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Close the gender gap – Imposter Syndrome a myth

By Amy Sharpe, Digital Content Producer at Diskette Ideas.

Have you been doubting your performance at work? Do you inwardly feel like an intellectual fraud? You may have been led to believe you’re suffering from imposter syndrome – a term first coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. Imposter syndrome is characterised as the perception that one’s success is undeserved or unwarranted. In reality, this might mean you have secured the job you’ve always yearned for, or perhaps you’ve just been promoted, but you proceed to carry negative and irrational thoughts, such as: ‘I don’t think I’m good enough for this job’, or ‘they could employ somebody better than me’.

Imposter syndrome exposed as a fallacy

According to Wundamail’s Women at Work report 2020, our research suggests that imposter syndrome is nothing more than a myth. You’re probably wondering how this is so when HR news state that ‘6/10’ women experience imposter syndrome, in comparison to half of men. In light of International Women’s Day on 8th March, and in partnership with the Diskette behavioural research programme, we were keen to understand why this fictitious narrative pervades in modern media. Are external factors to blame for feelings of self-doubt? And specifically, what is hindering gender diversity in the workplace?

Keen to find the answers, Wundamail analysed job security, promotions and hiring, career ambition and advocating skills from 10,000 trained professionals in both the UK and US, representative by region, ethnic background, socio-economic status, gender, and inclusion of both high-income and low-income bracket workers.

87% of women felt confident in holding their team accountable

Because we’ve been conditioned to believe that women carry feelings of self-doubt and incompetence from traditional media narrative, we were surprised to hear a whopping 87% of women felt confident holding their team accountable, compared to 89% of men. Additionally, 67% of women believed they could do their manager’s job to a better standard, whereas 65% of men said the same.

Clearly, it is not a matter of confidence that is preventing women from gender equality and success in the workplace as they score equally or higher to men in our survey. The high levels of confident feelings reported contradict the definition of imposter syndrome, so why are only 36% of women gaining managerial status in their workplace when data shows that women do believe in their abilities?

women felt confident in holding their team accountable
women felt confident in holding their team accountable

Women lack negotiation skills 

The reason why the proportion of women in the global workforce stalls at 15% is due to women having a lack of negotiation skills – a problem which stems from years of an undiversified workplace. The gender gap opens up not because of levels of self-assurance, but because of an internal fear of confrontation. Our survey showed that only 50% of women confront somebody when it is required and a vast 84% say they have previously feigned agreement with someone’s opinion merely to avoid confrontation.

This is not to generalise men as exclusively confrontational. Wundamail research demonstrates that over half of men initiate confrontation “within reason” while ¼ of them actively ‘relish confrontation’ – this explicitly shows their comfortability with dealing with a potential crisis. To close the gender gap in the office, we must implement practical skills to help women feel comfortable in negotiating, whether that’s for a pay rise or to deal with conflict within a team.

We need to focus on managing individuals 

Organisations need to ensure that women’s voices are being heard so we can abolish this fear of confrontation. This can be achieved in a multitude of ways, one being providing a support network; such as having mentors, role models and support groups in the work-place to offer accessible advice and a place to talk about career progression. If your female employees are limited with information about how to climb the career ladder, they will naturally find it harder to do so. Organisations that place higher priority on closing the gender gap will provide policies to help women in climbing to the top. We need to demand better resources, and pay sufficient attention to recruitment and developing women leaders.

Perhaps it’s time for us to stop using ‘imposter syndrome’ as a hindrance for women. Instead, organisations should invest time, money and effort into honing our practical skills. Through better team management, simple communication, team support and an inclusive workplace, women can develop their negotiation skills and hopefully close the gender gap further.