Episode 7 – WOW: An Inside Look at Women Optimizing Women

Connection
Connection

Episode 07 of Connection TechSperience focuses on a great organization celebrating the accomplishments of Women in Technology.  Dale Howard and Judy Rafferty talk with Penny Conway and how women help each other advance careers and balance life’s demands.

Learn how WOW, Women Optimizing Women, was formed and the wonderful journey since the early days.  

Listen to more TechSperience podcasts.

This is a transcript of the TechSperience podcast – Episode 7

Announcer:

Welcome to another Connection podcast. On this episode, Penny Conway Connection’s Senior Program Manager for workplace transformation sits down with Dale Howard, and Judy Rafferty. Dale is the Director for Connection’s Microsoft center of excellence. And Judy Rafferty Development Specialist for VM Ware. Their focus is WOW, women optimizing women. It’s a mentoring group within Connection that is dedicated to helping female employees advance each other’s careers. WOW began as a conversation among four women under a soaked tent at a rained-out company picnic. Now WOW celebrates five years of support and strength. Dale Howard takes us back to that rainy day when the idea was sparked.

Dale Howard:

And so, while we were waiting for the rain to subside, we started to talk about our careers. And Judy Rafferty and I, and the others, talked about being at other companies before Connection and we realized that there was something that we had the opportunity to partake of that we didn’t feel here yet. And it was embracing women and trying to give them a helping hand to advance their careers. So with that in mind we got very excited talking to each other, and three of us in that party was about to turn 60 years old. And we looked and we said, “We don’t have that much time to give back, do we?”

Related: 5 Ways to Connect With Other Women in Tech

Judy Rafferty:

Well we said that, but we had way more than we first planned on. (laughter)

Dale Howard:

Oh, and still do, of course.

Judy Rafferty:

What happened after that was, we looked back over our careers and thought about all of the great mentors that we had the ability to interact with and how much we learned from them. And to have a go to person to talk to about your struggles or where you wanted to go with a career. ‘Cause I think that men are very career oriented, and women may be a little bit more about the journey and other things that interact with the career. So, the challenges are a bit different and, you know, we wanted to pay it forward.

Penny Conway:

I love that, so, how often do you guys meet as an organization and what kind of topics have you found really resonate when you do get together with the ladies?

Dale Howard:

So, we really aimed for once a quarter and it’s-it’s more difficult than you realize trying to put that together and step away for a lunch and learn hour. But we do try for the once a quarter, sometimes it’s once every couple quarters. A couple of the topics that really resonated, and you know they do when people see you in the hallway and they mention some key phrase to you like sorry not sorry, and that came from a session on hey women, stop apologizing so much. If someone bumps into you, you don’t have to say you’re sorry.

Penny Conway:

Oh, so true.

Judy Rafferty:

We had other great topics we talked about motivation. How to stay motivated in the workplace. We talked about how to declutter, which was interesting, and it was decluttering of maybe your workspace, maybe your home space, but also decluttering your mind. You know, where we’re gonna try and juggle multiple things at the same time and, you know, we could be stuck on the spot with that type of a, that type of a, chore. (laughter). I was so cluttered I could get out my words.

Penny Conway:

That’s a true example. No if there’s a to- … Couple of topics that have really resonated with me. Like Dale said, the-the stop apologizing. There’s actually, I’ve read a lot of blogs, listened to a lot of audio books, sessions like yours around stop apologizing because I found myself doing the same thing. You know, someone would bump into me or someone would be late for a meeting with me, and I’m like, “Oh I’m so sorry that I inconvenienced you.” So, I’ve actually started to take the sorry and turn it into a thank you. So I was sharing with Dale the other day that when I’m running late or I have something come up, instead of saying, “OH I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” I say, you know, “Thank you for waiting for me. Or thank you for being patient, I really appreciate that.”

So, it is tough, like, in our every day to make sure that we’re actually being a little more empowering for ourselves and decluttering our minds same thing. I try to multitask, and I learn that sometimes multitasking just creates a lot of clutter and a lot of mess in my head.

Judy Rafferty:

Yes.

Penny Conway:

Versus just kind of staying focused on one thing, getting it done and moving on to the next thing.

Judy Rafferty:

And you know when we talked about apologizing and saying you’re sorry, one of the things that really resonated during the conference we did, was what is on your voicemail message? How many times do you get someone’s voicemail and the very first thing they say is, “I’m sorry.”?

Penny Conway:

Oh.

Judy Rafferty:

And as I said to the women, for what? You’ve already apologized, do you now wanna like pick a list of things you’re sorry for? (laughter). You know, like, I’m not sorry I missed your call I was probably doing something really important like having lunch or getting a massage. (laughter).

Dale Howard:

So, one of the other ones that really struck home was, and I’ll be careful pronouncing this, stop shoulding yourself to death. And by that it was stop saying, “I should lose weight. I should learn how to parasail. I should, I should.” Focus on what you have accomplished and what you’re accomplishing now. And you think … If you think you should be doing something, then make a plan and do it.

Penny Conway:

Hmm, I love that, so true. So, what are… You’ve been around for five years, do you see kind of women of all ages and stages in their career, or are you seeing kind of more of one group than another?

Related: 3 Ways Women Can Transition Successfully into Tech Roles

Judy Rafferty:

I think that we see all across the board here. You know, very new women that are coming into the workforce and this may be their first, you know, job that they have full time. And then we see some of our veterans who have been here a long time and they can speak to the other women, or they can share their experience. But the newer women share their questions and it does bring us back to, “I remember that. I remember feeling that way.” And so, we get to actually identify with one another and, you know, share our experience or share our lack of experience which continues to push us forward.

Dale Howard:

But I think a couple things that are noteworthy about that, about the group, we have women that belong to this group from 20 years old to 74. And boy, what you can learn-

Penny Conway:

Wow.

Dale Howard:

– from a group like that. And when we come into the room or come onto the call, we leave our titles at the door. It’s not about that, it’s not about, “Oh you have a lot more experience at this company or this career than I do.” It’s just about being women and we have so many diverse titles that belong to us from friend, wife, mother, girlfriend, what-whatever your role is in life. It’s just be genuine, and come in, and I find that as much as I give, I get back so much from the other people.

Penny Conway:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Wow that’s awesome. So, about how many women do you see coming to your quarterlies or do you have different online platforms that they can be a part of for those that might … Because Connection’s a very large company, 2,500 employees I think, the last time I saw online. So, how do people attend your session if they’re not here, or how can they stay connected with you guys?

Dale Howard:

So, one way is to come to the room at headquarters in Merrimack, but you’re also allowed to dial in. And just to keep down the noise level and the distractions what we do is usually there’s a presentation of a topic, and then there are some good discussion questions and we break into groups. And then one of the WOW committee members will take the group that’s on the phone and go into a separate conference room so it can just be about them.

Penny Conway:

Oh nice.

Dale Howard:

And they don’t have to fight for attention. And the other thing that we try to do is follow up on our private webpage on Facebook, and that’s an invitation only. And no one else can just come in and see that, and it’s open to anyone that wants to join us in the company. We also extended it a couple years ago to our vendors.

Penny Conway:

Oh cool, so actual … All of the vendors that are within Connection have the ability to join the group and-

Dale Howard:

Yes.

Penny Conway:

– participate and meet kind of, maybe, a different landscape of employees that they don’t normally get to interact with. That’s really neat. How many vendors do you think we have participating in that today?

Dale Howard:

I’d say about a dozen.

Penny Conway:

Oh, awesome. That’s awesome guys. What about … I’ve seen around … Specifically around the holidays I see that you guys do some different activities with charities and different organizations so there’s clearly a component of WOW that allows women to give back in the community. What kind of things have you done, or do you have any activities upcoming that you want to talk about?

Dale Howard:

So actually both. So, the kind of activities that we’ve done is we had a BBQ last summer. And that was to raise money for the Nashua Food Kitchen. And it strikes close to home because it’s right here in our neighborhood. Not that we couldn’t expand but it worked out our first platform was that cause. Then there was another cause that’s ongoing and it’s called the Pass Along Project. And it’s to give children a kit of clothing in their size when they’re removed from the home unexpectedly.

Penny Conway:

Oh wow.

Dale Howard:

And it’s new clothing. So, they feel very special about getting that and it helps them acclimate to their new surroundings. We also participated in the Shoebox Project. So, we really touch all ages. Age seems to melt away for us.

Penny Conway:

Hmm.

Dale Howard:

And the Shoebox project was about giving the elderly little projects in a shoebox. Colored pencils, search a words, various things that they really do enjoy receiving.

Penny Conway:

Oh, that’s great! That’s great.

Judy Rafferty:

And, you know, all of those types of events have been very, very well attended and that is where I think that we sometimes pick up new members. So, they’ll come to the cook out, or they’ll come to … We call it the holiday social, and that’s where we’re, you know, doing our collections and talking about our year in review. And then we’re asking them, you know, what will help you? What topics would you want to hear about? And they have the ability to suggest topics and they have the ability to get involved. So, it really is open to everybody.

Penny Conway:

How do, how do women have the ability to … Like, what route would they take if they wanted to maybe be more involved in the program? Maybe, do you have chair people, do you have volunteers, like what are the different roles that people within Connection can actually, you know, be more involved in the WOW program?

Dale Howard:

So we have a WOW committee and people can come and go depending on their workload and what’s going on in their lives and it-it also keeps it fresh and new when you have different-different people exiting and then r-resurfacing when they’re available. And so those people help us pair back on all the topics that come our way. And some of the topics are brought up on our private Facebook page that also gives us an opportunity to continue the discussion. So, it never has to c-completely close.

Judy Rafferty:

And so, although Dale and I and, Jamie McMahon, and some other women that no longer work here initially started this, we’ve seen some other women step up to be coordinators and leaders. And so, Dale and I can sometimes just sort of fade into the background and l-let the next group of women step forward. And that’s been pretty helpful for me because, you know, part of my journey is that I’m no longer a full-time employee here at Connection. And that has been, you know, a wonderful-wonderful gift for me that the organization was willing to let me go part time. I came in to retire and they said no. (laughter). Who does that?

But, you know, and I can see that we’re kind of passing the-the reigns to the next group of women that are going to be able to take this forward, and that is so truly important. And they will motivate their own group of-of women within Connection. And, you know, we also hope someday to have, maybe, once a year an outside speaker come in. Maybe do something in the evening instead. So, we have lots of ideas to try and change it up, and as Dale said, to keep it fresh. To keep the women, you know, interested in learning more about one another also. Because a lot of times, you know, a woman in product marketing has no idea what the woman in IT does or looks like, or maybe how they’re similar, or how they’re different.

Dale Howard:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Judy Rafferty:

Our goal was to bring them all together in a forum where they could just, you know, have lunch and-and meet the other women.

Dale Howard:

One of the unexpected things that is so positive that came from this, is that while when we put together our creed for what we represented, and what we expected about respecting each other’s thoughts, ideas, and listening and then adding their own thoughts, and suggestions to make that idea grow and better, we didn’t realize that later when we saw each other in the company or saw that name that it would help fortify our role and we’d have these friends. A network of friend everywhere that would help advance what we’re doing. It was just unexpected and delightful.

Penny Conway:

Yeah, that’s … I think when you come into … So, I’ve been with Connection for a little over three and a half years and one thing that’s really tough when you’re in such a large organization and you’re trying to accomplish a single job, is knowing what everybody else does. And knowing where they sit, or maybe … Because we all like to have friends at work that we can say, “Hey I’m really struggling with, you know, this piece of my project.” So one of the really fascinating things that I think about your organization is making those connections with people to not only being able to support us women and the challenges that we face as women at work or the opportunities we have, but also just in our daily jobs to say, “Hey Dale I’m really- I’m working on a project and I think Microsoft would really be a great part of this project. Or do you know someone who might be able to help me with this?” Being able to build the career connections within our company I think is really amazing.

Penny Conway:

So, I… Back to the, the organizations you support because I heard, I heard a little something about a specific even that you guys have coming up in June. You have a relay for life team I hear.

Dale Howard:

Yes.

Penny Conway:

So, tell me about the team because I heard some neat things about T-shirts and how people-

Dale Howard:

Yes.

Penny Conway:

– can get involved.

Dale Howard:

So, Relay for-for Life is for cancer research and for providing women and men with items that they need to provide comfort and increase their confidence when they’re going through the treatments. And we’re going to be in Londonderry attending a relay where we walk around a track and we take turns. And we’re inviting everybody to join us. Our family and friends, the folks here at Connection, and so on to partake. And we’ll have raffle, we’ll have baskets, we’ll have a bake sale, we’ll do everything in our power. That’s on June 14th, and there will be more information coming on that event.

Penny Conway:

Awesome. What do you guys see coming next for WOW?

Dale Howard:

So, we opened it up to the vendors a couple of years ago. I’m thinking the next phase would be one, trying to change up the way we deliver our little workshops, and we’re going to try a lunch and learn format in a series. There’ll be multiple topics, so people can join us for one or many of those topics. Another thing we wanna look at is expanding. So, while it still feels intimate, I’d like it to feel intimate but on …

Penny Conway:

(laughs)

Dale Howard:

That’s an oxymoron, but on a bigger basis. And I would like to open it up to customers. And then beyond customers, I would like to have meetings with some of our largest vendors and smaller vendors and ask what they do and see if we can join forces in a bigger way.

Penny Conway:

That’s amazing because that’s one of the things that I see among some of our largest partners like Microsoft, like HP, where they are doing… They have women in technology conferences, they really have these great groups within as part of their … The fabric of who they are as a company and being able to tap into that and have Connection be a part of that would be really an amazing opportunity for you guys. So, thank you Judy Rafferty and thank you Dale for joining us. I look forward to the next event that you guys have.

Dale Howard:

Thank you, Penny.

Judy Rafferty:

Thanks, so much Penny.

Announcer:

We hope you have enjoyed learning about the history of WOW, Women Optimizing Women here at Connection. If you’re interested in joining, learning more about the causes they contribute to, or more about the upcoming Relay for Life, then contact Dale Howard: email address, Dale.Howard@connection.com.

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