Imposter Syndrome doesn’t exist. Bold statement, right? Hear me out..
Imposter Syndrome is considered to be a feeling of second-guessing and disbelief in one’s abilities. For women, despite their exceptional accomplishments, we continue to feel like they’re not smart enough, skilled enough or ‘professional’ enough to be in the room or succeed in certain areas. This feeling is so quickly labelled to be Imposter Syndrome, with the label itself making us feel like we have a medical diagnosis. But what if this label were wrong? What if the onus that is put on women to manage this feeling, was instead put on the workplace to be more inclusive?
Fixing the workplace, instead of women
When feelings of anxiety or hesitation creep in, we’re so quick to look inwards, but what if looking outwards were the answer? Workplace design can have a powerful impact on how we perceive our capabilities. Flawed recruitment processes, promotion schemes and HR policies all contribute towards inaccurate self-assessment. If you’re unable to find role models, or people like you in the room, well, it’s only natural to question your perspectives, or attribute your successes to luck.
The same is true of workplace bias. While ambitious white men leverage their opportunities to climb the ladder to leadership, successful women are often labelled as ‘superwoman’, and so achieving the same outcome can often feel impossible or unrealistic. This feeling is only heightened by the conferences that celebrate the achievements of women in business, subtly suggesting that these achievements are ‘remarkable’ or contrary to the norm. Workplaces who fail to understand where gender-bias can creep in can consequently create considerable barriers for women to succeed.
The next time you start to feel like an imposter, try to analyse your environment, instead of questioning your competence. A major shift towards a new world of work gives me hope that more and more businesses will work to build an inclusive culture that encourages women to collaborate rather than compete, and ensures that gender has as much bearing on an individual’s opportunities for success, as their eye colour or shoe size.
Confusing Imposter Syndrome with self-doubt
What if what we’re being told is Imposter Syndrome, is instead self-doubt? While the Imposter Syndrome label has the tendency to paralyse and patronise, self-doubt allows women to reflect, analyse and challenge themselves. Exploring the self-doubt that we feel in certain situations allows us to recognise where we may need to develop, or lean on the expertise of others. It also gives us the space to stop internalising our defeats, and start seeing them as an opportunity to learn. Success is as much about getting things right, as it is about learning from your mistakes.
The workplace is in a unique position of responsibility to help women reframe the self-doubt they feel at work. By championing openness, honesty and offering opportunities for self-development, women can use self-doubt as a source of positive motivation. Fostering a culture of reflection simultaneously gives women the space to recognise and remind themselves of their successes, even if it’s just with an under the desk fist pump.
So, let’s stop telling women they have Imposter Syndrome, and start to address it at it’s true source. It will take a collective effort, and it will take time to change the narrative, but we can be confident that the struggle is not a full stop, it’s a comma.