The upside of standing out

  • Posted on February 24, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 2 minutes
The upside of standing out

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.

Kapildev Panchal

Dear Mirjam,
Its been long time I have been trying to find the time to write below feedback I had in back of my mind but couldn’t. Finally I have done it…
I have come across many leaders but none of them match your approach to think, design and execute the program.
You have been guiding me directly or indirectly through your mails, writing blogs about book you read and different way of connects…
Many a times I have lost the interest to deliver my best but all time I have found your guidance has helped me focused and always brings me back on track.
I couldn’t say simple “thank you”, as it wont be enough and never will be. I have learnt a lot from you and used the approach which has helped me taking sides for the good of my client even though it has affected me badly.
But at the end I am happy for the decision I have taken.
Its been great working with you and I wish I get a many more chances to work under you to grow leader like you.
Many thanks for all your guidance and being there all the time!!!!!    

March 9, 2020

Mirjam van Olst

Hello dear Kapil!!

Thank you for your incredibly kind feedback. I'm speechless from it. Of course I hope to be able to have a positive impact on people, but to read it so clear in your message is special. 

I have always loved working with you. You are open-minded and you are fully committed to your team and the client. To hear that I have been able to inspire you in turn now inspires me.
Thank you for taking the time to write this.


March 22, 2020

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