Archive for the 'Women in the Workplace' Category

Me, Myself, & My Imposter Syndrome

Courage. What does it mean to have courage? Someone told me a few weeks ago – in the context of some major changes I was about to make to my IT org (more on that in a future post) – that I was courageous. I sure don’t feel that way.

If I were truly courageous, I would have written this post many years ago. I’ve alluded to it on this blog since this post in 2011. But I’ve been afraid. The time never seemed right.

In the midst of my job search certainly wasn’t the right time. What if they read this post and didn’t think I could do the job? And then there was the restructuring of IT at SNC…I needed to instill confidence in my team. And then one thing led to another, and another search, and a new job, and another reorganization. I need to prove myself, instill confidence…

…but always, in the background, I have doubt.

What if my previous successes were pure dumb luck? What if I’m not making the right decision(s)? Is this really my strategy, or am I just parroting people much smarter than me? What makes me qualified to do this job? Surely, sooner or later, someone will figure out that I’m a fraud.

Perhaps not surprisingly, women like me disproportionately suffer from this sense that they don’t belong, or that their success is a fluke…

…unlike men, who tend to own success as attributable to a quality inherent in themselves, women are more likely either to project the cause of success outward to an external cause (luck) or to a temporary internal quality (effort) that they do not equate with inherent ability.

The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women

…and this notion is reinforced in subtle (and not so subtle) interactions we have nearly every day. Like when the salespeople come calling, and speak directly to my male subordinates as if they are the sole authority and decision-maker, even when I’m in the room. And when I speak in a room full of men, and my idea is ignored completely — as if I had not uttered a word — or attributed to the next male who speaks. Or when my well-intentioned colleagues warned me that my pedigree might not be “good enough” for the elite institution that I was applying to, and for which I now work. Their cautions were sincere, and likely true, but only served to make me question my own value and capabilities even further.

I spent the entire first year of my first CIO job apologizing for my title. Yes, I was the CIO. But I wasn’t *really* a CIO. And not because I thought CIOs were a bad thing to be. But I really couldn’t imagine what qualified me to do the job.

So yes, this so-called “imposter syndrome” is a *thing*. A very real one. And while there have been a number of articles written about it, it’s something that we just don’t talk about. Except perhaps in hushed tones and behind closed doors. Like it’s a dirty little secret.

But no more. It’s time to be loud and be proud. Be courageous. Out ourselves.

Maybe in talking about it more openly, we can combat it. Amplify each others’ voices. Remind each other, and ourselves, that this feeling is not reality. Coach and mentor a generation of women coming behind us to recognize and quell their doubts — or better yet, not doubt themselves to begin with.

As for my own doubts…

Am I an imposter? No. Do I often feel like one? Yes. But that does not make it so.

A Focus on Success

I read about new research recently that looks at why some black men succeed in college. As a research question it seemed a little odd and overly vague to me, but after reading a little bit more about it, I was intrigued.

We’ve all heard the stats — black men make up a painfully small percentage of undergraduate students, and (at least in some parts of the country), a young black man is more likely to be in prison than in college. <sigh> But some black men DO go to college, and succeed there. The researcher (Shaun R. Harper, Ph.D.) decided to focus here — on the success stories — to see if there were identifiable and replicable factors in these successes, instead of continuing to perpetuate a black-men-as-college-failures narrative that helps to “shape America’s low expectations for black men.”

I get where Dr. Harper’s coming from. In the IT world, you don’t have to look too closely to realize that there is a serious shortage of women (and minorities) in the profession. And there’s no lack of discussion about the reasons (some valid, some not-so-much)  — women aren’t good at math and science, it’s a pipeline problem, the demands drive women of child-bearing age out, there’s a lot of sexism, it’s an image problem, and so on and so forth. At every conference I’ve been to, groups band together to discuss the situation and talk about how to bring more women into the profession. But tragically, it seems that these conversations all end up at the same place — with women describing, to one degree or another, the obstacles they have faced in their careers.

At the risk of sounding terribly insensitive…I’m tired of hearing about this. I understand and empathize with my colleagues about their experiences, and the obstacles they have faced, and continue to face, in their jobs. I get it, because I’ve lived it. I’ve been invited to sit at the “big boys table” and had vendors treat my (male) subordinates with more deference and respect than me. But much like Dr. Harper, I would rather focus on why I (and others like me) *have* been successful, rather than continue to belabor our negative experiences.

In his research, Dr. Harper found that there were multiple factors that contributed to black men’s success, and I suspect the same would be true for women in IT. I know that a combination of good role models and mentors, an inquisitive nature, and an aversion to being told that I can’t succeed at something, are all ingredients in my recipe for success. What ingredients are in yours?

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby?

March is Women’s History Month, and I was asked to speak at a campus Women’s Club luncheon. Just provide a little info on yourself and your experiences, and then let the participants ask some questions, the club coordinator said.

So I got to thinking…what experiences should I share? Should I share the recent Obama report that says women have higher graduation rates than men, but still make 75-80% of what men do? I’ve had experience with that. Or perhaps the fact that women lag behind men in science and technology fields, and recent research shows that unconscious sexism may play a part in that? I’ve had experience with that, too.

I don’t want to portray a negative image of my own work experiences specifically, or the plight of women in the workplace generally. Overall, I’ve had a tremendously successful career and have been very fortunate to have many supporters, advocates, and mentors — most of whom were men. But I do want to be realistic, and the truth is that despite my many successes, I’ve had to wade through the sexism (inadvertent and covert, alike), unequal pay, differing expectations, and more to get where I am today.

It saddens me to  hear — from men and women alike — that we’ve come a long way, as if this somehow justifies the current state of things and makes it more acceptable. Really? Relative pay has increased at a snail’s pace over the last 30+ years, and we may actually be losing ground in the STEM disciplines. Perhaps we have come far in some areas, but not so much in others. And there are still, in the the immortal words of Robert Frost, “miles to go before [we] sleep.”

“It’s Because I’m a Woman” (Going *There*)

I’ve had a couple of run-ins with someone at work lately. I work in a small school, so I won’t go into the details…and they’re not that important, anyway. I was discussing it with another colleague, who, as it turns out, has had some similar interactions with this same person. Both of us had the same reaction – it’s because we’re women.

I cringe as I type this, and cringed when I admitted to my colleague that I thought that was the reason. I personally hate to go there, and am concerned when others do – automatically pointing the finger at gender (or age, race, sexual orientation, or other differentiating status that may be discriminated against) as the reason for someone’s behavior. What if it’s just a reaction to me – not *female* me, but manager, techie, smart-alecky me? Or what if it’s just his personality, and he would act the same way even if I were a white male?

I don’t believe that gender is an issue in most of my interactions with people, pleasant or otherwise. Occasionally, however, I can’t help but feel that it is. It’s not anything that I can point to specifically – it’s a subtle difference in how I’m treated versus a (male) colleague, or a patronizing attitude; it’s an undermining comment, or sometimes, an outright dismissal of my opinions and expertise. It’s all of these things, combined with that certain “je ne se quoi” that makes me *feel* like gender is a factor.

At the end of the day, I suppose gender discrimination, for me, is sort of like obscenity for Justice Stewart – “I know it when I see it,” or, well, experience it. So I’ve experienced it, and I’ve gone *there*. Now where do I go from here?

A Housework Benefit? Really?!?

Stanford’s Clayman Institute posted an interesting article to its blog today about the amount of time academic scientists spend doing housework — 19 hours per week, to be exact — and the impact of that work on job productivity. Their assessment? Universities should offer a “housework” benefit to enable women to spend more time doing what they’re paid for.

Seriously? I’m as much of a feminist as anyone, and deeply interested in gender equity in the workplace. And I’d totally *love* to have a housework benefit — I mean, who wouldn’t? But their argument that it isn’t a “good use of resources to to be training people in science and then having them do laundry” is a hard one to swallow. If that’s the litmus test, then really, is it a good use of resources to care for ones children, shop for clothes, or read a book for pleasure? If I gave up all of those things, I’d have a *ton* more time to spend at work. How great would that be? (kidding)

Yes, I get that women are disproportionally saddled with housework. I would think that single people of both sexes are, too. But is this really something that eats into one’s work time, or prevents someone from taking a demanding job? And isn’t the benefit of taking a high-level, professional job the relatively high-level salary that goes with it (which, presumably, can be used to pay someone else to do your housework)?

For me, the trade-off I make is not between professional work and housework, it’s a trade-off between housework and other ways to spend my personal time. Guess what doesn’t get done at my house, very often? C’est la vie…

@rclemmons on Twitter

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