Imposter Syndrome: women’s silent career killer

Imposter syndrome (IS) can act as a major obstacle to career progression, especially for women. This article was taken from, publishing the findings of a study carried out by Nat West.

These cruel doubts manifest in the minds of those suffering a painful and debilitating phenomenon called imposter syndrome (IS). A mixture of anxiety and a persistent inability to recognise one’s own success, this syndrome can be crippling, destroying the careers and lives of its most chronic sufferers.

The syndrome was identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. They believed that IS only affected women, but subsequent research has shown that men are also affected. However, women tend to be more susceptible because they produce less testosterone – the confidence hormone.

According to Clare Josa, author of Ditching Imposter Syndrome and a leadership consultant, men are more likely to push through the syndrome while women tend to give in to their self-doubt.

I just kept thinking, ‘Who am I to do this? Why would anyone care?

This is backed by recent research from NatWest, as part of its #OwnYourImposter campaign, which showed that 60% of women who have considered starting a business did not because of a lack of confidence, not feeling like the type of person who could start a business or feeling they did not deserve to succeed despite their skills. This is one of the reasons why just one-fifth of UK businesses are run by women.

The research showed that 28% of working women feel like imposter syndrome has stopped them speaking in a meeting. It also found 21% have been prevented from suggesting a new or alternative idea at work, and 26% have failed to change career or role.

.According to the Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, led by Alison Rose, of NatWest, only one in three entrepreneurs are women, a gender gap equivalent to more than one million fewer female entrepreneurs in the UK.

Ms Josa describes IS as “the single biggest block to success” in business today. “It affects a company’s bottom line because IS means that people play small, they don’t take risks and won’t put forward their ideas,” she says.

“When we look at the gender pay gap, you see that many senior women don’t put themselves forward for pay rises because of IS; they are scared they will be found out.”

Ms Josa is currently conducting a landmark study into IS and has polled 1,500 working individuals about it. The preliminary findings show that 56% of the entrepreneurs involved in the research suffer from IS “regularly” or “daily”.

Her research also showed that 75% of professionals will regularly procrastinate as a direct result of IS; 65% fail to take actions that would meet their goals; and 55% discount their prices before the client even asks – all because of that nagging internal voice that doubts their abilities.

Talking about IS to fellow sufferers can help alleviate the symptoms. “The problem with IS is that it’s taboo,” says Ms Josa. “Sufferers don’t want to tell anyone they experience it. On the outside, they often appear confident, and may be high achievers, but they experience this secret guilt and shame.”

This is why NatWest has launched its #OwnYourImposter campaign to highlight IS and encourage more people to share their experiences and support one another in the workplace.

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