I have had a few really good years in a row. I am successfully managing a high risk, high visibility (within the community) multi-million dollar project. There are down sides, like I have never seen so much drama among grown men. But all that aside, I love it. I love the project, I adore my team, I feel a part of something important and it is just awesome all around. Except for the occasional bickering. Women, don’t be fooled, men can be every bit as petty and snippy as they claim we are!
I hosted a student this past summer on that project and it was a lot of fun to get her perspective of the project as a wide eyed, naïve, “going to be senior” at one of the top engineering departments in the nation. Nothing like hosting a college student to really, really make you feel old.
I will never forget sitting at coffee with her after her first exposure to a team meeting where she said, “I have never been involved in anything like that, it was really eye opening”. After a little while she also went on to say, “it is apparent that there IS really a gender bias in the workforce, I didn’t think it was real.” She explained further that all her classes in chemical engineering are 50-50 women and men. “Where have all the girls gone who have been in these programs?” She asked me. I told her that at my age… sigh, nearly 20 years ago when *I* was in college, that wasn’t the case. We also talked about the potential difference between being an undergraduate and the fact that most of my guys have either a Masters or Ph.D., like me. Ten years ago when I was finishing grad school (yes, that old thing again), I was the only female Ph.D. graduate from my department. My class didn’t start that way, we started almost 50-50.
Anyways… enough about gender disparity and feeling old, back to work stuff.
I have been trying to figure out a career path forward the last few years. I walk this line between managing and leading technically. I have struggled with knowing that in order to push through the next barrier I have to surrender an aspect of my career that I really enjoy. Which would it be? So I just continued to walk the line, maintaining the status quo, denying the path forward in my head that I kept gravitating to.
Last week on a whim, I picked up the phone and within minutes found myself sitting down in a high up manager’s office talking about career options. A few e-mails on the topic later per his request, I had an appointment with another manager. I got a few good ego strokes from the both of them, a few new things to write on my FY11 goals and most importantly an interesting new path forward. I am reminding myself of my mantra as a grad student, “I can only trust my career to myself”. It is easy to rely on your managers/team leads to push your career, to expect that they will recognize your every good move (and ignore your boneheaded ones), that they can read your mind and see what makes you truly happy in your day’s work. Easy. But wrong.
If you want something new, take that bull by the horns. Rely only on yourself.