Nicole R., Taking Back Apologies

January 14, 2017

Nicole R.| 30 | PhD Stanford Graduate | Machine Learning Engineer | Silicon Valley

What are the accomplishments you are most proud of?

I’m proud that I had the audacity to recently switch careers. I switched from being a scientist in a lab to a machine learning engineer at a small start up. I saw an opportunity to learn more and become more financially independent. I took it and I’m proud of that.

Do you think that there are strengths that women uniquely possess?  

I try to strike a balance between celebrating the qualities that unite our gender and recognizing that a woman’s individual strengths are a reflection of her hard work alone.  That being said, there are certain traditionally feminine traits that are under-appreciated in professional workplaces. One example is the ability to read a room and subtly guide the personalities in that room toward a common goal. It’s a skill that’s severely underutilized and underestimated in business, and one that’s easy to miss unless you look for it.

What are some things you should stop apologizing for?

I'm surprised by how often I find myself apologizing before acting as a counterpoint, especially in a professional context.  I might be dissenting on the direction of a project or simply speaking up to add a technical point that was overlooked, but either way I'm contributing in my area of expertise. I have to remind myself that I was included in the decision-making process for a reason: my contribution is considered valuable.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I often see two kinds of people: those who see something they want and go for it, and those who seem to need permission from themselves and others first. Be the former--jump in, even if all the pieces aren’t there in the beginning.

What does unapology mean to you?

It’s taking back apologies that do not serve me and never belonged there in the first place.

Sometimes it means typing, erasing, re-typing, and re-erasing an apology in an email to my manager when I know no explanation is necessary. Unapology is a promise I make to myself-- to be genuine, to replace excuses with actions, to engage with the world as a woman who has something to say. 

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