Michelle Wong has suffered from imposter syndrome. However, she has taught herself ways to cope with it and accept the accolades and recognition she has rightfully earnt. She talks to Toni Sekinah about these strategies and how, as a manager, she has a role in helping to deal with these issues when they arise among her staff.
Michelle Wong, head of analytics marketing at luxury online fashion retailer FarFetch, has suffered and to an extent still suffers from imposter syndrome. It is defined as “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalise their achievements”. For her, it means that self-doubt creeps into her thoughts about her abilities, leading her to questions how she got to where she is and whether she deserves to be there.
“Imposter syndrome holds me back from being vocal.”
Imposter syndrome has affected her work and career in two specific ways. She said: “It holds me back from being vocal and speaking up, especially when I don’t have all the answers and/or details, as I don’t want my ability to be under question.” She added: “It also stopped me from putting my hand up and asking for opportunities as I questioned whether I was good enough to take it on and my ability to accomplish it.”
These feelings of self-doubt can lead to what Wong calls ‘down periods’ during which you don’t seem to be able to do anything and your head is fuzzy. “When you are aware of it and when you are in the moment, you think ‘I feel a bit s**t. Why am I in the position I am in?’”
Fortunately, she has started to address and quell those negative thoughts. In the past, when she received awards at university or promotions at work, she would brush off anyone congratulating her, say it was down to luck and deflect attention to something else. However, since then she has taught herself to respond with a simple ‘thank you’.
It is one thing to deal with one’s own issues of self-doubt in the workplace but Wong is a manager and so also has to help her team when they go through crises of confidence. She admitted that this can be hard at times, especially as everyone reacts to stress in a different way and they are all working in a high-pressure environment with a lot of expectation.
“The business doesn’t always understand the difference between data science and analytics.”
According to Wong, a lot of the pressure comes from the expectation from other business areas that data people are seen to have all the answers or will be able to give those answers. Compounding this, Wong thinks along the same lines. “I do feel we should have all the answers,” she said.
“In analytics, we’re generally on the firing line.”
She also there is also the additional pressure of analytics people being more visible than data science people. “Data science is more in the back end and analytics is more at the front end so you’re working more with business stakeholders. The business doesn’t always understand the difference between data science and analytics, or BI and data engineering. They just see data and analytics sits
at the front of that. We’re generally on the firing line,” Wong said.
“A start-up company everyone is expected to muck in.”
She said that this high expectation is more likely to occur in younger companies with less data maturity. At a data mature company, everyone would know the role of analytics and how it differs from BI but at a start-up company everyone is expected to “muck in”. Because the analytics people can access data, they might also be expected to automate things, visualise things, get insights from data as well as exploit. it Wong said she feels this could be solved with education about the different
pillars within data and the specific roles involved.
“Expectation and pressure mean analytics teams can feel responsible for problems.”
The result of this expectation, pressure and self-imposed need to deliver and perform is that members of her analytics team can end up feeling that they are responsible for any problems when this may not be the case. When members of her team are going through ‘down periods’, Wong will try to get them out of it as soon as possible by getting them to see the bigger picture and the end goal.
“It’s about coaching them to think, asking them questions and guiding them to answer those
questions themselves,” she said. Making them aware of their situation is also imperative. Wong said: “When you realise what you are experiencing, you instantly think ‘Ahh, that’s what it is.’ If you are able to think back to the techniques, you are able to snap yourself out a lot faster.”
It seems that the alleviation of pressure on analytics teams through the education of other business areas would be beneficial to those who work in that area. Furthermore, awareness about imposter syndrome and techniques on dealing with crises of confidence so that analytic professionals can be aware of a crisis or crash before it fully strikes, and take steps to mitigate and manage it.