I’ve recently read “Lean in” by Sheryl Sandbarg she is the Facebook COO. A while ago I watched her TEDtalk and found myself really agreeing on it. Her book expands on it a lot and again has got me really thinking about how I conduct myself and the gender related issues especially in the workplace.
Ever since I entered this tech world I’ve found myself at a bit of odds. Me and my Co-founder Eugenie have a bit of a joke. You go a tech conference and all you see is white men in chinos, hardly any women let alone ethnic women like myself. So I already stand out like a sore thumb but not only that I’m also the youngest. Sandberg in her book describes the “impostor syndrome” and she really hit the nail on the head for me. I have the self assurance strength aka my fake it till I make it strength and it’s been confirmed my friends really believe in me too but inside? I feel like the biggest impostor. I’m the kid from East London who some how fell into all of this by “accident”. I use the word accident a lot when I tell my story of how I ended up co-founding Discoverables but now the more I analyse it the more I realise it’s my cop-out. It’s my way of shying away from the fact I did actually work really hard to get here and though I didn’t seek out this route it did seek me out to a certain extent but it wasn’t really an accident. I was however very lucky to have met Eugenie who was my agent/mentor when I was on the Spark+Mettle online coaching programme to have someone who coached and help me discover what I’m good at and then trust me by empowering me to be co-founder.
I remember recently I was at a round table discussion and I was linked up to connect with the other men in the room that were doing stuff around tech and employability and I couldn’t help notice the imbalance again of how “different” I really am. To be honest my differences, let that be my youthfulness (and yes I do play on being a young co-founder a lot) or the fact i’m asian and a woman is prob a huge asset in our company. Diversity is so important because your market is diverse, but when you keep coming across it time and time again, you can’t help but feel like an impostor. I would prob feel less like an impostor if I was able to find more relevant role models, I’ve been very lucky in life to meet extremely successful women who seem to have it all but they don’t come from the same cultural background like me so their struggle in their personal or professional life is not like mine.
The other thing that happened at the round table discussion was I said to one of the men “Oh yeah by next year I’ll totally have atleast 10 employers signed up and will bring in revenue” I said it with such self assurance (their goes my strength again) and I really believed it until I was met with a “What really?” all of a sudden inside a zilion questions were posed in my head. Did I just come across as cocky and arrogant? Maybe I should have just stayed shss but reading the book has shown me as woman we don’t sit on the table enough. We question ourselves more, and the insecurities kick in like they did for me that day.
Definition of success
Everyones definition of success is different. Some people look at me and think I’m successful I say I’m just happy and content and that is all I want. I’ve been on a “high” before and to be honest when I get to that point I can never enjoy it as highs only last for a short while before things tumble fast downwards (this is what happened to me last year and has led to me changing the way I think about life and plans a lot). Some peoples success is all about how much they earn, others it’s about how personal fulfilment they get. My definition of success is all about life. In the future I want to be earning a comfortable salary where I can experience things like holidays but I think the biggest definition for me comes out of carving out a work/life balance and this is the bit where I think I might disagree a bit with Sandberg.
I do believe as women we hold ourselves back but the reason behind that is simply to do with society. When I started to think about careers. I thought about going down the documentary making path but I just didn’t see that as compatible with running a family etc in the future and to be honest when I made one for my final year uni project I realised it defo was not for me. When I spoke to a documentary presenter about my logic she actually said to me that more people should think like that. I said to someone recently that “you prob think I’m mad, I’m 22 years old, single and already laying the foundations for when I settle one day and have kids etc” but you see to me that is my definition of success engaging in meaningful work that challenges me but doesn’t necessary mean that I’m locked in the office till midnight every night. We as a small company are great at empowering each other, we can work from home. I have 2 amazing working mums in the team, one in the new year will be working part time. It’s high quality meaningful part time work but honestly there is not enough out there and this is a problem with society. Big companies are still taking a while to shift their mindset to even simply letting their employees work from home including men so the idea of more and more job shares is still a bit far off.
I don’t think I’m “leaning” back by already visualising about my life with an imaginary partner and kids in the future and how my work will compliment it. I’d argue I’m just putting the foundations in place and thinking about it logically but until I get to that point, I do aim to put myself forward for stuff even if I feel like a bit of a impostor in the process. So I agree with Sandberg in one sense we do need to “lean in” more but when you read findings like this about maternity discrimination then really you see where the problems are and why women do hold themselves back. Saying this however working in a nearly all women company has shown me how it is women who will think about this stuff and be able to change from within so yes if you can then I guess you should lean in further but then the men should also challenge it too. What kind of world of opportunities do you want your sisters, wife or daughter etc to be in?
Part of the answer is supportive partners. I come from a very heavy cultural upbringing. Somethings I love, some I loath but the most amusing thing I now find is how I’m considered extremely intimidating, just because I’m a little bit independent in regards to my career. The most amusing thing about this is that I might be head strong in my work etc but when it comes to family and personal matters I’m quite traditional! Let’s take culture to aside and focus in on my faith. The prophet Muhammad (SAW) first wife was Khadija (RA) she was beautiful, older than him, wealthy but most of all a prominent businesswomen. They had one of the most beautiful marriages and the prophet was not intimidated by her but respected and supported her. A trend I see is the most successful women have the most supportive partners and amazing marriages. It’s just a shame that this doesn’t seem to translate in certain parts of my culture and the men just get a bit scared!
I started of this blog talking about the lack of role models but now I actually think about it, I actually have one of the greatest in my faith. I hate wasted talent and it’s why I do what I do but it’s much more prominent in my community because the women tend to lean back or might not have supportive partners. Maybe there is a social enterprise to be made in addressing this issue and who knows maybe this is something I could do one day in the future.