“Why you should not turn down an opportunity to lead” With Penny Bauder & Jill Stott

Don’t turn down an opportunity to lead. In my experience, these chances come when you least expect them, and when you may not feel ready. However, when you turn these down, management will generally stop offering you leadership positions. Bravely jump in and know that you, like everyone, will make mistakes and you will learn and […]

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Don’t turn down an opportunity to lead. In my experience, these chances come when you least expect them, and when you may not feel ready. However, when you turn these down, management will generally stop offering you leadership positions. Bravely jump in and know that you, like everyone, will make mistakes and you will learn and do awesome things as you go.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jill Stott. Jill Stott, Agile Trainer and Coach at Excella Training, has decades of experience working in different IT roles and has led many organizations through successful Agile transformations. She uses her 20 years of experience in IT to tie theory to concrete experiences. She knows what works, and what doesn’t and is eager to share. Jill provides interactive, hands-on classes tailored to maximum learning, understanding, retention…and fun!

Jill didn’t set out for a career in IT. She was a former English teacher looking for a change so started working as a technical writer for a publishing company. Always one to keep learning, Jill worked with technical and business mentors to learn invaluable insights. She took and passed Oracle DBA classes and learned enough programming to move into QA as an effective testing automation engineer.

Through her supportive mentors, she eventually discovered the world of Agile coaching and took each opportunity to learn and practice that discipline. Jill worked for 5 years as an Agile Coach and Trainer. She brings this 360-degree combination of skills and experience to her position as a Senior Agile Trainer. Jill is Excella Training’s only trainer certified to teach the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) portfolio of classes and the Kanban University classes: TKP, KMPI, and KMPII. Jill is the go-to trainer for Excella Training’s exciting new custom classes that include “Agile, Scrum, and Kanban in a Day” and a “User Story Workshop.” She is especially capable of creating and delivering customized trainings tailored to individual organizational requests.

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

Ididn’t set out for a career in technology. It never seemed like something I would like or be any good at. Instead, I earned a degree in History with a minor in English. My plan was to be a teacher because teachers got the summer off. Plus, teaching, and nursing, were the two fields women in my community went into, if they worked outside the home at all, so it was kind of expected of me.

However, fresh out of college I started working as an English teacher at a challenging Junior High School. On my first day, a kid stood up and announced that he and his friends gave their last English teacher a nervous breakdown and quit with no notice. He said they were going to make me quit too. At first, I thought he was joking, but then later that day I spoke with another teacher who confirmed that this had actually happened!

I was miserable there. I broke up daily in-classroom fist fights, read horrible things students wrote about me in their writing journals, and witnessed kids flip desks over when they didn’t get their way. I reached out to parents and the administration for help and received none. They were apathetic and/or out of ideas. Before long, that kid’s wish came true. I quit teaching.

I spent several years after that regretting my choice of majors and being very disappointed in myself. I bounced around in several jobs that I didn’t like in order to pay the bills (Turns out there aren’t a lot of jobs for History majors.) I eventually ended up landing a job as a technical writer for a software development company. This job was my first introduction to IT. It was a whole new world. There was so much I didn’t know. I learned as much as I could as quickly as I could. Every day was like drinking from a fire hose. There were so many different opportunities in this industry, not just programming, like I’d assumed.

After a couple of years, I became a business analyst, and eventually was promoted to manager. I worked with the developers, DBAs and the architects daily. I was fascinated by the technical side of things and wanted to learn more. One day, my friend Teresa, who was the only women on the QA team at the time, explained to me why she liked testing. She said that she really enjoyed finding and reporting problems but didn’t want the hassle of having to fix them. I was ready for a change and this sounded like fun to me. I love pointing out other people’s problems, so I moved into a role as a tester. Turns out I am amazing at finding problems!

Testing evolved from a manual process to an automated one. I learned how to code and led our QA automation initiative. After over a decade in QA, I became and Agile Coach/Trainer.

I fell sideways into Tech out of a drive to survive. I made more money as a first-time technical writer than I did as a schoolteacher. It provided tons of different career opportunities that I didn’t even know existed.

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

I would have to say, that so far, the most interesting, or at the time, horrifying, experience I have had working at Excella Trainingv was on a business trip to Vienna, Austria.

After I boarded the plane, I realized I didn’t have my wallet; I’d left it in my car, and it was too late to get it. So, there I was, on my way to a foreign country with no money, no credit cards, and a phone without an international plan. When I arrived in Vienna, I connected to the airport Wi-Fi and tried to figure out what to do. I sat there for hours trying various ways to get to my hotel without cell service or money. Part of me wanted to just go walk in front of a bus and be done with it. But I kept trying. Fortunately, I had my credit card information memorized. As a paced through the airport I saw an ad that stated you could now purchase a metro pass online! I jumped on my wi-fi enabled phone, went to their website, entered my credit card info and had an electronic copy of a metro pass good for the week! I went to the help desk and asked which train to take, she handed me a map and told me which train number to board.

I found the right train number and hopped on. I started heading towards what I thought was the city. As the train ambled on, the scenery started changing. We were leaving the city. Green grass fields and farmland stretched out all around me. After about an hour, I finally accepted that I was going the wrong way. At the next stop, in a very rural area, I stepped off the train and sat on a bench. Hungry, tired, stressed beyond belief, I just sat there and enjoyed the warm sun. A local woman came by and sat on the bench with me waiting for the next train. She spoke some English and started a conversation. She was very kind, and I explained to her my plight. She took me under her wing, took my map and explained exactly what I needed to do to get to my hotel. She explained that trains with the same number went in two different directions. I had gotten on the one heading in the wrong direction. (“Wow, that’s an error prone system,” I thought.) She came with me on the train and continued to advise me. She even enlisted the help of an older gentleman sitting nearby, who only spoke German, to answer more of my questions. Meeting her at that time was like a miracle. I am so grateful for her help. Without her, I would probably still be on that train. That week ended up presenting me with one roadblock after another. Every day, it was like, “whelp, you’re screwed.” But instead of resorting to ending the misery like I’d done at the beginning of the trip, I started taking each challenge in stride. I knew that with each challenge, if I kept persevering, I’d eventually figure out a solution. Honestly, after getting through that week of unfortunate events, I’m pretty sure I can now successfully navigate through most of what life will throw at me.

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?

Many years ago, every Thursday, one of the developers on our project would bring donuts in for the rest of the team. They called it “Donut Thursday.” One day, they invited me to join. When it was my turn to bring the donuts, I decided to surprise them and bring in bagels instead. I assumed they would be delighted with the change and happy to have something slightly healthier. Boy was I wrong. They were so, so mad at me. My snack misjudgment nearly caused a riot. One of them actually got on the PA and played a song about donuts that blared throughout the entire office building. To placate them, I agreed to bring donuts in the following week.

Through that mistake, I learned that this group had strong opinions…about everything. Instead of agreeing with them on everything or simply doing what I thought was best for them, I learned to negotiate and compromise. “Donut Thursday” eventually became “Donut and Bagel Thursday”. It was a small victory, but it taught me how to voice my opinion and gain an equitable consensus with a group of highly technical individuals.

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

Culture, culture, and culture. The people at Excella Training are amazing. I haven’t worked at a place with so many authentic, fun, engaged, talented people. The culture here is what inspired me to move 2000 miles away from my home to work for this company.

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

I am currently developing several new Agile Coaching training courses that will be certified by ICAgile. These hands-on classes teach skills in facilitation, self-leadership, professional coaching, teaching, and mentoring in the business world. With these skills, participants will be well equipped to guide teams towards higher performance and job satisfaction by making the best use of Agile practices.

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 think there is still a significant gender imbalance in the STEM fields. Particularly when it comes to leadership positions. Women make up half the world’s population, and yet only 6.6% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 companies are women, and only 24% of representatives in congress are women. Powerful leaders make decisions that affect multitudes. We need women equally represented in leadership circles so they can make changes in policies and perceptions that will enable women to achieve parity in business.

As Amelia Earhart said, “The best way to do something is to do it.” Women who want to start their own business should do it. Women who want to manage should do it. Women who want to lead in politics should do it. The path won’t be as easy, and their will be more roadblocks because of gender bias, but with determination, grit, perseverance, and creativity, I really believe people can achieve almost anything.

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?

Stereotypes, misperceptions, and biases, both from men and women, about women in technical careers. There are still plenty of people who consciously or unconsciously perceive women as less capable in these fields. I think one effective way to combat this is to start early and young requiring hands-on classes in tech fields through all levels of education. Also, it’s up to those of us currently working in the STEM field, to reach out and show both young women and men the myriad of awesome opportunities in STEM.

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

Maybe the myth that there is no longer sexism in the business world. A couple of years ago, I was chatting with a colleague and I mentioned some of the barriers I’d encountered in the company because I was female. He was shocked to hear me say that and he didn’t believe me. He was certain that any barriers I faced were a misperception on my part, and not a result of gender discrimination. In his mind, discrimination was overt, black and white, violent, and easy to spot. While few companies are still operating with obvious, unconcealed discrimination, there is still definitely an undercurrent of sex unfairness. The most obvious sign of this is the wage gap. Women still only make 79 cents for every dollar men make doing the same job.

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.)

Don’t turn down an opportunity to lead. In my experience, these chances come when you least expect them, and when you may not feel ready. However, when you turn these down, management will generally stop offering you leadership positions. Bravely jump in and know that you, like everyone, will make mistakes and you will learn and do awesome things as you go.

Failure can be good and is one of the best ways to learn; it is not a manifestation of your inabilities or lack of intelligence. Women tend to be much more critical of themselves than men are. Women are more likely to attribute failures solely to their own perceived deficiencies (e.g., lack of ability, lack of intelligence, etc.) This believe prevents many women from taking intelligent risks and relentlessly pursuing their big audacious goals.

Talk, talk, and talk. People who do the most talking during meetings at work are perceived as smarter, more confident, and more deserving of promotion…even if they are not. Don’t be afraid to interrupt if you must. Your opinion matters and deserves to be heard.

Act Confident. Confidence is power. Power is contagious and alluring. I know it’s a cliché, but “fake it till ya make it”. If you act like you are confident, you will become confident. Stop doubting yourself and go out and break stuff and make mistakes — -and learn from it. When I feel intimidated in a business situation, I literally go into the bathroom stall and do some “power posing” and give myself a pep talk. It sounds silly, but it works!

Be yourself and never apologize for it. The world needs leaders who have differing opinions, perspectives, and styles. This diversity will build a better place for everyone. If you’re silly, be silly. If you are serious, be serious. If you’re emotional, be emotional. Make your own path. People will respect and reward you for it.

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

Hire the right people, who have both the soft and hard skills that will enable them to thrive at your company. Empower your team members. Be a servant-leader; support and help them grow and reach their own career goals.

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

Find employees you trust and empower them to make decisions. Make time to interact either in person or over a video chat with each person on the team at least once a quarter. Ask them open-ended questions and listen to their responses. You will learn more about the business and how you can be more successful from these interactions than almost anything.

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?

For starters, my mom. She worked her butt off to make enough money to send me through college. She didn’t have the opportunity to get a degree and was dead set on ensuring her daughter did.

In addition, I had several wonderful bosses over the years who believed in me, encouraged me and assured me that I was more than capable of doing what I wasn’t sure I could — — whether that be programming, database work, speaking in front of large groups of people — — having colleagues in my corner who inspired me to fight for what I wanted, helped me grow immensely in this field.

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

I don’t think about using my success to bring goodness to the world. I try to be a decent person, and laugh with other people as often as I can

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 guess if anything was possible, I would start a movement that helped people enjoy life more. And that joy would be independent from life’s circumstances or an individual’s “success”. According to the 2019 World Happiness Report, Americans are as unhappy as they’ve been in years despite a strong economy and low crime rates. I would love to spend the rest of my days figuring out how to change that. Life is short and it stinks to think that so many of us are spending our precious few years here being miserable.

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

When I feel down, and/or in need of inspiration, I like to read poems by Mary Oliver. They have a way of resetting my priorities and sparking my joy in the simple pleasures of life. The last line from The Summer Day reminds me that I alone choose how my life will be: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

We are very blessed that very prominent s 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 🙂

I would love having breakfast with Tina Fey. Every show she’s written makes me laugh. I have watched every episode of Kimmie Schmidt at least 4 times, and I still laugh. Tina Fey is a brilliant businessperson who makes amazing opportunities for herself.

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