Claim Your Expertise by Katey Zeh


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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?

 

RA82Rev. 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.

 

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Categories: General, Sexism

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21 replies

  1. Great advice. Sadly this problem dogs us all our lives.

    Just recently I was asked to review a paper in a field not precisely my own that I believe had a flawed premise, but a premise widely accepted in the field. It took me several days to recognize my own expertise in the area and to do as has been done to me countless times with far less expertise, check the box “reject.”

    On a more positive note, I was recently talking to a woman who had invited me to speak. She said, “I hope you will speak in your prophetic voice.” Now it is well known that I am not a fan of the prophets, so this is not a word I would choose to describe my own work. Nonetheless, I accepted her description and wrote more boldly than I might otherwise have done!

    Liked by 5 people

    • Self-doubt is quite the stumbling block, but it sounds like you’ve found ways to navigate around it. Re: the speaking engagement, is there another word that you would choose instead of prophetic?

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  2. Rev. Zeh, thank you for this very welcome post! We women are rarely encouraged to think of ourselves as experts. The prevailing culture encourages us to think of ourselves as “not quite qualified, not quite good enough.” What a tamping-down of female talent! And what a tragic waste.

    I like your idea about saying to ourselves, “I am an expert in….” and plan to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just heard an interview with Nell Scofield, who is a TV writer/editor. She said she initially made a mistake when she was promoting herself for a raise, by talking about all her substantive contributions to the show. She has now learned that she is much more successful if she promotes her contributions to the team, and her abilities as a team player.

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      • Sure, being a team player works . . got stats on the males who promote their “contributions to the team” in order to get their goodies? I would be very surprised to see any data – if there is any – on how males do this to get their raises.

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      • That’s excellent wisdom. Thanks for sharing.

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    • You’re absolutely right. Always focusing on our deficits. Go claim that expertise!

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      • As I read this discussion, I’m realizing that there is not only a male-female disconnect on proclaiming our expertise, but also a difference in what sorts of things we think it is worth being an expert in. I agree that men say they’re experts in substantive fields and that that is generally given more value than being an expert in team playing, getting along, and other qualities that are associated with women.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I still remember a job interview where I was asked to assert my accomplishments. I couldn’t think of any. I realized later that I was brought up with the concept of the “evil eye” – if you talk positively about something you did or were going to do, that would jinx it. Years later I met the interviewer at a social occasion and explained that to her. (The job was not a good fit for me so it’s just as well that I didn’t get it.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I imagine that interview question made you squirm. Don’t you hate being caught off guard like that? But it sounds like that experience held a lot of learning for you. I’m curious–did the interviewer remember?

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      • I think she remembered. But she wasn’t a complete stranger, it was an other department in the organization I already worked for. Of course, after the interview, I thought of all sorts of things that I could have said. But even then, I didn’t want to take full credit for things that others were also involved with, at least partially because I was afraid that she would assume that the successful decision was that of my (male) boss. And another success, when I caught a mistake of half-a-dozen senior managers, I didn’t want to talk about because it is not good politics to make your bosses look stupid.

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  4. Brava! This is a post definitely worth reading.

    It seems to me that those of us who have earned Ph.D. degrees should be able to shout, “I am an expert in….” I’ve been a self-employed freelance editor since the turn of the century. I have learned to say I’m an expert in what I call “gooder English.” That “gooder” part is to make people laugh. But I don’t think it lowers my expertise. People whose work I edit figure out pretty fast that I know about adverbs and semicolons and logical thinking and all that other good stuff.

    I remember job interviews. They are daunting on purpose–you sit there alone facing a committee (usually privileged men) who are the experts in everything. We all need to stand up for ourselves. Thanks for writing this post.

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  5. Great post! I have a tendency to be wary of “experts” in general and find myself turned off by the oft accompanying dogma. With that much said, I totally agree with you that it is very important for us as women to NAME who and what we are, because we are so often dismissed because of our gender. The only time I add PhD is when I am writing about bears that I walked with for more than twenty years. I am an ethologist – a person who studies animals in their natural habitat and in this scientific climate I am almost never taken seriously.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Even with bears I think of myself as knowledgable but how can I be an expert when so little is known about these animals?

    Liked by 3 people

  7. There is a man in my neighbourhood who always has to “mansplain” any comment made by a woman. What was that post about “Vengeance is Mine” the other day…? ;-)
    I’ve had a long love affair with what we call “the Bible”. More then 60 years, reading the text we have, wishing I knew the original language, reading commentaries from the different sciences, trying to live the words and life of Jesus. I’m better at discussing it then living it sometimes, but I’m an expert at trying.
    As we age, I think we gather a lot of knowledge of all sorts. There should be a graduation ceremony for crones…which of course there is!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. What a timely blog this is. I am putting together my 37 year career into a new CV. As a self employed Artist and Art Therapist, I am more then these two titles …. I am an expert in the creative being process …. an Earthiest… and aren’t we all, as women and men, a expert in being an Earthiest. Thank you Katey, I am definitely going to claim my expertise!

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