Tomorrow is International Women’s Day – the theme for this year is pledge for parity, which means equal treatment for all genders. This is a great goal, and the very heart of feminism, but sometimes I feel like it’s not happening at the moment. There are a lot of different causes to this, but one of the reasons I think is with us. As women we’ve often got a subconscious feeling that we don’t deserve to sit at the big table, we grow up with the feeling that we don’t belong.
How familiar is this story?
I’m sitting in front of the camera, fiddling with my hair and trying to work out how to introduce myself. I say camera, but it’s really just my iPad, propped up with books on my desk to get it to face height. I’m attempting to film the first video for my YouTube channel, but so far it’s not going well. This is the fifth take of my intro, each time I’ve become awkward and stumbled over my words, and I’m coming to the conclusion that I shouldn’t be doing this.
I know I’m not alone in feeling like a fraud for trying to become successful. There’s a name for it: Impostor Syndrome.
Impostor syndrome is the feeling that you shouldn’t be doing the things you’re doing – be it in your personal life or at work. It’s the belief that you must have got into the position you’re in by accident, as you don’t feel capable enough to be there for your own merits. Impostor syndrome makes you feel as if you’re going to be ‘found out’ at any minute, and then the illusion will be burst. Several studies have shown it’s mostly women who fall victim to this, though of course it can affect men too. The thing is young women are brought up not to be ‘proud’. We take part in ritualistic self deprecation (see Mean Girls) to the point that we believe it’s normal. If you express something that you like about yourself you’re seen as ‘big headed’ or ‘cocky’. Men don’t often get told this; for guys confidence is almost essential, which brings a different set of issues which is a whole other blog post!
I recently read a great article from The Guardian about this very issue. The article is actually from 2013 but is still, sadly, pretty relevant. In my research I also came across some ideas for combating impostor syndrome. The Startup Bros have a pretty refreshing list, which will hopefully help shake you out of the ‘I’m not good enough to be doing this’ mindset. I’d suggest printing it out and taping it somewhere you’ll be able to see it when you’re working, or first thing in the morning when you’re getting ready to go to work.
If you’re looking for work at the moment I know impostor syndrome can stop you from even applying for jobs as you just don’t think you’re good enough to do them. To that I say so what? Just applying what’s the worst that can really happen? You don’t get it? Onwards to the next opportunity! You get an interview? Well I know that’s just another chance to feel like you don’t belong there, but if you don’t even try you’ll never see what you’re capable of. Even if you aren’t at the level for this role yet you can use the experience and see it as an opportunity to learn and improve yourself.
To get anywhere in the fight for gender equality we must believe that we deserve to be equal.
Of course you want women in general to be equal, but we need to also want that for ourselves individually. It’s great to encourage and cheer on other women, but you need to extend that to yourself. If we want to have equal opportunities then we need to reach out and grab them with both hands. Don’t let your fear of not being good enough hold you back, because by holding back you’re not allowing yourself to be as great as you can be. We can overcome impostor syndrome, and we can achieve parity. In the words of the great Queen B, who run the world?