GHC09: Imposter Panel

Last year's Imposter Panel  was overwhelmingly popular, and I'm sitting here in the Star Circle Pavillion looking at five very talented women from industry that have convinced themselves time and time again that they had somehow ended up above their level, somewhere they didn't belong.

The moderator, Shamsi T Iqbal from Microsoft, started us off with a fun video that explains the imposter syndrome - hopefully it will end up on the gracehopper.org wiki! It was interesting, though, that even she feels like she doesn't deserve to be leading this panel of women (I can relate, I'm still so nervous about my panel this afternoon at 3:15 that I'm moderating!)

Rachel Weinstein Petterson, Google, has had quite an illustrious career with ILM and Google, as well as having worked in a great research group at Stanford, yet she still doesn't feel like she's where she deserves to be.

Someone in the audience asked about when the panelists first felt they were imposters. Rachel said it was when she got a part in a school play - she was convinced someone else must've been sick or screwed up their audition - there was no way, in her head, that she deserved the role.  Another panelist, Jennifer Tour Chayes of Microsoft, said she didn't have this as a child, but started getting it in grad school after she started hitting brick walls, such as advisors not wanting her as a student, because her husband was also in the PhD program and they were convinced they couldn't \*both\* get jobs, so they shouldn't spend time with her.

Chayes noted, though, that she and her husband worked so very hard to prove they could do this together and they got tenure in just 4 years.  Unfortunately, their personal lives suffered irreparable damage.

Tanzeem Choudury from Dartmouth explains that she began to feel like an imposter when she started getting rejected for grants and having papers dismissed from publications. Instead of letting it roll off of her like water on a duck's back, she took all of these rejections and negative comments very personally. This made it seem like everything she did win or get right, that it wasn't really deserved. For example, she really thinks that some of her awards are simply because she is a woman of colour and that the organization must want to look "diverse".

Her advice is that you need to keep in mind that you can't fool everyone all the time, so if you are successful, you likely really deserve it.

Nancy Amato, again another super qualified woman, talked about she doesn't feel like she deserves to have an assistant or even fly in first class.  In fact, this uncertainty has led gate agents to question her when she got in the boarding line for first class and others got confused about whether or not the woman she was mentioning was her assistant or not.

Another question from the audience brought up the "old boys club" feeling many of us get. Amato noted that on one business trip, she went out to dinner with all of the colleagues and then realized during dinner that she had put a fly in the ointment for their normal after dinner plans... While she wasn't interested in that activity, she is well aware that the business conversations and decisions would still be going on well into the night, yet she didn't belong. That can reinforce the feeling of being an imposter.

Chayes got us all to laugh when she answered the question on how best to cope with the feeling of being an imposter: talk about it on a panel in a conference. :-)

Another wonderful panel this year!


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Valerie's former weblog. The new one can be found at http://bubbva.blogspot.com/

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