By Kaveeta Bhatia
Have you ever wanted the ground to open up and swallow you? Have you ever wanted to click your fingers and disappear? Just to escape? This was an all too familiar feeling that I had. Every. Single. Day.
As a woman of color who works as a QA Engineer, in the tech industry, I always felt so out of place when I entered rooms. I was used to feeling inferior, like I wasn’t good enough. Smart enough.
When I first decided to pick up Computing for Business as my degree at University, I remember the career advisor warning me that it was a male dominated course and was I sure that I wanted to pursue a career in tech? That made me even more adamant to do it. And I did enjoy my time there. I would get the odd looks and glances for being one of the few females on the course, which made me feel the need to prove myself. I love looking glam with my hair and makeup but this would sometimes give people the impression that “I wasn’t smart enough”. So I worked hard and I ended up with one of the highest grades on the course!
I was so proud of myself on Graduation day, until my bubble was burst. A male on my course blurted out “How did you get a First Class Honors?”. I remember feeling taken aback. Why was that so shocking? And that’s where it began.
I entered the job world and there were some companies where there was a diverse mix of people on the tech team. But there were others that I worked for where there was a very low representation of women. And some where I was the only woman of color. That’s when my imposter syndrome would be on level 100! The feeling of being so inadequate, regardless of my successes.
So every time I walked into a meeting room, I could feel my heart thumping so loudly like it would burst out of my chest. Praying that no one would ask me any questions.
Because if they did, I’d be found out.
They’d realise that I’m a fraud. That I didn’t know what I was doing.
They would think I’m stupid when I did trip up.
And so I’d always try my best to make myself smaller in meetings and to hide. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. But why? I was bright, I had great qualifications and had earned my place at the table just like everyone else.
I just felt so intimidated. I’d look around and see mostly white males who spoke so much technical jargon that I felt inferior in comparison. There was me, a young, glam, woman of color who just didn’t fit in at all.
At some companies, whenever someone organized a work social event, I could feel my mind fill up with a thousand excuses that I can give to not go. They were lovely people but I just couldn’t relate to them. We didn’t have the same humor. The way we spoke and what we spoke about was so different. Even our accents! I’m a British Indian, born and raised in Birmingham, and so I have a bit of an accent, that can be seen as ‘uneducated’. I felt quite self-conscious about it and ashamed of it. I even tried to change the way that I spoke to match those around me.
Coming from an Indian community, made it hard to fit in to a white workplace. I couldn’t see myself in the team in any shape or form. It’s tough to explain, but I felt truly alone even though I was amongst a group of people, and struggled to speak their ‘language’. This fuelled my imposter syndrome; the self doubt that I felt and my inferiority.
Comments such as “You’re pretty for an Indian girl” made me feel more out of place. I didn’t take it as a compliment. I felt that some people didn’t take me seriously because of my appearance. Maybe because I didn’t fit into a certain stereotype in the tech world. At one point I tried to dress down so that I could fit in a bit more!
Sometimes, I’d be spoken over and other times, they’d assume my male coworker just knew more than me. This wasn’t the case for everyone in the companies I worked for. Just a few people who probably didn’t know that they were being offensive. But it was enough to make me feel inadequate.
And so I continued to silence myself in team discussions as I was too afraid to voice my ‘stupid’ ideas. I’d always second guess myself, like my opinions were ‘wrong’ or ‘silly’.
Until I realized that I was limiting myself. I was in control of my life. No one can make me feel inferior without my consent. And most times, I was assuming that people thought a certain way about me, which probably wasn’t even true! I was creating a shy, quiet, little girl who wasn’t me. If I created her, then I can create the woman that I want to be. That I truly am.
I began to visualize myself showing up to meetings like a fearless woman who was crushing it. I’d tell myself every day that I was confident and knew my stuff. And who cares if I do ask a ‘stupid question’ anyway? I shouldn’t care what other people think. The only opinion that I care about is my own.
It’s better to speak up than to stay silent, so now I force myself to contribute in meetings. I offer a fresh perspective from a different angle – just shows how my differences can actually benefit me!
Over time, I’ve realized that being me is my superpower. It’s what makes me unique and gives me an edge over others; it’s not my downfall. Now I embrace my differences – even my Birmingham accent! And that makes me feel empowered.
So when I walk into a meeting room, I don’t hide anymore; I make my presence known. Because my voice matters.
Kaveeta Bhatia is a QA Engineer by day and a content creator who runs ‘5am Girl’, a platform that empowers women to confidently live their best lives on their own terms. Follow her on Instagram for tips on confidence-building and mindset.