01 Apr Feeling like you ‘don’t belong’ in tech is exactly why you SHOULD be there.
There is some swearing in this blog, not much, but some. Apologies in advance for any offence this causes.
For the story I’m about to tell to make sense, I should introduce myself first. I’m Michaela, Director of Fancy Guppy. We help non-profits do more with digital – be it communications, fundraising, events, projects, or marketing. My own background is in the charity sector, in a number of roles including fundraising and digital comms. I set up Fancy Guppy to bring my skills, experiences, and passions together into one organisation – working on digital in the charity sector. Now I’ve told you the context, let’s get to that story…
I went to an event on digital transformation (I won’t give specifics about who it was run by or where it was, it’s not important). I was interested in hearing the presenter speak on the subject, and I knew it was a smaller ‘salon’ kind of event so I was also looking forward to discussion afterwards, in part because, doing what I do, I have my own opinions on this and I can bring a third sector perspective to the conversation. So, I booked a place and was looking forward to it.
The day of the event comes and I arrive at the venue, go into the room, and feel my stomach drop. Suddenly, I’m not looking forward to it, I’m worried, slightly panicked even. Because I realise I’ve done that really embarrassing thing of accidentally wandering into the wrong event. I must be in the wrong place, because the room I have walked into is full of older men in suits. And I am very much not an older man in a suit. I am a young woman in a cute dress and Docs.
I check, and as far as I can tell, I’m in the right place. So, I put on a big smile, speak to some people, even hand out my business card and take some in return. Basically, I fake it! All the time I’m worrying that I’ve come to the wrong event or that it had been a mistake that I’d been allowed to come along and any minute I’d be exposed as an imposter, and at some point someone will announce to the room ‘this girl shouldn’t be here!’.
To skip to the end, it was fine. The speaker’s presentation and the discussion that followed were as interesting as I’d hoped, I didn’t necessarily agree with it all, but nothing was said that I didn’t understand, and I did have my own points and perspective to contribute to the discussion, as I’d originally thought. Overall it was an interesting and useful event.
This actually happened a year ago, just after I’d started Fancy Guppy. But, this is not the first, nor the last, time I’ve felt this panic. I wanted to write this blog now, even though this example was some time ago, because it’s Fancy Guppy’s birthday. Yep, we’ve been going one whole year. And I still get this imposter syndrome feeling sometimes. Yet each time it turns out fine because I do actually know what I’m talking about.
So, why? Why do I feel this way? (and I’m sure I’m not the only one).
Tech is an industry dominated by a certain type of person – white, male, middle class – so when I arrive at events, especially if I’m speaking, I often find myself feeling very aware that I am not what people were expecting! What does that say about what we deem to be appropriate in this space?
And I can almost hear people saying ‘well change how you look then, put on a suit, take off the Docs’, to which I say ‘never!’ (seriously, they are really comfy!), and, ‘why the hell should I?’. Am I more qualified in a suit? No. Am I better able to do my job in a suit? No. Do I inspire more confidence in the people I work with in a suit? No (I work in the charity sector, we don’t give a crap what people are wearing, we’re too busy trying to get some shit done!).
And I’m not just talking about gender. Yes, in this example I’ve focused on that, but in telling this story I could have talked about the fact that everyone at that event was white, and able bodied, and middle-class, and worked in the private sector. I’m just talking about diversity, and the need for lots of different types of people to work in this area.
There are many blogs about the need for more diversity in tech. They make thoughtful arguments and use stats and figures to highlight the issue. They are important pieces in this conversation (and very interesting reads to boot). I can’t make the arguments the authors of those articles made any better than they’ve made them, they’ve done it fantastically already. But, I think there is a place for the kind of angry, slightly sweary point I’m making here. It’s not going to chime with everyone, but I don’t believe it will chime with no one either. And, I’m not saying this is all that needs to be said on this issue, of course not, I’m just saying it’s what I wanted to say on this issue. And I strongly encourage you to read other’s views on this subject and write your own (and let me know about your views and experiences in the comments below of course!).
So, to conclude, for anyone who isn’t quite what’s expected when you say ‘person who works in tech’, to you I say, tech needs us. There is strength in diversity. And fuck everyone who thinks we can’t do it! Here’s my rallying cry, for myself and anyone else who has experienced imposter syndrome – do not take off the cute dress and Docs (or whatever your version of that is)! You just keep doing you 😉.