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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Woman or Minority Leader

Do you ever feel like you don’t belong in your leadership position? Do you doubt your abilities and achievements, and fear that others will expose you as a fraud? If so, you may be experiencing what has been called “imposter syndrome”*. Whilst not a “syndrome” per se it is a phenomenon that affects many women and minority leaders. Overcoming imposter syndrome as a woman or minority leader is a real issue and requires careful consideration – by those who experience it, as well as managers.

Imposter syndrome is the internal experience of feeling like a phony in some area of your life, despite any success that you have achieved. It can stem from a variety of sources and can hinder you from achieving your full potential.

Imposter syndrome can be especially prevalent and challenging for women and minority leaders, who may face additional barriers and biases in their workplaces. Those people may feel like they have to work harder, prove themselves more, or conform to certain expectations to be accepted and respected as leaders. They may also struggle with finding role models, mentors, or peers who share their identity and experience.

If you are a woman or minority leader who suffers from imposter syndrome, you are not alone. Many successful and influential leaders, such as Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, and Indra Nooyi, have admitted to feeling like imposters at some point in their careers.

The good news is that imposter syndrome can be overcome with the right mindset, strategies, and support. Here are some tips to help you overcome imposter syndrome as a woman or minority leader. If you’re a line manager or executive take time to consider these and the ways in which you may be inadvertently perpetuating issues, and what changes you can make. See later for more.

Acknowledge and challenge your negative thoughts

The first step to overcoming imposter syndrome is to recognize and name the negative thoughts that fuel it. For example, you may think, “I don’t deserve this promotion,” “I’m not qualified enough,” or “I’m just lucky.” Once you identify these thoughts, you can challenge them with evidence and logic. For example, you can remind yourself of your qualifications, achievements, and feedback that you have received. You can also reframe your thoughts in a more positive and realistic way. For example, you can think, “I earned this promotion,” “I have the skills and experience to do this job,” or “I have worked hard and prepared well.”

Celebrate your successes and learn from your failures

Another way to overcome imposter syndrome is to celebrate your successes and learn from your failures. Instead of dismissing or downplaying your accomplishments, you can acknowledge and appreciate them. You can also share your successes with others and accept compliments graciously. On the other hand, instead of dwelling on or hiding your failures, you can view them as opportunities to learn and grow. You can also seek feedback and advice from others and apply them to improve your performance.

Seek support and mentorship

A third way to overcome imposter syndrome is to seek support and mentorship from others who can relate to your situation and offer guidance and encouragement. Find a woman or minority leader in your field or industry, who can share their insights, experiences, and challenges with you. Ask if they would be your mentor. Join a network or community of women or minority leaders, who can provide you with peer support, inspiration, and collaboration. Perhaps seek professional help from a coach or therapist. They can help you address the underlying causes and effects of your imposter syndrome.

Embrace your diversity and authenticity

A fourth way to overcome imposter syndrome is to embrace your diversity and authenticity as a woman or minority leader. Instead of feeling like you have to fit in or conform, celebrate and leverage your unique perspectives, insights, and contributions. You can also be yourself and express your values, beliefs, and opinions with confidence and respect. You can also advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in your organization and industry, and inspire others to do the same.


For those directly affected by these issues

Women and minority leaders should take overcoming imposter syndrome as an important issue. This article has outlined a few ideas on how it can be worked on by considering mindset, strategies, and support.

By following these tips in a way that feels authentic to you, you can can work towards overcoming your imposter syndrome and become a more confident, effective, and authentic leader. An informed executive coach will likely be able to help you develop tangible ways to address these issues.

For their line managers, and company executives

Many of these factors however are with line managers, and with the executives responsible for the company culture. Those line managers and executives should carefully consider the above and their role in addressing them. Reviewing the equity, diversity and inclusion employee lifecycle would be one way to start, as would a strategic approach to workforce diversity and workplace inclusion.

You may like to consider coaching as a way to further understand and activate your progress in these areas which may otherwise be unfamiliar or uncomfortable for you.

Coaching with Steven AJ Cox

If you’d like to learn more about coaching with Steven Cox see the coaching page and check out other blog articles on the insights page.

Get in touch using the Contact page if you are interested in executive coaching with Steven for yourself or for someone you know. Steven is a member of the International Coaching Federation (the ICF) and abides by their Code of Ethics.

* Whilst imposter syndrome isn’t a “syndrome” per se, this article uses the term for ease of reference and consistency.