Nevertheless, She Persisted

Monday, February 27, 2017

When I'm not trying to do right by my spectrum kiddos or training for the next race or pouring my dream of published authorship into Scrivener, I'm writing for my clients.

I'm looking at you, Ikea.
©2014 Jeff Stahler
As a natural born writer and a geek with half an engineering degree, a technical communications degree and a biology degree, it isn't hard to guess which writing niche I fell into. Since most copywriters come from English, marketing or journalism type backgrounds, writers who can, for example, converse with a product design engineer and translate what she said into functional marketing copy, just aren't all that common.

I've been called "the best technical writer I ever met" by a senior marketing manager at an enormous global industrial firm. I am often sent resume referrals for C level executives, by C level executives. I know I'm good at my job. It took me almost 20 years of repeatedly being told that to catch on, but I know it now in a way the anxiety can't penetrate.


Every time a new medical or industrial client comes my way with a project, I hesitate.

Even after 20+ years of always understanding the material, and generally knocking it out of the park, I hesitate.

It just happened again.  I was offered a project writing a case study on a successful custom solution to a highly technical industrial process. And I hesitated. Because no matter how skilled I am, I can't stop wondering...what if this is the time it's too complicated for me to learn enough on the fly about a technology I haven't heard of and I can't do my job?

And, as happens every. single. time.... I opened the background materials and grasped the crux of the piece in less time than it takes to reheat my forgotten coffee.

I have thought about this at length.

I do think my anxiety disorder plays a part in this.  It plays a part in everything.

But after so many years being a woman in a technical job, I have become certain there is more going on here. Recent conversations with several women executives have reinforced my theory. (Real talk... we commiserated and had a good laugh at the male ego stroking and elevated performance level we have to maintain as a matter of basic professional survival.)

One the commercial side of my business, I work with mostly technical material from industrial firms.

On the resume side of my business, I work with mostly IT professionals, mid-upper level corporate managers, directors and C-suite executives.

Which is to say, I work with mostly men.

Tina the Technical Writer is my spirit animal
© 2012 Scott Adams, Inc.
As such, I have become accustomed to spending the early stages of any project convincing them I am qualified to even be speaking to them on the topic at hand. And to having them argue with many of my suggestions and decisions as projects go on, even on details squarely within my area of expertise.

It only recently occurred to me... after a rare and wonderful meeting with a group of all women managers in which we got right to work and everyone's professional competence was assumed up front...  that the average male consultant, having been referred by a mutual colleague as a subject matter expert who can solve the problem at hand, would not have to exert the kind of effort I do to establish credibility.

Several recent experiences also made me realize that men probably don't have to defend every decision they make when they were hired to make those decisions in the first place.

In contrast, my most recent experiences with women executives include being told they appreciate my professionalism, being told they were reassured by my obvious skill and competence, and being thanked for the great work I did.

I don't know why I'm only seeing the pattern now. Maybe because the landscape has changed enough over 20 years I've been able to work with more women. Maybe because I just watched an incompetent, narcissistic Twitter troll be elected over the most qualified candidate in history. Maybe because I just watched a woman get shut down trying to speak in the Senate when four men were allowed to read the exact. same. thing.

What I do know is that I need to stop reflexively questioning my own expertise simply because society has conditioned my clients to do so. I need to stop engaging in the emotionally undermining exercise of re-convincing myself I'm qualified to do my own job when it was never a real question to begin with.

I thought about it a lot, and decided how I'm going to move forward since having this epiphany.

I will keep on supporting every girls and women in STEM program I can find. Because the world can only benefit from more women working with each other at this level.

I will keep on supporting my peers as we roll our eyes at the systemic professional barriers we have to climb for less money and less recognition. Because we may know our own strength, but it sure is nice to share the burden once in a while with someone else who sees it for what it is.

I will keep on  having the audacity to be a woman who is really goddamn good at my job in a male dominated field.