If you are an ambitious, driven and achievement-oriented women like me, you’ll know too well the cost of imposter syndrome personally, but the cost of imposter syndrome is far greater than most of us give consideration.
Firstly, what is imposter syndrome?
The term was first coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in the late 1970’s and was originally defined as "despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise”
Imposter syndrome is something often experienced as feelings of self-doubt, a fear of failure or success and the potential exposure of being seen to be a fraud and not good enough.
Thoughts can often include:
‘Who am I to think I can do this?”
‘Why would anyone be interested in what I have to say?’
‘I’m not thaaat good, surely people will realise this?’
‘I’m not the type of person that can put myself out there?’
‘You don’t know what you’re doing, and people will find out’
It’s not just a confidence thing….
It would be easy to assume that this is just a confidence thing and that women would just need to work on their self-esteem and their self-worth to solve it - but that would then allow organisations and society to excuse themselves from any responsibility to help create the conditions for women to thrive.
It would be unsurprising to most that women experience this more than men, some research even suggests it’s due to women having less testosterone – the confidence hormone.
Research conducted by Natwest Bank in the UK as part of it’s #ownyourimposter campaign found the following results:
· 28% of working women feel like imposter syndrome has stopped them from speaking up in a meeting
· 21% have been prevented from suggesting a new or alternative idea at work
· 26% have failed to change career or role
· 75% of professional regularly procrastinate due to imposter syndrome
So, what’s it costing?
Well it’s costing significantly more than we would care to give attention. Many women will think it’s just about the cost to them individually – the missed promotion, the opportunity not taken, the contribution not made and their potential unfulfilled.
But it’s so much more - if women play small due to imposter syndrome, they don’t take risks, businesses and teams won’t benefit from their ideas, perspective and their contribution which impacts everyone in the long run.
The gender pay gap will no doubt continue to exist as female leaders would not put themselves forward for a pay rises in fear of being found out to not be as good as their peers.
The small business economy won’t have as many women taking opportunities to start new businesses for the perspective that they don’t have the skills and experience they believe they require.
Individual mental and emotional well-being is also compromised, imposter syndrome usually affects high achievers, and therefore they often find it hard to talk about, usually they express confidence on the outside which means that they carry the shame and guilt they feel for having the doubts they do internally. This can perpetuate their own sense of being a fraud even further – leading to feelings of isolation from the fear of rejection.
What can you do about it?
Imposter syndrome doesn’t have a cure and it won’t disappear entirely, but it can be managed to stop it limiting you by doing the following:
1. Sense check the standard you measure yourself against – imposter syndrome affects high achievers who hold themselves to a much higher standard than other people –so take some time to sense check this standard with someone you trust to have your best interests at heart. Are you measuring yourself unfairly? What do they see that you don’t?
2. Acknowledge and own your achievements and progress – it’s likely when you write down everything that you’ve accomplished that you will rationally see it’s a long list. Own these accomplishments – other women need you not to minimise yourself so that you help them see themselves more clearly. It’s one of the reasons I love working with groups of women, it’s so evident to see the impact the stories, the women share, have on others. The storyteller rarely sees how much she’s inspired others by sharing what to her feels like no big deal.
3. Make a decision to stand for a cause that’s bigger than yourself – having a worthy purpose and cause can help you overcome the self-critical thoughts and get out of your own way to move forward towards your goals. Part of the reason I chose to make my business a business for good, meaning that a proportion of my business revenue went to those who were less privileged, was that it meant that I had to get out of my own way and force myself to acknowledge my worth and generate revenue because for every sale I made I was giving something to others and that was more meaningful to me than a revenue target.
4. Open up the dialogue – when you share your fears with others you trust, you create the opportunity to forge deeper connections with your peers and your network – often you learn that others have similar fears and exchanging stories helps you to see that you aren’t the only one. When I run my executive female leadership programs – one the many ‘aha’ moments include realising that everyone in the room is navigating similar internal critical thoughts – this vulnerability helps leaders cultivate the confidence to go out of their comfort zone knowing they have the support of others experiencing the same.
5. Get Curious – Imposter syndrome works on the basis we tell ourselves we should already know something and when we don’t, it can fuel our insecurity. The reality is we will never know everything we think we need and there will always be people that will have more knowledge and experience. So, focus on being someone who knows how to ask the right questions. Having had a long standing career in finance where people expected me to have financial expertise and then transitioning into my coaching business was an adjustment for me – I knew I couldn’t be the expert in every field that a client would be dealing with so my questioning ability had to be strong and enable me learn what was needed to be able to help them move forward with confidence.
I know how much imposter syndrome has personally cost me over the years and I’m determined not to let other women hold themselves back from embracing their gifts and talents in the way I know I did myself for many years.
I’m Glin Bayley, Founder of Heart of Human, I work with established C-level and senior female executives to claim their equal seat at the table. My work though group programs and 1-2-1 coaching focuses on elevating their leadership impact and cultivating confidence for the life they want.
If you want to understand what is getting in the way of your leadership, take three minutes to complete the unstoppable human diagnostic to see what’s holding you back. https://unstoppablehuman.scoreapp.com/
Or, if you are interested in learning more about working with me, you can reach me at email@example.com