Being a woman1 in tech can be isolating. It can be hard to feel like you belong when you’re often the only woman in the room. When you rarely see a woman in a leadership position. I’ve found that this feeling of marginality inspires a need within women to prove themselves, which can then contribute to them feeling they don’t deserve to be where they are.
I’m grateful to be at a company that understands the inherent issues of tech being a male-dominated field. PromptWorks is dedicated to encouraging change with the help of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. This committee is hoping to make the tech community more accessible to a wider variety of people, such as women, by providing more opportunities to under-represented groups. Programs like our apprenticeship program and open monthly coding office hours (a part of the We Evolve community) are a part of this initiative.
A recent PromptWorks DEI initiative was sponsoring the Women in Tech Summit (WITS) this past April. An added benefit to me was that five other female colleagues and myself were given access to attend. I was excited to be able to spend time with these women as well as exposing myself to hundreds of wonderful women technologists.
This wasn’t my first WITS, however. I had attended five years ago. Back when the conference was in its third year and hadn’t yet expanded to its now five locations. Even though I was present in body, my mind was elsewhere. I’m actually unable to describe much about that first experience. What I can remember—all too well, might I add—was complete and incapacitating anxiety.
I don’t belong here. Everyone is smarter than me. I’m an idiot.
At this point, I had been working in tech for only six months in a field I had more or less fallen into, with relatively no previous experience. I had been feeling like a complete fraud. Feeling like everyone around me knew more than I did. Feeling like I had deceived my company into thinking I was a worthy hire.
I didn’t know the term at the time, but I was suffering from some pretty intense Imposter Syndrome–something most of us experience to some extent but is all too familiar for women in tech. Our “otherness” suggests that we don’t belong, and it can be next to impossible to ignore that messaging.
Simply fitting in as a woman in tech can be a daunting task. It can require us to change elements about our dress, behavior, and speech. Sometimes this pressure to fit in can result in ostracizing women altogether. Not to mention that this pressure can be even more severe for women of color.
However, feeling a sense of truly belonging in the tech space is a much more daunting hurdle. Brené Brown (esteemed researcher specializing in vulnerability, shame, and empathy) has a brilliant quote about belonging. About how in order to feel like you truly belong, you need to be able to be unabashedly you. In this case, unabashedly female:
Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.Brené Brown
Five years ago at WITS, I barely felt like I fit in. This year, I sensed the very beginnings of belonging: I was able to engage, I felt comfortable enough to ask questions in front of hundreds of people, and most importantly, I finally felt like I wasn’t wrong for being included.
So what changed? How did my Imposter Syndrome go from a roaring hurricane to a light spring drizzle?
Well, there were several factors:
This was certainly the most helpful. Sure, it gave me opportunities to gain more knowledge and expertise, but it also gave my Imposter Syndrome time to settle down a bit and not be on such high alert.
I came to realize (and eventually accept) that no one knows everything. And that’s okay. It’s okay to have blindspots. It’s okay to ask questions to possibly address those blindspots. We all make our way through the world in different ways; there is no official playbook. Accepting this empowered me to proceed in tech with my own unique perspective.
I got familiar with anxiety and fear by consistently putting myself outside of my own comfort zone. This helped me to grow as well as helped to keep things in perspective. I’m now much more comfortable throwing myself into situations I haven’t been in before. I’m also much less afraid of situations not going the way I’d like them to.
And last but not least…
Luckily, I have been able to connect with so many people like me in order to share experiences and feel less alone. I’ve learned that the tech community, at large, wants women to succeed. Sure, there’s still a lot of work to be done, but we’re making some solid moves.
Because of events like the Women in Tech Summit, I was able to strengthen this sense of belonging. Because I no longer felt “other.” It is amazing to have experiences like these where you’re not the only woman in the room. Where you can see powerful women addressing hundreds. Where you don’t have to prove you deserve to be there. You’re just there.
or any non-male ↩