Ditch the impostor syndrome – top tips to build confidence and develop your career

Wed 08 Sep 2021

Ditch the impostor syndrome – top tips to build confidence and develop your career

The impostor syndrome does not deserve airtime because it takes women's confidence away. Read on to find out what can you do to prevent falling for this feeling

By Murielle Gonzalez

Women must overcome many barriers on their way to a leadership position, but doubting their abilities is one of the biggest challenges for walking towards what they want. This mindset is a psychological pattern in which individuals doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments they may have achieved and still believe that they're not worthy – the so-called impostor syndrome. 

Everybody can experience impostor syndrome, but it seems that women are more likely to talk about it than men. Coaches speaking at the Women into Leadership 2019 series revealed that almost 70% of female clients say they have experienced it, whereas 50% of men admit it.

So, why it has become an issue for women? Coined originally as 'the impostor phenomenon' by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in their 1978 study, the researchers focused on high-achieving women. They concluded that despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience it believe that they are not bright – and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.

Decades of gender research, career development training and initiatives to address the impostor syndrome in women have followed ever since. Many famous women have revealed they have experienced it, from actresses like Penelope Cruz and Sigourney Weaver to public figures such as former First Lady Michelle Obama, adding to the buzz around the concept and the sense that it’s a predominantly female problem.

Impostor syndrome consultant Kate Atkin explains that the syndrome is not a mental health issue but a phenomenon that occurs at times and it's situational. In this blog, she argues that men and women recognise it but react differently. After interviewing hundreds of people about the phenomenon, she found that while women tend to say, 'oh, that's so me!' men tend to say, 'doesn't everyone get that?'"

Mindset coach Susie Ramroop (pictured right) concurs with Atkin – and she is adamant that the impostor syndrome does not deserve airtime. Portrait photo of mindset coach Susie Ramroop

Speaking at a speed mentoring session organised by Dods Diversity & Inclusion last year, she explained that women talk and share stories about how they were stopped in their careers due to this feeling. And she argued that knowing you're not alone is not helpful. "Talking about impostor syndrome consumes you and takes your confidence away," she said.

So, what can you do instead? Ramroop, who will be speaking at the Women into Leadership conference in Manchester on 24 November, suggests addressing the feeling as a matter of focus.

Top tips for building confidence and developing your career

For Ramroop, awareness, bravery and contribution are the building blocks for becoming the confident leader you want to be. She explains: "It's not up to anyone else to notice how amazing you are. It's up to you to decide how you want to be. Hence, shift your focus and contribute to it every day."

She argues that focusing on being honest with yourself will get you a clear view of the brave steps you need to take to get what you want – both in your personal life and in the workplace. 

Those brave steps, Ramroop says, are not leaps of massive faith. "They are gentle nudges out of your comfort zone that everyone else is going to notice."

Shifting the focus to ditch the impostor syndrome makes sense. Imagine you had a choice over your imposter syndrome – that every action you took counted, even if it might bring temporary disadvantage. Would you rather assume the best out of everything or want to be wading through impostor syndrome?

Ramroop explains that it's not just the imposter syndrome that stops women. Instead, it's the fear of judgment and comparing yourself with other people. 

She notes that's not to say that we should ignore these feelings and sweep them under the carpet. On the contrary, it's getting aware of whether it is moving us forward. "And it's usually pretty clear whether it is or not," she says.

Skills to take you to the top

Ask yourself whether you're playing small. You will find the answer to this question when you focus on what you want to be.

For example, Ramroop's advice to avoid getting overlooked for leadership positions is to ask yourself, honestly, whether the job you're currently in is bad enough for you to do anything about it. And then ask yourself if you have a clear vision of what you want – is it motivating enough to draw you towards it?

Ramroop argues that you're in your comfort zone by the time you ask yourself these questions, so you haven't got the vision of where you want to be. "When you've got a vision, that's where your focus is," she says.

Next to self-awareness is bravery – ask for what you want as you want it. It could be a promotion, flexible working hours, or working from home. Whatever it is, the key is in assuming you'll get it without attachment.

Ramroop explains that when women ask big-deal questions to their bosses, they put a lot of power into it. "We feel like life's going to be over if we don't get it," she says. The problem with that, Ramroop adds, is that it affects your tone of voice, giving away your emotions.

Portrait photo of Cath BaxterAttend Women into Leadership and hear from professional voice and public speaking consultant Cath Baxter (pictured right) explain how to use your communication skills to gain credibility and influence

Ramroop suggests that you gather evidence and talk to your boss as if you were presenting a business case. "When you start justifying, you assume you're not going to get what you want," says Ramroop. "So, once you've made your case, stop talking," she adds.

But is getting what you want a sign of success? The answer to what success looks like is very subjective. Ramroop argues that you have to work out what is the feeling that you get from your success. She also suggests breaking your vision down into small achievements so that you can build a sense of momentum as you complete each goal, motivating you to take the next brave step.

Communicating with confidence, shifting the focus to increase your visibility to position yourself as a leader, and redefining success, are all topics covered by the Women into Leadership conference in Manchester on 24 November.

Register now for the online experience. You will hear from inspirational women from within and outside the civil service, offer hands-on advice and coaching on further developing your career in times of change.

Other sessions you don't want to miss:

  • Susan Acland-Hood, Permanent Secretary, Department for Education, on compassionate Leadership: leading change whilst cultivating inclusivity
  • Executive career coach Hira Ali on how to uncover your leadership material. 
  • Mindset coach Susie Ramroop on using storytelling to overcome self-imposed barriers

Visit the Women into Leadership website to view the full agenda and secure your place today.

Women into Leadership is brought to you in partnership with FDA.


Murielle Gonzalez, content strategy manager at Dods Diversity & Inclusion, is an experienced journalist and editor. She can be reached on murielle.gonzalez@dodsgroup.com.

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