The Silent Reason Why Equality & Legislating Won’t Fix The Gender Pay Gap

No one disputes that inequalities in the work place are a key factor in the gender pay gap and the excess of white males in boardrooms. But removing gender bias in businesses won’t be enough to close those gaps.

The silent culprit is, in fact, self-inflicted. It triggers self-imposed glass ceilings. It stops us putting ourselves out there to get promotions. It stops us asking for the pay rises we deserve. It stops us claiming the credit for our results.

And it’s an inside job. Courtesy of Imposter Syndrome.

The 2019 Imposter Syndrome Research Study is showing that shockingly high percentages of high-achieving, confident women are routinely not speaking out about their brilliant ideas; not stepping up to take on projects that would let their talents shine; not taking the credit for success on projects, instead pouring the glory on their teams…

… causing them to be overlooked for the opportunities that their male colleagues are grasping with both hands…

… because too many highly capable women are secretly lying awake at 3am, worrying that they might be found out as a fraud, that people will realise they’re ‘faking it’, and that someone will find out they don’t really ‘belong’.

So far, the study results are showing that:

  • 44% of senior leader women routinely do not take credit for their successes, instead sharing that credit with their team
  • 47% have not put themselves forward for roles or opportunities they knew they were capable of
  • 46% have not spoken up with great ideas or at times when they knew they had answers, because of the fears triggered by Imposter Syndrome
  • 40% admitted to not asking for a pay rise to which they knew they could be entitled


These subconscious play-it-small choices are costing businesses millions, if not billions, in terms of reduced productivity, missed opportunities, lost ideas, leadership development issues, staff retention, anxiety and mental health problems, lack of diversity in leadership roles and gender pay gap issues.

This is why legislating, to force firms to promote women and pay them more, won’t fix our gender equality problem. In fact, it risks making the situation worse, by triggering more severe cases of Imposter Syndrome and the corresponding self-sabotage behaviours it creates.

And legislating fails to address the other elephant-in-the-board-room that is stopping women from stepping up:

We feel forced to choose between career and children.

As long as senior leaders are being raised in the male-dominated culture of long hours and too much travel, mothers will be forced to choose between getting that promotion and still being able to see their children grow up. Any woman who has had to choose between a business trip and watching their child in a concert will be able to describe that pain to you.


The 2019 Imposter Syndrome Study shows that being promoted beyond a level at which you feel you ‘belong’ risks triggering a significant stress response and more severe Imposter Syndrome, which can affect performance, anxiety and productivity.

We need to help women to deal with Imposter Syndrome, so that they feel safe to step up to the next level, without having to ‘pretend’ or force their way past their fears.

Yet Imposter Syndrome is badly misunderstood, rarely recognised for what it is, and almost never adequately supported. Admitting you’re struggling with it is a taboo we need to smash.

Contrary to popular advice, you don’t have to put up with Imposter Syndrome.

‘Pushing on through’ those fears will only make them scream more loudly. ‘Fake it till you make it’ is probably the worst advice you can give to someone who already feels like a fraud, yet it’s standard. Looking at lists of your achievements won’t wash away that inner critic’s chatter. And Imposter Syndrome DOESN’T mean you’re not good enough.


There is so much we can do to change all of this, once we open up the conversation.

Today, on International Women’s Day, our focus is on #balanceforbetter. And, having left my beloved engineering career due to #metoo issues, I’m a whole-hearted supporter of this mission. But I also believe we need to look inside at how we are sabotaging the success we are dreaming of, often without realising.

It’s time for us to stop letting Imposter Syndrome decide for us what we create and achieve – who we allow ourselves to become.

If you’re ready to spark that conversation in your business, get in touch to book a call and let’s get started.

Clare Josa

Author of Ditching Imposter Syndrome & Lead Researcher on the 2019 Imposter Syndrome Study

About the author

Clare Josa

Clare is considered a global authority in the fields of Imposter Syndrome, burnout and toxic resilience, and has been an international keynote speaker for over 20 years.

The author of 8 books, a reformed engineer and the former Head of Market Research for one of the world's most disruptive brands, she blends research-backed practical inspiration with demystified ancient wisdom, to help you create breakthroughs in ways that are fast, fun and forever.

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