For the launch of MI-GSO | PCUBED’s Women’s Network, we sat down to tackle one of the common obstacles women face in the workplace; imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is the internal experience of believing you are incompetent and doubting your achievements, assuming they are down to luck, a fluke or a mistake. This impacts our ability to show up completely in the workplace as ultimately, we don’t feel we deserve to be there. It stops us from speaking up in meetings, putting ourselves forward for high visibility projects and means we accept less in salary and promotions.
Too often companies and managers are quick to label women as suffering from imposter syndrome when really, they may be feeling the impacts of systemic racism, classism, xenophobia and sexism. All of which, it is worth noting, were categorically absent when the concept of imposter syndrome was developed by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978.
In this panel discussion we look at how societal structures impact our view of imposter syndrome and we can recognise and prevent it.
How does Imposter Syndrome appear in different sectors?
While imposter syndrome can be identified as feeling like a fraud, what that looks like in practice is completely dependent on the individual and the environment they work best in. Coming from an events background, I have always been surrounded by women. However, when I worked in middle management at a large corporation in the technology sector, we had thousands of females across the globe in the conference side of the business, yet there was a notable lack of female representation at the leadership level. With so many women to choose from, the excuse that “they just aren’t there”, which we so often hear when we discuss the lack of representation, was weak.
When I co-founded my business, the new identity my imposter took on was that I didn’t look old enough to appear knowledgeable, and therefore what I had to say was less relevant. Yet in every other area of society I am told that when I age, and become older, I lose relevance and become invisible.
Ultimately, our imposter syndrome is the feeling we get when we don’t belong, feel like we aren’t good enough or think we are undeserving. It will take on various different voices throughout our career as we face new challenges and experience more growth, unless of course we learn that voice is not the voice of truth, and we choose to be our biggest cheerleaders.
How do you feel societal structures contribute to our views of imposter syndrome?
I am always conscious of catch-all terms being used to explain rather complex emotions. Too often, companies and managers latch on to these terms to shift responsibility from the environment or company, to the victim. In a company I worked in previously, one of the leaders would use a “lack of resilience” to dismiss employees who left because it was a toxic workplace.
We have a long way to go as a society to truly create inclusive work environments. The first step is to acknowledge that there is an unfair bias and the second is that it’s not the job of the victim of this bias, to fix the problem.
How can we recognise and overcome imposter syndrome?
Perfectionism is a common symptom, overachieving or self-sabotaging your own success is another. Believing negative feedback and dismissing the positive is a big one. If you notice you’re not putting yourself forward for opportunities because there’s someone else who would “be better at it” or you hear others voice an opinion in a meeting, that you wanted to say but were afraid to because you assumed you’d be laughed at for being stupid. All of these are behaviours linked to imposter syndrome.
If you truly want to overcome it, you must commit, because this journey won’t necessarily be easy. We have to face a lot of deep rooted, limiting beliefs that can often be painful or hard. We have to actively choose different thoughts and challenge the bully in our head who tells us we can’t. You need to commit.
How do we prevent imposter syndrome from impacting our mental health?
Don’t let your emotions snowball and don’t accept that feeling inadequate, afraid or out of place is normal. There are some moments that, of course, we will feel those things and that’s OK – but if it’s happening more than it’s not, that’s a problem. Pause. Feel. Connect with your emotions and the cause of them. Find an ally in your team and your organisation who you can speak freely with. A lot of what you’re feeling might be in your head or it might be a systemic issue in the organisation. That’s not your problem to fix. Take what experience you need from the company and move on somewhere where they make you feel valued.
Too often those suffering take on the weight of responsibility, when really the companies and people we work for need to intercept and help us. If they’re not willing to do that, then you know for certain that the problem is not you.