Sandia LabNews

Women in technical management focus of project led by Joan Woodard

Women in technical management are the focus of a project being led by Executive VP Joan Woodard that takes a serious look at how female managers fare at Sandia.

“We’ve spent the past year and a half gathering data about technical women managers — how many we have, where they come from, their backgrounds, how they are doing, and what their experiences have been,” Joan says.

Joan discussed the year-old Women in Technical Management (WITM) Project during a recent meeting of Sandia’s Women’s Inreach Network (WIN).

What she and her fellow project members found is that “something is going on” making it difficult for many women to be successful in management positions.

“It’s been frustrating to me because we haven’t been able to put our hands on the problem and come up with an easy solution,” Joan says.

It all started more than two years ago when Joan and Ombuds Wendell Jones (11) both noted problems and talked about them. The first step was to organize a team to help investigate the observed issues. Joan put together a Women in Technical Management (WITM) Project team which was assigned the task of surveying statistics, analyzing observations, and developing an action plan.

Team members included Margaret Chu, Director of Nuclear Waste Management Programs Center 6800; Dori Ellis, Director of National Security and Arms Control Center 5000; Carlos Griego of Human Resources Div. 3000; Wendell; and Renae Perrine, a member of laboratory staff and Division Human Resources representative in Energy, Information, and Infrastructure Surety Div. 6000. Lori Parrot, Manager of Laboratory Planning and Evaluation Dept. 4141, was later named program coordinator. She tracks results, monitors progress, and provides status updates directly to Joan.

Last summer, Labs President Paul Robinson was named to a National Academy of Engineering panel looking at a similar subject and encouraged Joan in her review.

Private interviews

Joan and Carlos privately interviewed four women in management, including two who had struggled and two who had balanced experiences. In addition, Joan received letters, some anonymous, and talked with women throughout the Labs about their experiences.

These sources indicated that sometimes women feel isolated after becoming managers. They struggle with establishing strong mentoring relationships and in some situations are confronted with hostility from their peers. Many women also feel a need to change their personal qualities and characteristics — attributes that helped them enter management in the first place — to fit into Sandia’s culture, often leading to reducing their effectiveness. Joan emphasized that many of these challenges face all managers, not just women, and not just technical managers.

“It was pretty apparent that the women managers who were mentored and coached in a supportive environment appeared to have thrived,” Joan says. “Conversely, women managers without mentors had a high level of problems and seemed to be the ones who stepped down.”

Among their findings from 1996-1999:

  • Women were reclassified to staff out of management at four times the rate of men.
  • Of the 630 technical managers on-roll in spring 1995, 40 percent of the 60 women had been promoted from an outside division versus 24 percent of 570 men.
  • Sandia did not meet placement goals for women technical managers in New Mexico in FY 1998 (placement goals were met in previous years).
  • Females have been less likely to receive special appointments as deputy director or senior manager at Sandia.
  • Salaries of female technical managers and high-performing female PMTS and DMTS staff are slightly below their male counterparts.
  • In general, female technical mangers are younger, have fewer years of service at Sandia, and fewer have PhD degrees.
  • There is a statistically significant difference in recent years between male and female technical managers with respect to their reclassification and promotion rates.
  • These differences remain after correcting for differences between males and females such as age, years of experience, and inter- versus intradivision and inter- versus intracenter promotions.
  • In FY99 there were no female technical manager reclassifications.
  • Women are not averse to bidding and are being promoted to technical management at an expected rate.
  • For FY96-99, 15 percent of those promoted have been women. This rate is approximately equal to the female availability rate in the technical staff and greater than the percentage of women in the bid pools.

Also in their fact-finding, team members visited Los Alamos National Laboratory, Daimler Chrysler Corp., Motorola SatCom Division, and Eastman Kodak to discuss gender issues.

Eliminate ‘underutilization’

Of these sites, Joan says, some were “ten times worse than Sandia, and others were so great that several of the team members were ready to put their applications in.”

Using these findings as the basis, the team established a goal: Eliminate the underutilization of women in management ranks within five years by providing an opportunity for success through coaching and mentoring, and creating an environment that “attracts, retains, and inspires.”

To reach these goals, the team put together a project plan. It involves a variety of tactics ranging from developing employees through structured career planning and mentoring to addressing the pipeline issue as a priority by encouraging female students to pursue careers in science and engineering through student internships, mentoring programs, and recruiting processes.

Networking workshops planned

Also the plan includes reviewing educational programs to possibly modify special degree programs to encourage women of any ethnic category to pursue advanced degrees and offering tuition assistance to part-time employees, most of whom are women.

Several networking workshops are planned for the spring of 2000 reaching out to women managers and women. A first successful one was held in October.

Also planned as an effort to meet the goal is a conference for women in management at Sandia set for May. Finally, a similar review for minorities and women in laboratory staff management is planned. Joan said that each of these are being worked in concert to attack the larger challenge of a friendly, attractive, supportive work environment for all.

“We will continue to work this challenge a piece at a time until we achieve success,” she says.

Joan says that findings were presented last year to the Laboratory Leadership Team. The response was “very encouraging.”

“They didn’t have a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” she says.

Finally, Joan says to get more women to successfully move into management, three things must be done.

“We must ensure that Sandia provides a supportive work environment for women. We must ensure that women at the Labs are exposed to an environment that gives them the opportunity to succeed. And we must ensure that we provide an environment at Sandia that is flexible, challenging, and rewarding to women,” Joan says. “If we are successful at these, we will make great strides at ensuring a work environment that is attractive and supportive to all employees.”

Last modified: March 10, 2000