Self-doubt and imposter syndrome permeate the workplace, but women are particularly likely to experience it. Why is this – and how can it be changed?
Anyone who meets me, always comments on my confidence and self-belief. Having a big personality and the ability to get my point across succinctly, may mean that I appear to outsiders as someone who never experience self-doubt. If only they knew!
Since a young age, I have battled with feelings of self-doubt and a lack of confidence. Having a loud voice and a big presence has meant that I have had a box of tools that I can use to mask my feelings of inadequacy.
Starting RE4orm a year ago has meant the feelings of doubt and inadequacy have resurfaced. Although I firmly believe I have the experience, knowledge and credibility to make an impact, self-doubt continues to creep in.
I had started to wonder if this was just me; were these feelings normal or was this something that others experienced?
Imposter syndrome is one of those phrases you’ve likely heard bandied about a lot, with celebrities and high-profile politicians all confessing to having suffered from it.
It’s a term used to describe the psychological phenomenon of intense feelings of self-doubt to the extent where people feel like a fraud, either in their personal or professional lives, though it’s most frequently the latter.
Imposter syndrome describes feelings of severe inadequacy and self-doubt that can leave people fearing that they will be exposed as a ‘fraud’, usually in their work lives.
It can affect anyone, regardless of their success. A number of high-achieving people, including Michelle Obama, Kate Winslet and Emma Watson, have spoken out about their experiences with imposter syndrome in interviews.
The term comes from a study conducted in 1978 by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes of Georgia State University, titled ‘The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention’.
This mentality is thought to be particularly prevalent in young people, with a 2017 survey claiming one third of millennials have imposter syndrome due to feeling intimidated in the workplace.
You may not be able to see it around you, but imposter syndrome permeates the workplace. It’s a feeling that many people can identify with: why do I feel like a fraud even though I’m eminently qualified for this job?
Despite having education and training, many have never been able to break free of doubting their worthiness and step into a higher level of success.
Lack of physical representation is just one of the factors that feeds into imposter syndrome.
For instance, pervasive racist and sexist stereotypes can cause marginalised people to doubt themselves.
Common messaging such as that women are not good leaders because they’re too emotional; women are not good at maths or science; black, indigenous and other people of colour are lazy, unintelligent or lack integrity.
Even the traditional focus on female beauty can make an impact on self-doubt.
If you’ve grown up with messages that you’re only valued for your looks and your body, not your skills or intelligence, you may end up getting a certain job or position and wondering whether you truly deserve it or if the hiring manager just thought you were a pretty face.
If you doubt yourself even when you’re doing all the right things, are you doomed to feel like an imposter, no matter what? And why, exactly, do we feel imposter syndrome – and what can we do when that feeling starts to boil up?
It turns out these feelings are felt by many around me. Some of the most successful business women and leaders I have worked with, continue to experience imposter syndrome.
Surround yourself with people who believe in you. Ensure your circle is full of those who will inspire you to keep moving forward.
Don’t let self-doubt creep in. Always remember, you are good enough.