Invest In Women – And That Includes Imposter Syndrome [Episode 054]

Here's what you'll discover with this episode:

  • What does Clare Josa's latest research study say about Imposter Syndrome rates?
  • What's the difference between how Imposter Syndrome affects women vs men?
  • Why do their Imposter Syndrome coping strategies disproportionately disadvantage women?
  • Why positive discrimination and quotas are not the answer.
  • Practical suggestions for creating a genuine level playing field.
  • Why investing in women isn't just about money - there are things that each of us can do, starting today, while we get budget sorted.
  • And the one thing that women need to know that could start changing your life, right away.

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Speaker 1 (00:00)
Welcome to episode 54 of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast with me, your host, Clare Josa. And today we are talking about the United Nations 2024 theme for International Women's Day, Invest in Women. Now, this episode is a must listen for you. If you are leading a team or making decisions in your organisation about things like the gender pay gap and diversity and equality. If you're a line manager and you want to make sure that you're doing what is secretly needed to support everybody in your team in fulfilling their potential and thriving. If, for example, you've been struggling in your well-being initiatives are falling flat, you're still struggling with gender equality and leadership roles, if, for example, your female rising stars tend to leave as soon as you suggest getting promoted, if you're a woman and you have had enough of imposter syndrome getting in your way, or if you're a man and you're not really sure why women are behaving differently around imposter syndrome, what you can do to support them and how the support they need is different from what might work for you. Last week, we saw International Women's Day. And I don't know about you, but I am thrilled that so many people have been getting behind the UN's theme of Invest in Women.

Speaker 1 (01:16)
If you saw events and marketing out there for a theme called Inspire Inclusion, that's not the real theme for International Women's Day. That's something dreamt up by a marketing agency that happens to own the URL for International Women's Day. So invest in women. What does this got to do with imposter syndrome? Well, what I'm going to give you a tour of in today's episode of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast is what our latest research study says. I'm going to give you some sneak previews of the data that we're finding. We're about to publish our next white paper on that. I'm going to explain why imposter syndrome disproportionately disadvantages women compared to men, and why it explains why so many women are absolutely couriering towards burnout, and we need to take massive action as an absolute emergency priority. So what does the data say? Well, it's pretty shocking. What we're seeing from our research study is that one in 10 people is thinking about quitting their job every single day due to imposter syndrome and burnout. Yep, that is one in ten. And yes, every single day. The figure for every single week is one in four.

Speaker 1 (02:27)
This is thinking of quitting. Now, Obviously, not every single one of them is going to, but some of them will be like I was. And they will quit. They might even quit a job or, like me, a career they loved because they can no longer handle the stress and anxiety that imposter syndrome is bringing up for them. We've also seen from our research that imposter syndrome rates have gone up by a fifth since COVID. So it's gone up to 62% of people struggling with this daily or regularly to a level that is impacting both their performance and their well-being. And when we look at women who've got outside work carer responsibilities, that is 76% of them have struggled with imposter syndrome daily or regularly in the past year. That is significantly higher than the men for whom it's about 59%. We talked in the last episode, number 53, about how stress and anxiety lead to us being stuck in Hypervigilance, which increases imposter syndrome and increases the risk of burnouts. If you haven't listened to that episode, it's really worth listening to it after this one. I won't repeat what we said there.

Speaker 1 (03:39)
But basically, anything that increases stress or anxiety makes imposter syndrome worse. And anything that increases imposter syndrome makes the risk of burn out worse. Similarly, anything that increases the risk of burn out makes imposter syndrome worse. The two are linked by this thing called hypervigilance, which is where the body, the brain, the emotions all get stuck on high alert, looking out for threats. We become more sensitive to them. But there are some ways that imposter syndrome is affecting women, differently to men, that are actually behind the reason why the work that most organisations are hopefully doing on closing the gender pay gap and true diversity and equality throughout all levels of the organisation is still not hitting home. And it's some of the reasons why well-being projects are not creating the hoped for reduction in absenteeism, leave of absence request, sabbatical request, improvements in performance, productivity, and team dynamics. When somebody is running imposter syndrome, what we found from our research is the way that men and women handle it is quite different. Now, I'm going to use generalisations here because this is what the research has found. Of course, there will always be men who do some of the woman things and women who do some of the men things.

Speaker 1 (04:55)
So we found that the way men and women handle imposter syndrome is different. For the general population, imposter syndrome frequency and severity is extremely similar between men and women. The women with caring responsibilities, it's much higher as I just explained. But what happens in general, is that when a man experiences imposter syndrome, that stiff upper lip kicks in, pushes down the fear, the anxiety, the emotions, pushes on through to take action anyway. Now, that in theory sounds potentially brilliant until you think about the stress, the worry, the anxiety that that will cause. And it's a major factor in men's mental health. Actually, that's not such a good thing. Pushing on through the fear is really not something I recommend. Instead, I talk about clear the fear and do it anyway. Whereas with women, what we found is they were much more likely to hold back. They were much more likely to shut down. They were much less likely to speak up with their ideas. They're more likely to say that things were a group effort or fluke or luck or timing rather than owning responsibility for the part that they played. We found that 42% of women had not applied or volunteered for opportunities to shine in the past year.

Speaker 1 (06:14)
54% had put success down to fluke or timing or team effort. 68% were not applying for promotions for which they were qualified due to imposter syndrome. Who am I to do that role? Whereas the men tended to go, well, I tick through the boxes. I'll give it a go. 89% were less likely to speak up with their great ideas or opinions. And for 82%, they were comparing themselves to others daily or regularly. One of the really sad One of the things we found in the research study is that women were much less likely than men to apply for a promotion internally, even if they loved the company they worked for. They were much more likely to apply for a promotion that meant they would leave the organisation. And This was in large part because of the potential perceived shame and embarrassment of if it became public knowledge that they'd gone for that promotion and not got it, how would they then face their work colleagues? How would they then work with the person who did get it? And all of this is a gender difference in how people are handling imposter syndrome.

Speaker 1 (07:20)
Whereas what we found with the males was that they would tend to almost launch a campaign to go in a lobby, to make sure that people knew they wanted the role, to give themselves the best chance. So organisations are routinely losing their best women because of an imposter syndrome coping strategy. Now, we've talked in the last couple of episodes quite a bit about the three pillars of imposter syndrome and burnout, the culture, the environment, and the habits. What we found in our research study is there are three hidden drivers that are keeping the gender equality and pay gap wide open. These are the alpha male culture at the most senior levels in far too many organisations, increased working hours when people get promoted, especially outside of our commitments that force a woman to choose between her career and her family. And in too many situations, it's still the women bearing the huge load to the mental load of running the household and looking after the kids. And the third hidden driver we found was imposter syndrome because of the way that women's coping strategies tend to disadvantage them compared to men. Now, when we're looking at equality, true level playing field, equality doesn't actually cut it.

Speaker 1 (08:35)
That is seen as giving everybody the same opportunity. But actually, people need different support in order to have the same opportunity. It's like that meme you've probably seen on social media of a parent taking two kids to see a sports match, and there's a barrier in front of them. And the older kid is taller and gets a certain size box so they can see over the barrier and enjoy the match. The younger kid, equality, gets the same size box. They're still too short to see over the barrier. So true equity level playing field could be seen as giving the shorter person the taller box so they have the same opportunity to enjoy the game. But actually, when we're looking at the three pillars, which is culture, environment, and habits, surely what's better is in the culture and the environment and the habits to remove the barrier in the first place so that nobody needs a box. I'm not suggesting positive discrimination and quotas. We found in our research studies, they can actually make things worse, partly because people gossip, She only got that promotion because she's a woman. And that can then become self-fulfilling in imposter syndrome, making it worse.

Speaker 1 (09:45)
That secret fear of being found out is not good enough or you don't belong or they made a mistake in hiring you. The other thing that can happen, particularly in those first few months in a promotion role, is it can actually make imposter syndrome worse. There are all sorts of reasons behind that. You've probably heard me talk on other episodes about the imposter syndrome gap. This widens that gap, that difference between who we see ourselves as being and who we think we need to be to do or achieve something. I then talk about the bridge of coping strategies that we build to go over the gap. If you promote somebody at a level that they're not ready for, where they haven't done that deeper identity level work to allow themselves to become the version of them that thrives and succeeds in that job, what you're doing is opening up the imposter syndrome gap for them. The old bridge of coping strategies falls into the ravine. And it is the single most common reason why women will come and work with my master coaches is because they've got promoted and they're actually thinking about quitting their job because they can no longer cope with imposter syndrome.

Speaker 1 (10:49)
This is one of the reasons why it's so important to move beyond sticking plasters, bandaids for my American friends, and coping strategies with imposter syndrome and do that deeper root cause work to clear it out once and for all so that you're no longer at risk of it rearing its ugly head because something in your external world has changed. There are two other really common trigger points for women that we need to be much more proactive about in order to prevent imposter syndrome from causing someone to self-sabotage or quit their job. If you are listening to this when I record this episode, just around International Women's Day Week, there was a report published recently in the UK that said one in 10 women quits their job due to the menopause. So the menopause and its symptoms, but also that big shift in sense of identity, who am I? What is my role in society? Can be a massive trigger point for previously dormant imposter syndrome. As I say, one in 10 women quit their job due to the menopause symptoms. And one of those symptoms is imposter syndrome. It can be really, really crippling for somebody at that point.

Speaker 1 (11:56)
And another point is returning from maternity leave. I personally believe that all women returning from maternity leave should be offered coaching to help them clear imposter syndrome because it is one of the biggest trigger points. They've been out of the team for 6, 9, 12 months. If you're in the UK, things have moved on. They've suddenly got a massive learning curve to do. They might not even be in the role that they were in when they left for maternity leave. They're sleep-deprived, most likely. They're going to be juggling their child starting at nursery school or childminder and all of the bugs and things that brings with it. And there's also been a massive shift in identity by becoming a parent for the first time or not the first time. So these are some examples of flashpoints where we really need to be proactive. So promotion, return from maternity leave and menopause. We need to be proactive in supporting women, but there are other points in the career cycle where we need to be investing in women, too. One thing that can work incredibly well is to run women-only masterminds. So I taught masterminds where you actually do the deeper work to clear out those hidden blocks like imposter syndrome, to develop the leadership skills that you need, where you can work with other women.

Speaker 1 (13:10)
Because unless you're in an organisation where there are a lot of female role models in senior roles, it can feel really exposing to get promoted as a woman. So here's some more about what we found with the gender divide. Men tended to own their achievements on the role they played. Women tended to deflect praise and point out their faults in return for being praised. Men talked about I rather than we. Women, it was we rather than I when talking about achievements. Men tended to go for the opportunity to shine, even though that potentially came at a fairly big anxiety and emotional cost. Women were holding back and either not being visible or waiting until they tick all the boxes. For the male respondents, promotion was often validation. For women, it was often that sense of being in the spotlight. So even more scared that they'll be found out as not good enough or a fraud because even more people are watching. Some of them describe it as feeling like the poster girl for the leadership team. For men, they were more likely to apply internally for promotions. Women were more likely to leave a job they loved to get promoted.

Speaker 1 (14:23)
And the men were tending to push on through the fear, and the women were tending to hold back due to the fear, stuck in paralysis. So you can see already how some of this gender divide is going to make it harder for women to be top of mind for those golden opportunities, to be seen more as team players than potentially as strategic leaders, and the self-sabotage strategies that they're using to cope with imposter syndrome are different to men's, disproportionately disadvantages them. Now, when you add in what we talked about, about the other two drivers of imposter syndrome, the alpha male culture in the most senior levels, and increased working hours outside our events, you can really see how this is going to impact women even more harshly. We need to invest in women. I've already suggested things like taught masterminds. So one of those that I run, for example, for our clients is called the Influence Lab. So you start by clearing out imposter syndrome, cranking up your confidence, doing all the work on the habits pillar so that you can be more courageous to challenge what's going on in the outside world with the culture and the environment, actually helping to rewrite and reshape the narrative around the alpha male culture and leadership roles, and also working with your organisation to still deliver on the objectives whilst not being forced to choose between your family and your career.

Speaker 1 (15:49)
Another thing that works incredibly well to invest in women and help them have this genuine level playing field, not just giving people different size boxes, but removing that barrier in the first place is having a senior level sponsor and mentor, someone who will champion them, who will speak up for them, who will suggest them for the opportunities to shine, who will then work with them to help make sure they've done the inside work so that they're not going to say no when their heart is Let's bring a yes. Another option is coaching. Now, when you look at the trigger points, for example, promotion returning from maternity leave, menopause, it's really obvious that a lot of women would benefit from coaching to deal with and clear imposter syndrome at those points. But it's not actually practical and affordable to send every woman on your team for external coaching. So one of the things I recommend doing is actually getting your in-house coaches and some of your line such as HR professionals, maybe some of your mental health first aiders, your well-being team, certified in these methods, like the Natural Resilience Method Practitioner Imposter Syndrome Master Coach.

Speaker 1 (16:55)
So you are building and growing your in-house support team. When you combine that with something like an enterprise licence for the imposter syndrome hacks app so that people can work on their own habits in just five minutes a day, you can end up helping hundreds for the cost of coaching a handful. But for all of this to succeed, we need to invest in all three pillars: the culture, the working environment, and the personal habits. Now, if you're a bloke listening to this, I am absolutely not saying, do not invest in men. The issue is, women need different support in so many organisations in order to create a truly level playing field. And investing in women doesn't just have to be about money. It can be through allyship, which is a term that a lot of people cringe at now because it's been a bit overused and sometimes people think it's a bit too woke, and I get that. But allyship is when you see someone mansplaining to a female member of your team or colleague, call them out. You don't have to go all confrontational necessarily and do it right there and then, though nipping it in the bud is usually the best way.

Speaker 1 (18:12)
You can talk to them afterwards. But real allyship is saying no, not tolerating behaviour that causes harm to women, that disadvantages women. So we can invest through our actions. We can also invest through our time. And you don't have to be a natural resilience method certified coach to be able to start the journey of helping people. It's one of the reasons I've written Coaching Imposter Syndrome, which is my new book, which I'm giving you away. Everybody who's got the Imposter Syndrome hacks app has got the option to download it. And I'm also giving away copies during launch week. So Coaching Imposter Syndrome is about what to do when imposter syndrome gate crashes your coaching conversations, whether you're a coach, a consultant, a line manager, HR professional, or just somebody who cares, who people come to for advice. And if you really want to become a true ally in this, something that you can do that's really useful as a first step is my free course in the Imposter Syndrome Hacks app called Imposter Syndrome 101. It's a deep dive course for line managers, coaches, consultants, HR professionals, anyone who's really interested in helping with those foundation level steps of making a difference for yourself and for others with imposter syndrome.

Speaker 1 (19:28)
So it's imposter syndrome And it's waiting for you if you register even as a free user of the imposter syndrome hacks app. You can find that in the app store and also at That's waiting for you as my gift. And the more we can all work together to challenge the culture, to challenge the working environment that disadvantages women, to challenge the personal habits in ourselves and in others in healthy, collaborative, compassionate ways, the more we can really create a level playing field. Investing in women is about intention, followed by inspired action. It's not box-ticking. It's not just once a year for International Women's Day. It's every single day of the year dealing with those three pillars: the culture, the environment, and the habits, to make sure that everybody in an organisation has a genuine win opportunity to fulfil their potential to whatever level they want to, whatever level they can with their skill set and experience to thrive and to make the difference they really dream of making. But I want to be a bit controversial here. Invest in women is not about giving away our power as women waiting for someone to invest in us.

Speaker 1 (20:51)
We have to put our own oxygen masks on first. And that means we also need to invest in ourselves. So if you're a woman listening to this, I get it. I really, really do. I, 2001, I quit the engineering career I loved because imposter syndrome was so crippling. I went travelling, sabbatical, classic response to imposter syndrome, a leave of absence thing. And when I came back, it was gone. It took me the next 10 years to reverse engineer what I had done. And that's what I've spent the last decade or so teaching. But we need to start investing in ourselves. And that can mean time as well as finances. That's why imposter syndrome hacks is there for you in five-minute daily habits. We can all find five minutes a day. If I pop around right now and rang your doorbell, I bet you could chat to me for five minutes. You could find that five minutes. We need to invest in ourselves. It's why I created imposter syndrome hacks, is because most of us really could find five minutes at some point in our day once we put ourselves first. And the micro habits you create today lead to tomorrow's transformation.

Speaker 1 (22:14)
Affirmations. Every time you practise a five-minute habit that helps you to clear out imposter syndrome, to be more free from it, to clear those hidden root causes, to develop the habits that support you in being naturally resilient rather than toxic resilience that bounce back push on through, you're making a difference that becomes exponential. Today's five minutes builds on yesterday's. It adds to tomorrow's. And just imagine in a week, a month, six months, a year, five years, how different your experience of life will be if you've spent that time instead of doom-scrolling, whenever you pick up your phone, popping into the imposter syndrome hacks app and doing a five-minute habit. So we need to invest in ourselves. Organisations and governments need to invest in women, and we need to invest in each other. True allyship, calling out things that are holding other people back that are unfair, that are disadvantages them in ways that are courageous and compassionate, so that together we can make an even bigger difference in the world.

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