International Women’s Day Spotlight: Meike Chabowski
On March 8th women around the world will be honored for International Women’s Day…but instead of a day, we’ve decided to highlight our women in tech all week long. Tune in each day to learn more about the SUSE women behind the magic!
Name: Meike Chabowski
City: Nuremberg, Germany
Occupation: Documentation Strategist at SUSE R&D
Q: Tell us a little about you.
A: Would you have told me 25 years ago that I would work soon in the area of Information Technology, I would have boisterously laughed at you ;-). My educational background is “Master of ITE” – means I studied Italian Language & Literature, Theater & Mass Media, and Education. But somehow I ended up in real IT – my playground for the past 23 years. Roughly 18 of them I work for SUSE now, and a big part of those I spent doing Product Marketing for our solutions for “Big Machines”, such as IBM Mainframes or Supercomputers (which I am still kind of addicted to!). Until I decided to change something – and I moved to R&D, because the amazing SUSE documentation team “made me an offer I couldn’t refuse”.
Now I am a “Documentation Strategist”, and this just means that I am
• Trying to find new channels or “media” for documentation, to make it “less boring” and easy to access
• Helping to standardize technical documents across our company
• Looking at new options and possibilities to spread the word about what we are doing in documentation and engineering in general
In addition, I am responsible for a new documentation series called “SUSE Best Practices”, where we collaborate with subject matter experts on the creation of solution-based technical documents.
My biggest hobbies – outside work – are spending time with my family, traveling and getting to know other countries & cultures & languages, planning travels for others ;-), and dancing (yes – “dusty ballroom dance” – both Standard and Latin). I probably own more technical gadgets than my husband has shoes. I love dogs, I like snakes, and I REALLY HATE spiders! Enough info 😉 ?
Q: Who is your biggest influence?
A: Difficult to say. Influence happens rather unconsciously. I’d say my direct environment, parents, family, friends, even colleagues now did influence and are still influencing me. I grew up in a household with defined values, my parents were quite liberal but communicated ethical principles and _real_ Christian values (not as shibboleths but as “lived togetherness” – not sure if this translates?). I am sure that influenced me quite a bit.
Q: Who are your ideal female icons?
A: Well, I don’t have “ideal” female (or male) icons. But there are of course women who flash me, or who I admire at least for a certain character trait, or because they have achieved something amazing.
Honestly, my mom is one of them. My dad was a protestant pastor – more or less a 24-hours-job. My mom just worked with him on all things needed. She was there, 24 hours a day, for her family and for the parish. She always kept calm, had clear ideas, and acted accordingly. Other women I esteem very much are:
• Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school pupil and spokesperson for women’s right to education. During her pacific fight for education, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman. Fortunately she survived, and has become a leading spokesperson for human rights, equal education for boys and girls, and for women’s rights. During her famous UN speech she said: “I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.” Adorable!
• Amelia Earhart, the US aviation pioneer and first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. She was a supporter of equal rights for women and saw her role to inspire other women and give the confidence they could achieve the same as men. In 1937, aged just 40 years old, she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean when she tried to fly around the globe. I like especially her following quote: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward. “ She did this, and she lived – and died – with the consequences of her conscious decisions!
• Marie Curie, the Polish scientist who won a Nobel prize in both Chemistry and Physics. She developed the practical use of X-Rays and she also discovered two new elements, polonium and radium. She was ground-breaking with her scientific work as, at the time, huge discrimination existed against women in science. She became first female professor at the University of Paris! My favorite quote from her is: “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”
• Mother Teresa, the nun who devoted her life to serving the poor and destitute around the world. In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and became a symbol of charitable, selfless work. Very true words of her: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Q: How you define women empowerment?
A: First, it is not QUOTA! I hate those “women’s quota” discussions. Yes, diversity is important. But you cannot just enforce it naively via pure stupid numbers.
Women empowerment is much more. It is real equality in opportunities. It is true equality in letting women do what they want to do. If a woman decides to be housewife and mother – fine! Let her be it without discrimination. If a woman decides to become a midwife or a nurse – fine! Encourage her to be it without having in mind “traditionally female job”. If a woman decides to become a car mechanic, a software consultant, an astronaut – fine! Help her to get there without having in mind “this is nothing for women”. Women empowerment is building up networks for support. Women empowerment is standing up together against sexual harassment. Women empowerment is giving them confidence they succeed in what they are doing. Women empowerment is engaging for equal rights for everybody, male or female!
Q: Do you think it’s important to have an International Women’s Day?
A: It would be great if we would not need one … I fear in the Western Civilization it became more of “another day that got a meaning xyz” … I think we do not need it anymore for us. But we easily forget that, in other continents and many other countries, girls and women don’t have (the same) rights, don’t get access to education, and still are underprivileged. So – yes it is important – for them, and to make us aware of their situation.
Q: What did you want to be growing up?
A: Grown-up 😉 … And a famous dancer. After I was over that, I wanted to become a movie director, journalist, foreign correspondent. And after that, I thought I should be a politician or work for the diplomatic/foreign services to help change the world for the better, and have a big impact. Until I realized that these guys usually don’t change the world – but only their own wallet or mastery – for the better. Finally, I decided that, whatever job I would do, the most important thing would be to like doing it and to have some impact in my own tiny little world.
Q: What advice would you give your younger self?
A: Be a bit more self-confident. Somehow you’ll manage it anyways.
Q: Why do you feel it’s important for young girls to consider roles in STEM?
A: Girls – women – look at many things differently. They often have different motivations than men to do certain things, and they do them differently. Women change the communication style and the way of personal interaction inside a company. Women have fresh ideas how to solve problems (yes – probably partly also due to a different gender-based education). The number of jobs in STEM is growing rapidly, vacant jobs are hard to fill, good candidates are not growing on trees – and there are many chances for girls … .
Q: What would you say are the main challenges facing women in IT presently and how do we overcome them?
A: There are several challenges on different levels.
• Women usually need to reconcile family and job (well at least it will always be the woman to give birth to a child …). In many companies, it is still seen as a “disadvantage” that a woman could get children – and might not be available to work 40 hours or more a week, or might be gone for some months. And yes, also men would like to reconcile family and job. For me this means that, in general, we need more flexible job and work time models. And this should not be seen as a problem but as a chance – everybody could benefit from that to reach a healthy work-life-balance, more job satisfaction, more productivity.
• Equal pay for equal work has not been achieved yet – still a barrier in many countries.
• Regarding the “Western Civilization”, one recently raising and big concern I have is that the (in general well-intentioned) “Women in Tech”, “Gender Equality” and “Women Empowerment” discussions could kind of “backfire” if they are overstressed. I mentioned “Quota” before: there is already a tendency to call a woman in a leading position the “quota lady”. This would mean that woman did not get that specific position because of her skills and capabilities, but because the position had to be filled with a woman due to the required quota. Another example are counter-movements led by men that start to feel discriminated during job hunt or even on the job, and are convinced that women are treated better for forced reasons. Finally there is the risk that women are not taken serious due to “copycats” or “freeloaders” that jump on certain campaigns: a very current example is #MeToo – where a number of women speaks up against sexual harassment, but unfortunately other women already abuse this campaign for their own purposes to press money or boost their publicity. So we need to find a good balance to ensure that all the well-meant activities are not counter-productive.
• Regarding the “Developing World”, we need to invest much more in the infrastructure and good educational background in general, to ensure that girls and women start to get their chances in STEM.
Q: How do you relax after a stressful day?
A: “Chilling” with my family is one thing. We just sit and talk, or listen to music. My son plays the guitar really well – listening to him definitely relaxes me. Dancing is another thing. Of course you don’t do it every day. But it is fun and takes stress away.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your role and working at SUSE?
A: I really love the collaboration with many different people, be it during my work on the SUSE Best Practices where I cooperate with experts (from SUSE, customers or partners), on toolchain improvements with the documentation team, or on blog articles about upcoming or forgotten technologies with our engineers. They all are so experienced, they have so much knowledge to share – we just need to “get it out there”. I somehow have the feeling that I can still “get things moving”. We definitely make a difference here at SUSE – we just need to let “the outer space” know!! And I am in an especially privileged situation, because my SUSE documentation team is amazing – each and every single one of the team members – which makes it easy going to work every day.
Q: What advice would you give someone looking to start working in your sector?
A: Dare it! Express your opinion, while respecting others. Keep your eyes open, learn from others. Make your own decisions, and stand by them. Make your own mistakes, but don’t repeat them too often ;-). Don’t be put off by others that know everything better. It’s your life.