GET EMAIL UPDATES FROM POWERTOFLY
By signing up you accept the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy
BROWSE CATEGORIES
GET EMAIL UPDATES FROM POWERTOFLY
Symantec

Understanding and Empathy in the Age of Imposter Syndrome

Partner Content

Below is an article originally written by Hanna Abruzzo at PowerToFly Partner Symantec Corporation, and published on August 20, 2018. Go to Symantec's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

If you want to support women in the workplace, any workplace, start by believing in them.

On my 11th morning at Symantec, I walked into the lobby to see a dozen young women staring at me. I knew why they were there. After all, it was only five years ago that I was in high school myself, and I've seen my fair share of "Women in STEM" initiatives. As I walked to the elevators and scanned my badge, I figured they were probably staring because I am what they were there to see: a young woman in a field that has few. I realized that I am now exactly where I wanted to be five years ago, when I was them. But now I am me, and I feel the same as I did then. I feel unsure.

As a member of Symantec's Women Action Network Employee Resource Group (SWAN), I was invited to share my story with a group of Tech Trek attendees visiting campus. Programs like Tech Trek are a great way to introduce girls to STEM at a young age.

Tech Trek Tour of Symantec's Culver City Office

After the SWAN event that day, I received an email asking if I'd write an article for our corporate blog. I said yes. Today, I received the first issue of the blog in my email, and opened it to see if there was a certain style I should adopt in my piece. Of the eight stories in the issue, three are specifically about how to be more inclusive of women in a technical workplace.

That's not the article I want to write. I don't have anything new to contribute, and as someone who's still clicking through each of those employee training courses, I know this audience understands on some level why Symantec values diversity. I want to talk about a topic tangential to inclusivity. A corollary, if you will. If you want to support women in the workplace, in any workplace, allowing them in is a great start. In my opinion, the next step is believing in them.

Imposter syndrome doesn't just plague women, of course. Feel free to add "and men" to any of these sentences if you like. However, isolation is a catalyst for such a syndrome, and looking around in a sea of men is one way to feel pretty darn lonely.

At a young age, kids are even more impressionable to failure. Being a smart or talented girl can be especially hard. The high schoolers who visited us are no stranger to that. Your coworkers are no stranger to that. Having boys throw tantrums because you're better than them can teach you to feel bad for succeeding. You should make yourself small. Or, you should never ever fail, because how will it feel when they use your failure to feel better about themselves?

Either way there is pressure and doubt. I saw that same doubt when I talked to the Tech Trek students. They were here to visit, but they wanted to prove to me that they had earned it. I asked the circle I was sitting with to tell me what they did for fun. The first girl said, "I'm on the robotics team." "No, I mean, what do you actually do for fun, outside of school and robotics?" "…I knit." They liked to garden, play sports, watch anime, learn new instruments, dance, read, and draw. Honestly, I was surprised by the number of avid knitters in the group. And yes, they also like to play with robots. But they thought they had to be someone else for me, someone who was extraordinary at school and lived, breathed, and dreamed science and technology. Many of them were shy to admit they didn't want to be engineers. One wanted to be a doctor instead. Only a teenage girl would be embarrassed to admit she wants to be a doctor. That's the reality of imposter syndrome.

A particular interaction that stood out to me, although the entire day was fun and inspiring, was afterwards, when one of the students came up to me and asked me about my experience being bisexual. What was college like? We both knew she was really asking, "Will I have to hide?" The intricacies of navigating life as a gay person is a topic for another post, but the point still stands.

Every day, for different reasons, people you work with ask themselves, "Will I have to hide?" "Will I have to hide that I don't like Computer Science even though I'm taking a tour here today?" "Will I have to hide my opinion in these meetings because my teammates will think I'm stupid?" "Will I have to hide that my coworker talks down to me and it hurts my feelings?" "Will I have to hide that I want that big promotion so my peers won't think I'm trying to rock the boat?"

I believe that if you want to be an ally of any minority, then answer the questions they won't ask. If you want to be a friend, answer those questions. Tell them you believe in them. Tell them you admire their work. Show them it's okay to be uncertain by opening up when you need help. Ask them for their opinion. Empathize and seek to understand.

Career and Interview Tips

How to Fake It Till You Make It in Tech

Partner Content

A version of this article previously appeared on Skillcrush, an online education program for creatives, thinkers, and makers that gives total tech newbies the tools to make major career changes.

Scott Morris, Skillcrush

One minute you're chatting confidently with your coworkers—throwing around jargon left and right—and the next, you feel like you've jumped into the deep end of the proverbial pool. Sheer panic. But don't worry: It's okay not to know everything, and—in fact—knowing what you don't know is crucial for success in a tech career. So how can you navigate conversations about new tech or industry changes without sounding like you're totally out of the loop—or pulling our editor's move of hearing unfamiliar terms in meetings and frantically googling them on her phone?

I asked four tech professionals to weigh in on faking it, making it, and how the two relate in a professional setting—and right from the jump, one thing's clear: whether you're a bootstrapping entrepreneur or working your way up the ranks of an established company, everyone has moments at work when they feel like they're totally pulling things out of thin air. But it turns out, faking it can be traded in for making it with just a little bit of outlook adjustment.

Mark Cook, Director of Marketing at ApplinSkinner, says that some of the most skilled tech professionals he knows still suffer from imposter syndrome. Since tech has so many specialized fields, even if you're an expert in one field (or many), it's a given that you'll find yourself out of your depth at some point, he says. A UX designer doesn't necessarily know the same things a front end developer does, and vice versa.

Cook's advice in these situations is to be proactive and treat them as learning experiences. If you find yourself in a meeting or conversation that's straying into unknown territory, be up front about it and move into question mode. "[People are talking to you] for a reason," says Cook. "You're there…because you [do] know about something." No matter how out of place or unprepared you might feel, you're still being asked to participate in that meeting,. interview, or chat. Lean on your own expertise in the conversation.

One way in is to ask about the comparative pros and cons between the new tech being discussed and the tech you're already comfortable with. That way, you can get information about what they're talking about while still contributing your own knowledge. It's also a way to be honest—asking questions instead of pretending to be an expert avoids the risk of coming off as disingenuous, Cook says.

Ask away, and remember that engaging in these conversations is also a career win. You'll always be learning, especially in the tech industry, and the sooner you become comfortable with that, the more successful you'll be.

Lest you think that this feeling only happens to beginners, Ellen Butler, UX Director at Happy Boards, says that sometimes it's career success itself—and the changes that come with it—that brings on those creeping feelings of faking it. At a past job, Butler found herself moving from Account Manager to a member of the UX team overnight. Because of her sudden position change and feelings of insecurity in a new field, Butler says she found client interactions particularly terrifying—it's hard enough to be in a new environment and feeling like an imposter among colleagues, but those feeling are more magnified and intimidating when you're expected to deliver for a customer.

Eventually, Butler says, being open with her team and trusting them allowed her to realize it was okay to tell clients, "Let me check on that and get back to you." Butler credits her co-workers with accommodating her newness to the field, and says they had no problem jumping in to answer questions until she got her bearings. In fact, Butler says it might be better to skip the notion of faking it all together. "Honesty is refreshing," says Butler. "So many of us in the tech world are entering from all kinds of different places: different backgrounds, different career paths, different educations. To assume we all know the same things is frustrating and short-sighted. The only way we'll all learn from our communal knowledge is by being unafraid to ask questions."

If asking questions doesn't feel like the right fit for you, you can try the approach that Jan Bednar, CEO of ShipMonk, takes. He does what you might call a strategic form of winging it. Take, for example, a moment when a client asked about his company's ability to integrate with the client's platform. "I knew that we could integrate with the platform, but I honestly didn't understand the mechanism that allowed [us to do it]." At a loss, Bednar started drawing a diagram on a whiteboard to walk his client through the process, and by the end, Bednar was able to articulate the mystery integration mechanism. The lesson here, says Bednar, is to recognize and accept those moments when you don't know something, and allow the things you do know to help fill in the gaps. Your path to understanding may be half-built, but it's also all you need.

Fake? You're as real as it gets, so if you're ready to put your hopefully newfound confidence to the test and hit the job search, download our free Ultimate Guide to the Perfect Resume. Just remember: Take a breath, don't be afraid to be honest, ask questions, or rely on the knowledge you already have to wing it.

Loading...