Owning my seniority

When I got the invitation a few months ago to attend the Senior Women Summit at Grace Hopper, I’ll admit that my first reaction was disbelief. Surely there was some mistake! I’ve only been officially tenured for just over a year, so how could I possibly be a senior woman in tech? And besides, doesn’t “senior” imply that I’m accomplished, that I’ve done something Really Important in my career? I’m just a lowly associate prof! I haven’t really done anything important yet!

But I was intrigued and curious, and thought “What the hell, I’ll just go and see what this is all about.”

I spent the entire first hour or so of today’s summit dealing with a serious case of impostor syndrome. I ended up sitting at a table of women who are very senior and are very much powerhouses of accomplishment. By chance I’d met all but one of them before. Oddly, even the ones I’d only briefly met in the past remembered me, which really threw me for a loop—why would these powerful women, who meet lots of people every day, remember little old me? They were all very warm and welcoming, but I was seriously fighting the urge to run out of the room screaming “I don’t belong here! There’s been a horrible mistake!”

Eventually I was able to get over my impostor syndrome enough to relax. And it was a really incredible opportunity. I had some great conversations with senior women, I identified some new mentors potential sponsors, and got to meet and converse with some of my personal heroes.

I find it interesting that I have such a hard time “owning” the fact that I am a senior woman. What I realized today is that, like it or not, I do have experience and I do make a difference and that others do see me as senior. This means that I have some power and control over things in my department, institution, and larger technical community. And that I can and should capitalize on this to make the changes and impact I want to see to my department, institution, and larger technical community. I forget sometimes that I’ve finished fighting the tenure battle—I still think of myself as “junior” and “of limited power”. It’s hard to switch that off once you get tenure. It’s hard to lean into and embrace that new role.

Today’s summit gave me permission to own my seniority and to embrace the benefits and responsibilities that come with that. My challenge will be figuring out how exactly I want to translate that into meaningful and sustainable action.

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