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Tackling imposter syndrome with a pioneering programme for women in technical leadership

Tackling imposter syndrome with a pioneering programme for women in technical leadership

By Dr Sarah Youde, Research Technician (Tissue Culture), School of Dentistry at Cardiff University

GW4 spoke with Dr Sarah Youde, Research Technician in Tissue Culture at the School of Dentistry at Cardiff University about the benefits she gained from attending The Herschel Programme for Women in Technical Leadership. Here’s Dr Youde’s story:

Back in October 2021, a new initiative for aspiring female managers, mentioned in a newsletter, really caught my eye: 'The Herschel Programme for Women in Technical Leadership’ - a six-month program which included modules on self-awareness, leading in a technical environment, negotiation skills and navigating the organization. It also offered unique opportunities for networking.

This concept really resonated with me. Although I had been a technician in an academic research lab for around 17-years, with a varied role which showcased a wide-range of my talents, my career progression had stalled. Reading about this programme, I thought it would be a great opportunity to take stock of my career and undergo some self-reflection.

The programme was heavily oversubscribed, so I was delighted to be accepted, and eagerly anticipated the inaugural launch event which was due to be held in January 2022. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this had to be held virtually, rather than in-person and, due to the sheer number of participants, there were a few technical issues – but this didn’t deaden the atmosphere at all. There was a real buzz as Dr Kelly Vere MBE, Director of Technical Strategy at the University of Nottingham and Programme Director, Technician Commitment (Science Council), kicked off the discussions. Sessions on Imposter Syndrome; Culture and Context; Influencing and Negotiating; Confidence and Empowerment, and ‘You as a Leader’, got me excited to start, and it was great to meet all the facilitators and learn more about the course content.

The 3-hour sessions were carried out monthly, each one covering a different topic. For me, the most valuable session was probably ‘Imposter Syndrome: ‘Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified’* . All of the facilitators were women and all inspiring in their own ways. There was lots of participation, with breakout rooms to discuss and share experiences. It was definitely a case of the more you put in, the more you got out, and the sheer variety of participants meant that there was a wealth of knowledge and expertise to learn from.

The best bit of the programme was meeting my Action Learning Set (ALS): a group of women from other institutes with different expertise and experiences. The aim was to meet, collectively, and use our monthly sessions as prompt, to help each other work through scenarios offering advice and support. The ALS showed me alternative ways to approach situations and gave me the confidence to try something new. We shared tears, and became each other’s cheerleaders. Our discussions were wide-ranging and covered everything from career advice, to work life balance and the glass ceiling.

Our discussions highlighted the obstacles that we, as female managers and would-be managers, experience in what is still a very male-dominated role. One of the most helpful, but saddest, conclusions from these discussions was that the “grass wasn’t greener”. Despite our wide-range of backgrounds, we were all experiencing the same issues.

The programme’s finale was an in-person get-together in London. Unfortunately, COVID struck again, and I tested positive the day before the event, so I was unable to attend. Not being able to meet everyone in-person was a huge disappointment, but the WhatsApp messages with photos and updates from my ALS kept me up-to-speed with the event. This wasn’t the end to the programme that I was hoping for, but it was still a great experience overall.

I hoped the programme would allow me to recognise my talents, offer support and build a network of likeminded colleagues: it did. It boosted my confidence, highlighted my strengths and, perhaps, even more importantly, showed me how to manage challenges. I developed new strategies and ways of thinking. I have seen participants at conferences, and invited facilitators to speak at events. Our ALS is still in touch, sharing promotions and new roles as well as revisiting some old bug-bears. The programme left me inspired and motivated, maintaining momentum is the key going forwards (which reminds me: I still haven’t sorted out my LinkedIn profile!).

*Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified, Tara Sophia Mohr, Harvard Business review, August 25, 2014

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