Written by Katja Kolmetz in May 2020, but too shy to post it :)
As a woman, it can be difficult to unlock the real impact of your work. I’ve actually known this for a while, but this is the first time I’m writing about it. The first time I spoke about it out loud was in a meeting with my co-founders at Human Deluxe last week, when I had to defend my new project to make sure it will happen.
It was a comfortable, trusted environment in our Berlin Studio, as I set out to explain why this project was so important to me - and so many other women out there. The words naturally poured out. Now, out in the open, there was no stopping them. Pandora’s box was wide open.
It’s not easy to acknowledge that you feel weak or disadvantaged because you’re a woman. It pushes you into a victim position - the last thing you want to be in - and you make yourself vulnerable. For most of my career, I had chosen the easy way, which was to simply not to address it. But I finally felt ready to head in the opposite path: the hard, but right path.
Having started my career in tech, a male-dominated environment, I found myself out of place, especially at the beginning of my career. One of the only women, one of the only ones with non-tech background, and the one with the least experience.
I was a young girl constantly questioning the norm and coming up with new ideas to satisfy my ambition to change the world. From day one I saw the value I could bring to the team and the organization, but there was something holding me back from meeting my own expectations.
With each and every failure, my insecurities grew. And with that I mean being overlooked during a meeting, a lost argument, or remaining silent when I felt intimidated by dominant co-workers or the critical looks of my managers. So began my imposter syndrome. I had a great title, fulfilling work, and amazing people, but I began to ask myself, “Do I deserve it? Is this really me?”
Every failure led to disappointment. But instead of sinking into self-pity (or being able to critically reflect on what had actually happened), I had a disciplined process: I got back up on my feet, rolled up my sleeves and went back to work. I worked even harder to prove that I could do better - prove it to myself and the rest of the world.
This strategy seemed to play out quite well. As my career progressed, the feedback I received from coworkers was more positive, promotions came more frequently, and I was given the chance to experience working in different roles on different teams at different companies. I was on a steady professional growth track during those years.
It’s been a decade. Ten years to think. Ten years to experience. Ten years to grow. I’ve come out of it a different person. I’d be lying if I said that growth came easy. As a woman fighting her way through in a men-dominated tech environment, I need to acknowledge the struggles I went through and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.
Moments in our life where the direction we’re taking changes - for better or worse. For me it was when I left the corporate world to start my own business with two befriended designers. That decision gave me the freedom I always wanted. It was the largest promotion I ever got. Can’t put a price on freedom.
Without artificial constraints, societal or self-imposed, I learned much faster. Every day felt like a new beginning. A day to improve. A day to learn. A day to be great.
Having the freedom to allocate my time how I wanted, I discovered tools used by designers to leverage creative problem solving and decision-making techniques. Making myself heard, influencing others, and making a real impact with my work.
Witnessing the process firsthand is what allowed me to finally see the power of visualizing ideas and real experimentation for the value it provided. It gave me the confidence and broad skillset to jump into any project and add value through facilitation, even if I wasn’t a subject matter expert.
All I want to share with you is the mindset and techniques that helped me accelerate my growth in all aspects of life. That’s why I started a Leadership Program for women. I’m not here to tell you to quit your jobs or change your careers. That’s your decision, not mine. I’m simply here to share my experience and help some of you find your own way.
The best way to give thanks for my journey is not to repay those who helped me, but rather to pay it forwards.