By Amy Kaufman
Impostor syndrome is a common struggle, impacting around 70% of individuals at some point in their careers. For women, this challenge is compounded by societal expectations and stereotypes, leading to self-doubt and potential barriers to professional success.
Studies have shown that women often hesitate to apply for jobs unless they meet all qualifications, while men are more inclined to apply even if they meet only a portion of the requirements. This discrepancy affects how women engage with job opportunities, causing them to apply for fewer roles overall.
Addressing this gender disparity and dismantling these barriers to success is crucial. Empowering women with strategies to overcome impostor syndrome can contribute to a more equitable workplace, allowing for increased representation of women in leadership roles and, in turn, enhancing organizational performance and profitability.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
The term “impostor phenomenon”—now more commonly referred to as “impostor syndrome”—was first coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. They used it to describe high-achieving women who felt that they were intellectual frauds; women who felt like they had achieved success through luck or by accident. These women often lived in fear of being “discovered” as phonies.
Numerous publications—from Newsweek to Entrepreneur to Harvard Business Review—have reported on impostor syndrome in women, and many have found that entrepreneurs are often more susceptible because they have a greater degree of personal accountability for their decisions than many employees. Entrepreneurs also tend to deal with a lot of unique, unscripted situations, and are often called to step outside of their comfort zones. In these instances, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “Am I really the best person to figure this out?” The confluence of impostor syndrome among women and specifically among women entrepreneurs ultimately contributes to a lower percentage of women business owners and leaders.
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Strategies for coping with impostor syndrome
Counteracting impostor syndrome demands proactive self-management. Here are six powerful coping strategies to help overcome the impostor phenomenon:
1. Be okay in your own mind.
To mitigate impostor syndrome, it is important to cultivate and nurture a positive mindset. Being OK in your own mind means acknowledging that self-perceived shortcomings are likely not as bad as they seem. Recognize your achievements, even if they’re not perfect, and grant yourself grace and time to breathe when things start to feel overwhelming. Embrace external benchmarks of success while holding yourself to your own standards so that success feels warranted and personal when it does happen.
2. Be present.
Mindfulness and living in the moment, be it at work or at home, is the key to finding and maintaining purpose. Focusing on the task at hand and avoiding excessive rumination on unaccomplished responsibilities or perceived inadequacies results in more deliberate actions and thought. Women often grapple with the sense of not doing enough, which can extend to personal spheres like family or school involvement. It’s important to remind yourself, however, that you are enough—in fact, you’re more than enough. Be intentional about where time is spent, and be focused on it when you are.
3. Practice self-care.
Prioritize yourself by taking good care of yourself. Self-care rituals are incredibly personal and subjective. Wherever you find rejuvenation is what you need to make time for. Focus on practices that help in managing stress and that foster a sense of inner balance. Whether it’s exercising or doing yoga, dedicating time to hobbies, or spending time outside, self-care plays a pivotal role in building resilience against impostor syndrome and in promoting overall well-being.
4. Call on your support system.
Having a strong support system is invaluable in dealing with impostor syndrome. Engaging in conversations with individuals, especially those who can relate to your experiences, can be a real difference maker. Connecting with friends or peers who share a similar point of view allows for a supportive environment where you can openly discuss challenges and concerns while gaining valuable insights, helping to counteract feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Build your tribe, and find solace in their like-mindedness.
5. Stop apologizing.
Recognizing the tendency to over-apologize, especially prevalent among women in the workplace, is crucial in addressing impostor syndrome. Breaking free from this habit can be challenging, but it’s essential to reduce unnecessary apologies, especially when there is no fault or wrongdoing involved. Shifting this behavior contributes to a stronger, more assertive workplace presence, countering the effects of impostor syndrome and promoting greater self-confidence and self-assuredness.
6. Claim your seat at the table.
Recognize that your insights, experiences, and contributions are valuable and deserving of acknowledgment. Actively engage in discussions and meetings, making your voice heard and demonstrating your expertise. Embrace opportunities for growth and advancement, affirming your right to be present and impactful within your professional sphere. Understanding that your perspective matters is a fundamental step toward combating feelings of inadequacy and claiming your rightful place at the table.
About Amy Kaufman
Amy Kaufman started her career with BVOH Search & Consulting, now Vaco, nearly two decades ago. Today, she connects with and advises top accounting and finance talent across the San Francisco Bay area, bringing a relationship-based approach to every collaboration with both clients and candidates.