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Intel Events: Time to MEN-O-PAUSE

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Note from the editor: Patti is a communications manager for Intel's Global Diversity organization and a social media evangelist, working to drive adoption of Intel’s internal social media tools and helping connect people and their ideas across Intel's global organization. A long-time member of the Intel Women@Intel Network (WIN), Patti serves on the leadership board, has helped start WIN chapters in Folsom and China and provides mentorship to women around the world. She wrote this blog post for our internal Intel blogging network and has agreed to let us share it with you today!

Did my title grab your interest? I certainly hope so.

This is Women’s History Month, and this week many of the Women@Intel Network (WIN) chapters will host events celebrating International Women’s Day (which is today!) I’ve been involved in these events for many years and have met and talked with many women. Certain attitudes, perceptions, issues and beliefs seem to be commonly held, shared and debated. This was where my thoughts focused as I tossed and turned and tried to fall to sleep last night. What attitudes, perceptions and beliefs around gender do I hold to be true? And how have these shaped me and my life?

As I reflect upon my life, I realize I have learned some very important lessons about myself, including how my own gender stereotypes probably contributed to my learning lessons the hard way. Many times in my life, I have focused too much precious energy on trying to be accepted, to fit in and to be accepted as an equal. The “ah-ha” moments I’ve had compels me to blog about my “Men-O-Pause moments” –those times when the men in my life helped me gain some important insights about myself, my attitudes and my tendency to get in my own way.

At 13, I was an opinionated and very head strong teen who believed I should be able to do anything a boy could. This fact was refuted by my father on the day I did not make the football team. I came home excited and elated that I had done so well (I had made a touchdown that day). I had not actually expected to be placed on the team; however, I was determined to make a point to my Dad. GIRLS CAN TOO DO ANYTHING! My “men-o-pause” moment:  Dad laughed until he cried when he saw my black eyes (the touchdown I had made resulted from the football hitting me right between my eyes and dropping into my outstretched hands.) Not too long ago, my Dad recalled this incident and told me I was quite a “women’s Libber” in my day. I started to protest and then had to admit he was right. I had been. I was so determined to do everything the boys could do—from football tryouts to Science fair projects—I was the girl who just had to make the point that boys and girls were equal. I’m older and wiser now. I don’t believe this anymore. No one is equal. (Equal meaning “the same”). We are all individuals. I have come to cherish and appreciate my uniqueness.

At 16, my Dad bought me a car and taught me how to drive it. I thought I was so cool. I thought I’d have so much more independence and freedom to do what I wanted to do. Wrong! At 16, we went through some changes as a family and since I was the oldest girl and now had a car, responsibilities now fell upon my shoulders. Dad had actually purchased the car because he knew I’d be doing the grocery shopping, taking my siblings to their orthodontist and dentists appointments and driving them to and from school. This seemed perfectly logical at the time. My “men-o-pause” moment: Men who grew up during my Dad’s era probably have different expectations of the women in their families than the men in my generation do. Is this wrong? Nope. It just “is.” I realize now that I met and exceeded my father’s expectations. He’s shared he is very proud of the woman I’ve become. This makes me smile and feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

At 21, I became a mother. Wow, what an life-altering, mind-blowing experience! My daughter was so little, so precious and so needy. She cried and cried the first few weeks and could not keep down any of the formulas we tried. Her Dad and I took turns getting up throughout those long sleepless nights. I remember her Dad pacing the floor in the middle of the night, singing to her, cuddling her and trying to get her to sleep again. One evening, she threw up all over her Daddy. I laughed until I cried when he walked into the room with formula dripping down his back. He didn’t think it was funny and was quite peeved at me for laughing. But the next night, he was up again (this time with a burp rag draped over his shoulder) walking and singing to his daughter. My “men-o-pause” moment: Dads love their daughters—in spite of the messes they cause.

At 22, My husband and I became the proud owners of Great Western Steel. Over the next 12 years, I would learn so much about my strengths and my insecurities. I was the ONLY woman, as I was surrounded all day by male employees and customers. I didn’t let this fact hold me back very often. The only exception, my husband would not teach me how to weld. He said it was too dangerous. Instead, I was “banished” to the office where I learned how to manage budgets, account receivables and payables, write and negotiate contracts, order and track inventory, manage HR responsibilities and develop our company’s marketing and sales plans. My “men-o-pause” moment: While I had at first thought myself “banished” to tasks because I was a girl, I came to realize that my husband needed my expertise in these areas. He did not need me to take on welding and fabrication tasks. He knew he and I had very different strengths and gifts to offer. By focusing my time and energy on these activities versus trying to show I could weld like the men in our company, I actually helped our business persevere during difficult times and eventually grow and thrive.

At 34, I took my first job working for a global company, working as a tech writer consulting on a PeopleSoft implementation at NEC. My initial assignment was to document all of the technical specifications for the implementation and the new business processes. My project manager needed someone to write test cases. I asked for the opportunity to try. He pulled out an example and gave me a 2 hour deadline. Less than an hour later, I had written the first of what would end up being more than 100 test cases. My “men-o-pause” moment: Don’t be afraid to ask for the chance. My PM didn’t blink or hesitate to give me the chance to prove myself. I think too often we “de-select” ourselves from key career growth opportunities because we’re afraid of failing or afraid of someone’s judgment. Be afraid of neither. I am very grateful for opportunities to prove myself. Since that day, I find myself asking for more and more opportunities to prove my worth and stretch my skills.

At 36, I joined Intel, working in IT Marketing. I was assigned to support IT Engineering and developers. I felt I was out of my depth. Everything was so foreign to me—the jargon. The acronyms. The people. These “techies” spoke a completely different language. My job was to be their interpreter—turn their tech speak and jargon into documents and communications vehicles “every employee at Intel” could read, understand and act upon. That’s when I met Wayne. He was to be my “partner in crime” working on the Intel Developer Users Group (IDUG) project. He and I clicked instantly. He saw the value I brought as a marketing/communications expert. I saw the value he brought as a technical program manager. In spite of our differences, we found ways to connect, collaborate and excel. The IDUG forums brought together developers from around the world and from different parts of the company to learn, collaborate and share information. (Remember, this was before LiveMeeting, Video Conferencing and laptops). As a result, Wayne and I developed a great network of technical experts we could then leverage as content experts when needed. I remember when I was asked to be part of the Change Management Board—me, a non-techie—I was thrilled. Again, I was the only woman on this board (and the only non-technical person). My “men-o-pause” moment: By getting out of my comfort zone and supporting a very technical group inside Intel, I learned so much about IT at Intel. And, more importantly, I learned how to interpret and speak Intel’s language. I realized I had not been invited to participate in the CMB because I was like them—rather, I had been invited to participate because I brought value and skills they wanted to leverage. I brought communications expertise. I had worried about “fitting in” when really that was not an issue at all. By focusing upon learning how to bring value to the role I was assigned, I gained invaluable experience and built my credibility and reputation.

At 44, I rejoined Intel as Intel Labs’ communications manager. Within this organization I had the opportunity to meet and work with so many Intel “Rock Stars.” There were many moments and memories I could reflect upon; however, one memory stands out above all the rest, supporting Intel Fellow, Gene Meieran, at the Innovation track event at IDF. That’s when I had the opportunity to meet and have dinner with an astronaut, a robot creator, a medical “dreamer”, a videographer, a college student and an Intel Fellow. These men had hosted an impressive IDF talk on innovation and had completed a photo op sitting inside a futuristic space shuttle. I had handled the details, including making that night’s dinner arrangements. As I was hailing their cabs and preparing to head back to my hotel room, they stopped me. I was expected to join them. I have to admit, I was absolutely terror struck. Me? What could I possibly have to offer to the discussion? I imagined myself sitting quietly on one edge of the table trying to “be seen and not heard.” However, this is not how things worked out. Honestly, I have never before experienced (nor do I ever expect to ever again) such a fantastic dinner conversation. I was mesmerized by the ebb and flow of our conversation. My “men-o-pause” moment: Sitting in that restaurant surrounded by those men, I believe I found my voice. I joined in and enjoyed the moment. Yes, I was the only woman at the table. Yet, I did not feel excluded, unheard or diminished. Had I followed my gut instincts and not accepted their invitation, I would have missed the opportunity of my lifetime. Let’s face it—sometimes your gut is simply wrong. When you feel tempted to “opt out,” check yourself and ask, “Why?” If the answer that comes back is: “I don’t think I’m good enough,” leap! Realize that it is not your gut doing the talking—it’s the programming in your brain switching on. Don’t listen to the tapes inside your head that seek to diminish your worth and value. When you feel like you’re being excluded, unheard or diminished, check yourself and make sure it’s not you doing the talking. Don’t “opt out” because of some false expectation or fear about how others will judge you. Chances are fairly high that the only judge is the one inside your own head.

As I turn 50, I am finding myself more accepting of life’s imperfections. I know there are inequities in the workplace and in society, in general. Yet I also know that many more people have access to education, careers and opportunities that enable them to grow their personal and professional lives and live lives their parents never imagined possible. And, I know Intel leaders diligently focus on making Intel a Great Place to Work for people of different backgrounds, experiences and cultures,  working at Intel sites around the world. I no longer believe it’s my duty to fix the imperfections—rather, I find I enjoy and bask in the glow of celebrating the bright spots. I was talking to a colleague who wanted to sway the naysayers over to accepting and taking action. I suggested focusing more effort on asking those who agreed with her to do more for the cause. If more of us focused on making the positive more positive and making incremental improvements to what is working versus focusing so much energy on what’s not working, I believe we’d all be happier, more successful and far less frustrated.

Happy International Women’s Day!  What "men-o-pause" moments have you had?