Recently, I was revealed as a finalist in the We Are Tech Women TechWomen100 Awards. Exciting news, and a real honour – but, as the hours passed after this announcement, I looked at the nominees on the shortlist and started to wonder: why? Why would I deserve a chance to get this award compared with the achievements of these other amazing women in tech?
I stumbled across this quote from Kristen Bell, “Comparison is one long, agonising death and does not interest me at all.” And it clicked. My imposter syndrome was bubbling up at the surface like a fizzy drink because I was comparing myself with others. Rather than looking at their achievements and my own as separate entities, I was assigning my own kind of score system of how deserving of a reward my achievements were – and the result was certainly not in my favour.
Under the microscope
So where did this case of ‘Do I deserve to be here?’ imposter syndrome come from?
I think there are a few things at play:
Setting aside my own personal things, I want to delve into points two and three.
Society’s expectations of women
Ever been called bossy, vain, selfish, high-maintenance, intense, self-indulgent, a diva, an ice queen etc.? These kinds of words can often be used to describe women who are leaders, who speak their minds, work hard, aim high, have high standards, are confident, call things out, and are openly proud of their achievements.
The patriarchal society isn’t a fan of women blowing their own trumpets though, so we get taught not to do it. We feel like it’s ‘braggy,’ yet you can guarantee our male counterparts will be shouting it from the rooftops and getting a nice big ‘pat on the back’ for doing so. Obviously, this is a generalisation: some men champion women and support their empowerment (but not enough of them), and some women are not afraid to be proud of their achievements (but, again, not enough of them).
Not to mention, there are women who are so used to having to compete to get noticed, to be valued, and to have that career progression, that they end up with an unhealthy competitive nature against other women. A determination to be the woman who breaks through, even though others might get diminished along the way. There’s nothing wrong with being competitive – it can be healthy and shows drive and passion – as long as you’re not putting others down in the process. Thankfully, there are many female cheerleaders out there, empowering one another and showing the rest of us how it’s done.
The weeds of sexism run deep in our society and we have not yet pulled them up by the roots. We need to challenge sexist stereotypes and behaviour as well as unhealthy levels of competitiveness. We need to let women know that heck, yeah, they should blow their own trumpet; they should lead, and they should keep those standards high – and be confident while doing so! I want to see women get the same ‘pat on the back’ their male counterparts do.
Gender inequality in the tech industry
Where are the female role models? (Clearly, on the TechWomen100 finalist list for one – but I only just found out that 195 of these 200 women existed!) It’s hard to see the wood for the trees when the female trees have such little coverage across the forest. If you think I am exaggerating, check out this statement from We Are Tech Women: “Just 17 per cent of tech workers in the UK are female, with even fewer in senior leadership – and our recent research with Tech Talent Charter and Ipsos Mori showed that one in five women are thinking of leaving the tech industry!”1
We need more female champions who are visible and who we can learn from. We need to see more women in the industry and, importantly, more women in leadership roles. I’m not just talking about managers; I am talking about CEOs and directors – the very tip of the tree. As the notorious RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsberg) once said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” I don’t want to have to specify ‘women’ and ‘female’ in my Google searches to be able to find amazing women in tech; I want them to be as visible and with as much precedence as their male counterparts.
We need to see women being recognised and celebrated for their contributions to the tech industry – and for them to be proud of it. Owning those achievements and encouraging others to rise and aim high. Kicking imposter syndrome to the kerb by seeing the achievements of others as separate entities to our own.
What can we do?
I will wrap up by saying how amazed I am by all the finalists’ achievements, including some I know well, such as the wonderful Caroline Keep. I am also proud of what I have achieved myself, and I accept that I have been recognised for it (and am very grateful). I will remind myself that my achievements and those of others are two separate entities and that comparison does not help me in any way.
I won’t hang out with imposter syndrome’s best pal – it’s a bad influence! I will instead make some space for the healthier pal: self-esteem.
1 We Are Tech Women (2022) Looking to level up your career? Join our summit. Available at: https://wearetechwomen.com/looking-to-level-up-your-career-join-our-summit-on-06-december-for-career-conversations-awesome-industry-speakers-networking-opportunities-more/ (Accessed: 06/10/2022)