry, as it is today, is such an exciting arena. What are the 3 things that most excite you about the space industry? Can you explain?
- The space agenda is not only based on government priorities but now individuals and new commercial space organizations are also shaping the space industry. It’s not the usual suspects anymore who are launching rockets, but an entirely new breed of space enthusiasts ranging from space entrepreneurs, suborbital research scientists to space tourists. New business opportunities are also emerging that were never there before, like the space hotels- albeit for a high price tag. But the idea of spending a week in space living out your space dreams is not too far away and so exciting to me. NASA never really looked at customer experience as being important because the astronauts who went up, we’re not customers but had a job to do and we are employees. But this new business model of sending customers to space will change the way space is done, and perhaps will also “soften space” to a friendlier place, where more people can find their bliss, rather than making it just about getting a job done in an extremely hostile environment.
- Space will be more accessible for individuals than it ever has been before. Ok, so it’s still pretty expensive for most people to have a space experience like Denis Tito had (He paid about 20 million dollars to go to live on the ISS). But companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin will be about $250,000 dollars, and Space Perspective who will take people to the edge of space in a balloon that will cost around half of that. There will also be new companies emerging that will be able to give people on earth very real simulated training experiences, like Blue Abyss for a mere fraction of the cost of going to space. So, there will be something offered for everyone dependant on their budget. More and more people will get a whiff of space, (there’s even a new cologne which now spells like space called, Eux du space)! Hopefully, this will bring more planetary awareness to more people especially those lucky few who might also experience the Overview Effect. I believe that the world will be a better place if more people can experience this planetary awareness in one way or another.
- Space is becoming more social and cool. Events like SpaceX’s first commercial crew launch back in May 2020, was the turning point of a new era. Space X involved the entire world by showing people on social media not only technical details about the launch but grabbed the interest of many by talking about other aspects of the flight. I and millions of other people took part in a Facebook group set up by NASA to watch the even and millions of people were in this group, meeting each other, exchanging stories and pictures and it was a lot of fun! People saw a floating stuffed animal dragon in space in the cockpit. SpaceX changed things up in a way that people knew it was not just a standard flight, but something special and more people connected to space than ever. Space is no longer just for the space geeks, it is expanding its reach exponentially!
What are the 3 things that concern you about the space industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?
- People often see space as an expensive hobby- they don’t see it leading to practical and useful technologies that we use daily in our earthly lives. In the past, space research has led to the development of vaccines, satellites that observe earth for many purposes like mitigating climate change, the creation of the modern cell phone because the Apollo team needs to develop a smaller computer that was not the size of a mainframe computer. (Fun fact: Now our cell phones have more computing power in them than what was on board the Apollo mission)! Thanks to space, the research we now have faster telecommunications, microwaves that can heat up our food and sterilize our face masks, GPS technologies, much safer ships sailing the seas that can better avoid pirates, etc…. I do understand that everyone wants fast results in this world, but research takes years. In addition, it is hard to quantify how much money will be made by a particular invention that may have come from space research. As a result, NASA doesn’t get the money it deserves in governmental budgets compared to things like the military, in my opinion. What can be done about it? Show the average person, and our legislators through various media, what this “expensive hobby” is bringing them now, and how their lives would be without the technology, and I am certain that most people would admit that their life is easier based on the technology we obtained from space research.
- I have experienced in my time working at NASA for my master’s research, what a strong male/military culture it has, which does make sense based on being derived from the scientific, technological, and engineering fields and many ex-military people. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the “Good old boy’s network” is still alive and well today, even if NASA is proactively doing things to change that. The number of astronauts that have been to space with NASA is still only 11 % female even though the latest astronaut selection class has been about 41% female. Last year, NASA “forgot” to have a smaller sized space suit on hand in the ISS to accommodate the female astronauts that were up there. This resulted in having them call off their planned all-female spacewalk. (Which also begs the question, why was this the first all-female spacewalk that finally happened in 2020 when there have been 227 spacewalks for the ISS since it existed?) Furthermore, the commercial space industry is also having similar proportions of women in leading roles at this point. And it feels like, at the moment, commercial space has a similar Good Old Boys Network. I do not think yet that many commercial space organizations see the value of actively recruiting more women to its senior ranks, and how that can improve the success of their business; not to mention by obtaining more future customer intelligence for one thing. Hopefully, things will start to develop in a good direction and more women will start to be invited to share that space, and businesses will see the business value more in the coming years.
- Space is exciting and inspiring, but also incredibly dangerous. It’s important to pursue human spaceflight activities in a clear-eyed manner and what risks you face if you do venture into the wild black yonder because the commercial space sector is (and is not) regulated. What concerns me about the space industry is that space operators have been focusing mainly on getting a reusable spacecraft that will get their passengers to and from space and not spending a heck of a lot of their resources on the customer experience and training. Training should be a requirement for everyone who will be taking a suborbital (and/or orbital) flight; not to mention that it will help them stay safe, and accomplish their personal mission in space and make their customer experience more enjoyable. For a 1.5 hour suborbital commercial flight that will go to the edge of space called the “Karman line,” (100 km or 62 miles above the Earth’s surface) the “holy trinity” of space flight training is crucial. The training consists of three main elements:
- Centrifuge training — that uses a spacecraft specific flight profile -to get passengers used to the high- g forces as to what they can expect and how to successfully counteract them in flight,
- Parabolic flight training — that will get passengers used to the feeling of being zero-g and how to move about the cabin effectively. What’s also important to know from this training is whether or not one is susceptible to nausea, because that should also be discovered and counteracted before going to space, and
- Mental training underpins both the physical training and essential for people to learn how to remain calm given the changing g-forces and unpredictability of your co-passengers on the space flight. Good mental resilience and the ability to “on-demand” instantly calm oneself when needed, will help people accomplish their own personal mission in space. All of this needs to be trained ahead of the space flight. And since my business, Inner Space Training is the only mental training for space that is out there, I should be getting more pull from these space companies and individuals who plan on flying to space than I actually am. I worry that space operators will only start thinking seriously about training their passengers in this way, only when accidents/incidents start occurring or when the FAA starts to regulate it more. This to me is a missed opportunity and I really do wonder about the initial suborbital flights to space, and how successful they will actually be.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
Fifty-one percent of the world’s population is female. If an organization doesn’t appeal to women, for whatever reason, the industry is missing 51% of the brainpower and other talents women can offer. STEM educators need to make it more appealing for girls and women in order to increase numbers. Based on survival purposes, women and girls are hardwired for connection and to see the interconnectedness of things more so than boys and men. Until now, many fields of STEM have developed using reductionist approaches (engineering, medicine, etc.). For example, medicine breaks down the human body into subsystems (respiratory, endocrine, musculoskeletal, etc.). To repair one of those areas, you visit a specific doctor who specializes in that system. Until recently, there have not been many doctors that holistically treat the entire person. How is it possible to have a stomach ache from something psychological if the brain and the stomach don’t physically connect? Luckily, this interconnectivity approach is changing. The same might also apply to STEM subjects. In my opinion, women and girls tend to have a more integrative versus reductionist approach. They want to know 1) why what they are learning connects to the big picture and 2) how it relates to the long-term sustainable perspective. If schools do not have an answer to that, they will lose them. Schools and universities may end up changing the STEM curriculum to reflect this in order to attract more girls and women.
Combating discouraging comments also affects the number of women remaining in STEM careers. Negative comments that are made to girls and women are internalized, causing them to drop out of STEM education programs and the corporate/technical environments. Generally speaking, boys and girls respond to feedback in different ways based on their gender-specific culture. In the boys’ culture, sports play a large part. There must be winners and losers, and boys know after competing, or fighting, where they stand in the pecking order. In the girls’ culture, there are no winners or losers when playing with dolls. It is all about cooperation, sharing, taking turns, and playing peacefully together.
Here’s a good story that I think summarizes the differences between boys and girls. My husband is a water polo coach for separate boys’ and girls’ teams. He says that there is no way that he could coach the girls in the same way as the boys. When he is coaching boys, he can tell the boys what to do and they will do it. He can also motivate them by encouraging them not to be poor performers (i.e. losers). However, he says, that approach won’t work at all with girls’ teams. First off, if the girls don’t like you as a person, they won’t listen to you at all. Secondly, before getting into the water, you have to talk with the girls to explain why you are doing a particular exercise, and why that exercise will help them in the long run. Then, when all the girls are in agreement, they will do it. You constantly have to build them up and give them only positive encouragement, or often they will be discouraged. If you teased the girls and called them a bunch of losers, they would take it to heart. To me, this proves the point I was making above, regarding girls wanting to know why they are doing things, how it connects to the long term, the importance of establishing a friendship with each girl, and how the atmosphere has to feel good before they are willing to play in that atmosphere.
The business environment could learn a few things from that story if they want to attract more women. Girls who also have this experience with sports, especially playing with or against boys, will likely grow up to be women who have the confidence to “take some blows” (not positive comments) from male colleagues in the business world. They will have experienced that on the sports field and learned how to handle it at a much earlier age. Those who can’t learn how to take heat or nastiness from others might need to escape the toxic environment earlier than planned, which leads to higher employee attrition. The more girls get into sports and engage in sports with boys at an earlier age, the more practice they have “shaking it off” and not taking the negative messages they might receive personally.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in the space industry that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
- Continuing with the sports theme, I think one of the biggest challenges women face in the space/STEM industry is that women do not always understand which game they need to play and which rules they need to use to be the most effective. The rules mean the different cultural rules (i.e. are we playing the game using the rules according to the boys’ culture, or according to the girls’ culture?) and which game are we playing (the zero-sum game or the cooperative model game?). The zero-sum game is used in all sports and prevalent in male culture equalling, “I Win, You Lose” and is a game useful for short term interactions. Contrasting this, the female cooperative game, as in when playing dolls, is a relationship-building game- equalling, “I win, You win”. It is very much about the process of playing and less emphasis on the results (i.e. you can’t keep score in doll playing). However, if a woman is negotiating with a man, she has to realize that at this time, if she wants to maximize her income, a zero-sum attitude will get her further than the cooperative model. Although, it could damage the relationship if she goes too far and tries to win at all costs (especially if she is negotiating with a woman). She usually realizes the second scenario, all too well. After the negotiation, the man she is negotiating with will probably understand -that it was part of the game, and not take it personally. I am not so sure of this in the case of many women. For a woman not used to negotiating using the zero-sum model, it comes across as cutthroat to her, and extremely uncomfortable to play that game. This is probably why women tend not to negotiate as hard as men do, because they are also thinking about the longer-term impact of working together with that person and don’t want to go all out and risk damaging the long term relationship. But if more women realized that negotiation is played in a zero-sum way, it might help them approach things differently than they normally would.
- Another challenge faced by women is that they volunteer their time in roles that seem “lower” to men. Because of this longer-term cooperative approach by women, women often take on connecting roles to keep things flowing, in organizations and society (they volunteer for the P.T.A., employee council, etc..). We definitely need more connectors in society, organizations, and family units because of the value they bring; however, nobody is paying them for the work they are doing. Women are often the “essential workers” who are the lowest paid in society, or not paid at all. This point has been proven during this pandemic period more than ever, but society is not paying for their true value they bring to the system. Society (led predominantly by men) only seems to value (in terms of a salary) the leaders who are out in front, and not the connectors who work behind the scenes, making the system work, and getting things done. Both roles are equally as important and necessary for the system. However, women are often choosing to “take one the for the team” by doing the unsung hero roles, and thereby, disadvantaging themselves financially when climbing the corporate ladder. Ideally, it would be great if people would be paid by the real value that they bring to the system. Success should be based more on the achievement of the entire organization versus individuals. To me, that definition of success is very reductionistic and systematically disadvantages women, albeit unintentionally.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech, or the space industry. Can you explain what you mean?
- I heard comments from men who thought they were genuinely giving me a compliment by saying things like, “you did very well for a girl,” when we were comparing exam scores, or “it’s nice that you can bring a feminine touch to the control room, in order to make it feel more like home for the operators,” when I was the engineer to design the layout of the displays and floor plan for an off-shore oil platform. I think my male engineering colleagues thought that what I could bring to the table as a female engineer would be my ability to decorate the control room with flowers and different color schemes, rather than being thought of as a technically competent engineer. When talking to other female technical women, lack of technical competency is a big myth that many men still have.
- Another myth is that in order for women to be good leaders, they have to renounce their female qualities in order to succeed. First off, I don’t find this belief that women should put a mask on and be something they are not, or anyone for that matter, to be more helpful. It takes a lot of energy for a person to have to act like someone they are not, and that time could better be spent on something more constructive. Secondly, many of the stereotypical qualities that women tend to have (e.g. empathy, good listener, team player, excellent communicators, nurturer, checking their egos at the door) are excellent qualities for leaders. Why would anyone with these qualities want to change that to have the classical male leadership traits (e,g. decisive and powerful, with a strong, authoritarian style)? I think women who display these classical male traits, because they think it will help them as it does their male counterparts, will create a backfire on themselves. What I believe is more helpful for women (and men) is to learn how to be more “bi-lingual”, being able to communicate with men more effectively in their own male language, and to be able to switch languages depending on who they are with (as we do when visiting another country).
- I have heard from people that I am so lucky to be a woman in STEM or in the field of space where there are few women, and that I must be bombarded with offers on a daily basis! Or that doors should be flying open to me for senior positions, with executives begging me to sit on their boards or asking me to run their companies. Unfortunately, I have never experienced a leg up for being a woman. Although, that is the impression that many men have nowadays. In fact, I have felt quite a lot of aggression from men about this “fact” that they are convinced of. The men are fearful that women are taking jobs away from them. I have to say that every position I have ever had, in all of my years working in the oil industry and then in the space industry, two technocratic industries with few women, came from me knocking on doors and trying to convince men that I am added value to their organization. I still do not believe that life is easier for women in STEM positions, especially the higher up you go in the hierarchy.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It would be beneficial for women to learn the “male language” and understand how men communicate in their own male culture. It does start by understanding which game we are playing, but also how men communicate in their own culture. (I learned this from Pat Heim’s movie, called “Invisible Rules” which changed my entire way of doing business and will use a couple of examples here). Pat Heim says, men and women must communicate with each other as effectively as possible. Otherwise, the best intentions of each gender can and will be misinterpreted to the detriment of all parties in the communication process. Her gender research says, men are likely to interrupt in meetings and women are likely to wait their turn. In the male culture, if a man is passionate about an idea, he will interrupt the conversation and keep talking until he feels that other people understand his point. In the culture of women, interrupting is considered rude. When a woman gets into a meeting, and she sees that there are 5 people, she does a little calculation thinking that she should approximately get about 20% of the airtime. She sits around waiting for an opportunity to be invited into the conversation, which, unfortunately, never seems to happen because she didn’t get invited to speak nor does she feel comfortable interrupting others. The man walks away thinking that she doesn’t have any ideas or care about the subject much, and the woman walks away thinking that nobody is interested in what she has to say. Both of them are incorrect from each other’s perspectives because they both were looking at the communication from their own cultural lens. There are so many different communication mismatches like this that both genders need to be better aware of. I highly recommend watching this video.
- Second thing that made a huge impression on me in this video was that men are socialized from a young age not to show weakness. They will typically not volunteer the information when they don’t know about the subject. They would prefer to make something up rather than say that they don’t know. Women, on the other hand, go straight into the confessional and tell you all the things that they don’t know because for them it is an issue of honesty. They think, if you are buying me/my services, I want you to know exactly what you are getting. Here’s a scenario: both a man and woman are applying for the same job, neither of them knowing more than the other. The interviewer asks the man, “We have a new project here, how would you approach it?” The man says, “Well, I think it’s pretty obvious, I would do X, if that doesn’t work, I would do Y, and if that didn’t work, I would do Z”. Then the woman gets asked the same question and she says, “Hmmm, I never did anything like that before, let me think. I am not exactly sure how to do it, but I could probably figure it out, but I’m not sure.” Now, who would you rather choose for the job, the person who says that he can do it, or the person who is not sure? After seeing this video, I started to put this into practice during job interviews, and promotions started coming one after the next. But the key to getting these promotions was not only about not flaunting my weaknesses but also developing and using my gravitas to be more believable, especially to men.
- Develop your gravitas. What is gravitas? Some people have an authority, a presence, that’s often called gravitas. It is defined as “seriousness and importance of manner, causing feelings of respect and trust in others”. When some people walk into a room, others take notice. When they speak, others listen. People with gravitas are typically considered to have “weight”, authority, and “executive presence”. You know those people, who they are. This actually can be developed. People are not born like this. This article gives some excellent examples of things women can work on to get more gravitas. https://blog.speak-first.com/gravitas-what-it-is-and-having-it It doesn’t happen overnight either. Women need to develop their gravitas and preferably sooner versus later. You really need to practice this — it can take years — but start now!
- Do not believe your own negative talk! Research says that our thoughts control our feelings and we have a choice as to who we want to believe regarding the voices in our heads -the positive voice or the negative voice. We first need to be aware about which voice is the most prominent and to be able to catch ourselves when we start going down the path of believing the negative voice within. Imposter Syndrome is what happens when we believe the negative voice that tells us, “I feel like a fake”, “I must not fail”, “My success is down to luck”. Many women (and men) suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. “Imposters” suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. Luckily, there are things we can do to counteract when these negative thoughts arise. One can seek support from other women, or a mentor. Realizing that many people experience this, try to reframe a “failure” as a learning opportunity, visualize your success, and most of all, be kind to yourself! Everyone fakes it until they have made it.
- Realize that you, as a woman, might not only have good technical skills but you also have something that your male counterparts are less likely to have, which is your good people and communications skills. There are numerous engineering problems I solved not by my technical brilliance but by getting the different engineers in the room and facilitating a discussion, which then brought about the solution. When people told me that it couldn’t be done, I didn’t take no for an answer. I tried to understand what the real blockers were for that engineer and why he thought that. By sympathizing with him and his issue, and telling him that I understand where he was coming from, it helped open him up to working with me and the possibility that with his help, we would find a solution for all. From that point, he felt heard and acknowledged and was more open to helping me figure out how I could get what I needed. If I had locked horns with him and pushed against him, I would not have been successful with the conversation. I believe women do have an advantage to men with their people skills, and if they are put to good use, can help women advance up the hierarchy.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Helping women mentor other women through the realization of their own superpowers and paying it forward. Many people believe that they can’t mentor someone until they are older or more established. That isn’t true at all. I can always learn something from anyone; it doesn’t have to be someone older and wiser. The more opportunities you have to mentor or guide someone, you will start to realize your own value and what you bring to the world, while helping another in the process. Usually, the person that you help is very grateful, which makes you feel good and want to do more. It is a “win-win”!
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Gwynne Shotwell. She is the President and Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX and has done a tremendous job of being a successful woman in the space world. She is inspiring to me both as a professional and as a woman who seems to have mastered many admirable leadership skills.