Post one in a series about Stepping out of your comfort zone

On Sunday 27 July 2020, I had the privilege of being one of the panelists in a workshop run by Women in Technology WA (WiTWA) to help nominees for the 2020 Tech [+] Award write award winning submissions. This made me think I should share a bit more about my own journey about 2 years ago.

Little did I know that I already had prepared the title
“Shhh… I won an award”
a couple of years ago. It was sitting there waiting for me to get out of my head and create something that might be useful for others.

2018 had a lot of twists and turns for me. I stepped out of operations in my startup early in the year and after completing some contract work to help me refocus, I decided the time was right to embark on my own business – as scary as that was. I had attended an entrepreneur event in Perth and was on my way to a 2 week entrepreneur resort in Bali. I was on a roll and having a lot of fun doing it…. things didn’t quite pan out the way I had planned, but more about that in the future.

Building up the courage

The purpose of this post is to share my personal Award journey, so we’ll stick with that for now.

I had been a community member and fan of WiTWA for a number of years and loved the buzz and energy in the room at every event I attended. Anecdotally, the infamous buzz of WiTWA’s face-to-face events seems to have come with us for a voyage into the digital world, which makes me even more proud to be part of the community.

Back to the eventful 2018… Always keen to be part of something much bigger and enable positive social change, I kept putting my hand up and harassing the fabulous, inspiring ladies on the committees to see if there was something I could get involved with “on the inside”. At that stage there were no open committee positions so I kept hovering… and putting my hand up – and getting involved where I could.

I get a feeling this constant “buzzing around her ears” was what made Kay (WiTWA’s deputy chair) turn around to me and say “you need to self-nominate for the WiTWA Awards to help us celebrate our 20th anniversary”. It so happened that not being on any of the committees actually meant that I was eligible, whether I thought I was deserving or not,

I can honestly say that my first reaction was to run away or hide under a rock. I pleaded with Kay to nominate on my behalf… She was firm… tapping me on the shoulder was the same as a nomination, but I would have to fill in my own submission.

Nobody knows better than you what you have achieved!

Kay Hargreaves, WiTWA Deputy chair, 2018

I was adamant… there was “no way Jose” that I would self-nominate… nothing I had done was worth a mention, and there were so many other amazing, deserving women out there. My own fear of rejection and impostor syndrome were ravaging my mind and soul.

The lovely Kay persevered, other people started whispering similar encouragements (loudly), PLUS one of my mentors was very enthusiastic about the opportunity. I was served with another bit of information that helped nudge me towards filling in my submission.

Many award nominees fill in their own submission, and guess what… most of the winners win because they do exactly that.

The final realisation that made me rise to the occasion, fill in my application, get input from my colleagues and mentors, AND officially back myself on social media.

If I do not think I am good enough and don’t back myself, how can I call myself a role model and mentor and help others discover their potential?

Gry Stene, 2018

Backing yourself on social media was definitely the most challenging for me. I had also been selected to give a TEDx Talk around the same time, which we were strongly encouraged to share widely. I had to learn fast and own it! Luckily, I had a couple of outstanding role models in Lacey Filipich and Jo Saunders who both are superstars! Thank you ladies.

Writing the submission

When I finally dared to back myself, I got lucky in terms of having content ready… I had just been through the exercise of setting up my website, and in that process had collected a LOT of information about my activities, achievements and outcomes. Or maybe I am just demonstrating my age?! No carbon-copy type job, but scaling back is always easier than writing from scratch. I had been learning from some really good wordsmiths and copywriters. Anyone who knows me is very aware that I am super verbose and talk at a speed of 100 million miles an hour.

Not all awards have the same questions, but they do tend to follow the same pattern to a certain extent, so here are a couple of tips in regards to content. I will leave it up to the wordsmiths and spin doctors of this world to advise on language and style, although I do feel that it is extremely important to be yourself.

My tips relating to the three key areas covered in the WiTWA Award submission are:

  • Personal determination isn’t necessarily work related. It can be any situation where you have had to step up and stand up. Maybe you have had to deal with difficulties or support people around you, stand up to authorities, health issues… basically anything.
  • Technical strength does not mean you have to be a programmer. Looking at my own submission, I hardly even mentioned my technical background and focused on my interaction with teams and customers to help them navigate technology.
  • Leadership is not synonymous with management- far from it. The example I have heard is Albert Einstein who we all know was a leader in his field, but, from what I have heard, had limited management capabilities.

Give yourself the gift of self-love and time. Tell your story. Follow advice from people in the know. Ask your colleagues and friends for input. The world needs to know about you, so JUST DO IT!!!

Celebrating the win!

Now, this is where I fell in a heap and totally failed – at least for a while. I was actually super stoked to be a nominee, even if I had self-nominated. The fact that I actually won an award was a whole different kettle of fish. And blasting that out on social media was so far from my culture and who I am that I cringed every time I thought of it. In Australia we have the tall poppy syndrome, in Scandinavia we have something very similar in the Law of Jante. Whilst both are about what people think of you, it is so ingrained in my culture and persona that it became an insurmountable barrier for me.

I think I shared a couple of happy “yay, I won” type posts immediately after, but then I went silent about my Award. Having just started in a high-profile dream job, this became the perfect excuse for not sharing my win with the world despite wanting to stand tall and be an inspiration to anyone who feels a bit shy and think they are not worth it.

If I can do it, so can you!

Soon after the Awards Gala, I was invited to join the WiTWA Communications Committee and I have not looked back. I love what we do! However, there is a side story to that… In my mind I had made up this whole narrative that I had only won the award because “they” were planning to get me involved in a committee, which would mean I would not be eligible to even nominate myself. Here I MUST point out that there is NOTHING wrong with the judging and scoring systems used by WiTWA. All submissions are judged anonymously by at least three independent judges and the average score is what is counted.

This made up story of inadequacy and self-deprecation was purely a product of my own negative self-talk. Despite the fact that I actually KNEW how it worked AND I wanted to INSPIRE others. It resulted in me keeping my award to myself and not sharing my pride and joy at being nominated and winning that I secretly held at home.

A few months ago I realised how selfish I had been. Since then, I have been sharing and caring, and hopefully inspired others.

I was also asked to answer three questions about winning the award, which I did without blinking.

Q1. What has winning a WiTWA ’20 in 20’ (if you won in 2018) or a Tech [+] 20 (if you won in 2019) Award meant for you?

  • Recognition that what I have done in tech for all these years matters, and it’s a great conversation starter.

Q2. What’s your #1 piece of advice to someone wanting to enter the Awards?

  • Back yourself. Nobody knows what you have done as well as you

Q3. What would you say to someone who was hesitating to apply because they don’t think they’re worthy of an award?

  • #seeherbeher. The worst thing that can happen is that you end up as one of our amazing role models, which means that you 1) inspire other women in tech [+] and young people who are thinking about a career in tech and 2) opportunities to speak, mentor, board or committee work and collaboration for good is likely to come your way

Today, I proudly display this award & trophy as well as a couple of other achievements, both physically and online.

And I tell everyone to put themselves forward for awards, talks, grants, accelerators, incubators, and any other opportunity because it is such an amazing feat. I am proud that I backed myself by submitting that application, AND that I was one of the winners.

Even if you don’t win the award, getting a submission in and featuring on the WiTWA Inspiring Role Models page is so important to demonstrate to others that we are a a diverse and inclusive group of amazing women from all walks of life.

As you can see, I am not the best photographer in the world, but the trophy is pretty awesome and gets better and better every day.