Is Computer Science Becoming a Girls’ Discipline?

1985 was a record year for women studying computer science (CS). In the United States, a whopping 38% of the CS degrees went to women. Since then, though, the numbers have dropped. As reported by the New York Times, the National Center for Education Statistics says that 18% of the CS undergraduate degrees in the US went to women in 2010. What a disappointing change from 1985.

However, based on my observations, the trend has reversed. I recently shared my experience of visiting colleges with my daughter in an article published by Global Tech Women, an organization whose  mission is to create a global network of inspired, connected and self-actualized technical women.

You can find the article here: Is Computer Science Becoming a Girls’ Discipline?


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

My Lean In Story

Lean In LogoA few months ago, the Anita Borg Institute asked me to write a story about a time I chose between fear and leaning in to my career. They wouldn’t tell me why, except that they were working on a confidential project about women leaning in, and that it would be announced in March. Right away, I knew the project was for Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In movement. And I was thrilled. I wanted to show my support for the movement, and I now had the opportunity.

Here’s the guidance I received for writing my story:

A Lean In Story is a tension point in one’s career that offers two possible outcomes: “leaning in” or “leaning back.” Examples are: asking for a raise and getting it, realizing a need to switch departments and doing it, motivating yourself to reach a difficult work goal, etc.

And here is the structure I should follow:

First-person account that follows a traditional story arc, in 500 words or less.

a) Set the stage – offer a short account of details leading up to the tension point

b) Introduce the tension point – this is typically when fear, vulnerability and doubt appear.  Make sure to outline what the paths of leaning in and /or leaning back looked like

c) Decide to lean in or lean back – stories are more likely to be about leaning in but they could also be about leaning back

d) Share the resolution – how did you feel after the decision was made? How did the situation play out?

e) Show the future – how did your decision impact you, both personally and professionally.  Share a positive ending about what you learned from the experience.  Don’t be afraid to weave in some closing advice or words of wisdom.

While I have dozens of examples of both leaning in and leaning back over my career, I knew immediately which story to tell: when I decided to move from a great part-time job into a full-time role with a lot more responsibility. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, and I wanted to share all the reasons I didn’t think I should lean in, and why I finally did.

You can read my story at While there, be sure to read some of the other stories. Each one is a pocket of inspiration in 500 words or less.

If you have a story you would like to share, visit the Lean In site and follow the steps to submit your story. I look forward to reading it!


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Confessions of the time-starved generation

Book cover for The Feminine MystiqueI just finished reading The Feminine Mystique, published 50 years ago by Betty Friedan as an exploration into why so many American housewives were unhappy in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s credited with starting the feminist movement in the 1960s, and I was curious to understand more about it in light of the Lean In Movement that’s taking hold today.

I found myself chuckling as I read Chapter 10, where Friedan wrote about housewives who unconsciously stretch their home duties to fill the time available. Why would anyone do this? Because the feminine mystique taught women that this was their role, and if they ever completed their tasks they would no longer be needed. Based on that line of thinking, I know I’ll always be needed; my household to-do list is never-ending!

For today’s working parents, there are never enough hours in the day. We develop coping skills to make it all work, some more extreme than others. Do we allow our household duties to expand to fit the available time? Maybe, but that time is next to nothing. What I’ve seen in myself and my friends is that we’ve mastered the ability to shrink our household duties down to the bare minimum.

Our strategies include:

Embrace the sleight of hand. Tend to common areas more than the bedrooms to create the effect of a tidy home. Don’t mop the whole floor, just wipe up the spots. Have places to quickly hide clutter before guests arrive.  I especially love closing the doors to my kids’ rooms. I’m a neat freak, and I keep telling myself that what I can’t see shouldn’t bother me.

Rethink your standards. Only do the housework that’s important to you. Do the beds really need to be made every morning? As your children help with household chores, don’t expect the same level of quality that you might do yourself. Every Sunday when my kids do their laundry, I think of a good friend who warned me that my kids may decide to “live” out of their laundry baskets, never bothering folding their clean clothes. Unless you’re going to a fancy event, let them wear wrinkled clothing! Remember, your house is an active, lived-in house. Make it as clean as you need it to be, and don’t worry about what others think.

Assemble meals rather than cook them. Look for healthy, pre-prepared food to use to make a meal. Pair frozen entrees with fresh vegetables. Heat left-over chicken with a jar of Indian simmer sauce. Buy frozen risotto and serve it with a salad. Turn breaded, baked frozen fish filets into fish tacos. There are lots of these options for saving time in the kitchen. Don’t feel guilty about using them.

Master extreme efficiency. Simplify meal clean-up by grilling, using a slow cooker, or keeping pots to a minimum. Serve meals straight from the stove to avoid using serving dishes that will need to be cleaned. Do chores like unloading the dishwasher or folding laundry while your kids eat breakfast so that you can talk to them but still knock something off your list. Wash clothes only when they they fail the “smell” test or are stained. Buy stamps at the grocery store or online to save a trip to the post office. Set up auto-pay for your regular bills. You get the picture.

Delegate as much as possible. If you can afford help, hire a housekeeper, gardener, accountant, and others. Split chores with your partner. Enlist your kids in cleaning activities at an early age. Train your family that when they make a mess, they clean it up.

Simplify your life. Get rid of things you don’t need. Less stuff means less to tidy and clean! Keep a “to donate” box in your closet or garage to collect things as you come across them to avoid a big cleanup. Unsubscribe from unwanted email as it comes in. Sort your postal mail next to your recycling bin so that you can get rid of junk right away.

Have fun! Invite friends over so you have reasons to de-clutter and accomplish some of that housework that never seems to get done.  Blast your favorite music or listen to podcasts while cleaning. And then enjoy sharing your home with friends!

What are your strategies to shrink household duties to the bare minimum? Please share them in the comments. We’d all like to hear from you.


To my good friends: thank you for sharing your strategies for this blog post. Remember: if you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot, hang on, and call one of us!

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Five Reasons Why My Husband Was My Most Important Career Decision

Photo of Karen and her husband TimI’ve been following Sheryl Sandberg for a few years now, starting with her TED talk in 2010. While all of her messages are powerful, I think my favorite is: “I truly believe that the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is.”

I’m so very thankful for my husband, and I whole-heartedly believe marrying him was the most important career decision I ever made. Here’s why.

1 – He makes me less fearful. Our daughter, who is now looking at colleges, recently asked me how I decided which college to go to. I told her I chose the closest one to home that had a great reputation. I really wasn’t adventurous back then. Since marrying my husband, however, I’ve grown less fearful of change. As a young married couple, we moved from my life-long home of Rhode Island to England, where I got international work experience. From there, we decided to relocate to the San Francisco Bay Area to pursue our careers in technology. This morning, I joked with him that we should apply to be the middle-aged married couple to go on the 501 day journey to Mars. Knowing we’re in it together, I’d do almost anything!

2 – He helps me when the going gets tough. The most stressful job I ever had was when I was 30 years old and just started at a new company. I was a localization project manager, a job I had never done before, and I was the only person in this role at my company. I had more work than I could possibly do, which caused an overwhelming amount of stress. Over dinner one night, I started crying as I told my husband about my day and how far behind I was. He then helped me think differently about my work, and how to justify I needed some more people to help me. He helped me create a model for estimating how many hours any given project would take, and therefore how many additional people I needed to get it all done. He spent his whole evening helping me. And it paid off. The next day, I presented the model to my manager, and who agreed that we needed to hire another person. My stress level dropped overnight.

3 – He shares in parenting responsibilities. Like most working moms, I complain about having to shoulder most of the parenting responsibilities for our family. However, when I needed it the most, my husband equally shared the duties. Just before having my second child, I interviewed for a new position at my software company. I got the job, even though I was about to go on maternity leave for three months. When I went back to work, I knew I would need to put in some extra hours to learn the ropes and show my commitment to this new team who were putting in long hours on a software release. So, my husband and I took turns being home by 6pm to feed and bathe our kids. Knowing I could work late, if I needed to, every other day made all the difference.

4 – He often believes in me more than I do. In the mid-2000’s, I was working part-time for a software company, and we were acquired by a larger company. As part of the acquisition, I was offered a significantly larger role, if I agreed to work full time. As I considered the new role, I started thinking of all the reasons I shouldn’t accept it. I’d have less time with my children. I‘d never managed a group of that size. I’d have a longer commute and would get less exercise. I’d have to lay off some people. I lacked experience in some of the technical areas that I would be managing. The list went on and on. My husband helped me recognize that I could and should seize the opportunity. He convinced me that we could handle the logistics of our both working full-time. He reminded me that I had the foundation to learn new technologies and that I was a talented leader. Thanks to his support and encouragement, I was able to set aside my fears. I allowed myself to envision succeeding in the new position, and I got really excited. I found the confidence to say yes.

5 – He provides balance to my aversion to risk. I’m now building a consulting business from ground zero, something I’ve never done before. My husband, bless him, is telling me not to worry about paying clients right now. He believes it’s okay to take some risks, that the money will come, and we’ll be fine in the meantime. His support and confidence is encouraging me to explore options, to invest time in networking, and to attend many events. And I’m feeling more confident every day that all of these activities will pay off.

I’m so very grateful for my husband and his unwavering support of me and my career.

Tim, for these reasons and so many others, I love you.


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

There is no secret sauce

Earlier this week, I spoke on a panel hosted by She Talks, a new forum for women entrepreneurs. The event was held in conjunction with Fashion Tech Week 2013 in San Francisco, and the other panelists were from the fashion technology industry. I felt like a fish out of water! I’m not a fashion blogger, I’m not developing innovative fashion apps, and I’m not working on wearable technology. Yet, here I was on a panel to speak about using social media, the future of the fashion tech industry, and work-life balance. And I enjoyed it!

The panel moderator, Lili Balfour of Atelier Advisors, asked me the following: We see many working moms in the media. From Marissa Mayer to Rebecca Minkoff. What do you think the secret sauce is to ‘having it all?’ Can you give us some tools to achieving success and balance?

With my 17 years of experience of being a mom while growing my career to the executive level, with a husband who is addicted to tech start-ups, I’ve had my fair share of work-life balance challenges. I could have talked all night about this topic! However, I had only a few minutes to answer, during which I did my best to provide just a few practical tips to the audience. Here is a summary of my points:

It’s important to note that work-life balance is not just a concern of working parents. We tend to push ourselves into challenging, rewarding careers. Whether you have kids, are taking care of aging parents, going back to school, or doing anything outside of work that is time consuming, it’s hard to get it all done.

But, it is the working moms in the media, like Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, who are bringing a lot of attention to this issue. With their success, we can only imagine that they are in a different economic situation than we are. They can use their financial resources to address work-life balance in ways the rest of us can’t.

Even with their wealth, I don’t think they have a secret sauce for achieving balance. But, don’t lose hope! There are some ingredients we all can afford:


There are many options for hiring people to help you with running your household. Depending on your budget and your personal values, outsource as much as you can. I emphasize making sure you keep in mind your values. If I had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t hire a chauffeur to drive my kids to school. Others might decide to do this, but I enjoy spending time with my kids in the car. By contrast, if money weren’t an issue, I would hire a personal chef!

Here are some ideas for outsourcing:

  • Housekeeper?
  • Catered or partially-prepared meals?
  • Dry-cleaning pick up and delivery?
  • Wash & fold service?
  • Grocery delivery?
  • Auto pay as many bills as possible?
  • Personal shopper?
  • Gardener?
  • Bookkeeper?

Family Chores

Your partner needs to do his or her part. Many women feel we have to do it all. Yet, our partner can and should share the household responsibilities. I know someone who split the chores by whether they were inside or outside of the house. She handled all the inside chores (cleaning, laundry, cooking, etc), and her husband took care of all the outside work (gardening, running errands, etc). While this approach might not be right for you, I share it as one example of how chores can be divided.

Your kids need to keep learning new responsibilities as they grow. One tip I got from a friend is to teach my kids, when they turned 12, to do their laundry. Sure, initially it’s going to take more time than doing it yourself, like when my daughter left lip gloss inside a pair of white jeans and I then spent about an hour treating stains. But, eventually it will be more efficient than if you were to do it all yourself.

“To Stop” List

We all have a to-do list, what about the to-stop list? Here are some of the things on my list: I stopped sending Christmas holiday letters. I stopped worrying about cleaning out the garage so I can park my car in it. I stopped one of my volunteer activities because I wasn’t getting enough satisfaction from it. Having a “To Stop” list can be liberating!

What are your ingredients for work-life balance? I’d like to hear from you!


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

My “Lean In” Checklist

Lean In Book cover
There’s hype, there’s controversy. Personally, I’m ready to be part of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In movement! Are you interested as well? Here are some things you can do to participate today:

  • Pre-order a copy of “Lean In” from Amazon or your favorite bookseller.
  • Clear your calendar for March 11, when your book will arrive. You know you will want to read it right away.
  • Join the movement. Enter your email address at
  • Show your friends that you are leaning in by liking the Lean In Facebook page.
  • Contribute to the professional conversation by joining the Lean In LinkedIn group.
  • Tweet with the hashtag #leaningin.
  • Share your personal story of a time you chose between fear and leaning in. Post it on the Lean In site.

My next steps, once I read the book:

  • Write about the intersection (or perhaps collision?!) of parenting and leaning-in.
  • Start or join a lean-in circle.

What ideas do you have for contributing to this movement? I’d like to hear from you!


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Career Tip: Got Sponsors?

In 2012, after a long career in the software industry, I decided to shift my professional focus to help others reach their career goals. My friends told me I have a unique perspective to share: I was a software engineer who was determined to have it all. I wanted to be a mom and be a leader! And I wanted to do it on my terms. Starting with my first child, I chose to work part-time and maintained this schedule for ten years. During that time, I had two children, kept increasing my responsibilities at work, and was promoted to vice president. Yup, I was promoted to the vp level while working part-time. It wasn’t always easy, but I did it.

Reflecting on my experience, I see that I made good choices and held fast to my vision for my life. It’s also clear that I had help along the way: from friends, peers, mentors, sponsors, and my family. I want to say thanks to those who helped me by “paying it forward” to others facing similar challenges.

I’m taking a multi-prong approach to helping people reach their goals. In addition to writing “Use Your Inside Voice” to share my thoughts on the intersection of leadership and parenting, I’m a speaker, leadership coach, and advisor for women’s affinity programs. I also enjoy being a guest blogger, writing about best practices for career development.

Most recently, I wrote a guest post for Global Tech Women about how to engage with sponsors, or people who are influential in your organization or your industry. Sponsors are leaders who know you well enough to advocate for you and recommend you for new opportunities. With their organizational clout, they can open doors you never knew existed. They could be the key to your career advancement. But, you can’t just ask someone to be your sponsor. You need to earn their respect! My guest post takes the mystery out of engaging a sponsor. If you think sponsors could help you meet your career goals, be sure to check it out.

Update: Engage a Sponsor is now available as a free downloadable pdf. It’s part of a series called Karen’s Tips. Each one is filled with practical ideas for growing your career and clear action items for planning your next steps.  — February 2013


About Global Tech Women

It is time to think about the gender gap in technology in a new way. The representation of women in computer science and engineering has been declining over the last three decades. It’s time for something new.

Global Tech Women, founded in 2012, believes the solution to this persistent problem is to focus on the needs of individual technical women on a personal and professional level – providing them with consistent support from their freshman year to their entry in the workforce, their first and subsequent promotions, and their successful retirement. 

But I want to have it all!

It’s been six months since The Atlantic published Anne-Marie Slaughter’s thought-provoking article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. When I read it last summer, I was in the midst of planning my new blog about the intersection of leadership and parenting. At the time, I thought (and hoped) I would be able to build an audience for the blog. Once I read Dr. Slaughter’s article, I felt inspired, if not compelled, to start writing it; the blog became something I had to do. Let me explain…

Dr. Slaughter’s overall message is that we need better choices if we want to see working mothers make it to the tops of their careers. While these choices include things like part-time roles, flexible schedules, and school hours that better match work hours, we also need to make it more acceptable for working parents to acknowledge that their kids’ needs often come before the demands of work.

As a dean at Princeton University, Dr. Slaughter wanted to help change the environment to be more family friendly; she did this by deliberately talking about her children and her desire to lead a balanced life. She would end meetings at 6pm, announcing that she had to go home for dinner. She would tell people where she was going when she had a conflict such as a parent-teacher conference. She refused to make excuses for putting her family’s needs first.

As I read her article, I wondered if I could help, in a small way, by encouraging working parents to share stories about how their parenting experience makes them better leaders, and vice versa. To have it be acceptable to talk about strategies for delegation, communication, inspiring a vision, and other leadership qualities through the lens of parenting. To be able to reinforce the managerial style of the office by talking about how effective the same approach is at home. To make it okay to blend our personal and professional lives.

Because of Dr. Slaughter’s article, I knew I had to start my blog. But, my blog alone isn’t enough. What are your ideas for addressing Dr. Slaughter’s article? I’d like to hear from you.


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.