Posts Tagged 'gender'

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.

Once An Activist…

The notion of activism has been swirling around me for the past week or so.

I’ve always been an activist at heart. Standing up for what I believe in. Speaking truth to power. Privately, I lean *far* to the left and care deeply about issues of social justice, race, LGBT rights, gender equity, and more. Publicly, at work, I’ve focused primarily on advancing diversity in tech, especially gender diversity.

But lately, I’ve been asked — and have felt compelled — to do more. A colleague told me last week that I needed to “get involved” and “be an activist.” I have a perspective that needs to be heard.

The last two days have been difficult in Charlotte. A(nother) black man shot by the police. Protests. Riots. A protester shot and killed….and a state of emergency called. It’s sadly no different than what’s been happening in so many places across this country, but this one hits very, very close to home. My college community — faculty, staff, and students alike — came together in a moment of solidarity this morning. The message, from those who spoke, was clear. Solidarity is nice, but it doesn’t change anything. Action is needed. Be an activist.

I’ve always believed that those of us who hold positions of power have a responsibility to use that power for the greater good. It’s what I so greatly respect about Colin Kaepernick sitting/kneeling during the pledge (although, as a 49ers fan, I’m disappointed in Kaep for other reasons). And it’s why I advocate so repeatedly, and vocally, for women in tech.

But I can (and will) do more. I have power in my position, and power in my privilege. I stand with the #blacklivesmatter movement, and sit with Kaepernick. I rally against discrimination of any form, especially the hateful HB2. And I continue to advocate for #genderequity and diversity in all its forms within higher education and the IT community.

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?

Diversity in Desktop Support, The Sequel

On February 5, I launched a job search for two, part-time technical support specialists to join our user support team (see 2/9 post, below). Two weeks later the search is completed, technicians hired, and the gender diversity results are in — over 115 applicants and fewer than 10 women in the pool, total (as low as 6, with a few not clearly identifiable as male or female). That’s less than 9%, folks.

Our search netted some amazing candidates, and we were lucky enough to hire two of them. No surprise — both new hires are men.

It saddens me that there were so few women in the pool to begin with, and even fewer who came anywhere close to meeting the minimum qualifications. But diversity comes in numerous forms, and gender is only one of them. This hiring experience has caused me to reflect on the overall diversity of my team, including direct staff, student workers, and the extended team we outsource our infrastructure services to.

  • 4 staff members (including me): 3 men and 1 woman; 3 Caucasian and 1 African American
  • 6 student workers: 4 men and 2 women; 3 Caucasian, 1 African American, and 2 Asian
  • 4 extend team members: 3 men and 1 woman; 2 Caucasian and 2 Asian

So, in total, my team consists of 14 people, of which 4 are women (29%) and 6 are non-white (43%). Not great, but all things considered, not terrible either. When I think about the diversity trends in IT, I feel proud that we’ve been able to pull together as diverse of a team as this in such a short period of time (I’ve been here 6 months, and at the time of my joining there were no women on the team and only one non-white).

There’s more we can (and *will*) do, of course, but isn’t there always?

Only 6% Women in Desktop Support?!?

I posted a job announcement for 2 part-time technical support specialist positions on Friday evening, and by this evening–72 hours later–had over 80 responses, with more coming every minute. What was astounding to me wasn’t the overwhelming response (okay, maybe that was a little astounding), but the complete lack of women in the applicant pool.

Of the 80+ applicants, only 5 were easily identifiable as women. That’s 6 percent!! Even factoring in the couple of Asian names that I am uncertain about, the applicant pool is less than 10% female. Why?

Are women not suffering the same unemployment rates that others are at the moment? Are they less interested in part-time work? Or are women simply not well represented in the desktop support area of IT? Let’s hope if this is the case, it’s not reflective of IT overall. I know at my previous institution, there was only one woman on a desktop support team of ~13 (not including the female manager of the team).

I’m disappointed, and disturbed by this response. I’m a woman. I’d love to hire more (qualified) women. But with only 5 in the applicant pool, what’s a diversity-loving CIO to do?


Update 2/10/10: I now have more than 100 responses to the ad, and no more women. So now the numbers are looking like 5/100+. Geesh!

“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…

Welcome to the Club

While attending the ECAR Symposium earlier this month I was introduced, by my former boss and mentor, to a number of fellow attendees as the new CIO at Menlo. During one such introduction, a gentleman who didn’t appear to be much older than myself exclaimed, “Wow, are you the youngest CIO in the country?” I’m sure flattery was the intention (I know I look young), even though our country’s first CIO, Vivek Kundra, was only 34 at the time of his appointment (…but not *that* young).

About 25% of all CIOs are under 40, and only 10% are women, according to CIO Magazine’s 2010 State of the CIO Survey. So, as a woman who is under 40, I am definitely among the minority in my profession. The (probably totally innocent) comment about my age served as one of many reminders at ECAR of this minority status. Later in the conference, at a special session for California CIOs, I had a chance to observe the demographics of the 20 attendees in the room: 15 men (75%), 5 women (25%), and 3 apparent ethnic minorities (15%). Only 2 of the 5 women (2/20, or 10%) were CIOs/held their institution’s top IT position; many of the men did, however, their relative percentage is unknown. The average age of the group appeared to be (well) north of 50.

Setting aside both the small sample size and the rather unscientific nature of data collection, the demographics of this group were exactly what one would expect – older, white, men. This is my “peer” group, professionally speaking; except that, it’s not. Gen-anythings, people of color, and women aren’t truly a part of the club, yet.

It’s not that we’re not welcome to join, of course. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who has (purposefully) made me feel uncomfortable or unwelcomed. But as a whole, the “CIO club” is a formidable and somewhat intimidating group—around which I am often self-conscious about what I say or do for fear of either looking foolish myself or reflecting poorly on others in my age group/gender, as the (often) sole young woman in the room. The typical club member simply cannot understand the sensitivity I have to gendered language, or know how difficult it is, as a 30-something woman, to walk into a room of 50-something men and try to make small talk.

As a new CIO, I suppose I am now a de facto member of this club, but I don’t feel like I am an intrinsic part of it. Today, I’m an outlier. Tomorrow….who knows.

@rclemmons on Twitter

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