Role Confidence for Female Technical Leaders with Stephanie Slocum
Have you been having a hard time leading because of the issues you have with confidence? Are you one of those people who have been assigned non-promotable tasks just because you’re a woman? Do you want to empower yourself and live life on your own terms? If you do, then you’re up for a wonderful gift today.
Leadership has been one of the heaviest gender-related issues. Men are said to receive more opportunities than women, and this results in women having issues with confidence. However, you can only be successful if you’ll be brave enough to jump. Learn what you can do through this episode today.
Stephanie Slocum is the founder of Engineers Rising LLC and the author of Amazon’s bestseller “She Engineers”. She is the creator of the Fearless Program as well as the Build Her Program – both designed exclusively for women to start their business and be involved in leadership development. She works to normalize engineering, technology and STEM women in leadership by helping them become influential leaders without changing who they are. Through her online program, she provides practical training, inspiration, and mentorship for women to have the careers and lives they’ve always dreamed of.
Stephanie first worked in engineering consulting for 15 years. She holds a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Architectural Engineering, and is also a winner of The 2020 Connected World’s Women of Technology Award for her work regarding women empowerment. She spoke and inspired national audiences through her volunteer work with organizations.
In this episode, Stephanie talks about the importance of knowing how to deal with confidence challenges at work in order for you to live life on your terms. She shares insights on developing professional role confidence and empowering yourself.
What you will learn from this episode:
Know what professional role confidence is, how it affects you, and the way you lead;
Discover ways you can deal with issues regarding professional role confidence; and
Find out how to address other confidence challenges at work.
“You are made for amazing things, but to succeed, you’ve got to be the woman that's willing to go for what she wants.”
- Stephanie Slocum
Valuable Free Resource:
Visit Stephanie’s website at https://www.engineersrising.com/
03:00 – Professional Role Confidence and its symptoms: The biggest challenge female leaders face in business today.
06:49 – Two of the biggest mistakes people make: (1) Not acknowledging the need of an extra set of tools to be successful; and (2) Solving for the wrong problem and its examples.
12:36 – What you can do when you're struggling with the issue of professional rule confidence: (1) Create a little bit of space for yourself;
16:19 – Before jumping into your to-do list, look at the list and ask yourself, “who can help me do this faster?”
16:40 – Valuable Free Resource: Free book, She Engineers: https://www.sheengineersbook.com/free
17:27 – Q: What women need to understand about confidence challenges at work?
“If you're listening to this and you're like, “Well, I'm not sure confidence is really the root of my problems”, ask yourself this question. Would you show up at work differently if you were 100% confident in yourself? Think back to the last day. Would you have shown up differently in any of those interactions you had with people? If the answer is yes, it's very likely that professional role confidence has something to do with your current challenges.” – Stephanie Slocum
“As a technical person, I spend a lot of time in my day solving problems, but often what I find is we're solving for something that puts a bandaid on the problem as opposed to actually solving the root cause.” – Stephanie Slocum
“We are thinking that we have a productivity or time management problem, when what we actually have is a priority or boundary problem. What are we solving for? That is always the core question.” – Stephanie Slocum
“If you are already in that space where you are struggling with overwhelm and burnout, you have to create a little bit of space for yourself. Getting more done is not going to solve the
problem. There is always going to be more work than you can do, but even if it's just walking out 15 minutes a day, it makes a huge difference.” – Stephanie Slocum
“We are often fed from social media in our work cultures that if we just work harder, we can outwork any problem. Your career is not meant to be a solo activity.” – Stephanie Slocum
Ways to Connect with Stephanie Slocum:
Ways to Connect with Sarah E. Brown
Full Episode Transcript:
Sarah E. Brown 1:02
My guest today is Stephanie Slocum.
She is on a mission to normalize engineering, technology and STEM women in leadership by helping individual women become influential leaders without changing who they are. She's the founder of Engineers Rising LLC, and author of the amazon.com bestseller She Engineers. She is the creator of the Fearless Program, the first of its kind virtual mentoring and leadership development program designed inclusively for individual women in STEM, as well as the Build Her Program designed to help STEM women start their businesses.
Stephanie shines light on the barriers to the retention of women in engineering and provides practical training, inspiration, and mentorship through her online platform and program so that women can bust through those barriers and have the careers and lives they want on their terms.
Stephanie is a winner of The 2020 Connected World: Women of Technology Award for her work empowering women in engineering and technology. She has spoken and inspired national
audiences through her volunteer work with organizations, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Structural Engineering Institute, and the Society of Women Engineers. Prior to founding Engineers Rising, she worked on engineering consulting for 15 years. She holds Bachelor's and Master's degree in Architectural Engineering.
Stephanie, thank you for being here today.
Stephanie Slocum 2:52
Thank you so much for having me.
Sarah E. Brown 2:55
What is the biggest challenge you help female leaders face in business today and what might be the symptom of that challenge?
Stephanie Slocum 3:04
Such a great question.
So the number one challenge that I help with is professional role confidence. Every single woman that I coach has struggled with this. I have struggled with this, and it manifests itself in everything from overwork and burnout, to struggling to delegate, to not asking for what you need to be successful at work, to even if you will go for that executive leadership role. We see it in feelings of imposter syndrome. So for example 75% of executive women say they have felt like a fraud at work, and I cannot tell you the number of those women who have confided in me when we talk that they have or are considering leaving their technical fields.
Now, often when we talk through the symptoms of how this low professional role confidence manifests itself at work, I get a lot of comments like, “Oh, I didn't realise that was the root cause of the problem.” So I want to share a couple of ways that this manifests itself, so that the listeners who may not be recognising this root cause can see it for what it is.
So these are things like struggling to speak up, not asking for what you want, feeling like you don't belong, not asserting yourself. Struggling with overwork is a big one and that's overwhelm, exhaustion – feeling like you need to work harder than everybody around you to prove yourself to be successful. It’s very common for any woman in the technical field, as well as things like second guessing yourself, especially when it comes to, like, “should I take this career risk?” “Should I go for this role that I'm not 100% qualified for?” Those sorts of things. And I think the worst part of all of this is we start to rationalize why we aren't doing what we want at work. We tell ourselves things like “I just need more experience” or “now is just not a good time”.
And I want to be super clear about what is actually going on here because I think a lot of times, confidence issues are presented as an individual problem to be solved by that individual. What happens is, you know, often they're the only woman in the room, the only woman of colour. If they are very lucky, there's more than one there. But when you get into those roles, especially in the technical fields, all these well-documented ingrained cultural biases and institutional racism
and double standards that we see, especially when it comes to leadership styles, all those things start to poke holes in your confidence.
For example, there was a, there have been many studies on this but there was one point of STEM graduates that found women in STEM had lower confidence levels than any other major they surveyed, and it got worse each year they were in their field. And it was even worse at top schools, and I hear that we can extrapolate that to organizations as well. So if you are at an Apple or Amazon or Google, it's even worse for those women.
So I want to give the listeners a very telling question to ask yourself. If you're listening to this and you're like, “Well, I'm not sure confidence is really the root of my problems”, so ask yourself this question. Would you show up at work differently if you were 100% confident in yourself? Think back to the last day. Would you have shown up differently in any of those interactions you had with people? And if the answer is yes, it's very likely that professional role confidence has something to do with your current challenges.
Sarah E. Brown 6:49
Wow. So what's the biggest mistake your clients make before working with you?
Stephanie Slocum 6:55
So the biggest mistakes I see, there's actually two of them. The first is not acknowledging that as a woman, you need an extra set of tools to be successful.
When I was starting early in my career, I had an executive woman tell me that gender had nothing to do with my career progression in engineering, and as a result, I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought I was imagining some of the experiences I had where I noticed I was getting treated a bit differently than male counterparts with similar levels of experience.
The challenge there is that when you don't see gender and you pretend that it has nothing to do with it or you're like me and you're in denial. When you've got this blinders on and you sit in a meeting and you see that it's easier for other people to gain buy in for their ideas when you're ignored or you're interrupted, you start to think something is wrong with you, and then you rationalize it. You rationalize that you just need more experience. You need more training or credentials or whatever it is. You rationalize that if you just work harder, things will change. And then instead of seeing generations of the institutional gender and racial biases and starting to think creatively about “okay this exists, how do I work around that?” you instead start to think to yourself, “I'm not good enough”, and you start to equate your productivity with your worth.
You see perfectionism as a good thing, and you do anything you can, including not taking any career risks, because you don't want to make a mistake and you start to act in ways that are not authentic to you. So for example, changing your leadership style to match what you see in the male leaders where you work. And that almost always backfires for women, in addition to making you feel terrible and not authentic to yourself.
I was listening to a recent Brene Brown podcast where she was interviewing Melinda Gates and Melinda shared her own experience on this which mirrors my own, and is so common to women in technical fields. Melinda was talking about how she was thinking about quitting Microsoft because she didn't like who she had worked herself into being in order to fit in.
And I have had that exact same experience of going you know, right up through the career ladder, having arrived at a destination that looked fabulous on paper, and discovering I didn't really like the person I had become because I had changed myself so much to fit in with the corporate environments I was in. And a huge part of that was because at the time, I had those blinders on. I was just talking about not acknowledging my gender had anything to do with anything, and I tried to ignore it, or downplay it.
Now, I said there were two mistakes, so that was the first one. Just acknowledging that you need an extra set of tools. The second one is solving for the wrong problem.
Now as a technical person, I spend a lot of time in my day solving problems, but often what I find is we're solving for something that puts a bandaid on the problem as opposed to actually solving the root cause. So two examples that come to mind shared from a lot of the women I talked to you. First, looking for a new job because you're not happy with the one you have, when the real problem is not knowing what you want.
A lot of women, particularly in middle management, hit this point where they feel like they're not appreciated, they don't know where they want to go, they're struggling to find mentors and those sorts of things. And that is a sticking point for where women leave their firms, where they leave the industries, specifically in the technical fields. And then they run into this overwhelming and burnout and all of those things, when in reality, a lot of times, all it takes is for someone to sit down with them and say “okay, what do you actually want?” Work through that coaching process and craft, we call it job crafting, their specific role to match where they want to go. This is a huge retention challenge that can be solved.
The other bandaid I often see is people coming to me saying “I'm overwhelmed”, “I'm over exhausted”, “Can you provide me with some more productivity tips?” And often what it is, is we are thinking that we have a productivity or time management problem, when what we actually have is a priority or boundary problem. Because when you are struggling with believing you are good enough at work, again, that's a symptom of low professional confidence. You do things like, you say yes to everything when you should be saying no.
And of course, it's a little bit tricky to navigate this because there was a study done for example, that found that women, so when there's not at least half of women in a mixed group, which I have never seen in the technical fields, I've never been in a group where with it was half women in a design meeting. When that happens, both men and other women ask the women to take on what we call non-promotable work. So, examples, taking notes at meetings, carrying emotional burdens at work, so a team comes to you to resolve a conflict and you're not even on that team, asking for volunteers for different committees, and all this work that women tend to pick up that
is never going to result in them getting promoted or to a higher level in their positions that over time, turns into an overwhelm and burnout problem – especially if they feel like they can't say no, as we have women being conditioned to not say no.
Sarah E. Brown 13:35
I get it. So be clear about the problem you're trying to solve.
Stephanie Slocum 13:41
Exactly. What are we solving for? That is always the core question.
Sarah E. Brown 13:31
What is the number one free and actionable tip you can give the women who are listening today to address this challenge now?
Stephanie Slocum 13:34
So, I'm going to give two really quick ones that you can do depending on where you are kind of in the continuum of how much you're struggling with this issue of professional rule confidence.
So first, if you are already in that space where you are struggling with overwhelm and burnout, you have to create a little bit of space for yourself. Now, what do I mean by that.
First, getting more done is not going to solve the problem. There is always going to be more work than you can do. But even if it's just blocking out 15 minutes a day on your calendar to make that shift into thinking about, you know, “what are my priorities?”, “Where do I really want to go with this high achieving career I've got?” Even if you make just that little bit of time to do that as opposed to reflexively checking things off your to-do list, it makes a huge difference.
I've got three kids. They are all doing virtual schooling, two elementaries and one middle school. I am running a business. I know what it is to work a lot of hours, and I understand having a never-ending to-do list. And taking that couple of minutes and we're not like, again, we're not talking two hours here, take 15 minutes, get it on your calendar, because if it's on your calendar, it's not going to get done, and reflect and align your work purpose and your values. It makes a huge difference.
So the second super actionable tip I want to share is, especially in the United States, we have bought into a lie around individualism. We are often fed from social media in our work cultures that if we just work harder, we can outwork any problem. Your career is not meant to be a solo activity. And what I've noticed as the single thread through every single successful woman I have interviewed and talked to over all my years in engineering and now as a leadership and career strategist, is that she has had mentors and sponsors at critical points in her career. And most of the time she didn't wait for that person to show up. If I had waited for that person to show up and hadn't gone out and sought them out, I would still be waiting and not be talking to you today.
And so, again, I want to give the listeners a prompt here, because it's easy to jump into “I have this massive to do list”, “what am I going to check off first?” So, before you jump into that to-do list, look at that list and ask yourself, “Who can help me do this faster?”
Sarah E. Brown 16:32
What a great one.
Stephanie Slocum 15:57
Individualism is a lie and who can help me do this faster?
Sarah E. Brown 16:41
Great tip. So what's the valuable free resource you can share with our audience today to help them understand this challenge better?
Stephanie Slocum 16:40
So we have a bunch of free resources, blogs, checklists, things of that nature on my website https://www.engineersrising.com/. I also want to share that we periodically do free promotions on my book She Engineers which you can also find through the website, the link that will be with this interview. And of course, there's an audio book and all of that. So, wherever you are in your commute, there's ways to take action in that way.
Sarah E. Brown 17:16
Great. Thank you. Stephanie, what's one question I should have asked you that will help our audience take action to address this challenge, and then would you please answer the question?
Stephanie Slocum 17:27
Of course. So the question is, what do women need to understand at a cellular level about confidence challenges at work? And the answer to that question is, you have to understand that this is not your fault. It's a result of years and decades – especially for women of color – of normalizing leadership that doesn't look like you.
So, I think of confidence like a bucket. Every time you experience a situation where you feel unsure at work, you're not getting by in that really important meeting, it puts a hole in that bucket. And eventually, if you aren't paying attention, that bucket will be empty. And it's not your fault, but you get to make the decision to do everything you can to fill that confidence bucket. So, we normalise women in leadership. I want everyone listening to know that you are made for amazing things, but to succeed, you’ve got to be the woman that's willing to go for what she wants.
Sarah E. Brown 19:15
Amazing advice. Stephanie, thanks so much for being with us today.
Stephanie Slocum 19:20
Really appreciate the opportunity. Thanks.
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