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Can we ever really be ourselves at work?

This is a question that many people assume they already know the answer to. The answer being – of course not, how can you, especially as a woman?

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The more I speak on panels and attend high-profile events, the more I notice that the stories that come out of these conferences are often of the same ilk – a lone female sat at a table surrounded by a bunch of men. I, too, have been that woman. I don’t tend to dwell on that time in my life, but I still remember how odd it felt. There was a time when I couldn’t ignore it, and it did make me wonder – why?  What it didn’t do was trigger me to push for industry-wide change, I rather selfishly focused on my own feelings and choices.

I think it was partly symptomatic of being quite young – 26. I had been sent to Amsterdam to sell the idea of a new global product development programme to the global engineering team. I was full of beans and had worked really hard on my content. My angle was not to prove how good I was, but to get everyone to share in my excitement. They didn’t. In fact, they shot me down. Was this because I was the only woman in the room? Who knows. What I was interested in was why I personally hadn’t been successful, not the bigger picture and the unconscious biases that might have been at play. 

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Initially, I made the assumption that my content wasn’t good enough. When I worked on it and went back to the same body of decision makers, I got shot down again. I realised that my delivery must not have been good enough. When I worked on that and got shot down once more, I decided I wasn’t good enough.

I think consciously, or otherwise, many people, not just women, experience disappointment in the workplace and subsequently conclude that they aren’t good enough. We don’t want to lose our jobs, so we decide to adapt. Little by little, we evolve into someone we might not recognise – someone we perceive as an ideal employee. If that person then starts to be more accepted and successful, our true selves are forgotten.

We add more and more masks until we have two separate identities, or worse, we start bringing the work one home.

What do we do when we get here? Well, we have a choice to make. I am going to be speaking at Women of Silicon Roundabout about how we make this choice.  There is both personal gain and personal cost associated with how we present ourselves, and my interactive debate is going to inspire the audience to make the right choice for them – one that is easier to live with. 

It all starts with this question: Who do you want to be?

The audience will see that this isn't about becoming someone else, it's about stripping away the layers to become more of who you already are.

Want to find out more about Susie? Take a read of our Speaker Spotlight profile on her. 

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