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How do you deal with feelings of inadequacy? I am an electrical and computer engineer and it's hard, sometimes.
Oh, impostor syndrome. When everyone seems to underestimate your abilities and undermine your work, it’s tempting to wonder whether or not they’re the ones who are right. But here’s the thing—they’re wrong.
You’re not the only one: Amy Cuddy talks about it. Scott Hanselman has been there. And enough Mafiosas chimed in with “I’ve absolutely felt that way” to break my heart. But while the tendency toward ‘morose self-reflection’ apparently runs strong in tech lady circles, I’ve had to build up my personal defenses against that little voice of doubt and anxiety, and I’ve learned to keep it in check even when I can’t silence it completely. After comparing notes, here’s the best of what we can offer:
Get out of your head. Go to a meetup outside your usual space. Try describing your work to a layperson, and see fresh as the impressive/awesome thing that it is. Ask for introductions to new people in your field who you can learn from or develop the skills you currently feel like you’re lacking, or to compare notes on your shared expertise. Put down the work and go for a walk.
Speak your fears aloud. I’m a huge believer in horizontal loyalty, in building strong peer relationships and questioning—or actively disrupting—the conventional wisdom handed down by our bosses, teachers, and elders. Lean on your friends. In exchange, be on the Impostor Syndrome SWAT Team yourself, and reach out to people you suspect might be suffering similar anxiety with confidence and sincere praise. Provide one another with honest, constructive feedback to grow on. Seek out a mentor, if a good old-fashioned feminist who will absolutely understand and empathize with the subtlest of slights is what you need.
Define what you ARE better than. Go to conferences, and listen for that *other* little voice—the one that says “I can do this too. I could do this better.” That’s how Octavia Butler started writing. Get a broader perspective on your field and your place in it.
Fake it ‘til you make it. Figure out what helps you project confidence and then do it. Overdress. Overprepare the presentation. Practice eliminating “maybe,” “I think,” “I’m sorry,” and “this might sound stupid, but…” from your speech. Take on projects that scare you, and don’t let your colleagues know how terrified you are (that friend network, on the other hand…this is what it’s there for). Fail, and learn from it without resorting to self-blame.
And if all else fails: emergencycompliment.com.
Being liked is overrated. Wanting to be liked means tempering your thoughts as to not offend. Wanting to be liked means not arguing vociferously with a female peer - something that could improve and add to your ideas - for fear that they’ll be insulted or that they won’t want to be friends. Wanting to be liked means agonizing over every negative comment in an online thread, even if they’re coming from people you don’t care about and don’t think much of.
Wanting to be liked means being a supporting character in your own life, using the cues of the actors around you to determine your next line rather than your own script. It means that your self-worth will always be tied to what someone else thinks about you, forever out of your control.
And truly, living in a constant state of self-deprecation is no way to be. Humbleness does not protect you from sexism - it just makes the slights harder to see.
How should I prepare for a yearly employee review if I plan to argue that I deserve to get a raise?
Great question! Here are our collective, compiled thoughts on how to prepare and get a raise.
Prepare your case
Be prepared with background on all the projects you’ve worked on during that year, and a solid breakdown of your successes and areas of improvement since hire. You really need to show your reviewer that you are working at a higher pay grade than you’re being compensated for.
Include any quantitative results that correlate with the company’s bottom line, like increased sales x percent or grew site traffic x percent or whatever. Make the case that you’re doing more than what’s in your job description.
Ask for a very clear amount. Ask for a specific dollar amount, and ask for more than what you actually want, knowing they’ll probably negotiate it down.
You will need to show all the same elements of the promotion narrative that your male colleagues need to: how your work has impacted the bottom line and increased the quality of your company’s offering.
Be prepared to explain how you have added value to your management. Know how you have created impact on process, customers, or new business. Learn where and how the goals of the organization are laid out and match your story / align yourself and your activities to that.
Be direct, concise, and do your homework for it.
Don’t wait till your review – ask early
In some of our companies, decisions about who gets how much of a raise are made *2 months* before the actual review conversations happen. So if you want a significant raise, start seeding that conversation (via passing along praise you’ve received or metrics from projects you’ve managed) in the quarter before reviews.
We concur strongly with the ‘ask for it early’ strategy. One manager saw a year where all significant raises had been decided just a few months into the fiscal year - if your people weren’t in the pool in the first quarter, they didn’t get anything until the next FY (unless they came in with an offer that required a counter - which is the brinksman’s way of getting a raise).
Find out what others are being paid for your position: do a market analysis
As a sidenote, when pulling together your info, it may be very helpful to look at what people in positions comparable to yours are making.
Do a market analysis, friends. One of our members realized she was being underpaid, so she put together a market analysis package and presented it to her boss. It included data from salary.com along with 9 recent job postings for similar jobs in the area where she lived. For postings that didn’t have salary ranges, she called the company directly and said, “I’m a grad student doing market research for jobs, and was wondering if you would mind sharing the salary range? I won’t share it with the public.” All but 1 told me the amount. Armed with a sound data analysis, sharp-looking report, and a lot of chutzpah, she walked into the meeting with her boss and walked out $17k/year better off.
Have an ally who your boss trusts
Linda Babcock’s “Ask For It” is a great reference. Successful negotiation strategies really are different for women. Putting the raise in someone else’s mouth has been shown to be a successful strategy, and the more male and more senior that person, the better. “Well, I wouldn’t be asking for myself, but Jim Boardmember mentioned over lunch the other day that he was shocked at what I’m getting paid and absolutely insisted I bring it up to you.” It goes without saying that Jim Boardmember needs to actually be on board before you to cite him.
Having another internal advocate is key—especially if it is someone your boss knows and trusts. Make sure that you have more than one other person who can explicitly articulate the value you bring to your position. The ideal situation is that so many other people are singing your praises that you don’t need to! (So the sub-lesson here is to actively encourage/embody a culture of recognition and earned praise, so you can be paying this favor forward for your coworkers.)
Alright, let’s start with defining terms here. If you are providing a service where the only market is those who truly can’t afford your rates, we might not be looking at a viable business here. However, let’s assume you’re providing a wonderful service that will be of interest to some who can pay and to many who cannot pay – and that you are passionate about those companies or NGOs that can’t pay as easily.
We have all been here. In fact, this is such a common problem that one approach to the solution has been turned into a handy infographic that you can order as a letterpress print.
Too often, women back down on rates too quickly, undersell themselves or offer to barter right off the bat. The first time you ask a client to pay you what you’re worth you might feel like this:
Don’t. No one will value your work more than you do. *You* have to set the bar.
Like any industry, working for cheap devalues not only yourself but also your peers out there who are trying to keep rates up so they can make a living. Putting the right price on your work helps your clients appropriately value, prioritize and respect your service. Plus, working for less than you deserve (especially if it isn’t for clients for whom you feel personal passion) can be draining and create resentment.
At the beginning of each year or each quarter, think through how many pro-bono hours you can provide while still earning the living you require. Then, figure out if this client can work into those pro-bono hours. Be sure to send these lucky clients an official invoice, with a note that reads “payment is cancelled, pro bono” or what have you. (Alternatively, if you can’t resist a reduced rate, make sure that the client is clear on what your full fee rate is and ensure that the full fee rate appears in the invoice even if followed by “non-profit project, 50% fee”) Ensure that both you and your client understand that your time is valuable.
For unpaid work, it is critical to set clear boundaries in writing and stick to them. So for example, you might say, “I only have fifteen hours available for your project, over the next three weeks—let’s size the work I’ll do for you appropriately.” Define a scope and define an outcome – something you’ll be excited to have been a part of or add to your portfolio. Remember, free doesn’t equal forever.
Also, get creative. The first answer to get the clients you want doesn’t have to be: “slash my rates.” For instance, if one non-profit can’t afford the amazing workshops you design and execute, perhaps if 3-4 non-profits get together to bring you in for that workshop, you can earn what you deserve and they’ll derive major benefit and less cost.
It can be hard to break into an organization or an industry so discounting might make sense as part of an overall strategy but don’t go asking for crumbs. Because that is what you’ll often get.
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