In 1984 37% of computer science degrees in the United States were earned by women. Today that number is down to 18%.
Why is that? Is it because of children? Can't be – both men and women have kids. Are women not as good at their job? I highly doubt that; an increasing number of women are now leading Fortune 500 organizations. What is it then – lack of support or mentorship? Low confidence? Or, maybe the corporate world is just an outright boys' club? I believe it’s a combination of all of these factors. I say this from personal experience over my fifteen-plus-year career. So what are we going to do to change the numbers? While I will be the first one to encourage you to go out and try to change the world, I will also tell you that you have to look within first.
I want to share something personal – an internal factor that's helped me in my career. It has to do with my tendency to question myself. It's about my personal journey to win against all odds, even when all bets were stacked against me.
Years ago, when I was in fifth grade, I loved to dance (and I still do). My dance teacher refused to put me center stage, even though I was really good. She put this other girl center stage and would often tell me, "You are not good enough." It wasn't until later that I realized this girl’s mom was a good friend of the teacher. Over the years, I unconsciously internalized that negative message for every challenge I faced. Every time I failed, I told myself: "I must not be good enough."
Over the years, for every challenge I faced, I unconsciously internalized that negative message. Every time I failed, I told myself: "I must not be good enough."
In 2009, I met a senior woman leader at the Grace Hopper Conference who diagnosed my predicament: I had impostor syndrome, a term originally defined by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in their 1978 article The Impostor Syndrome. In the article they show how professional women often believe that they don’t deserve their position or promotion – that they are “impostors” who could be shown to be incompetent at any moment. In fact, one study in the UK showed that two-thirds of women in the workplace feel like impostors.
Ever since that day in late October 2009, I changed what I told my fifth-grade dancer self. Now I tell that girl that I am good enough! Every single time I hear that negative voice inside my head, I yell a little louder. After years of being aware of my imposter syndrome, I have finally been able to overcome it.
Overcoming imposter syndrome will take practice and conscious effort, but I can tell you from my personal experience that it will be worth it.
That is my imposter syndrome story. But how many of you have felt that way too? We all have had experiences that have made us question if we belong somewhere, if we deserve that promotion, or if we are capable of delivering on that stretch project. And often that self-doubt leads to self-sabotage. So every time you hear that negative voice in your head, be aware and take aggressive corrective action. It can be as simple as asking the question that's in your head every time you are in a meeting. Ten times out of ten, ask the question! It's always going to be an excellent question. This is just one small example. Overcoming imposter syndrome will take practice and conscious effort, but I can tell you from my personal experience that it will be worth it.
I am writing this piece today because the D&I team asked me to share my thoughts ahead of the upcoming Women Impact Tech Conference on June 27th in Los Angeles, where I was invited to give a keynote talk. There are no words to describe how excited I am about this opportunity. The day promises to be filled with enriching encounters and fantastic networking. I invite and encourage you to follow the event at the link above. And if there is ever anything I can help with, please reach out. You know how to find me. I hope you soar.
Dublin's InspireFest lives up to its name. After attending the event, Gráinne T. shares her personal and professional journey from her times of self-doubt to re-discovering her self-worth, energy, and passion.
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