Imposter Syndrome continues to worsen for women & why Cinderella's (ugly) stepsisters helped me overcome my own Imposter

*I recently published this article on LinkedIn: If you're interested in doing the digital-only version of group coaching (where you watch and get all of the contents on catch up, as the live coaching with me is now closed), simply email me for more details: oliviabath@thewomensvault.com for more*

The problem with Imposter Syndrome is that it holds us back, from being happy, being fulfilled in our careers. 

Throughout my own Squiggly career, I have at times been plagued by Imposter Syndrome; with symptoms including comparing myself to colleagues, and feeling a constant need to do everything perfectly, measuring myself (and others) against an incredibly high yardstick. I used to do things like checking emails in the middle of the night - just to make sure I hadn’t spelled someone’s name wrong, or forgotten to mention an important point. 

Cinderella’s stepsisters provided inspiration for me

More recently, my mean and ugly Imposter Syndrome Sister - inspired by Cinderella’s stepsisters after reading the book one evening to my son - has shown up in the new industry that I’m working in, where I am comparing myself against others who have years of experience over me. 

This new way of seeing my Imposter - as a character from a book - allows me to be more objective. No longer is my self worth and confidence diminished for days on end when she comes knocking on my door.

When we have Imposter Syndrome, we live in a cycle. Some days we feel good. We're self-assured and confident; and other days we are plagued by self-doubt. 

I’m often called upon in those moments of self-doubt to reframe the thinking of client, or the Executives that I used to work with when they were about to walk out on stage on speak at a customer event in front of 5,000 people and they would look at me in terror and wonder if they were a fraud and would be found out mid-speech.

The Imposter Cycle

This “Imposter Cycle” has been cited by Dr Sandi Mann in her book, Why do I feel like an Imposter?. It has three stages where essentially you continue on this loop with the following internal dialogue:

I am successful> My success must be due to luck> I don’t think I will be successful.

There are many causes for Imposter Syndrome, including the way that we were raised and well-intentioned things that were said to us, from “your sister does it better, why don’t you take a leaf out of her book?”; to “people don’t like people who brag about their achievements.”

Imposter Syndrome as a result of Workplace environments

At other times, Imposter Syndrome becomes an issue when the external environment including workplace cultures have a significant impact. 

One of my clients who works in a senior role at one of the UK’s top 4 accounting firms, shared with me that when she was hired as a graduate, there were 18 men and two women in her Department’s intake. When she met the Department’s Partners in her first week, she described that it “was like looking at a wall of men, none of whom reflected her gender”.

Despite being so proud to have joined the firm, she felt like an outsider from the start, both in gender and her approach to work. This plagued her for years, eroding her confidence, never feeling like she was “alpha enough or confident enough” to thrive there.

This highly accomplished and clever woman even considered leaving her job after she had got to senior Manager level as when she looked at herself compared to the senior leadership, she felt she was in completely the wrong place. 

It wasn’t until completing her Directorship promotion process where her strengths were identified that she saw that she was a valuable asset to the firm. Finally, years later, her confidence is slowly improving after a decade of Imposter Syndrome.

In my work, I hear stories like this everyday where I’m often supporting women in male-dominated industries.

A KPMG study of 750 professional women reported 75% personally experienced Imposter Syndrome in their career. 

What HR Managers are telling me

In my conversations with HR Managers, they are asking for my support to help their female employees because the challenge isn’t about the expertise or the calibre of the women working in their organisations - in fact it’s often the opposite - the issue is that women are holding themselves back because of their imposter syndrome. 

This issue is hard to address at an organisational level because confidence and self-belief issues are individualised and so often it's outsourced to me, as a coach/ trainer, rather than getting their Manager to "sort it out".

Imposter Syndrome is becoming worse

I’m seeing that Imposter Syndrome is becoming worse and this is exacerbated for women because of a myriad of factors.

Social media is triggering for many of us, as we compare ourselves to others and feel inferior in our own lifestyles or achievements; we are still working in patriarchal systems and structures and the Pandemic has seen the progress of gender parity slow and less women achieving leadership positions; and women struggle as we don’t have role models - women in senior roles remain the minority (especially women with young children, who require lots of care). 

I was speaking with a woman at one of my training programmes and she explained that seeing your colleagues or old university chums getting promoted and taking on new roles with senior titles on LinkedIn made her feel like she was being left behind and she should be keeping up with them. 

Others have shared with me how the Pandemic has affected them - they are still getting comfortable speaking up in meetings that are in-person. It often felt easier to them in a hybrid meeting where they could raise a virtual hand and then ask a question or comment.

Again, these are all signs of Imposter Syndrome.

So if you’re experiencing Imposter Syndrome, where can you start?

  1. Acknowledge it. Give yourself the grace to acknowledge your thought patterns and behaviours.
  2. Understand the Imposter Syndrome cycle as shared by Dr Sandi Mann above - I also describe this as riding a confidence “wave”. Some days you’re up, others you’re down. If you’ve got too many days when that wave is down, it may be time to explore getting some support - see what your workplace offers, or see more about how I can help below.
  3. Recognise when it’s happening and start to interrupt those thought patterns: cognitive restructuring. Then you can start to address these and begin to complete confidence boosting exercises including accepting the evidence of your accomplishments - rather than dismissing them.

My mission is to help women to overcome barriers, whether they are internal barriers - like Imposter Syndrome - or external barriers, such as their work’s culture, or environment. Right now I'm working with private clients as well as organisations to take a double-pronged approach to helping more women to reach leadership roles (or simply be happier at work of which confidence is a key proponent).

Imposter Syndrome Group Coaching

Registration for my Imposter Syndrome Group Coaching Programme has now closed, but if you’d like to do the digital-only version (where you watch on catch-up and have full access to all of the content) then email Olivia - oliviabath@thewomensvault.com - for information and price.