Feel like an imposter? You are not alone

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In the run-up to Incisive Media's Women in Investment Festival on 3 March and its ‘Lifting the Lid on Imposter Syndrome' session - which will address the harm that a lack of self-confidence can cause and how to address it - Laura Miller gets under the bonnet of how common the problem is, and the tangible impacts it can have on financial services firms. 

 You beat off tough competition and got promoted in your first-choice career. Your boss thinks you are great, and you work within your specialist subject. So why do you feel like a fraud?

Impostor syndrome - a pervasive belief of intellectual and professional fraudulence, that we're not good enough - affects millions of us, and can trigger anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

Anyone can experience feeling they do not deserve their success. But the first studies to discover the phenomenon looked at high achieving women. 

"Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the imposter phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise," psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, who coined the term, wrote in 1978.

Early family dynamics and society's sex-role stereotyping were found to contribute significantly to the development of women's impostor syndrome. Some 42 years later and the problem persists.

"I initially found it difficult as a young, Asian female to be deemed credible in my role," said Ritu Vohora, investment director at M&G.

"I am often the only woman presenting on investment topics at events. I felt I had to work harder than male colleagues in a similar role, to prove my knowledge and garner respect."

Vohora is a regular live news guest on CNBC and others, offering calm and competent analysis on stockmarkets and business sectors. Watching her, it is hard to imagine she was anything but relaxed in her role.

"Success actually created my next biggest challenge, fear," said Vohora. "When I was promoted, the huge responsibility and the knowledge I was expected to have made me very anxious. 

"As women, we often wait until we are fully competent before we feel confident to step into bigger shoes."

More than half of all female professionals - 57% - have never attempted to negotiate a pay rise, according to a 2019 survey of 9,000 employees from professional recruitment firm Robert Walters.

Men were 23% more likely to negotiate a pay rise across all stages of their career, even though the amount negotiators pitched for was not far removed from their female counterparts.

Chris Hickey, chief executive at the firm, said: "All the right strides are being made to get women into work. With female professionals making up 47% of the workforce, we are seeing more women working in core science, technology, engineering & math (STEM) than ever before. 

"The next step is helping women feel more confident about their value to firms, and it is clear employers can do more to help empower them for scenarios such as negotiating pay rises or striving for promotion."

For Vohora, a supportive corporate culture and clear framework to discuss progress and feedback is critical. "Sharing achievements and successes is a great way to demonstrate to women they really do have value to share," she said.

"Having a really strong support system and getting ongoing feedback that validates efforts r45and outcomes is important for improving confidence levels."

Imposter syndrome is too big an issue for companies to ignore. A 2019 report by Access Commercial Finance of over 3,000 UK adults found two-thirds of women (66%) had experienced feeling like a fraud in the previous 12 months, and over half of men (56%).

Vohora said a work culture that enables all voices to be heard on an equal platform, so thoughts, comments and ideas are praised and scrutinised in equal measure to peers, helps fight feelings of inadequacy with confidence.

"Firm-wide initiatives need to be made visible and access is crucial," she said, "as is sponsorship and involvement by senior leaders in the company," adding company networks that promote diversity of thought - not just gender but ethnicity and social background - empower colleagues at all levels to achieve.

Women also need to advocate for themselves. "We need to know our worth, ask for opportunities and importantly make our achievements visible", encouraged Vohora, even if it feels awkward and the impostor voice inside is loud.

"When I was promoted I realised this was an opportunity to prove myself. I made a conscious effort to own what I have accomplished, and to see it as another challenge I could overcome. 

"I took it as opportunities to learn, grow, and develop my personal brand to be the best I could be. It felt uncomfortable, but sharing my successes with stakeholders built my confidence, gained me credibility and ultimately recognition.

"Being authentic made me credible and actually being different is now seen as refreshing."

Women in Investment Festival

The Women in Investment Festival, in partnership with sister publications Professional Pensions, Professional Adviser, Retirement Planner and Investment Week, is a one-day festival that seeks to serve as a beacon for the benefits of a truly diverse industry for all, whatever gender, colour or creed. Although it will naturally talk to and celebrate the achievements of women, we also believe we should showcase the role men play in the equation, and highlight examples of best practice where their support is helping to drive change for true gender equality.

It takes place on Tuesday 3 March 2020 at the Brewery in London, UK and we are currently running a discounted super early bird ticket price. Head over to the website here for full details. 

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