9 comments on “What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?

  1. You’re right about being hard on yourself Laurie. From what I know of you, you are certainly no imposter and it’s good you’re starting to believe that. I’m interested to see some of the obstacles that women impose on themselves, and I’m trying to learn more about it so I can help my own daughter when she has to face them. Speaking as a male engineer I can’t remember having automatically doubted the capability of the very few women that I have worked with. I don’t know how it is for scientists, but when two engineers meet and get talking, they will slip a few technical nuggets in to the conversation to see if they get recognised by the other person, and a reciprocal nugget sent back. In this way they are able to gauge each other, and see if they are a proper engineer or not, while the non-technical staff look on unaware that this subtext is even happening. A women who was born to be an engineer will gain respect that a man who does it, but ‘it’s just a job’, will never have.

  2. Pingback: What I See? Part 2 | No Lab Coat Needed

  3. Though I have encountered men with imposture syndrome (one of my dearest mentors admitted to feeling like he had no idea what he was doing sometimes, despite being very good at his job and well respected), I do think it hits woman more often and harder, because of socialisation.

    I’d have to disagree respectfully with David though (however, I admire his respect for his female colleagues) but the fact that we still get defined as “women” scientists, “women” engineers (and earlier this year I even saw “Lady bus driver” in the headline of a news article, which, well, I have no words for) says that respect is largely not assumed or given. If it was, we’d have no need of prefixing our genders to our career titles.

  4. This certainly has got me thinking, and resonates strongly with me. I’m an engineer, I love my job, I know that I am well respected and capable but I too often wake up with dread that I might be ‘found out’.

    I am now leading a small team, and although scary, it has given me more confidence. I DO know what needs to be done, I CAN make decisions, I DO know the answers. But, will I apply for that promotion that’s available in the department? I don’t know…

    Thanks Laurie, this is great and I shall have a talk to myself when I next look in the mirror.

  5. Great article
    The one thing I do now from experience is that everyone has something to add. For this generation and beyond we need multiple perspectives and diverse groups to solve the myriad of big problems that are starting to creep up on us. It is time for Women to embrace the fact that they are welcome ‘imposters’- welcome guests at the diverse table that needs them

  6. My English teacher always said the greatest gift is to make someone think, think for themselves and others, and about others – although it may have been just for the Leaving Certificate, I found out through my own life experiences, it’s what we all live for… I am not in the Science area and I’m also a non-national looking woman, so I have found it harder, and indeed criticised myself harder – but after 2 kids and 2 businesses, it’s realistically still a man’s world. Unfortunately. But I’m proud to know you and find your work interesting and inspirational 🙂 Hopefully you will gather more awareness and inspire even more young girls to grow up into respectful ladies and honorable women.

  7. Imposter syndrome is something that I recognise has dogged my own ambitions and career but which I have fought against throughout. Yes, as a working-class woman in a middle-class profession, I’ve encountered gender discrimination and class discrimination and missed out on jobs as a result, but often this has just spurred me on to try again.

    I have wondered if the nagging doubts of my worth/value/knowledge aren’t just some vestigial relics from my forelock tugging forebears, who would not have distinguished between class or woman. Nevertheless, those thoughts do arise from time to time – usually when I’m reflecting on what I’m planning to do.

    Fortunately once I’m under way there are no such doubts – quite the opposite in fact. I recognise the worth or the value of what I’m doing or advising in situ and the impact it has on the learners (ie other individuals) involved. In other words: success is evident in the outcomes.

    Perhaps, that is what I’ve been able to cling to; what has overridden my own imposter syndrome.

  8. Great post Laurie! I understand what you said about Imposter Syndrome, although it’s the first time I have heard of the term. I suffered from similar feelings in the past and I’ve always thought it was an unavoidable by-product of being a perfectionist (being a scientist hence needing to be analytical and rigorously correct all the time) and being in a competitive and male dominated environment. I feel like us females scientists (and those in other professions where women are a minority) do carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. Women do not simply succeed or fail. If I succeed it is because I have worked hard to prove that I am just as good as, or better than, the male colleagues around me, that I have earned my place amongst this intellectually challenging and male dominated environment, that my (male) boss can reassure himself that yes, it makes no difference to hire men or women. But if I fail, then what? In a male dominated environment, how can I prove to anyone that it is not because I am female? How can I even be sure of this myself? Our male colleagues do not have such burdens, hence they do not worry about failure in the same way women do. I think we are putting too much pressure on ourselves and we may feel less like imposters if there is a more supportive and less competitive environment where occasional failure IS an option.

  9. I’d not heard the term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ before, but I have definitely felt it. I do wonder if it’s a natural side effect of having pride in your work. If you’re a bit of a perfectionist then inevitably you will challenge yourself in your work, and whenever your work is challenging there is room for negative thoughts such as the ones you’ve described.
    I’m actually working on an Engineering project at the moment where I have thrown myself in the deep end in terms of the project implementation. I have voluntarily put myself in a position where my work involves concepts that are not completely within my comfort zone. This will yield a better project outcome when I finally get it finished and working, but in the meantime I am suffering almost constant internal pressure and doubt. My biggest fear is failure, and that fear leads me to question whether I’m good enough to be taking on the project in the first place.

    Regarding schrokit’s response, I would say that the terms ‘woman scientist’, ‘woman engineer’ and ‘woman bus driver’ are merely consequences of the fact that all of those careers are male dominated. In any male dominated career sector, women are going to stand out from the crowd and they will be referred to by the one thing that differentiates them: gender. I don’t think the reference is meant in a derogatory way (or, at least, not necessarily so), it’s just a consequence of the fact that it’s unusual to see female bus drivers or female engineers.
    The same is true if you reverse the scenario and find a job sector where men are the minority gender. You will hear the very same reference made to ‘male hairdresser’ or ‘male nurse’. It’s no reflection upon their ability to carry out that work, it’s just a result of observation in terms of their minority in those trades. The difference is in gender and gender alone. There is no inference made in terms of competence.
    Still, I would agree with someone who makes a case against the use of these types of references, because whilst I’d like to think that most of them only use them innocently, it’s almost certainly true that some people use the term as a pejorative.

    I often come across people who will imply that the reason science and engineering is male dominated is purely because women are discriminated against in those career sectors. But I don’t think that’s true. I can certainly agree with Laurie’s perception of how and why some women hold themselves back when they do make it into these careers, but I don’t think that’s any reflection upon the question of why there are so few women to be found in science and engineering jobs in the first place.
    The real reason there are so few women in science and engineering is simply because too few take an interest in these careers during school. The pool of candidates for these careers is male dominated in the first place, so it follows that the job posts will be filled mostly by men.

    I think the world would be a more prosperous place if we could persuade more women to take interest (or develop their existing interest) in science and engineering. But we’re looking for the answer in the wrong place. There is no answer to be found in gender discrimination, because in my experience the vast majority of men would welcome more women into these sectors. The answer, I think, lies back at our education system. Something must be going wrong at that early stage if less women choose to develop an interest in science. What is it about our education system that turns them away and prevents them adding to the pool of candidates?
    If we can balance the pool of candidates, so that gender is equalised, THEN we will see more women in science and engineering roles. And once gender is neutralised, you won’t hear people saying things like ‘woman engineer’ or ‘women scientist’.

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