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Let’s make this the year we banish imposter syndrome forever

·3-min read
Lauren Hurley/PA (PA Archive)
Lauren Hurley/PA (PA Archive)

Feelings of inadequacy or hesitation are normal for most people at some stage in their career. But for many professionals – in particular women - these feelings aren’t an occasional problem, they are frequent and seriously inhibiting.

A 2019 survey conducted by The Hub Events found that around 90% of women experience imposter syndrome in the workplace - that feeling of not being ‘enough’.

Imposter syndrome can come in many forms – from believing successes are a result of external factors or luck to having feelings of self-doubt and need to over prove yourself.

It’s important to note that this is not an exclusively female experience. However there are a number of findings that suggest women don’t apply for jobs unless they feel they meet 100% of the criteria. Most male professionals don’t share that view. Meanwhile LinkedIn’s Gender Insights Report found that women apply for 20% fewer jobs than their male counterparts, and were 16% less likely to apply for a role than men. For many women, seeing a job description that they can’t fulfil acts as a reminder of ways they don’t fit the role - rather than a demonstration that there’s room for growth, challenges and opportunities.

I’ve seen it happen - women turning down jobs or withdrawing applications and opting to stay in a stagnant role, rather than taking a leap into a new career. This is damaging careers and limiting firms’ efforts to acquire incredible talent and a more balanced, equal workplace.

Tackling imposter syndrome in the workplace is everyone’s responsibility and in everyone’s best interests. Here’s how to do it:

For professionals

1. Be aware, recognise and accept that imposter syndrome can strike anyone and everyone – even Taylor Swift. So don’t panic.

2.  Write it all down. Recording your achievements helps you focus on them but also you have something to look back to during moments of uncertainty.

3. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t when looking at a job description. If there are areas in which you haven’t had experience, then think about your transferable skills.

4. Think about how you speak in interviews. Recognizing the language we use has become a huge component to combatting confidence in the workplace, particularly during interview stage. Speak in ‘I’ statements, avoid talking yourself down, or joking about your own abilities.

5. Understand the difference between ‘fitting’ and ‘growing’. It’s rare for anyone entering a new role to be able to do all right away. If you can, you’re overqualified. Starting a new role is designed to be challenging and to build your strengths.

For employers

1.  Don’t only use feedback when things need to improve. Many bosses view feedback as applicable only to more junior team members, during probationary reviews or when something goes wrong. But meaningful performance feedback can bring professionals of all stages much needed clarity and recognition.

2. Create inclusionary environments. A foundation where all groups and professionals have the opportunity to develop experience and lead in their field will help establish an empowered and empowering workplace.

3. Recognise leadership’s role. The most challenging and vital step is to observe how leadership speaks and behaves around male and female talent. Terms like ‘smart cookie’ are rarely, if ever, used to reference men, and duties like organising staff birthday cards are usually assigned to a woman in the office. It’s time to critically examine these nuances - and shut them down.

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