Owning Your Story and Finding Your Voice

I’m a young, blonde female with a communications degree at a small, startup software company.

I look around the table and every seat is taken by an older, experienced, highly-technical male. We’re discussing a new product and how it works. A year with the company and I have so many questions that I’m still too intimidated to ask. My youth, my gender, my background and even, God forbid, the color of my hair, make me stick out like a sore thumb.

Every piece of input I’m brave enough to give has a qualifier:

“I mean…I’ve never done this before but….”

“Um, I know I’m not technical but….”

“You know, I realize it’s just marketing but….”

How many times as women, and especially women in technology, do we do this? Qualify our questions and statements with our perceived shortcomings? Or preemptively throw those shortcomings out so that we appear wise enough to acknowledge them before other people do?

It’s exhausting and believe me – if you tell people you are not good enough, they will believe you. Every time. And I left that job feeling exactly that – not good enough. Partly it was the culture, but a lot of it was me.

After that I job I had the opportunity to join another startup company, where again, most of the seats were relegated to very smart men. But this time was different. In the interview process, each of the founders I interviewed with made one thing very clear – if I were to get hired, it would be because of my unique skill set, my combination of qualities that no other candidate possessed. They would be hiring me to assert my opinions, give my perspectives, question the status quo, try new things, fail fast. This philosophy was not just interview foder – it played itself out in the culture of the company every day.

Here’s a news flash. When companies hire you, they know your shortcomings. Your resume screams loud and clear the tier-two university you went to, the degree you do or don’t have, the number of years you’ve worked, how many jobs you’ve burned through in the past. You know what? They hired you anyway.

I was lucky in my second startup experience – that self-identity and acceptance were part of the culture. In fact, this band of unique, quirky, accepted people built a company that was sold for millions. They still remember that startup as some of their best work experiences. I know that I am still grateful for the times we had and the lessons I learned.

Seems like this should be Management 101. Unfortunately, it’s most of the time not the case. And we, as women, and men for that matter, need to take personal responsibility for building our own confidence. Accepting ourselves despite it all. No qualification.

Own that you paid your own way through that tier-two school and the grit and determination it taught you.

Own your lack of experience and how it gives you a fresh perspective that those who have worked for many years have lost.

Own that you have no idea how a piece of technology works and how that makes you even more equipped to ask the right questions that will make the rest of the world understand it.

Own that you’re a mom who seeks work life balance and that makes you more productive in every hour than ten people your size.

Not every business or every manager is going to acknowledge your unique set of qualities. So, you need to do it. Stop qualifying. Don’t apologize. Accept yourself. Be proud. Do the big things that only you can do. If you are working in a place that doesn’t encourage that, find somewhere new where you can flourish… as you.

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