During EuroSTAR 2017 conference, there were a couple of discussions about Women in Testing (if here you thought “what about men?” I can redirect you to a good article on whatabouting). Being a woman in tech myself, talking about issues like feeling shy, an impostor and uncomfortable in a sometimes man-dominated tech world has helped me greatly to improve myself and even the way I work. However, I truly think that these discussions can be useful to men, too – maybe not as commonly, but every single human can have issues with confidence. At my company instead of using “guys” we adapted a beautiful “humans” instead and in this post I would like to talk to you all, dear humans.
At one of the gatherings during the conference, there was a recommendation of Katty Kay’s and Claire Shipman’s “The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know”. I immediately knew I had to read that book. What I didn’t know was that the realizations I would get as a result of reading this book would affect me, my attitude and even the way I do my work.
“The Confidence Code” combines a lot of research on the confidence of women and proves that even if there are some biological differences in the brain of men and women, or there are genes responsible for confidence, but every single person can work on feeling more confident – brain plasticity is a real thing, so we can change at any age.
I have worked with lots of wonderful people and some of the most touching confidence stories I have heard were by men, too. For example, I have this colleague who on the surface looks like a strong confident male and yet once after quite some time working together he opened up that he feels like an impostor. I was shocked – I did not see it coming at all. So, even if a lot of issues described in “The Confidence Code” are more common for women, I would like to share 5 tips that I (re)discovered from this book which are applicable to everyone despite their gender.
Don’t let the stereotypes dictate your life: give things a try
In one of the studies mentioned in the book, Zachary Estes, who is a research psychologist with special interest in confidence disparity between men and women, made over 500 students solve spatial puzzles. He made this experiment not only to prove that women have lower confidence sometimes, but also to show that confidence can be manipulated. The results of this experiment were that the women performed way worse than men, but what Estes noticed was that in general women didn’t even try to solve most of the problems. Then, he decided to repeat the experiment with a saying that participants should at least try and… the results were around even. Women performed as good as men when they actually tried to do the tasks without giving up.
A lot of women assume they are not good at spatial puzzles or… tech. There may be some stereotypes in the air and sadly, but a lot of women themselves get trapped in it. My real life example is programming – a lot of times I would think I can’t do something just because I can’t do it immediately and I am not perfect at it. Last week I got a task to improve my automated checks and I got a little bit scared – I haven’t touched the code for a while. However, once I sat down, I decided to give it a try like I learned in the book. In the end, code review was very kind and I just needed to add an extra validation – the code I created was better than I thought.
Intention is not enough: what matters is action even if it is not perfect
I see it all around me – wonderful women fretting that something won’t be perfect and sometimes freezing over doing because it won’t be perfect. I had the very same with the code I mentioned above – I even had thoughts that maybe I should sit down with a back-end developer before even committing. However, what is important here is to fail fast – okay, I may commit something utterly wrong, but that is a chance to learn. Not holding back anything and being ready for feedback – I learn and actually get things done. It is not enough to dream to be the best programmer on earth – you have to fail and learn from your mistakes.
Start small and you will overcome your fears
Inaction very often comes from low confidence. Often we avoid things that we are not good at – we should try to break that and do more of it in contrast.
In “The Confidence Code” there was a good example of school in the USA versus the schools in Japan. One American journalist was sitting in a geometry class for kids in Japan. One of the kids couldn’t draw a figure right. To his surprise, the teacher pointed out that child and made them come to the whiteboard and draw in front of the class while being given feedback after each time. The journalist was feeling very anxious – in the USA if someone can’t do something calling them out would be rather insulting and embarrassing. And, well, after first try the teacher asked the class if the drawing was good enough and they said no, so the kid had to try again and again… until they got it right. When the shape was good enough – all the class applauded and the child was smiling from ear to ear.
This reminds me of an interview with singer Pink who was asked how she got into air gymnastics that she does so well in her performances. And then Pink answers that she was afraid of height and she did not want to be afraid of it. That was the reason why she went straight to air gymnastics – to beat her fear. So, don’t run away from the things you are not good at – overcome them by facing it.
Stay authentic – everyone’s confidence is unique
One of my friends says that there are two types of confidence: fake and real. The fake one is loud and looks glamorous, but it’s not the one you should seek. It is okay if you are not loud, you can be silent and confident. This I have learned especially working as a tester – I listen a lot, but I still stand my ground and if needed I will express my concerns and risks. It is important to find your own balance of what confidence is for you.
Being authentic and daring the difference are the best signs of confidence as well: a lot of women seek to be liked by everyone. This is rather impossible – you have to be yourself, it is impossible that everyone would like you, but it is possible to earn respect from your colleagues for the fact that you are being yourself.
Be a role model
A lot of times we say that the main problem for women not joining tech is the lack of role models. Have you ever thought that some people may see YOU as a role model? We all are different and I can assure you that even if people don’t tell you directly, but some consider you a role model. So, be responsible for your actions, make your decisions clearly because there are people who look up to you. Set the standard. Sometimes people may know less than you and are waiting for you to speak up. From my experience – often people close to you believe in you more than you believe in yourself.