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How to boot out self-doubt this International Women's Day

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

Imagine this.

You have a career-defining conversation with a senior stakeholder.

Then you get their response:

I can’t buy into what you’re saying because I don’t think you have confidence in yourself.”

This is the impact of letting that voice in your head undermine you. You know, the one that tells you: ‘You’re not good enough’ or ‘They’re going to find you out’.

The result is you doubt yourself, which physically manifests in how you communicate. Because how you think affects how you say something. And, if others pick up signals that you don’t believe in you, then why would they?

The example above happened to a recent client of mine – it’s why they needed my help. It’s called imposter syndrome - feeling fake, the fear of being ‘found out’ - and it’s something many I coach struggle with.

For years we thought imposter syndrome was uniquely experienced by high-achieving women. This belief followed the publication, in 1978, of a seminal research paper ‘The imposter phenomenon in high-achieving women’ by psychologists Clance & Imes.

But we now know that’s not the case.

Having coached people from all levels in business I can confirm that imposter syndrome affects them irrespective of level and gender. Research today reinforces this. Clance herself subsequently published a later paper [1993], which showed the imposter phenomenon can impact anyone.

Even hugely successful people:

“I’ve sat on a lot of boards, I’ve been around some of the most important tables in the land, and let me tell you, there are a lot of people who don’t belong there. At first, I thought it was me who didn’t belong, but then I realised, nope, it’s not me, it’s that [person]... Nobody else can give you the self-confidence – only you can do that.”

Michelle Obama on leadership, balance and battling imposter syndrome

in Thailand Tatler by Melissa Twigg 31st January 2020


The fact that we all struggle, to some extent, at some point in our lives, with imposter syndrome brings us together this International Women’s Day. As does the 2020 hashtag, #EachforEqual and the IWD2020 campaign question:

‘What can we each do to help forge a gender equal world?’

My answer? Help each other overcome imposter syndrome.


Building on #IWD2020 suggestions, here are five thoughts:

1. Show your support by striking the 'EachforEqual pose' in the knowledge that recent research suggests non-verbal displays of power can be an effective and efficient communication tool

2. Add the statement "I'll help all genders overcome imposter syndrome" to your #EachforEqual pledge wall

3. Encourage and facilitate conversations with friends and colleagues about how to overcome imposter syndrome

4. Share your imposter syndrome stories with all genders because, as American feminist, journalist and social political activist Gloria Steinem once said:

"The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights."

5. Post your ‘hands out’ pose on social media because gestures promote understanding.

Like achieving gender equality, booting out self-doubt takes time and effort. Taming that imposter is a significant first step.

Susan Room is a former corporate leader, turned coach. One of the rare few qualified to provide voice and executive coaching, her unique blend of experience now sees her help others feel, look and sound confident – improving performance and happiness at work.


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