Years ago I attended a women’s workshop hosted by The OpEd Project, an organization dedicated to diversifying voices in the media. The first exercise was for each of us to state our particular area of expertise to the group. I remember the anxiety I felt as I attempted to articulate what felt truthful and authentic to claim as an area of personal mastery. I ended up reciting something practically verbatim from my job description at the time, stumbling over the phrase “I am an expert…” It was terribly uncomfortable.
Recently I’ve experienced similar discomfort when several folks have referred to me as a “podcasting expert.” A podcasting expert? Hardly! Sure, I co-host a podcast. Yes, we produce it ourselves. Indeed, we’ve published more than twenty episodes in the last year, and we’ve built a consistent following. But, it’s not like we’re topping the charts over on Apple Podcasts. Those people are the “real” podcasting experts.
Assertively claiming our expertise, like others form of self-endorsement, is seldom encouraged among women. In the workplace overly confident women leaders are penalized for being “unlikable.” But even if women are externally validated as experts in their field through schooling or other credentials, their expertise is not deemed as trustworthy as that of their male counterparts.
As a newly ordained minister I’ve discovered this to be particularly true with regard to scriptural interpretation. A few months ago I posted a short commentary regarding a biblical passage that I’ve been studying for nearly three years that will be included in my forthcoming book Women Rise Up. Not more than two minutes after posted I had a man, unknown to me, contradict me with a retort that was full of textual errors. My carefully crafted analysis had been years in the making, and yet this man brazenly critiqued me without bothering to read the text closely. Needless to say, it irked me.
My resistance to the label of “expert” has in part been about a lousy attempt to protect myself from criticism. Instead of verbally touting my abilities, I prefer to demonstrate them to others over time. That’s all well and good, but there are certain situations in which we can’t spend time ensuring the right people see how competent and skilled we are: when we apply for a job, pitch an article, or yes–start a new podcast. In those moments we must quickly communicate our talents and expertise in persuasive, confidence-inducing ways.
I challenge all of us to practice saying out loud to ourselves, “I am an expert in…” and completing the sentence boldly without apology. Many of us could start with this:
“I am an expert in feminism and religion.”
Choose to finish the sentence however it best suits you. Then say it over and over again. Then practice saying it in front of others. Let’s start in the comments below. What is your area of expertise?
Rev. Katey Zeh is an ordained Baptist minister, a nonprofit strategist, writer, and speaker at the intersections of faith and gender justice. She is the Executive Director of BrightDot Academy, a
personal and professional enrichment initiative of the consulting firm Crouch & Associates. She is the co-host of Kindreds, a podcast for soul sisters. Her book Women Rise Up will be published by the FAR Press this year. Find her on Twitter at @kateyzeh or on her website kateyzeh.com.