The upside of standing out
- Posted on February 24, 2020
- Estimated reading time 2 minutes
In my previous post, I talked about fighting unconscious bias as a woman in tech. People don’t expect a woman to work in IT. People don’t expect you to have a technical role. People certainly don’t expect you to be an expert. But in my career, I’ve also learned how increased visibility as a woman in tech can be used to your advantage.
While attending the first ever European SharePoint conference in February 2007 in Berlin, I got an unexpected and very last-minute opportunity to present part of a session. I knew quite a bit about SharePoint at that point, but the topic I was asked to present on wasn’t my area of expertise. Still, I jumped at the opportunity and did what I could to prepare. I thankfully got a lot of help from my manager at time. We need our allies!
When I got up onto the podium, I was literally shaking with nerves, but I did a decent job presenting and I loved it. I wasn’t the best presenter at that conference, and I didn’t do a full session. Had I been a man, my achievement would most likely have been drowned out in a sea of decent presentations by similarly unknown people. But because I was a woman, I stood out. At that time, there were even fewer female presenters at tech conferences than there are today. People had noticed my presentation and were talking about it. I got offered more opportunities to speak at other events and conferences, and as I became a better presenter, the opportunities got bigger and more interesting.
Just standing out is not enough, of course. As a woman in tech, you are more conspicuous than your male peers. If you aren't giving it your all, there is also a greater chance mistakes will be noticed. Being more visible makes it even more important to work hard, to be prepared and to be respectful of other people and organizations that you get to work with.
It’s important that we don’t let our fear of screwing up hold us back from making an impact. When we have the courage to share our ideas and to demonstrate our skills in an environment where we visibly stand out, we can use the extra scrutiny to our advantage. We can surprise and wow the audience, stakeholders and even competitors. As a woman in IT, step up to the plate. To be able to win, you have to compete. Go all-in and blow their socks off.