April 30, 2020

No Apology Necessary: What I learned from WiCyS (Virtual) 2020

McGill, John

This month, I had the distinct privilege of being invited to join and lead a discussion at the Virtual Women In CyberSecurity (WiCyS) convention. I was humbled and grateful to be there with my mentors and friends from the National Cyber League. I walked away with a few distinct impressions that, in my opinion, will help me become a more successful advocate and ally for women anxious to enter into the Cybersecurity field.

I was, admittedly, a bit nervous about being a male voice in a female forum. I felt like I might be unwelcome or that I might have to justify why I was there. I was received so well, however, that it caused me to reflect; what I realized was that this is likely the same way that many women feel entering into cybersecurity. I hope that women who feel this way are given the same respect and consideration at their first meetings, job interviews, and forums as I received.

One topic that came up in the discussion addressed the imposter syndrome that many professionals feel on a regular basis. Many of us, regardless of gender, struggle with self-validation. The idea that we are not expert enough, smart enough, or experienced enough affects our ability to speak clearly and communicate effectively. Our conversations are filled with apologies.

“I am sorry for the delay.”

“What works best for you?”

“No problem (when it actually is a problem).”

“I think maybe we should look at this instead.”

Just checking, could you tell me where we are at with this”?

Hopefully, that made sense.”

Sorry, I missed that detail.”

“Could I possibly reschedule that?”

Some enterprising individuals someday will print these expressions on doormats. All these statements have a built-in apology. Why is that a bad thing? Consider an article written for Indeed.com, 10 Best Skills to Include on a Resume (With Examples). (Link: https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/resumes-cover-letters/best-resume-skills)

 The top 10 skills that should be on a resume are:

  • Active listening
  • Communication
  • Computer skills
  • Customer service
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Leadership
  • Management skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Time management
  • Transferable skills

You will notice that the majority of these skills, often referred to as “soft skills”, involve communication. The ability to communicate is essential! The manner in which we speak tells the recipient how to react to us. If we use an apologetic tone, we communicate that we are always in the wrong, an inconvenience, or doubting ourselves. It invites dismissiveness, and lets people walk all over us… like doormats.

In the book Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals (link: https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Stop-Apologizing-Shame-Free-Embracing/dp/1400209609) Rachel Hollis identifies the causes for this kind of talk; embarrassment, falling short of perfection, and not believing in yourself. 

An interesting counterpoint was offered by Kristen Wong in the New York Times (link: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/22/smarter-living/no-you-dont-have-to-stop-apologizing.html) where she suggests that rejecting apologies completely can make you appear cold and distant

This is what I believe to be at the root of another fear; women worry that they are either perceived as over-emotional or heartless – with little room in between. There is a fear that if you say what you really mean, you will wear a label. So, an apology in this case is a defense tactic. Some women would rather be seen as having made a mistake than labelled as too aggressive.

The key lies in sincerity. If you were in the wrong (and this goes for any gender) a sincere apology shows humility and authenticity. At times, it is matter of respect for the other person. If you did nothing wrong, however, don’t apologize! You may think that a quick apology erases that self-doubt we all have, but in fact it reinforces the idea that you are insecure, inept, or even worse. Empathy is a strong asset, not a liability… and it does not need an apology.