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You are here: News » Archived News » Imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome

Imposter Syndrome

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What is it and why is it a hurdle for women in business?

Let’s talk about women in business – and particularly women running startups. Why is there such a disparity in the number of women v. men starting businesses? And what can be done to address it?

It’s well-known that most business owners and leaders are men, in fact only 16% of SMEs were run by women in 2020, and 32.5% of FTSE 100 leaders were women. Is this because women are not given the same opportunities to start businesses – there could be elements of this from the perspective of them not being awarded the same levels of investment, with only 12% of investment going to female led firms in 2022, but one of the top 5 reasons cited in a study why fewer women start businesses is fear of failure.

Yes, women themselves are their own barrier in many instances. How they view themselves, and the fears they face to become a leader often gets in the way of them stepping into their power. Imposter Syndrome is real and it’s a big issue for women, with KPMG finding in their study that 75% of women in business have experienced imposter syndrome during their careers. Those who suffer experience low self-worth, a lack of confidence, and often self-sabotaging behaviour – even if they have previously been highly successful in the corporate world.

What does this mean? That brilliant women with brilliant business skills are not stepping into the entrepreneurial space – for fear of failing before they’ve even begun. The good news is that Imposter Syndrome can be overcome, and stronger self-belief created, so let’s look at the steps to this, as whilst it is more common in those at the start of their business journey, it is something known to raise its ugly head at different stages of growth – ‘new level, new devil’…

So how do we tackle it?

  1. Firstly, it is important to recognise what self-belief is, and is not. It is not an omission of doubts; we are predisposed to doubt to protect ourselves from danger, but is the ability to choose how we act upon those doubts.
  2. Choosing how to recognise these doubts and react to them. Sounds simple doesn’t it, but it takes self-awareness. Self-doubt happens when there is a triggering event and thinking about starting a business can be such an event.
  3. Understanding our triggers. So, what are triggers? Simply, a trigger is something that causes a negative emotional reaction within us. Unfortunately, identifying the cause of a trigger is not quite so simple. Usually, they stem from childhood, and we aren’t aware of the root cause, we just know that we feel anxiety, anger, or fear about the current situation.

When we have greater self-awareness, we start to reduce the power of Imposter Syndrome, as we start to understand what’s at play – and then we can play an active part. When Imposter Syndrome creates overwhelm, or anxiety, or leads us to self-sabotage, what we can do is to recognise that we are triggered and that the negative feelings that we are experiencing are because of a trigger. Once you learn to recognise when you are triggered, you can start to choose how you respond.

How to change your reaction to triggers

Most of us don’t like feeling negative emotions, so we choose to squash them, ignore them, or distract ourselves. Part of understanding our triggers is to feel the feelings so we can begin to understand where they come from and then overcome them. Try this method of understanding your triggers and emotions, and choosing how you react to them:

  1. When you recognise that you are triggered, take yourself to a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
  2. Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Keep your eyes closed throughout to reduce distraction.
  3. Bring the thing to mind that has triggered you. Maybe you’ve been asked to speak publicly or are worried about an important meeting.
  4. Watch the thoughts go by as if you are watching TV. If other thoughts come into your head let them go and focus on the triggering situation.
  5. Let any feelings come up, don’t avoid them, just let them come up.
  6. Identify what the emotions are – this isn’t about thoughts, just emotions.
  7. Identify the most prominent emotion and just feel it. This might not feel very nice at first, but it will get better.
  8. You might feel the emotion in your body, perhaps in your chest or stomach, if you do then place your hand where you feel it.
  9. Ask yourself – What is going on? Where does this emotion come from? How do you want to react?
  10. Sit with the emotion until it starts to change into a more positive emotion.
  11. Finally take some deep breaths, breathing in the positive emotion and breathing out the negative. Continue the deep breaths until you have let go of all the negativity.
  12. When you’re ready, open your eyes, and take the action that you’ve decided on, not the action your self-doubt pushed you into.

This practice is very powerful if practised daily, not just when you’re triggered – it helps you move away from negative emotions and start to see other solutions.

Imposter Syndrome can be debilitating, preventing brilliant, capable women from realising their potential and starting businesses. It doesn’t have to be this way though. Negative self-image, unhelpful beliefs and lack of confidence can be overcome. Recognising your triggers and choosing how you react to them can help you to create self-belief and achieve things you didn’t believe were possible.

Anne Gwilliam, amg-consulting.co.uk

Anne Gwilliam
Anne Gwilliam, AMG Consulting

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