Let’s make this the year we banish impostor syndrome forever

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feelings of inadequacy or hesitation are normal for most people at some point in their careers. But for many professionals – especially women – these feelings are not an occasional problem, they are frequent and seriously inhibiting.

A 2019 survey by The Hub Events found that around 90% of women suffer from impostor syndrome in the workplace – that feeling of not being “enough”.

Impostor Syndrome can take many forms – from the belief that successes are the result of external factors or luck, to a sense of self-doubt and the need to prove yourself.

It is important to note that this is not a exclusively female experience. However, a number of findings suggest that women do not apply for jobs unless they feel they meet 100% of the criteria. Most professional men do not share this view. Meanwhile, LinkedIn’s Gender Insights report found that women applied for 20% fewer jobs than their male counterparts and were 16% less likely to apply than men. For many women, seeing a job description they cannot fill reminds them of how they don’t fit the role – rather than a demonstration that there is room for growth, challenges and opportunities.

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I’ve seen this happen – women turning down jobs or withdrawing applications and choosing to stay in a stagnant role, rather than embark on a new career. It hurts careers and limits companies’ efforts to nurture amazing talent and a more balanced and equal workplace.

Tackling impostor syndrome in the workplace is everyone’s responsibility and in everyone’s interest. Here’s how:

For professionals

1. Be aware, acknowledge and accept that impostor syndrome can strike anyone and everyone – even Taylor Swift. So don’t panic.

2. Write everything down. Recording your accomplishments helps you focus on them, but you also have something to look at during times of uncertainty.

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3. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t when looking at a job description. If there are areas you don’t have experience in, think about your transferable skills.

4. Think about how you speak in interviews. Recognizing the language we use has become an important part of fighting trust in the workplace, especially during the interview stage. Speak in ‘I’, avoid putting yourself down or joking about your own abilities.

5. Understand the difference between “adapt” and “grow”. It’s rare that someone stepping into a new role can do it all right away. If you can, you are overqualified. Starting a new role is designed to be challenging and to build on your strengths.

For employers

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1. Don’t use feedback only when things need to improve. Many bosses consider feedback to apply only to more junior team members, during internship reviews, or when something goes wrong. But meaningful performance feedback can give professionals at all stages much-needed clarity and recognition.

2. Create inclusive environments. A foundation where all groups and professionals have the opportunity to gain experience and lead in their field will help establish an empowered and rewarding workplace.

3. Recognize the role of leadership. The most difficult and vital step is to observe how leadership speaks and behaves towards male and female talent. Terms like “smart cookie” are rarely, if ever, used to refer to men, and tasks such as organizing staff birthday cards are usually assigned to a woman in the office. It’s time to critically examine those nuances – and shut them down.

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