Women in tech - how to banish imposter syndrome and get comfortable with self-promotion

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett June 23, 2023
Advice from three women leaders in tech at Contentsquare's Circle CX London event.

Circle CX women in tech event
(Circle CX Women in Tech event )

We should get rid of that term - imposter syndrome.

So says Niki Hall, CMO at Contentsquare, when asked how women can get over their fear of not being good enough. We need to banish use of the term to stop being hampered by imposter syndrome.

Hall, who worked for Cisco and Polycom among others before joining Contentsquare, has been at the mercy of imposter syndrome plenty of times. She recalled her first role as a CMO, when she was the only female in the boardroom. The all-male board also all happened to be golfers.

I don't golf. I felt like I didn't have much of a voice.

Experiencing imposter syndrome

In those times, Hall often leans on the advice of Sheryl Sandberg. In this case, the lesson was believe in yourself and the ideas you can bring.

We were hired for a reason, for our opinions. Diversity of opinion creates better outcomes.

When I say we should get rid of the idea of imposter syndrome, it’s because we all add value and that's why we all have the jobs we have. We just need to get out of our own way, believe in yourself and assert yourself politely. Sometimes females are called aggressive when actually they're just being super assertive.

But for now, imposter syndrome is all too real. Liz Clow, Chief Product Officer at Memmo, admitted to having imposter syndrome speaking at the Contentsquare Circle CX event in London.

I said to a couple of my colleagues earlier, I'm nervous. It happens, it's real. I don't hide behind that.

Throughout her career working in the tech sector, Clow has experienced many times being the only woman in the room, or one of only a few.

But I've realized once you are in that room, once you're having those conversations, your opinion is just as valid. You've got just as much to bring to the table. It's about giving yourself a kick and encouragement to say, actually I deserve to be here.

Clow’s son is now 18, but when she first became a working mom, she had to go home at certain times for childcare reasons; not all her male colleagues had to do that. Clow was aware that a lot of conversations were happening in the pub after work, and from people joining football clubs together.

There were definitely times where I felt that I was missing out, or not part of that conversation. That was hard and that was frustrating. Things are changing, but I'm sure there are a lot of working moms and working parents who still see some of that now.

Speaking up

For Lauren Walker, Managing Director at Accenture, her imposter syndrome was brought on by the realization that it’s not always ability and achievement that counts in your career. Walker was someone who always liked school and worked really hard, under the assumption that if she got good grades, everything else would follow.

I was very meritocracy-oriented. Then you work in some companies where it's not a meritocracy, it's politics and you think, I'm doing a really good job, what's going on? You start to question, am I good enough? Maybe I'm not, maybe I have this false belief.

In her 10 years working at IBM, Walker learned a vital lesson: just because you've done a good job, don't think anyone knows.

It's really important, especially for someone who grew up with this meritocracy mindset thinking - I've done a good job, of course I'm going to get promoted. No, there's a hell of a lot more that goes in on that.

Instead, it’s about managing different stakeholders, and ensuring colleagues and managers know your value. Walker adds:

That's why having multiple mentors from multiple different directions in your company is so important.

Walker has now progressed to a position where she is the mentor rather than mentored. In this role, she has made a choice to be herself - a white woman from America who has lived in the UK for 12 years as an adopted foreigner – but someone who is always trying to find ways to bring in new information and new perspectives.

I seek out reverse mentoring. It’s trying to keep me solid in terms of if I am doing something and I am being me, but maybe being me isn't as educated as I could be on something, how can I be a better advocate of other perspectives and other views?

Hall is another keen mentor, but has found that time can prove a constraint. Some of the people she has tried to coach and mentor have remarked they can’t fit it in. Hall adds:

I see so much potential in them. I'm like, just make the time, it's so critical. We only have 24 hours in a day. You have to make time for yourself. Make time for mentoring others and make time to be mentored, to be coached.

Self-promotion isn’t bragging

There was also advice on hand for building your personal brand, something that doesn’t come naturally to women who see self-promotion as boasting.

When Walker joined IBM, she received some good advice from a female colleague, who advised her to use her newness and ask for meetings with lots of senior people. Walker found this notion terrifying, but agreed to go ahead anyway despite feeling she had nothing to offer.

She said - no, you just finished business school, you have a bunch of stuff. They'll love the freshness of the ideas. I started doing all these little individual meetings and I ended up building all these advocates who then said, can you talk to me about that? Because you're telling me what's really going on in the company, and the other people who report to me sugar-coat it.

I had so much exposure to so many people or I was just saying, here's the good work that I'm doing. That built up my brand, not by me bragging, but by someone saying, Lauren, just go and ask.

Walker encouraged others to approach their colleagues and managers and share work achievements, as this opens up opportunities.

It's not about bragging, it's about making those connections and you're probably giving a lot more value than you think. The people who come to me and say, ‘Hey Lauren, I just did this project’, then you're a bit more top of mind when I'm looking at staffing projects or I'm looking at an event.

For those struggling with the notion of advertising their achievements, Clow recommended the #IAmRemarkable program. Aimed at women and underrepresented groups, it’s a short program to encourage and facilitate self-promotion. A key takeaway for Clow was that it's not boasting if it's based on facts. She says:

If you're telling the truth, if you're stating facts about your achievements, that's not bragging. It's down to all of you to promote yourselves. Nobody else is ever going to do it.

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