Do you experience an inner voice telling you you’re not good enough, not qualified enough or that your accomplishments are inadequate?
Perhaps you look around the workplace but cannot shift this feeling that you don't belong there.
You’re not alone.
This internal battle with persistent self-doubt is a feeling that many of us can identify with and is commonly referred to as imposter syndrome.
In this blog post we will explore what imposter syndrome is, drawing on personal experiences from our Fund Her North network and offer insight into ways to help overcome feelings of self-doubt.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome refers to an individual’s inability to accept that their success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved. These individuals tend to attribute their accomplishments to luck or oversight rather than as a result of one's effort or skills. For this reason, the individual may experience 'intellectual phoniness' – where the individual believes that they are not as competent as others perceive and fear that they will eventually be exposed as a fraud.
This widespread imposter phenomenon was first described in 1978 by psychologists, Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes through their study into over 150 high achieving women. They found that despite these women receiving outstanding academic and professional praise, they struggled to internalise their success - maintaining a strong belief that they were not intelligent and referring to themselves as ‘imposters’ 1.
So, do only women experience imposter syndrome? No. Imposter syndrome is not a gendered phenomenon. Men can also experience imposter syndrome. Although it does appear to be more prevalent amongst women.
Understanding imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome represents the conflict between your own self-perception and the way others perceive you.
Characteristics of imposter syndrome can include:
- Doubting your abilities
- Fear that you won’t live up to expectations
- Berating your performance
- Sabotaging your own success
Imposter syndrome can distort how you view yourself, your behaviour in the workplace and confidence in one’s abilities.
However, it is important to acknowledge that every individual’s experience with imposter syndrome is different. Some people can experience imposter syndrome for a limited time. For example, the first few weeks of a new job. For others, the experience can be constant.
Impact of imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome can manifest feelings of self-doubt and low self-esteem causing damage both professionally and personally.
Individuals may experience an overwhelming sense of guilt that they are ‘less competent’ and fear that they will be rejected by others. This can have a negative impact on your mental health and could lead to psychological distress.
Work performance can also be impacted as individuals are more reluctant to put themselves forward for senior roles. This can have an adverse effect on career progression and fuels a vicious cycle.
In order to investigate the phenomenon of imposter syndrome, we conducted a survey gathering thoughts from our Fund Her North network. It was greatly received!
We found that 91.6% of respondents claimed that they had experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their career.
Here are some of their experiences…
“The industry has been dominated by men for my entire career. I have always felt I have to go the extra mile amongst a male dominated environment. To prove my capabilities and to be taken seriously - always feeling I have to work harder, smarter, faster, cleverer”.
“The world of finance is as guilty as many other sectors in assuming a certain level of knowledge about how the industry works and what different things mean, as much in new recruits as in entrepreneurs and others that interact with it. Feelings of doubt in your abilities can certainly limit confidence and performance if given the chance to do so”.
“I've always had a thought that ‘they will eventually find out I am not cut out for the job’ even though I have outperformed in everything I have done! It has sometimes stopped me from taking opportunities”.
“I am often the youngest in the professional rooms I find myself in. I am also often the only female. I have been given lots of growth opportunities in my roles where I have been allowed to run with responsibilities, deals, and scenarios, that I have not had exposure to before. This has led to MANY a situation where I ask myself why I’ve been allowed to handle them”.
Ways to overcome imposter syndrome
Fund Her North is committed to raising issues that are important to women entrepreneurs and investors. We believe it is in our collective power to help combat the negative effects of imposter syndrome and build confidence.
Here are a few ways to help overcome imposter syndrome…
1) Reframe the inner voice
Accept that feeling uncomfortable is part of the growth process. This will help you to see your inner voice as your advocate not your adversary, challenging you to move forward and out of your comfort zone!
2) Reality check
Challenge the self-doubt to differentiate between feelings and reality. Writing a list can help to validate your accomplishments and put your mind at ease.
3) Talk about it
Seek feedback from peers and people you respect frequently. Act on the constructive messages and learn to accept compliments and praise - take them as an accurate reflection of how others see you.
4) Stop comparing yourself to others
Recognise that success does not require perfection. Everyone has unique abilities, and you are in your position because of your talents and potential. Take a moment to reflect on your progression from where you once were to where you are now.
Please note: if you are struggling with imposter syndrome it is important to seek help.
Final thoughts from our network…
“Diversifying the playing field with more women, more young people, more diversity in all lived experiences has value. Being the ‘impostor’ and bringing a different voice to the table enables you to see things that may have been overlooked otherwise so do not minimise your contributions as a result of feeling like you’re ‘lucky to be there’ or that the ‘invite was a mistake’. Equally, use the opportunity to advocate for greater diversity and the person you are ‘impersonating’ will look and feel more like you, and subsequently you less like the ‘impostor’!”
Written by: Amirah Darr
Our mission at Fund Her North is to bring together women in the investment industry and help support female founders. Please visit https://www.fundhernorth.com to join our community!