I was given the briefing that I would be on a panel talking about my interesting workplaces from a woman’s perspective, the barriers and challenges I face. Other speakers were unable to attend and at the last minute I changed my notes to a more formal speech.
I have thought hard about putting this up here on my blog, and some details have been cut or changed to protect my identity. I have no interest in mixing my work life with politics as of yet, and don’t feel safe as a pro-choice feminist writing under my own name until the threats stop.
Please note that this was a short, superficial speech for a group of cis women who ranged in age from mid 30s to their 80s. Different generations of feminists, different belief structures, and different moral codes and as a result it is a fairly “safe” speech with a very basic gender binary terms used throughout. Good evening, and thank you for having me to speak tonight, my name is *
I am a registered nurse working in operating rooms, in a part clinical-part organisational role. I also write under a pseudonym for the feminist blog The Hand Mirror, I volunteer for a rescue organisation, run a book club, and have an unhealthy addiction to a Wednesday night pub quiz, in spite of being a non-drinker!
My first thought when Julie asked me to speak tonight was that I couldn’t possibly.
Why should I speak? I have done no formal study on women, or women in the workplace.
I’m not smart enough, eloquent enough, experienced enough, old enough, or educated enough.
And then I thought, actually, I really can’t sit around complaining about a lack of women speakers if I myself refuse to speak up about interesting things until I’m 50 with a PHD in EXACTLY what I’m talking about.
So to cover for this feeling of “imposter syndrome” I’m going to do a very superficial chat about things I have observed in my different work spaces, I will pop a transcript of this talk up on my blog, and link to references of people who DO know what they are talking about and their research about the stuff that I’m really only discussing from an anecdotal perspective.
Out of curiosity, in response to a compliment about your work, a task you have done, or being asked to be a part of something, how many of you have felt like “urh, they have no idea, I’m really just faking it, I don’t belong up here”
(The response to this was resounding, and we had a bit of a pause to laugh at how united we were in having this experience!)
Ok, so this may be something called imposter syndrome. In the original research it focused on women in the workplace, but since then, we have realised that anyone who has been raised to think their place is elsewhere is prone to this feeling.
As a teen deciding on my career I was told I would make a GREAT nurse. No one ever mentioned that I should go beyond a degree, or beyond patient care. I certainly never comprehended a role where I would be educating and mentoring, let alone the goals I have for my future in management, politics, and leadership in healthcare.
I have the privilege of working in a very strong female environment. This in itself has been a heck of an inspiration to me. The fact that several of the highest leadership roles are filled by women was fabulous for me. I then realised that this shouldn’t be exciting or unique in a job where the majority of the employees are women, surely the majority of the leadership roles would naturally be taken by women.
In my job as a nurse I feel quite confident. I love what I do, I’m surrounded by inspiring women, it’s a nurturing environment for career development, and thanks to the mentoring of some senior staff at a national level in the organisation I work for, I’m setting out to start towards my masters next year.
On the other side of the coin, I also volunteer for an organisation where only 17% of the volunteers are women, and those who are out in the field rather than manning the phones, doing logistics, or helping behind the scenes are even rarer.
It’s an interesting contrast. I work with a large number of men who are wonderful, and welcoming, and supportive. There are also a scary number who genuinely believe that women are less able in a myriad of ways, at achieving what they need to, to accomplish the job we do.
I have had colleagues deliberately give me incorrect information, hoping I would make a fool of myself; with the explanation that “I should know what I’m doing, and if I don’t, I should know to ask for more information” like that is some sort of brilliant learning experience.
I’ve been in a CPR course and when I asked a perfectly valid clarifying question, to ensure the whole group understood a point, a man talked down to me and explained it slower in exactly the same way, when he KNEW that I am a specialist registered nurse, yet somehow the fact that he had done a first aid course before made him more qualified.
I was told in class that because I had done well in a test one day I could be a
“because we let women be now.”
I’ve almost wet myself on duty because the male members of a team can pee on the go, discretely, and I was too stubborn to ask that we stop at a rest room, I didn’t want to be the one “holding everyone back.”
It took me twice as long as the men I was inducted with to get onto a team, and the explanation was given to me that “only one woman per team”, which turned out to be a blatant lie, and to this DAY I have no idea whether the guy in just didn’t like me, or whether it was my gender holding me back.
When I sat my first major exam I was told I “did well for a girl” by one of my particularly patronising colleagues.
It wouldn’t have upset me so much but I got 100%
ONE HUNDRED PERCENT!!
I didn’t do well for a “girl”. I did the BEST ANYONE COULD DO.
That made me realise I needed to stop worrying what people thought because the best I could possibly be, in their eyes would still be followed by “for a girl”.
Every day I step through the doors of my volunteer job I am 100% READY.
My uniform is correct, I have the right equipment, I’ve checked everything twice, I’ve reviewed my notes, and planned what I want to learn on my shift.
I think about what I know, and how I can professionally convey that.
I worry, that they will realise that I don’t belong there, or I will give them an excuse to hold me back. I worry that I would give some legitimacy to the claims that women don’t belong out there in the practical side of the organisation.
They are two very different work-places and I am two very different people at each place.
If I’m honest, I’m probably superficially a better employee at my volunteer job. I’m so scared of losing my place, or ruining it for other women, I try SO HARD. But I’m also twitchy, and when I’m asked a question I assume I don’t know the answer, rather than stopping to think whether I do.
I’ve been told I’m not good enough in enough ways, that in the back of my head my own inner voice has started echoing it. And this doesn’t make me a better worker overall.
At my nursing job I think outside the square, I innovate, I stick my neck out to take risks that have resulted in excellent learning programmes and quality projects, I work overtime, I go the extra mile, because I LOVE it. I know I’m good at it, and I know people know I am good at it. A bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy.
I think the important thing that has helped me, is realising that my “real” job has less gossip, less nastiness, less catty behaviour and less clicky exclusive groups of friends. It has a better learning environment, stronger mentoring, a bigger support network, and a higher calibre of expectations of learning.
And that is the majority women.
Women: The people my volunteer job tells me in a myriad of ways (very few of them directly) should not really be good workers.
Through working two very different jobs, I am learning what women bring to the work force, and the fact that because we are held to a higher standard, we generally reach it.
I am learning that I can choose the stereotypes I inhabit.
I am starting to understand that worrying about what other people think of me only holds me back, no-one else.
I’m also learning what women are doing to themselves to hold things back.
Please understand that I believe that systemic gender imbalance holds the majority of the control in issues like the glass ceiling, wage disparity, and lack of female leadership. But there are a few things we do to sabotage ourselves.
In my jobs I have had the responsibility of job interviews.
I have NEVER had to ask any male candidates about their role in a project, it is the primary information that they give as part of the spiel about something they worked on.
Often women will talk up a projects OUTCOME, and when I do ask about a female candidate’s role, it was a lead one, and yet they leave that out.
Please trumpet your achievements. Tell people. Write them on your websites, mention it in job interviews. If you are shy about it, Stick it in a brag book you can look through when you start doubting yourself again.
When asked about pay I have only had 1 female candidate in a job interview already have a number in mind. A lot of the time women aren’t getting less pay rises, we are starting on a lower salary. Why? Because your boss will pay you as little as you will accept, and if we don’t know our own value, why should we expect our bosses to?
As for worrying we don’t belong where we are, or we don’t know enough…
How many people have heard of the dunning-kruger effect?
Dunning and Kruger proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:
· tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
· fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
· fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
· if they are exposed to training for that skill, they eventually do recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill.
Next time you are worried that you don’t know enough, aren’t good enough, have too much still to learn. Don’t panic. That insight is probably a really good sign that you are starting to get up there in your understanding, because you know how much you don’t know– if that makes any sense at all.
So next time that nagging feeling in the back of your head says “I don’t deserve this, or I don’t belong here” please try to remember that most other people, especially those who have been raised to be put in a different space in the world, feel that way for some reason or another.
Now we have realised that huge numbers of people pushing up far above and beyond where “their place” is, lets continue sticking our necks out, supporting each other, and looking past where we “should be” to where we “could be”.