Why I Bailed on My STEM Career

There’s been a lot of talk lately in the US about building more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) capability in the workforce, and related conversations about how to increase the number of women in STEM programs, and how to keep women in those jobs once they have them.

And it makes me feel a little guilty. Because I had high potential for an engineering career, and I left it. As much as I love what I’m doing now, these conversations make me wonder – should I have stuck with it?  And what made me want to stop engineering in the first place?

office-suppliesToday I saw an article that said that women leave STEM careers because they don’t see room for advancement. Based on my experience, I think there may be something more to it. Let me tell you about my story…

Eighteen years ago, I graduated from Northwestern University with an industrial engineering degree. As someone who was obsessed with getting A’s at the time, I finished at the top of my class – Summa Cum Laude – from the School of Engineering. By all counts, I had the potential to be a great engineer.

My first job out of college was with a project team that was implementing an ERP system to avoid the Y2K fiasco. Ironically, once that change management project was over, I decided I wasn’t doing enough real engineering work, and so I joined another manufacturing company as an industrial engineer.

Industrial engineering’s primary focus is on process – increasing output, improving efficiency, ensuring quality, etc. One of my key measures of professional success was how much money the company saved as a result of my brilliant ideas. Except I learned pretty quickly that you can’t just redesign someone’s job or someone’s department and say, “Here, you should do this instead.”

What they don’t teach you in engineering school is that you need to influence people to adopt your ideas. And that showing them your detailed engineering calculations probably isn’t going to do it.

As I started building relationships and listening to others, I discovered that they had a lot of ideas too. I realized my engineering skills were better served helping other people justify their own ideas. Why should I be the only one who could come up with ideas? The people who were doing the jobs had a much better sense of the problems that needed solving, after all.

These two things together – learning that I needed more influence myself and that it was better to engage employees in improving their own jobs, led me to doing a lot of research and ultimately enrolling in an MBA program with a focus on leadership and change management. The more I learned about how organizations should work, the more I realized that some of the process and quality issues were a result of the culture.

As much as I enjoyed learning about and then applying engineering, I was being pulled in the direction of making things work at a deeper level. Luckily, I had a boss who was supportive of my organization change efforts – as long as I kept doing the engineering work too. I was able to start practicing what I was learning, from engaging employees in process improvement teams to facilitating the executive team on developing a strategy.

I certainly didn’t leave engineering over a lack of advancement opportunities.  Over the course of seven years, I was promoted from Industrial Engineer to Industrial Engineering Manager to Director of Industrial Engineering and Organizational Effectiveness. At the time, I was one of the first women promoted to Director level in the company.

Here I am, eight years after leaving engineering behind. Now I help people who need to influence others to adopt change.

Ultimately, I left my STEM career because I found something else that I loved more. I discovered it because I wasn’t taught how to influence change as an engineer, and so I had to learn how on my own. And I loved it because I was able to work on something bigger than a process, and because without working on the organization, the process changes wouldn’t matter anyway.

Do women leave STEM jobs because they don’t see opportunities to advance in their field? As a whole, probably. But if we taught the essential skill of influence in addition to engineering, perhaps they wouldn’t get so frustrated in their attempts to implement what they learned in school.

Interview: How to Make Waves at Work

This month, my guest is Patti Johnson, CEO of PeopleResults and author of Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life. She shares how to be a difference-maker who implements lasting change at work. Listen in to hear how to know when to start a wave, what the elements of a successful wave are, and what to do when your wave hits a wall.

Listen to the show here (30 minutes):

Fuel your project with the Design & Influence Irresistible Change™ webinar series

As a change agent at work, you have two primary roles:

  • To design the change initiative to go as smoothly as possible, and
  • To influence it along the way when it doesn’t.

When you do these two things well, your change seems irresistible.


Starting on January 28, join me for the Design & Influence Irresistible Change webinar series. You’ll learn a practical, straightforward change management methodology with examples, exercises, and tips to help you keep your change project moving forward.

These are the events you don’t want to miss if you’re trying to make a difference at work:

Winter/Spring 2015 Schedule

Date Topic
January 28
1:00 – 2:30 pm Eastern
Define Your Change
Clarify what really needs to change in order to achieve the desired results for your organization.
February 11
1:00 – 2:30 pm Eastern
Uncover and Reduce Resistance
Anticipate how people will react to change so you can reduce backlash, and learn how to handle resistance when it happens.
February 25
1:00 – 2:30 pm Eastern
Gain Leadership Support
Navigate the roles and relationships of change to get leaders to help you implement change.
March 11
1:00 – 2:30 pm Eastern
Design and Communicate Change
Create the structural elements that will drive change, and develop a plan to pinpoint communication.
March 25
1:00 – 2:30 pm Eastern
Sharpen Your Influence
Increase and leverage your own power to make a bigger impact at work.


By attending this webinar series, you will learn the steps and gain the tools to both design change in advance so it has the best chance of succeeding and influence change as you go so your initiative can be irresistible in the face of inevitable challenges along the way.

When you register for the whole series, you get:

  • 5 webinars packed with practical steps and advice
  • The Irresistible Change Guide™ workbook
  • Electronic templates you can use immediately to apply what you’ve learned on your project.

5 Webinars + Workbook + Templates


register(plus shipping for the workbook)

And don’t worry if you don’t know your availability that far in advance – all webinars will be recorded so you can still watch the ones you miss.

Need to get funding approved to attend this series? Download a brochure here.

If you have any questions, please contact me. Otherwise, I look forward to your participation in these events!

Balancing Power and Influence as a Leader During Change

Leaders who have authority in your organization play unique and vital roles during change. They are communicators, decision-makers, and motivators of change, all while being managers of the business. Leading a team through change is not always a straightforward task with right and wrong ways to do things. Instead there are many elements that must be balanced to bring about change. Two of those elements are power vs. influence.

rockcanyonFrom their position of authority, leaders can wield the lever of power to make people conform. All the ways a boss can say, “Because I said so,” either verbally or nonverbally, use force as a way to push people to change. In the extreme, this approach frustrates people and increases resistance. After all, no one wants to be bossed around.

On the other side of the scale are all the other ways to influence, for example, tapping into values, inviting people to participate, communicating the vision and “the why”, or understanding and helping people through their resistance and fears. Instead of pushing people to change, these leadership activities pull or facilitate people toward the future.

Unfortunately, the influence side of the scale is not always easy or clear. Each person has a unique personality and set of experiences that inform their reaction to change. The “right” way to influence change in everyone can be elusive. Leaders who become frustrated because they are unable to figure out how to help someone change are usually tempted to fall back on a “Just do it” power approach.

And that’s ok. To effectively implement change, we need leaders who can balance power and influence, push and pull. Too much emphasis on power, and we frustrate and diminish people. Too much effort on the influence side of the scale, and we might never get to where we want to go because leaders aren’t making it happen when the going gets tough.

During change, effective leaders balance power and influence. They leverage power effectively with an unwavering commitment to achieving the change, and by making it clear through their words, actions and decisions that the change will happen. Leaders leverage influence by enabling each individual to navigate the change in their own way, and by having the flexibility to understand and learn from resistance when it happens. Leaders must exercise both push and pull forces as needed to drive change forward.

Top Change Articles of 2014 at Enclaria

It’s hard to believe I’m wrapping up the seventh year of blogging about influencing change at work at Enclaria. As has become tradition, I’d like to take this opportunity to share some of the most popular posts of the year. Thank you for reading and sharing!

Four Features to Look For in a Change Management Methodology

game-planDo you have trouble telling all the change management methodologies apart? Wonder how to tell which one you should use? Besides a solid, straightforward framework, there are other essential features to look for.

Five Ingredients of a Successful Internal Change Management Program

seasoningA number of organizations have crossed my path who are implementing an internal change management program. For this article, I identify what I’ve seen organizations get right when they embark on this endeavor.

It’s Time to Abolish the 70% Failure Rate Statistic

SurpriseJust strike it from your vocabulary. Please!


Can’t Get Support for Change? Just Hide It

SpyingA couple of stories highlight that implementing change anyway, even without support, can work on a small scale. When I shared this article in the Organizational Change Practitioners group on LinkedIn, it created a controversy about ethics.

Five Valid Reasons People are Mad at Your Change Initiative

catDo people seem to be mad about your project for no apparent reason? It’s not because “people resist change” (they don’t). Chances are they are experiencing something perfectly normal that you don’t see. Find some possible reasons for their frustration in this article.

How to Be Heard When No One is Listening

not listeningDo you find yourself lamenting that you could make a bigger difference at work, if only people would listen? In this article, learn five tips to open up dialogue when you’ve reached an impasse.

The Case for Courageous Change Agents

power boyThe role of a change agent is one that requires the ability and willingness to swim against the stream. Are you sabotaging your own project by not being willing to do what needs to be done?

20 Reasons Your Organization is Immune to Change

defenseFor this article, I delve into the concept of Organizational Resistance — the idea that over time, organizations develop ways to maintain the status quo and prevent change. Take a look at the list to see which ways seem familiar.

You Don’t Have to Call It Change Management to Do It

name tag closeWhether you name them or not, certain activities help implement change at work.


Four Ways Change is Introduced Into Organizations

ways change is introducedWhat does that initial drop look like that radiates to the rest of the organization?




The Change Agent’s Dilemma Radio Show – 2014 Episodes

BTR logo1This year on The Change Agent’s Dilemma radio show, fantastic guests joined the show to share their wisdom, experience and tips for how to influence change at work. Here’s the list of topics we discussed. Click through to listen to each episode, visit the radio show page, or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

A big thanks to all my guests for sharing their time and insights. And thanks to you for listening!

Debunking the 70% Failure Rate of Change Initiatives

Guest:  Jennifer Frahm

LR_JenFrahm-3-1-300x197It’s probably the most-quoted statistic about organizational change: 70% of change initiatives fail. But what does that mean? Where did that number come from? And is it even true? Jennifer Frahm, Director of Conversations of Change, joins the show from Australia to discuss the history and dispel the myth that many accept as fact.

Design Breakthrough Change Communication

Guest:  Dotty Posto

dottypostoIn this episode, Dotty Posto, President of Posto Management Consulting, shares how to use creativity to design breakthrough change communication. Listen in to learn how to gain attention in the sea of information in today’s workplace.


Modernizing Change Management with Agile and Lean Practices

Guest:  Jason Little

jl-profile-picJason Little, author of Lean Change Management, discusses his collection of innovative practices for managing organizational change. He combines ideas from many communities, including the Lean Startup, Agile and Lean worlds, to create an adaptable and scalable model for managing the complexity of change in today’s world.

Managing Change in Today’s Dynamic Global Economy

Guest:  Supriya Desai

supriyaIn this episode, Supriya Desai, Principal at ASC* Advisory, shares why in today’s global business environment – characterized by volatility, uncertainty, chaos and ambiguity – we must step up our role as change practitioners to develop our organizations to be change-agile.


Using the Power of Conversations to Influence Change

Guest:  Ankit Patel

ankitIn this episode, Ankit Patel, Managing Partner of The Lean Way Consulting, discusses how to use the natural information flows in your organization to influence change. Listen in to learn the different types of conversations that happen in organizations, and how to tap into them to get people talking about the right things.

CQ:  How to Develop Your Change Intelligence

Guest:  Barbara Trautlein

barbara trautleinWhat’s your CQ?  This month, Barbara Trautlein, author of Change Intelligence and Principal at Change Catalysts, joins the show to discuss the types of change intelligence and how to develop yours to become more influential at work.


How to Avoid and Manage Change-Related Overload

Guest:  Linda Hoopes

lindahoopesWhy does change cause overload? How can you tell when people are overloaded? How do you avoid overload? How do you help people deal with overload? In this episode, Dr. Linda Hoopes, President at Resilience Alliance, returns to the show to discuss the impact of change-related overload. She’ll share tips on how to avoid it, and how to manage it when you can’t.

Leading Change With and Without Authority

Guest:  Danny Peterson

dannypetersonLike many change agents, this month’s guest had a unique career path that brought him to that role. Danny Peterson was CEO of a large nonprofit organization. When he retired, he went back to work — this time as the Manager of Global Continuous Improvement within a Fortune 500 company. In this episode, we’ll explore Danny’s experience with influencing change as CEO and how it compared to leading change from the middle of a large company.


How to Measure and Maximize Alignment in Your Change Initiatives

Guest:  Michael Taylor

michaeltaylorEver wonder if people in your organization are really on the same page when it comes to change? In this episode, Michael Taylor of SchellingPoint shares a way to measure and maximize alignment in your change initiatives. We discuss why alignment is important, who needs to be aligned, how to tell if you have alignment or not, and what you can do when you need better alignment.

The Four Workplace Conversations

Guest:  Skip Weisman

Skip_LoResHeadshot-210x300In this episode, workplace communication expert Skip Weisman shares the four conversations that happen at work, three of which create low morale, low productivity and kill profits. Which one works? Listen to find out The Four Workplace Conversations, how and why they occur and specific strategies to move to the one “right” conversation.



Change-Friendly Leadership

Guest:  Rodger Dean Duncan

rodgerdeanduncanBestselling author Rodger Dean Duncan of Duncan Worldwide shares nuggets of wisdom from his book, Change-Friendly Leadership: How to Transform Good Intentions into Great Performance. Listen to hear what Dr. Duncan calls the Four T’s: key leadership behaviors that drive change.


IGNITE Your Communication Style to Gain Influence and Impact

Guest:  Debora McLaughlin

deboramclaughlinIn this episode, Debora McLaughlin, author of The Renegade Leader and and Running in High Heels, joins the show to share her easy to remember I.G.N.I.T.E. model for increasing your influence and impact at work. Listen in to also learn how communication impacts your influence, and how you can evaluate whether you might need to alter your communication style.


Would you like to be a guest on The Change Agent’s Dilemma?  Please contact me for more information.

Interview: IGNITE Your Communication Style to Gain Influence and Impact

In this episode, Debora McLaughlin, author of The Renegade Leader and Running in High Heels, joins the show to share her easy to remember I.G.N.I.T.E. model for increasing your influence and impact at work. Listen in to also learn how communication impacts your influence, and how you can evaluate whether you might need to alter your communication style.

Listen to the show here (30 minutes):

Be sure to visit the radio show page to listen to past episodes and subscribe to the show.

How to Implement a Change You Don’t Even Like

One of Enclaria’s training programs is Leading Your Team Through Change, a workshop to help leaders effectively leverage their authority to influence change within their teams. During a recent session with senior leaders of a large organization, one of the participants interjected, “What if we don’t like it ourselves?”

It’s not enough to know what you need to do to implement change. One of the things that can prevent us from effectively leading and managing change is our own personal resistance to it. Sometimes we avoid doing what we need to do to move the change forward because we don’t like it ourselves. Or, we don’t like what we have to do to make it happen. You know what you should do, but something is holding you back from turning it into action.

frownie faceHow can you resist the very change you’re trying to implement? You might not like it because:

  • The project was started higher up in the organization, and while you’re responsible for implementing it, you would not have chosen to do it.
  • You spoke out against it or argued for some elements to be different, but the outcome was not what you advocated for.
  • In your quest to invite others to participate in the design of the project, it has morphed into something you don’t recognize.
  • The change will negatively impact people, and you don’t want to be the one to cause the unavoidable pain and frustration.
  • You just think it’s a bad idea and it won’t work.

Unfortunately, whether conscious or unconscious, the desire to see the change fail can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you secretly want it to fail, you will find a way for it to not work. If you doubt it will succeed, you will look for proof and act in ways that support your prediction. So, if you’re responsible for making the change happen, it’s imperative to acknowledge your own resistance and find ways to overcome it. Otherwise, you may unwittingly sabotage the project, and perhaps along with it, the organization and your career.

How do you know you’re resisting your own change initiative? For one, you start doing things you wish other people wouldn’t do when you’re implementing change: You avoid working on it, you procrastinate, and you find excuses. You also feel yourself wanting to fight, run or hide when you think or talk about it. You may wonder whether the organization should be undertaking this initiative at all or doubt your own ability to get it done. Besides relying on your own self-awareness, ask others to let you know when you do or say something that seems to contradict the change, as that may be an indicator that you’re not fully on board.

What can you do to influence a change you don’t even like? How do you reduce your own resistance to change and implement it effectively anyway?

Gain clarity. Even though you’re the change agent, if the change was instigated somewhere else in the organization, it may not have been communicated to you well. The real “why” is probably missing. Ask for the full story behind the decision to implement the change, so you can gain understanding yourself and potentially find a new source of personal motivation.

Understand your resistance. Look inside to discover the true source of your discomfort. What will you lose as a result of this change? What personal characteristic or skill (or lack thereof) seems like an impediment? What are you afraid might happen when this is implemented? What would have to change about the project for you to be comfortable implementing it? Where do you just need to get over yourself and out of your own way? Understanding your own reaction will help you identify any gaps than need to be filled, both organizationally and personally.

Influence what you can. If you are concerned that the project will not be implementable in its current form, then it’s your responsibility to speak up and turn it into something that can succeed. Ask for the resources you’ll need to support it adequately. Even if it doesn’t go your way, at least you’ll know you tried. And then you can move on to…

Make the best of it. If the project “is what it is,” then let go of the aspects you can’t control. The good news is you can choose your attitude and spin it positively for yourself. Challenge yourself to influence the change in spite of its shortcomings. See it as your opportunity to make the experience better for people than if you weren’t involved. How can you see the change from a different perspective so it feels like a good thing? Consciously choose not to become a victim of the circumstances.

You won’t always get dream projects to work on. And there will be some you don’t want to do for a variety of reasons. But mastering your own resistance and succeeding with the uncomfortable projects can be the ultimate confirmation of your ability to influence change at work.

Interview: Change-Friendly Leadership

Bestselling author Rodger Dean Duncan of Duncan Worldwide shares nuggets of wisdom from his book, Change-Friendly Leadership: How to Transform Good Intentions into Great Performance. Listen to hear what Dr. Duncan calls the Four T’s: key leadership behaviors that drive change.

Listen to the show here (30 minutes):

Be sure to visit the radio show page to listen to past episodes and subscribe to the show.

Prerequisites for Change Adoption

About twenty years ago, I was an engineering co-op student at Delco Electronics (now Delphi), an automotive electronics company that at the time was a subsidiary of General Motors. One summer, the company put on a Technology Expo to show off all the futuristic technology they were developing. They needed help with some of the demonstrations, so naturally, we interns were asked to volunteer.

One of the cars featured in the Expo was a Geo Metro sedan (remember those?) that had been converted to an electric car. The battery took up the entire space under the hood and the trunk. After the Expo they let me drive it. I remember it was so weird that all you could hear was the tires on the ground. And I felt so cool to be driving it, even though it couldn’t go very fast.

Fast-forward twenty years later, and last weekend, I bought my own electric vehicle! And yet even though I saw it in action twenty years ago, it still feels like I’m driving this futuristic technology. It has me thinking:  Why has it taken so long for EV technology to take hold as it’s just barely starting to now? And what can it tell us about some of the prerequisites for change adoption?

full batteryMeet Minimal Expectations

First of all, this “souped-up” Geo Metro was anything but. In order to use the minimal amount of energy, it had no power anything – steering, windows, zip. I don’t even think it had air conditioning. And it had a manual stick-shift transmission. For this new technology to be accepted, it at least would have to support all the things people have come to expect as standard on vehicles today. Taking away things that are considered basic amenities isn’t going to fly with most people.

Ensure Feasibility

Even at their current maximum driving range, an electric car is not for anyone who typically drives long distances. In fact, there will be times I’ll need to trade cars with my husband to make sure I can get where I’m going (and back). In some parts of the country, including here in Atlanta, an infrastructure of charging stations is becoming more widespread. With my current driving patterns, the growing number of places to charge the car, and the ability to borrow another car if needed, it was feasible for me to get one.

Make Value Greater Than Cost

I’m pretty sure that first electric Geo Metro cost millions of dollars in design and development. The cost of the technology (or change) must be low enough for people to accept it as a good trade for the value they are getting. Even today, electric cars are still expensive compared to similar gas-powered versions. The electric car I bought this weekend had a sizable manufacturers rebate and a hefty income tax rebate, making it much more affordable and even less than the cost of an equivalent gas-powered car. Since I had the desire to drive one, and the driving patterns that would make it feasible to own one, and the need to get rid of my old car, the incentives made the decision a no-brainer.

Add Social Proof

When I started to consider getting an electric car, I started seeing them everywhere. Since other people had made the switch to electric, I figured I could too. Seeing others driving the car not only made it safe, but made me realize if I wanted to be on the early adoption side of the curve, I would have to hurry up!

Connect to Values

I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist, but I’ve had an awareness and desire to make earth-friendly decisions since high school. I try to recycle as much as I can, I use reusable grocery bags, and little things like that. I am concerned about the future of our planet. The electric car is an opportunity for me to make a bigger statement in that regard.

We make decisions every day at work and in life that can help us understand how people adopt change. What are some of the prerequisites you would add to the list based on your own experience?