Imposter Syndrome: The Impact on Women Leaders

Impacts of Imposter Syndrome on Women

Does this sound familiar? Feeling unqualified for the position you currently hold, skeptical of your worth, and questioning if your education and experience are enough. This causing you added anxiety and stress, negatively impacting your confidence, and a nagging need to ‘do more.’ If this rings a bell, you may be experiencing imposter syndrome.

Although common in nature, there are aspects of imposter syndrome that disproportionately affect women. This can have a lasting impact on their careers, mental health, and confidence in overcoming challenges in the workplace.

The Impact on Women

The impacts of imposter syndrome

According to the New York Times, women often underestimate their abilities. They often judge their performance more harshly than their male counterparts, who assess their performance in a more positive light. Not only does this mindset make it more challenging to take on the full capacity of their role, but it can lead to career stagnation.

There are reasons for this type of thinking and perception of capabilities. Stemming back to traditional childhood upbringing, there are rewards and social penalties that conditions accepted/unaccepted behaviours and continues to influence in adulthood. Girls are taught that their value stems from social acceptance and likeability; and are encouraged to be agreeable in nature, play nicely, be cooperative, and ladylike. If these behaviours are shown, there are rewards and encouragements given by those in positions of authority (parents, teachers) — creating lasting habits and expectations.

While this behaviour is viewed positively (due to social conditioning), it can have negative results within the workforce. The conditioning of how they should act in social settings can hold women back, as being assertive and confident can negatively impact people’s perceptions of women, as they aren’t ‘agreeable.’ These traits are “deemed” more male based on traditional biased outlooks on gender and aren’t widely embraced when exhibited by women. This can make stepping into the role of a leader very difficult.

A leader has certain expectations, like being decisive, and women have very different expectations, like being likeable. This is where conflict arises, when choosing reactions or approaches to situations, due to mixed expectations on what is appropriate for certain situations. Balancing being both assertive and caring, commanding but supportive, and tough but compassionate is difficult. When the ‘gender behaviour norms’ are perceived as breached, that is where the same traits that are praised in men, cause negative perceptions if coming from a woman. This can result in being labelled as bossy, abrasive, or controlling.

It’s natural to feel the effects of imposter syndrome, such as self-doubt and anxiety in your role. What’s important is to gain a better understanding of the types of imposter syndrome and the steps you can take to overcome it.

Types of Imposter Syndrome

Types of Imposter Syndrome

It is normal to experience bouts of insecurity as you embark on new career paths or move up in roles, but you shouldn’t allow yourself to be crippled by it. Instead, try to embrace the uncertainties and challenges that are a part of growth.

Below are the unique competence types. Try to see which one describes you best based on the questions asked:

The Perfectionist

The Perfectionist competence type

If this sounds like you, you may be the type to not celebrate your successes as you tend to sway towards thinking how you could have done better. This type of behaviour can cause you to experience burnout and lose self-confidence.

It is important to learn from your mistakes and view them as building blocks for the next project or task you take on. Take any accomplishments and treat them as milestones and celebrate them with your team members and mentors.

The Superwoman

The Superwoman competence type

If you find yourself to be a workaholic, and seek external validation from, this may be you. This type of tendency can become a crutch if you rely on working until exhaustion, and searching for approval from your peers, in order to feel self-assured. We recommend conditioning yourself to feel good internally first and foremost. If nurture your confidence in your skillset and expertise, you will begin to feel more comfortable in your role. It is common to feel like a ‘fraud’ as you take on larger roles, as the way you work and perceive the scope of things will shift. But overworking yourself can lead to a host of problems, focus on finding a balance and prioritizing what matters.

The Natural Genius

The Natural genius competence type

Look at life constantly changes, and learning is the life-long expedition we all undertake. Know that everyone has something of value to offer and can provide a lesson, allow yourself to be open from taking in insight and information from others. If you’re feeling shame or having a hard time working through a pitfall or blocker, shift your attention to valuable efforts. Focus on identifying the challenge(s)/areas for improvement and explore potential methods to overcome/improve it. Every challenge is an opportunity to become better.

The Soloist

The Soloist competence type

We don’t always see that success isn’t a solo act. Successful individuals typically have a team of hard-working, dedicated people behind them or have had support along the way. Discounting the help, support, and encouragement of others could cause you to take on a lot of unnecessary stress, unfeasible workloads, and can harm the quality of your work. Work on delegating parts of projects or tasks to your team members to allow for more innovation, productivity, and quality.

The Expert

The Expert competence type

Though it is common for it to seem like everyone must wear every available hat possible, quality can be difficult to maintain when there is too much split attention. Try to avoid hoarding knowledge for self-comfort, as it is more productive to learn and acquire a skill when it is expected of you in the role you are in. There is nothing wrong with learning new things, at any stage. Take on learning new skills one to two at a time, that are relevant to where you would like to direct your career, so that you can properly absorb information.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Overcoming imposter syndrome

Come clean with your inner critic:

When taking on a new role, many times it will feel overwhelming to acquire all the necessary knowledge to become an expert at the role. Mastering new skills is challenging and it will be off base at first. Be open to learning and putting in hard work to achieve your goals, and don’t get down on yourself. Remind yourself of your achievements and maintain positive internal dialogue.

List out your achievements:

Sometimes realizing how qualified and experienced you are can be put into perspective when you write down 10-15 things you have accomplished in your lifetime. When you see what you have done written down, it gives you more insight to the hard work you do and how much you should appreciate your resilience and determination through the years.

Put your feelings into context:

Identify where you feel you are inadequate for the role you are in or want to be in. Are you feeling this way because of a confidence issue or if it’s other factors, such as discriminatory or stereotypical behaviour by your employer or coworkers? You need to understand your feelings and decide whether you feel these things on your own or because of outside influences are instilling or influencing this belief.

Be specific about your goals:

When being critical about yourself, it is vital to hone in on specifics. For example, if you want to become better at marketing, it is important to pinpoint what aspect of marketing you want to improve your skills in and not just the overarching practice. Our brains work better with specificity and clear goals.

Own and visualize your success:

When you accomplish something, say out loud “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished” and take ownership of what you were able to execute. Don’t void your contribution by saying things such as “it’s just good luck” or “just so happened to do well this time”. Celebrate with your team, it’s important to take time to commend yours and their achievements.

Key Takeaway

Remind yourself of your worth

The best athletes, lawyers, doctors, and entrepreneurs fail all the time. If they are successful in their role, it’s because they took failure as a way to improve and build their knowledge and expertise. Feeling as though you are an imposter takes a toll. Handling it gracefully, requires you to shift your mindset and expectations.

If imposter syndrome is brought on by workplace culture, it may be time to evaluate the benefits of that environment. If you find you’re ready to explore a new workplace, search for roles in organizations that encourage women in leadership.

Know your worth and your importance and role in the big picture.

Fellow female leaders, how has imposter syndrome impacted you?

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