Could women’s biggest career challenge be themselves?

Could women’s biggest career challenge be themselves?

Can you hear that nagging, undermining voice at the back of your mind? This is the voice of ‘imposter syndrome’.

It’s almost certainly wrong. Yet many women at the peak of their careers, don’t just hear it. They choose to believe it.

Can I do this?

Recently model, television presenter and fashion designer Alexa Chung revealed she is among the many to suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’.

“It’s not exclusive to fashion, I’ve felt it with everything I’ve done,” she told BBC News.

“Writing for Vogue, that’s a huge imposter syndrome. Television, every day before we went live, I’d be like, ‘am I equipped to do this?”

Illogical feelings of inadequacy

Many of us will be familiar with that momentary wobble. But imposter syndrome is a constant, gnawing self-doubt. It’s an irrational questioning of your own ability which can leave highly competent individuals doubting their achievements.

Men can be affected too. Yet women – possibly the result of generations of being encouraged to remain in the kitchen – seem particularly prone to these illogical, deeply held feelings of inadequacy.

It isn’t just in our heads. These thoughts influence our feelings, affect decisions and can prevent the grasping of well-deserved career opportunities.

RBS research

According to the Royal Bank of Scotland’s recent Microbusiness Index, a third of female microbusiness owners surveyed suffer from imposter syndrome.

There they are running successful businesses, providing employment and represent the very bedrock of the economy. Yet instead of celebrating their strengths and feeling great about how well they’re doing, these successful women are sweating through anxiety that they’ll suddenly be “found out”.

Be proud of your achievements

Yet the RBS research suggests they have nothing to worry about and instead should be proud of their achievements. They have embraced technology to make their businesses work, many are university educated and just over a quarter have become their own boss by the time they’re 35.

When it comes to gender discrepancies in the workplace – and in particular at senior levels in UK business – you have to wonder what impact imposter syndrome may be having in preventing women from stepping up the ladder.

Prising open the closed shop of the boardroom

The Hampton-Alexander Review, launched by the government in 2016 to increase gender diversity, has recommended that a third of senior FTSE 350 positions be filled by women by 2020.

Currently, women represent just 25.5 per cent of directors in FTSE 350 companies, mostly in non-executive positions.

To hit its target, 40 per cent of all appointments made in the next two years would need to go to women – a target that’s almost certain to be missed.

UK lagging behind

The UK is already lagging behind on this front. As noted in my recent blog, in California, the state has just passed a bill that would – if it becomes law – require at least one woman to be appointed to board positions by the end of 2019. In addition, there would be a requirement for two women for every board of five members, and three for boards of six, by 2021.

While prising open the closed shop of the boardroom  may help address the imbalance, there‘s the risk it prompts women to doubt themselves. Even if their experience and talent suggests they are more than qualified. This would affect their ability to work effectively at board level and provide men with the excuse that they tried a woman once and it didn’t work out.

‘Women as Leaders’ course

In my work as a leadership facilitator and coach, I’m increasingly aware of a reticence among females to push themselves forward.

By listening to those nagging doubts and failing to embrace their own successes, they are at risk of being overlooked.

There is hope. The Ros Taylor Company ‘Women as Leaders’ course has already helped hundreds of women overcome these  irrational thoughts to progress their careers.

But until women build that inner courage to shut down that nagging voice of doubt, their biggest career challenge may well be themselves.

Top tips:

  • Ignore that nagging voice in the back of your head
  • Focus instead on being proud of your achievements
  • Recognise your skills and experience and push yourself forwards