Have you ever been told you that you are not good at something because of your sex? Or that it is ‘unusual’ that someone of your sex is doing your degree or has your hobbies? Most likely, you are a woman.
Things like this can make us question ourselves and doubt our abilities, causing us to think twice about putting ourselves forward or aiming for the top. It’s easy to feel like you’re just pretending to know what you’re doing, waiting all the time for someone to come along and expose you; that you don’t actually deserve your accomplishments. You shouldn’t feel alone if you have these thoughts, as it is so common it has a name: imposter syndrome. It was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Susanne Imes, in their paper identifying that women are more predominantly hit with this inability to internalise and own their successes. When you experience systematic oppression or grow up being directly or indirectly told that you are less than or undeserving of your achievements then imposter syndrome occurs.
When you were in school, were you ever too shy to put your hand up in class or answer a question out of fear of being called out by one of the ‘class clown’ boys? We teach girls from a young age that it is cute to seem incompetent and have to ask for men’s help, whereas boys are taught that it is cool to throw their weight around and act like they know what they are doing. It’s simple, girls, we need to fake a little confidence too.
I don’t mean bullshit, just be confident. Don’t make things up or fake qualifications, just be a bit more assertive and positive about things. When it comes to careers, studies have shown that how confident we feel about our own abilities can have a major impact from entry level like the chances of actually applying for a job to how likely we are to ask for promotions. One study in particular by Hewlett Packard found that women only apply to jobs that they meet 100% of the requirements for, whereas men apply for those they only meet 60% of the requirements. In fact, one university advertised a job that was for females only and THIRTY men applied.
You will always come across people that may criticise you and try to put you down, so you need to believe in your own talents and be kind to yourself. One main reason that girls don’t feel ‘qualified’ enough to take certain career routes is because they don’t hear about women doing those jobs.
“We are more likely to experience imposter syndrome if we don’t see many examples of people who look like us or share our background who are clearly succeeding in our field” – Emily Hu.
This is why it is important to remember that not succeeding, for example at an interview, doesn’t mean you are a failure, you are just one step closer to where you are going. You just have to remember that there is no prize giving at the end, so you can ignore what everyone else is doing, nobody claims first prize!