Working in the tech industry can definitely be tough, regardless of which specific field you're in. It usually takes several years of studying at university and undergoing training to secure a role in this industry.
It's been said that people in tech tend to experience imposter syndrome more frequently because the pace of change and innovation is so rapid. It's impossible for anyone to keep up with everything, yet we still feel like we should. Does this sound familiar?
For sure, impostor syndrome affects people across all genders but is more prevalent among women and other underrepresented groups. Moreover, in environments with gender imbalances or where individuals feel like minorities, impostor syndrome is even more common. A recent report by The World Bank revealed that women are underrepresented in technology-related fields. Currently, women hold less than a third of all jobs in these fields worldwide. In computer and mathematical occupations, women hold only 28% of all jobs. In engineering and architecture occupations, this number drops to 15.9%.
This trend is not limited to developing countries. Even in the United States, the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) labor force comprises only 23% of the total U.S. labor force. The European Union fares no better. Women make up just 17% of the ICT (information and communication technology) sector, highlighting the need for greater gender diversity in technology-related fields globally.
The underrepresentation of women can lead to feelings of impostor syndrome, a debilitating feeling that one is undeserving of their accomplishments, despite objective evidence to the contrary. That’s why this column is dedicated to the issue of imposter syndrome of women in tech. I would like to share my own experience and some cases I’ve analyzed during my 10-year career as a team lead within a few companies and organizations. So, let me share my observations from the experience of managing teams with a total number of more than 100 people.
Balancing criticism and praise or What's good is good
As a leader, it's important to give feedback that's specific and concrete. When you simply say things like "Great job!" or "You're doing great," it's not very helpful for the employee because they don't know exactly what they did well. Without specific feedback, it's hard for them to know how to replicate their success in the future. This can actually make them feel less secure in their role, so it's important to be as clear and detailed as possible when giving feedback.
During candid 1-1 meetings, we can often hear from team members:
"They praise me just out of politeness", or "I know: it's a corporate culture that forces managers to praise employees, but I feel worthless”.
As a leader, I consistently strive to be firm and fair. This means my team can count on me to always give feedback that includes what went right, specifically, and where they can continue to level up, specifically. I communicate with each member of my team individually and try to find the words that a person will get sincerely. My way is to praise with specific examples of why a person is great, and what exactly she or he did right. Thus, there is no place for underestimation of one's own importance.
On the other hand, it is vital to praise a person in front of the whole team. Recently, it turned out that there are very few leaders who praise team members in front of everyone.
In my opinion, fair praise and honest feedback help people to overcome imposter syndrome. You know, that synthetic sandwich of good-bad-and-good, is totally not my cup of tea.
Give laurels to specific team members
People with impostor syndrome most often do not appropriate their own successes. They are more likely to attribute their successes to the luck or help received from others. I had a case when one employee always said that this is a well-done team, praised others, etc. Initially, it seemed friendly, but later I began to notice a clear fear and impostor syndrome in this team member.
Thus, it is better to always emphasize what part of the common project a specific person made. I try to highlight the specific contribution of each member of the team to overall success. It sounds more convincing than just saying — everyone tried for fame.
Own example: You are not alone
Most often, when I tell the team that I have impostor syndrome, they do not believe it, because it always seems that only you have this problem, and definitely none of the leaders has it.
On one occasion, it helped me a lot when a woman whom I perceived as a role model shared her story of how hard it is for her to overcome herself every time during public speaking, even though she is a world-class speaker.
Now, I always say openly about my experience and point out examples of real successful people who talk about their impostor syndrome.
Sharing personal experience also creates an open environment for discussing problems. Sometimes employees do not say that they cannot do something or that they have never done it, so as not to seem unqualified. But if we know that no one is perfect, it helps in moving forward. I do believe that a sense of belonging can foster confidence.
In my current role at Innovecs, I am glad I have an opportunity to share my experience, and, what’s even more important — to absorb new knowledge and opinions from the women leaders in the tech industry during our open events. This helps me to know that I am not alone. Thanks to the discussion panels we organized here, I have a great chance to learn how to overcome imposter syndrome by listening to the stories that the speakers describe.
Don't be a perfecter: Done work is better than perfect
Often we are so demanding on our work and ourselves that the team becomes stressed under the yoke of perfectionism and eventually stops doing anything at all, because it still won’t be perfect enough.
And here, first of all, I want to tell leaders: just stop believing that if you do not succeed in all aspects of your work, you will fail at everything. Facing challenges and losses is a key part of growing, so recognize that you don't have to be good at everything.
In conclusion, as leaders, our contributions play a crucial role in creating an inclusive and supportive workplace for women. It requires courage and attentiveness to think and act boldly in building an environment that fosters a sense of belonging for women on our teams. Let us strive to create more supportive and transparent workplaces.