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I’ve recently taken to studying, and hopefully taking and passing the LEED AP exam.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a certification program for green buildings. It’s developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), and it’s basically giving a project credits for following its recommendations. Enough credits earns the project a LEED certification. Passing the LEED AP (Accredited Professional) exam just tells the world that I’ve learned those recommendations and principles.

Although my core job is structural engineering, I’ve always had an interest (albeit not very active, like most of my interests) in sustainability. I had taken a course in building envelopes while at Ecole des Ponts, then another one on sustainable urban design at Todai. On a personal note, and especially in recent years, I have educated myself about the food industry and its impact on the environment, and generally try to consume less (meat, fast fashion) and better (organic/local food, quality products). It’s only natural to try and apply the same principles to my job.

Now, the risk is obviously to get distracted from my core career; but why would I be? 

The whole point of my job is multi-disciplinary collaboration. Architects, environmental engineers, they do their job as much as I do. LEED can only give me more awareness of sustainable building issues, but doesn’t mean this is all I’m going to do (and actually, I don’t really plan on using the AP credentials in the short term). Mainly

Of course, LEED is perfectible. Like any certification of its kind (BREEAM, and don’t get me started on HQE). If there’s one thing that US does right, is in writing their guidelines/codes/norms. I can tell you that the ASCE codes are much more digestible than the Eurocodes.

Now the trick is to pass the old LEED exam (up until 15 June). The new one is still a mystery. Wish me luck!

If that became laggy, separated in time, your own mental model for what you were doing would be broken, and suddenly we’d have a much more complex interaction problem to solve for the user. But if we could solve all the problems of the latency and the touch screen, the hardware problem, the speed of the graphics to move it, then suddenly we didn’t have to teach you because we created something that you could process intuitively. We tend to think how can we make it so effective that there is nothing to teach.
Craig Federighi about the iOS intuitive interface — BusinessWeek

Don't Let Your Career "Just Happen"

I found I agree on many points, and even much so as I am now in the position of being at the start of my career in a challenging, intense workplace, learning how to navigate it and gaining more responsibilities every day.

Our study found that women are less deliberate than men in their career progressions, thinking, “I will learn, grow, and build my capabilities,” rather than, “I will create opportunities to learn X and gain experience in Y to get to position Z.”

Sometimes management doesn’t have time to think about what you need to grow— they’re not your teacher or personal coach. I believe you learn by doing, and making mistakes, and taking responsibility for it — your superiors may not give you that responsibility in the first place, and you may feel like you don’t have enough experience to take it, but when the opportunity to try and show your worth appears, I think you should take it. While making sure that the managers are aware of (and sign off) any major decisions, I think you should always propose something to them rather than wait for their opinion or advice.

Those who want to move all the way up must create opportunities to understand how the organization works, how it makes money, and who its key people are.

This includes after hours drinks, but sometimes just chatting during tea time or checking up on the latest project news would suffice… I suppose.

Managers can help ensure the strongest leaders rise through the ranks, regardless of gender, by:

  1. Providing employees with an orientation to the organization and the business, and advice for navigating one’s career.
  2. Clearly defining the criteria and experiences necessary to qualify for key leadership positions.

We had this discussion with some of my peers recently. Being in a small-ish department in a much larger organisation, our team still needs to work out a clear career path for younger members that would clearly mark the end of our “Graduate” status, define “Senior” status, etc. Managers have a role to play although I believe that we are the ones who should ask them for orientation and advice, as they have others things to do than simply “manage” — I don’t really like to use the word “manager”, since in my workplace at least this is definitely not their only job; my seniors are more project leaders, and project managers are a totally different group of people who will have nothing to do with my professional growth… at least for now.

Women managers, of course, have a symbolic role to play once they reach the top, though many tend to shy away from it and hide family and “feminine” aspects of work-life balance. Please don’t. Be a mentor. Join women’s leadership groups. Show those coming up behind you how you prioritize, share your rationales for your personal and professional boundaries (yes, this means it’s OK to say you’re leaving early for the school play)

And it’s OK to say you won’t work on weekends even before a deadline, and to leave earlier if sometimes you’re going out with friends, because you have worked overtime the days before to make up for it. Not having a family or kids should not be a reason to overlook one’s personal life. 

Lean in — the book

Finally, I have read that book. Right after a tough time at work, I needed a little pickup and bought two books on women & work — Lean in, of course, and The XX Factor, which I have just started.

Based on reactions from the media, I was a bit wary of what Sheryl Sandberg had to say — among other things, that her agenda was to make her female employees work more for the same price. For the first few chapters I stayed alert, watching out for whatever mystifying trick she was said to pull out to convince us, little workers, to work more for the Big Business under the cover of feminism.

It didn’t last. A couple of chapters into the book, and I was hooked, nodding fervently at some passages, although my attention would shift ever-so-slightly when she started name-dropping (Sandberg did really work with high profile people, but was is necessary to mention every one of them?).

I could, however, understand why reactions were so mixed. 

Sandberg’s book starts from a simple idea: she’s just telling about the woman-in-business aspect of her life, dropping a few anecdotes and ideas along the way, because she feels strongly that women need to be encouraged to lean in. Lean in, not as in “working your ass off and dedicating more time with no more pay to your employer”, but rather as in “don’t lean back” (as in, “OMG what if I have kids in the next year, I can’t accept that promotion!”). She recognises the need for men to “lean back”, because men also deserve to have a work life balance and spend more time with their family. She recognises the doubts that many ambitious women have. She’s just saying that the current system won’t ever change if a few of us don’t reach the top, maybe at the cost of a few years of rushing and running everywhere. Or maybe we don’t need to be rushing and running, but just to be confident and not lean back prematurely.

From my experience, I feel that women tend to feel discouraged more quickly, and feel generally less confident about themselves than they should be. The book helped me, during one of my first harsh times at work, to take a breath before diving again, where before I was just desperately struggling for air. It gave me that kick to forget about my bad feelings and strive to become even better than I already was. (Yes, positive self esteem is also important from time to time!)

Make no mistake: this is a book that will irritate many of those who don’t invest themselves that much into work or career-related issues. Although Sheryl Sandberg constantly tries to deflect that criticism, by insisting that everyone knows what’s best for them and that she only tells one side of the story (hers), it’s clearly a book aimed at careerist women. (Come to think of it now, I wonder why I thought I would dislike the book!)

In the end, what this book’s media treatment has shown is not really that the feminist combat has not ended (isn’t that obvious), but essentially that there is no longer one single type of feminism. Women no longer make a single category; different social and geographic backgrounds make as many different segments in that broad category that engulfs roughly half of humanity. Even in the “elite” circles, they disagree with Sandberg; I recall the criticisms of Anne-Marie Slaughter — which are not unfounded. Even in my own social circles, each of us has a different view on feminism.

Hopefully we will find a consensual way to progress on that issue. Extreme positions hardly ever work out, in my opinion — they only polarize the debate, leading it to nowhere. The same applies to ethnic or other gender issues — the day that everyone is truly treated as equal will probably never come, and may not be wished, but at least if we could be more accepting of people’s differences.

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