When you find yourself on a ‘Wall of Fame’
Yesterday I was a speaker and volunteer at the Go Girl Go for IT careers fair here in Melbourne. An amazing event with nearly 2000 schoolgirls, all spending the day immersed in what a career in IT could be.
As I checked out the trade fair I discovered that I featured on the Women in Technology Wall of Fame. Yep, li’l ol’ me, up there with some of my own role models from Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, Yahoo, Twitter, Instagram, Red Balloon, Envato and more. It was quite a moment, I took a photo to preserve it for evermore (that’s me in the top right under NAB's red star).
I was scheduled to speak at the event on 'the role model effect'. One part was focused on recognising yourself as a role model to others and what to do about it when you do. So there I was, about to speak about recognising yourself as a role model and staring at myself on the Women in Technology Wall of Fame.
As I took the photo, I reflected on the moment that it had dawned on me that I just might be a role model to others. It was 2011, I had just been promoted into a head of technology position at NAB, I was one of two women on that leadership team and was still finding my feet in the role and my voice at that table. In a conversation with my manager about gender diversity he asked me about my experience. My response back then was that it was hard at times, I had been in the gender minority from the very first day of my career, but from an early stage I had been surrounded by strong female role models.
It was his next question that has remained with me since. “Have you ever stopped to think that you may be that same role model for others now?”
That stopped me in my tracks, no I hadn’t thought about that, and yes, I understood that it could be true, but what should I do? Do I act differently, make sure I behave, don’t have a bad day, keep pushing on in my career to keep setting that example, hold talks so I can share my role-modelness, or, even worse, be perfect…. all the time (unlikely at best).
I walked away from that conversation understanding that the shadow you cast is important, but mostly feeling a weight on my shoulders, a responsibility, that I didn’t know what to do with.
It took me a while, but I know now that being a role model to others is a privileged position that brings responsibility, but also opportunity. I see the opportunity as being to pay it forward by becoming more. That doesn’t mean changing anything about yourself, rather reflecting on the impact that you have on those around you and by being the change you want to see.
You can’t change other people, only yourself. If you happen to find yourself on a ‘Wall of Fame’, it is definitely time to recognise yourself as a role model and to ask yourself what is it that you are role modelling. Understanding that is how you can change the world. What are you role modelling?