Betting on Yourself: Regaining and Maintaining Confidence as a Woman in Computing

Tejinder K. Judge, Laurian Vega
Center for Human-Computer Interaction Virginia Tech 2202 Kraft Drive Blacksburg, Virginia 24060

Erika Poole
College of Information Sciences and Technology The Pennsylvania State University 321 E IST Building University Park, PA 16802 USA

{tkjudge, laurian} ABSTRACT
Women in technical fields may face gender bias, impostor syndrome, and stereotype threats on a daily basis. Other sessions at the Grace Hopper Celebration educate and create awareness that these problems are common, but few address the secondary (and perhaps more enduring) effect of these issues: all of these problems result in confidence dips. We propose a session that discusses practical tips for gaining and maintain confidence. With a mix of panelists from academia and industry, representing varying career stages, we will (1) present tips for managing and dealing with issues of self-confidence, and (2) moderate a hands-on activity in which attendees practice confidence building. Our goal is to equip technical women with a toolbox of techniques for coping with fluctuations in confidence.
The cultures of many technical fields, Computer Science included, are filled with explicit and implicit reminders that these are male-dominated fields [10], which may lead women to feel like outsiders and question their worth. In Computer Science, examples include the programming assignments [2] that embody male interests, job expectations that are different between men and women, and the software that embodies male views of certainty and values [7]. Despite much progress made in improving women’s access to participation in the technical work force, gender bias and stereotypes remain. Moreover, women in technical fields may be especially prone to the Imposter Syndrome, in which sufferers believe that success is due to luck, rather than hard work or intelligence. In these situations, a person may erroneously believe that she is less capable and confident than those around her [1, 4]. All of these factors may lead to women losing confidence and even worse leaving the technical field.

Research has shown that women do not abandon technical areas of study because of a lack of skills or poor academic performance. In fact, women who drop out of engineering degree programs in college are more likely to have a higher grade point average than their male counterparts [8]. While there are many internal and external factors affecting persistence to pursue a technical degree, one dominant factor is a woman’s confidence and self-efficacy beliefs [9, 11]. Given the important role of confidence in retaining diverse participation in computing-related fields, we are proposing a panel specifically discussing how to maintain and regain confidence after common setbacks. The focus of our panel is not on reasons women lose confidence, but instead on providing practical advice and hands-on practice in skills for increasing confidence. This is a topic that perhaps every female attendee can related to [5]. Confidence issues pervade many aspects of female life beginning at an early age. In a study of 5th grade “Bright Girls” research found that they were more likely to give up on difficult tasks because women are more likely to attribute success to innate ability. Thus, when presented with difficult tasks women are more likely to give up, doubt their ability, and lose confidence [3]. These confidence issues may follow women throughout their lives, particularly if they pursue a technical career.

Our panel will address predictable confidence dips that occur at stages across a woman’s technical career. For instance, prior research has found that undergraduate Computer Science women in their first semester of college experience a large drop in confidence [2]. This is due to the undergraduates adjusting from being away from their family, adjusting to college and dealing with a strenuous class load. Graduate students and young members of the workplace may experience confidence dips after performance reviews – such as after the qualifying exam of a Ph.D., or after an annual job evaluation. The effects felt after negative reviews are stronger on women than on men [2]. Finally, there may be particular phases in a woman’s life that can induce dips in confidence. Examples are taking leave for pregnancy or to look after a relative – responsibilities that women are more likely to assume. One key factor that has demonstrated an increase confidence is identifying with other women who have faced similar problems and successfully overcame them. The goal of our panel is to encourage discussion about situations that can cause a lack of confidence, and then to share recommendations and best practices on how to rebound after such experiences. To do this we will divide our

session into three parts: introduction of panelists (10 minutes); tips for regaining and maintaining confidence (20 minutes), confidence building activity (10 minutes), and discussion with audience (20 minutes). Panelists will start by introducing themselves, their background, and briefly mention situations in their professional life when they have lost confidence. This will allow the audience to learn about the panelists and possibly identify with some of the issues brought up (e.g. motherhood, bad reviews, negative feedback from supervisors, etc.). Next, each of the panelists will share tips on confidence along with their experience to contextualize the advice. The tips we will be sharing include: • Seeking Peer Support: We will provide concrete tips on creating peer support groups that can be used to talk openly about issues of interest while maintaining confidentiality. • Faking It ‘Til You Make It: We will describe methods for cultivating an attitude of confidence in spite of selfdoubt. • Dressing for Success: We will discuss how outward appearance can reflect internal unconfident state, and provide tips on using clothing as a confidence builder. • Establishing Reachable Goals: We will discuss the methods of setting mini-goals for building confidence. • The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn: We will discuss celebration of strengths and achievements and how to give self-permission to take pride and share successes with others. • Creating Environments that Build Confidence: We will discus how to shape physical environments to build confidence. • The Art of Moderation: We will discuss time management skills, self care, tendencies toward overwork, and the importance of everything in moderation. Attendees will receive practical tips on “going the extra mile to be prepared” without going overboard or being perfectionists. • Defining and Living Your Values: We will discuss the importance of doing personally meaningful activities, and providing tips for identifying one’s personal values and incorporating them into one’s work and life. Following these tips, we will move into a hands-on activity where the audience will be divided into pairs. Each person will take turns talking about her achievements in a confident manner and will receive feedback from others. This will allow the audience to practice being confident in a social encounter and will allow them to think about their accomplishments. Last, we will open the floor for the question and answers session. We believe that the tips will be a good catalyst for discussion as it will encourage women in the audience to share other methods for maintaining and regaining

confidence that have worked for them. If the audience is shy, we will provide additional tips and personal anecdotes.

Prior successful panels that are related to our proposed topic have been run at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC). To name a few, there have been panels run in 2007 to 2010 on the Impostor Syndrome and having children in graduate school in 2009 & 2010 [6, 12]. The success of these previous panels suggests that GHC attendees would value a session devoted to the topic of confidence. While confidence is discussed at other venues, such as the yearly CRA-W Grad Cohort for junior graduate students, our session differs from these given that our focus is on discussing tips for regaining and maintaining confidence in both academia and industry and across varying stages of one’s career. The proposed audience for our session will be all attendees. The audience will leave the panel with the knowledge that a lack of confidence is a problem that can affect any woman in computing not matter her age, status, or rank. She will additionally have techniques for confidence boosting and will have practiced using them during the interactive session. We will provide a flyer that the audience can take home with the tips that we will be discussing. While there is no magic formula for maintaining and increasing confidence, the women in the audience will know that they are not the only ones facing issues of confidence, and they will be equipped with tips shared by the panelists and the audience. Creating a voice for this topic can and will raise awareness about confidence and it will bring women together and create cohorts to support each other.

To provide a range of voices on the topic of confidence we have selected panelists from different areas: graduate school, academia, research, and industry. This includes: • Jamike Burge, a Senior Research Engineer in the Government/Defense industry, had a dip in her confidence when she had to find a new advisor and project at the same time. • Robin Jeffries, Engineer at Google and former Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer, had a dip in her confidence when trying to manage work-life balance. • Tejinder Judge, a senior PhD candidate at Virginia Tech, she will discuss multiple dips in confidence she has experienced in graduate school. Tejinder will also be the moderator for the session. • Erika Poole, assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University, will discuss the frequent dips in confidence that come with being a new faculty member. • Laurian Vega, a Ph.D. candidate at Virginia Tech and soon to be defense contractor for Next Century, she had a dip in her confidence after having her first child.

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