A heartfelt thanks

It’s been six months since I launched “Use Your Inside Voice” to explore the intersections of leadership and parenting. As I take stock and celebrate, I want to acknowledge and thank the people who have inspired and contributed to my blog and web site. I couldn’t have done it without you!

To my husband, who I love dearly. Thank you for your encouragement and patience. About fifteen years ago, you first suggested I write about leadership and parenting. It took me a while, but I’m finally doing it!

To my children, who provide the spark for many of my blog ideas and dutifully review posts when I mention them. I love and admire you both.

To my mom, who was my first teacher and role model. I love you.

To my good friend and editor, Mary Ann, who reviews my posts, cheers me on when my inner critic is speaking its mind, and vetoes the drafts that really belong on the cutting room floor.

To Norm, my friend and mentor for almost thirty years, for your unconditional support, your keen design eye, and for teaching my kids to drive.

To my best friends from college, who inspire me, make me laugh, and push me forward.

To Paula, my colleague and friend, who brainstorms with me and gives the best constructive criticism.

To my co-workers over the years, who helped me define my leadership style and find my inside voice.

To my readers, who give me a reason for writing this blog. Your time is precious, and I appreciate that you spend some of it with me.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.


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.

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. 

The Ultimate Compliment

I once worked for a software company that was acquired by a larger company. In the first few months following the acquisition, I noticed something interesting. My new manager, who had been at the larger company for many years, started saying things in meetings along the lines of, “What I learned from Karen is the following…” What he then said resembled something I had shared with him, yet translated into the language of the new company. It sounded so much more impressive than what I had originally told him.

By rephrasing my words, this manager taught me to how to speak more effectively, using the right lingo and phrases to tie my thoughts into the strategic direction of the company, its culture and values, and its past successful initiatives. What a gift!

He also demonstrated a great deal of respect for me in front of my new colleagues. The simple phrase of “What I learned from Karen” made me feel great; who wouldn’t want to be recognized for teaching their more experienced manager something new. I think it was the ultimate compliment.

Since then, I’ve done my best to use that simple phrase in my leadership and parenting. For example, I recently exchanged email with someone I worked with a long time ago. In my email, I wrote,

One thing I learned from you is the importance of prioritization. At the time, you were a product manager who received more voice mail than you could possibly return. You told me how you strategically decided which messages to answer. To this day, I still think of you whenever I consciously decide not to do something. Thank you for inspiring and enabling me to do so!

As you might imagine, she was touched and wrote back,

I remember you absolutely and what a tremendous compliment you shared with your memory of me. I’m honored.

I learn from people around me every day, and I’m so grateful to be surrounded by talented family, friends, and professional contacts. I should thank them and compliment them more than I do. So, one of my resolutions for 2013 is to use the phrase, “What I learned from so-and-so is….” at least twice a week, either at home or at work. I’m hoping it will then become a life-long habit.

Have you made resolutions that apply to both parenting and leadership? I’d love to hear from you.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2013,


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Thank You, Plus One

When my daughter was in middle school, I enrolled her in a cotillion program to learn social skills, manners, and formal dance etiquette. She was already a polite young woman, but shy, and I thought this program would help her gain confidence in social settings. While I am not sure how much my daughter learned from the classes, I do remember being impressed with their “thank you, plus one” approach. Basically, when you thank someone in person or in writing, you should thank them and add one specific, personal thought. For example, “Thank you for inviting me to the party. I really liked the cupcakes you served.”

This morning, I sent a holiday tip to our newspaper carrier. I jotted a quick “thank you for delivering our paper” and then decided to add “and for double-bagging on rainy days.” It felt good to thank them for how they deliver the paper.

As leaders, we can thank people in many ways: in casual conversations, during meetings, in emails, in performance evaluations, with formal recognition programs, and so on. Each time, we also have the opportunity to add a “plus one” about how the work was accomplished. E.g., “Thank you for writing an article for this month’s newsletter. I especially appreciated that you included quotes from customers to make your points.” With the “thank you, plus one” approach, you:

  • Demonstrate that you are paying attention not just to what your employees are doing, but also how they are accomplishing their work.
  • Deliver a more meaningful thank you, and
  • Reinforce the behaviors you want to see again.

How do you like to thank the people around you? What was the most memorable thank you that you ever received? I’d like to hear from you!


© 2012 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.