“People need to feel valued and appreciated” With Penny Bauder & Anna P. Murray

People need to feel valued and appreciated. They need to be given the tools to succeed. They need to hear that their contribution has made a difference. I find that being present, listening, thanking, removing barriers — all go a long way. Throw in a good joke now and then, and you’re golden. As a […]

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People need to feel valued and appreciated. They need to be given the tools to succeed. They need to hear that their contribution has made a difference. I find that being present, listening, thanking, removing barriers — all go a long way. Throw in a good joke now and then, and you’re golden.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anna P. Murray.

Anna P. Murray, CEO of emedia, is a nationally recognized technology consultant, and serves as a trusted Technology Sherpa to her clients. She is also a debut novelist, author of Greedy Heart, which features a tech-savvy heroine (Tule, 2020) and was named one of the 10 Most Anticipated Books of 2020.

Anna’s other writing includes The Complete Software Project Manager (Wiley, 2016). According to one reviewer, “This book should be required reading for any executive or project team leader that is considering the development of a software application.”

Anna serves in She Leads Tech, a program dedicated to increasing the representation of women in technology leadership roles. She is a double winner of the Stevie Award for Women in Business, a recipient of a Mobile Marketing Association award for mobile app development, and Folio’s Top Women in Media Award.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Istarted my company on the spur of the moment, without too much preparation or planning. It was the mid-90s, and I was working at an educational software publisher. The management was like, “This internet thing? We don’t think it’s going anywhere.”

The opportunity was there, so I jumped ship with a bunch of the programmers and started a web company.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Running a business in New York City through a pandemic. Of all the things I thought might happen — never predicted that one!

It’s a story that’s being told in real time. Each week, I need to visit my office, pick up mail and water the plants.

I go to my car, which is in an NYC garage, and sanitize — the steering wheel, the seats, the door handles. Then I drive to midtown where there is actually parking available. The city is a ghost town, with Saint Patrick’s Day posters still up in the bars.

We and our clients are seeing each other in our homes, sometimes in our pajamas! Years from now we’ll all look back and wonder at how we all experienced this.

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?

I was picked as a speaker at Ad:Tech, and the topic was “Top 10 mistakes designing websites.” Flash intros were a big thing at the time. And most were just hideous from a user-experience perspective.

I thought it would be fun to collaborate with my publisher and put out a survey to highlight this point. We made “Fake Website A” with no Flash intro. And “Fake Website B” with a Flash intro. Then we asked the question, “Which site to you prefer?”

Of course, like 140% of respondents preferred the one with no Flash intro — which was the whole point. I presented that data, then read out the comments, which were something like, “I would rather be stabbed in my eyes by pins than watch another Flash intro.”

It was all great fun and I got terrific reviews. But then next day we had to shut down my email because of all the hate mail I was getting by web designers — who LOVED Flash.

Then, my publisher said they got an irate call from the head of Adobe saying, “Who is this Anna Murray and what does she have against my product?”

Two lessons here:

  1. There has been and probably will always be a tension between the techies who want stuff to work quickly and seamlessly, and the design side, which cares more about influencing people through visuals. No one side is always right. (The Flash case was a pretty clear one, though.)
  2. You might think the second lesson I learned was to be more circumspect in what I say — but it’s exactly the opposite. You know you’re on to something when you stir the hornets’ next.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I joke that our business brand is, “We take notes.” People laugh, but it’s true. It’s amazing how the simple act of running a good meeting, taking notes, circulating action steps and following up on those steps is such a key differentiating factor. Consistent execution on these seemingly small things have added up to a big reputation and an awesome referral stream for us.

One time, an executive said to me, “When I have to miss a meeting, I don’t really worry if you’re in charge. Because I read the notes and I feel as if I was there!”

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am incredibly privileged to work on the back-end technology that supports the Girl Scout Cookie Program.

Now, with the global pandemic, Girl Scout Cookie booths have been cancelled, which jeopardizes funding for Girl Scouts!

So, in a quick pivot, Girl Scouts USA and all its partners locked arms to launch the Girl Scout Cookie Care initiative. It’s a simple one-click way to purchase cookies.

What’s even better — you can donate cookies to your local health care providers!

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. 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?

I was in an office recently, and a woman in the conference room began a sentence, “Oh, I hate spreadsheets, I never liked ma…” She stopped herself short before she said the word “math.”

I thought, “What just happened?”

She must have read the expression on my face, because she went on to explain, “All of the women in this company have agreed to stop saying, ‘We’re bad at math.’ It communicates the wrong message to girls and other women.”

I was like, “WHOA! What a great idea!”

Just think of the impact this will make. Then think of effort and consistency it takes to follow through.

So, yes. We have made progress. I see young girls who no longer self-edit when they declare they want to be programmers or engineers. For them, it’s totally normal. But the generations before them are still in the workforce with old beliefs. We have to work hard to make sure the environment is hospitable to the younger generation.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

Women are still invisible, ignored and misinterpreted. Women are interrupted three times more than men. An assertive woman is perceived as aggressive, shrill, and unlikable. The social tightrope we must walk is way too narrow.

Women have the same negative interpretations of other women as men do.

Goodwill — That’s the one word we need. Before reacting to a woman — whether it’s to interrupt her, or comment in your own mind that she’s unlikable — take a beat. Take a breath. Extend her some goodwill. Maybe your initial impulse isn’t correct.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

Not all of us are engineers or programmers.

I’m an English and Journalism major running a technology company. There are so many tech jobs in which you do not need an engineering degree to succeed.

The problem is an engineering degree is almost always a requirement in applying for a job. With the way job application algorithms work, there’s no way to get your foot in the door. Changing job requirements where appropriate would open up a lot more positions to women who — for all the reasons we know too well — did not pursue an engineering degree a decade ago. To me, this is a must-do.

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.)

Adopt the perspective of a journalist

Imagine you’re a reporter, and your boss says, “Go write an article about nuclear reactors.”

You don’t reply, “Hey boss, give me 4 years until I can earn a PhD in nuclear physics.”

Instead, you find out as much as you can in the time you have.

So many times, women stop themselves because they think they’re not “an expert.”

A year ago, my company was called to help a summer camp choose among the various camp management software packages.

Up until that point, who even knew there was such a thing as camp management software? But we learned, and used our business analysis expertise, along with the client’s camp expertise, to help them make an ideal choice.

Abide by the Two-To-Do List rule

You need one To-Do list for all the *stuff* you have to do — that report, the budget, those seven emails you have to fire off. But you also need the Second To-Do list. This one has all the items that help move your bigger goals forward. A bigger goal is something like writing a book, getting another degree, finding the ideal partner. Make sure you keep ticking items off both lists.

I have done this consistently and have been able to publish a novel and a two business books while running a company.

Get the job, then turn it down

My dad used to say this. I was young and applying for jobs and getting myself all in knots about even interviewing. I’d ask, “How do I know I’ll like working there?”

My dad said, “Get the job, then turn it down.”

So many times, we stop ourselves from just throwing our hat in the ring. Just do it! Why not? If you get the job, client, opportunity and find out it’s not for you, there’s plenty of time to change that later. Don’t halt yourself at the starting gate.

I used this advice when I started my company. My first client said, “Can you build a website?”

My team and I hadn’t ever done it before, but we said, “Sure.”

Be suspicious of the phrase “I want to be more strategic.”

This is a personal one. When someone says, “I want my job to be less tactical and more strategic,” my antennae go up immediately. More than half the time this means, “I don’t want to do all this hard work.”

I’m an elbow-grease kind of gal. I admire people who can both command of an army but are also happy to pick up a broom and sweep the floor.

This goes for companies as well as individuals. Focusing on strategy is very fashionable and has funded two generations of consultants and business book writers.

Most recently, we worked for an association that did colossal amounts of “strategy work” with consultants and experts. Of course, they never got anywhere with all that naval gazing.

My team has heard me say (in private), “Here’s a strategy: How about everyone just do their damn job.”

The answer is never “no.”

There’s a designer I used to love to work with. When I needed her for an assignment she said, “I just can’t. I’m booked until November.”

What happened then? I found another resource. I didn’t like him as much as my original person, but I had no choice. Then, when her client went away, I had spent so much time and effort on-boarding the second resource, I was unwilling to switch back. Next thing, I was getting emails from her about how she had no work for two quarters.

This is what happens to people who say, “No.”

Anyone who wants to build a business must find a way to say “yes” pretty much all the time. “Yes” can take many forms. It can be anything from, “I can fit it in in a couple of weeks.” To “I really can’t do it, but I will find and manage another resource.’”

A note of caution — saying “yes” does NOT mean you let yourself get walked on. Say “yes” with strong boundaries and you’ll develop client relationships that endure and work for both parties.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

People need to feel valued and appreciated. They need to be given the tools to succeed. They need to hear that their contribution has made a difference. I find that being present, listening, thanking, removing barriers — all go a long way. Throw in a good joke now and then, and you’re golden.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Find an experience you can draw on. For me, I used to teach 9th grade and do the school plays. I said to myself, “That was a lot of coordination and chaos management.”

Now, I manage 11 vendors in 5 time zones. There’s a direct parallel to getting a troop of 9th graders on stage, all knowing the lyrics and carrying the right props.

A fellow who works for me was questioning how he could better manage his team. I said, “You’ve got four kids, don’t you?”

It was like a light bulb went off for him. He said, “I never thought of using the same skills.”

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My first client, Mike J. He gave me an opportunity and taught me my first lessons in business.

One lesson was loyalty. I remember he used a printer who was having a hard time adjusting to the digital age. I complained and suggested he might switch to a printer that was more cutting-edge.

I’ll never forget the look he gave me. It would have made a plant wither.

“I’ve been doing business with Paul for twenty years. Here’s another idea, how about we help Paul to become more digitally capable?”

I know that concept may seem old-fashioned. But I’ve had a front-row seat to vendors-clients interactions for 25 years. In general, long lasting relationships are best for business by far.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Sometimes I like to take stock of the number of mortgages I’ve helped people pay. The number of employees’ kids I’ve helped to put through college. The healthcare I’ve helped to provide to families. That gives me tremendous satisfaction.

More recently, my novel was published. It’s called Greedy Heart and it’s one woman’s journey from greed to redemption. If I can give someone joy by telling a good story — that’s a lot of good!

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. 🙂

I would love it if businesses operated more as responsible citizens of the world than as profit-making machines. Prioritizing profit above most other things is at the root of so many evils in our world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Keep your eye on the ball.”

This advice came from my father, and I use it every day. Whatever that “ball” means to you. Don’t get distracted. Prioritize what matters.

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 🙂

Melissa DeRossa

She’s the one who sits to Governor Cuomo’s left during his daily briefings on the Corona pandemic. Like a lot of folks in these weird times, I’m absolutely addicted to his daily updates. It’s must-see TV

DeRossa is impressive, poised, in command of every fact. She’s secretary to the governor, the highest appointed position in the state. And the first woman in history to hold the role.

I am so fascinated by how the governor’s team is handling the response to this pandemic. She’s got a front-row seat and I would love to know the lessons she’s learning in real time.

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