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A conversation on imposter syndrome, women in tech and the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion

overcome imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome impacts almost all of us. If you’re a woman in tech (or any male-dominated field) imposter syndrome can feel even more isolating due to lack of support and community. Lack of resources can significantly impact one’s career and opportunities for growth.

Recent research highlights that while engineering and computer-related fields are some of the fastest growing fields in the United States, women only hold about one quarter or less of those positions. (Techrepublic 2014). Furthermore, a U.S. female web developer makes 79 cents to the dollar men make for the same job (Deloitte 2015).

Felicia Jadczak, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of She+ Geeks Out, and I got together to discuss all of this in more detail. In this interview, Felicia talks about:

  • How to take risks when you’re not a risk taker,
  • How to overcome the “I’m just not good enough” feeling,
  • How she’s making an impact through her mission and working on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, and more.

Once you’re done with the interview, let us know in the comments: if you work in a male-dominated field, how are you finding support to move past imposter syndrome?

We also hosted a video interview with Felicia. Scroll to the bottom of this article to watch the video.

Without further ado, meet Felicia.

Give us some background. Where are you from, and where did you start out?

I grew up in Philadelphia, and also attended college in Philly. I graduated in 2004 with a degree in Comparative Literature (French and English literature) and a minor in French. I couldn’t find a job when I graduated, and more importantly, I was semi-paralyzed with indecision and fear about where to go, what to do, and what to look for. To put it simply, I was overwhelmed with the possibilities that stretched out before me.

I ultimately landed in New England working first for a small consulting firm, and then for Northeastern University. My job was to look at new technologies and inventions and make decisions on whether the university should protect the intellectual property. I spent a few years in technology transfer, and then decided to go back to graduate school so that I could get grounded in the foundations of business.

I graduated from Boston University’s Questrom School of Business in 2011 with a dual degree (MS in Information Systems and MBA), and joined VMware as a program manager in their CTO’s office, working on what they called innovation programs’. As part of my job, I started VMware’s first employee resource group for their female engineers. That led me to meeting my now business partner, and ultimately led us both to founding our startup She+ Geeks Out.

What is your mission, the work you want to do?

My mission is to help organizations understand how to raise awareness around issues related to diversity and inclusion, and help them move the needle on their work in this area. I am also passionate about helping make meaningful connections on a very personal level.

What led you here? Can you recall any experiences you had that pushed you to your mission?

In my role at VMware, I started to see how developing relationships (both internally and externally) could be extremely valuable and impactful. I realized that success was not just about doing your job well, but also about how did you work with others, and what was your relationship like.

I also remember for a long time not feeling like I was a ‘woman in tech’, and that I wasn’t included on the same level as some of my co-workers because I didn’t have a computer science background or degree.

What made me shift my views on that was attending a conference where I heard an engineer at Google speak candidly about her imposter syndrome. I realized that I was quite literally a woman in tech, because I was a woman who worked at a tech company in a technical role, and I had to stop sabotaging myself and start appreciating my strengths, which included relationship-building.

What challenges did you face along the way, and how did you overcome these challenges?

Imposter syndrome strikes again! I’ve relied on the support of many friends, colleagues, and mentors who have helped me to step outside of my insecurities, and who have pushed me to do my best.

At Work Bigger, we believe adopting a mindset of possibility can help you reframe your fears. What does living from a place of possibility mean to you?

I’m not really a huge risk taker, so living from a place of possibility really means stretching outside my comfort zone for me. There are a lot of opportunities that can pass you by, if you are not open to considering them—and going after them!

Can you recall a time when you shifted from making a decision(s) out of fear vs. possibility? What was that like? And why did you feel the need to make that decision?

When I was originally thinking about taking the leap into entrepreneurship, I was definitely really afraid. I was worried about losing my steady paycheck, my benefits, and the security that came with working for a large, established company.

I kept telling myself that one day in the distant future I would think about being part of a startup, when I was much further along in my career. I was pushed into deciding that I would leave VMware to work on She+ Geeks Out full time after having a conversation with my mentor, who really opened my eyes to what was out there.

I’d called her to ask her advice on two different internal job opportunities that were open to me. She told me, ‘I think you should go for the third option that you didn’t mention—quit and work for She+ Geeks Out.’

That really was my lightbulb moment. I got really excited and was ready to quit immediately, but had a wakeup call when I started to think about how I would pay my bills and what would happen once I stopped collecting a steady paycheck.

This resulted in my delaying that decision, and I kept pushing off the timeline for when I would leave to work on my startup full time.

What happened to shift my thinking from fear to possibility was the realization that there would never be a perfect moment where everything aligned just so, and if I kept pushing off the decision, I’d end up never doing this. I also thought about how I would feel if I played it safe and gave in to my fear, and I knew that I would always regret it if I didn’t try.

Let’s talk about DEI. What do you want companies and individuals to know about DEI?

A lot of times, we tend to think about diversity, equity and inclusion (‘DEI’) as something that is separate from the business bottom line, or that it’s a ‘nice to have’ but not an organizational top priority.

As such, we see that DEI efforts tend to be volunteer-led and occur on the sidelines. The reality is that DEI should be (and is) interwoven into every aspect of a business– from marketing to finance to senior leadership strategic planning and beyond.

Companies who truly understand this reality are the ones that will ultimately be successful long-term.

What advice do you have for others who want to make an impact through their work but are currently feeling stuck or are struggling with imposter syndrome?

Look for the opportunities that might not seem super obvious at first. Are there ways to make an impact in a group or community outside of your job? Are there relationships you can start to develop? Reach out to your network and ask them for help!

To learn more about Felicia and She+ Geeks Out, watch this video interview. We go even deeper with DEI, imposter syndrome and women in tech.

Belma McCaffrey

Author Belma McCaffrey

More posts by Belma McCaffrey

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