Women in leadership on the steady rise, but can we speed it up?

CEO Insider

The four steps to taking charge of your Imposter Syndrome and reaching the top.

According to McKinsey and Lean In’s “Women in the Workplace” 2020 report, the number of women in the C-suite grew from 17% to 21% between January 2015 and January 2020. Moreover, the 2021 Women in CEOs in America reports that 8.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, 7.3% in the Fortune 1000; 6% in the S&P; 5.6% across the Russell 3000; and 7.4% at private companies with revenue over $1billion. The number of women running businesses on the Fortune 500 is now at a record of 41, not to mention the recent inclusion of 6 women of color occupying the head of the table. 

While these are encouraging stats, the reality is that there’s still room for growth. But how can we shift the pendulum to bring more empowered women CEOs in an overwhelmingly male-influenced space?

The answer might not be what you think but has a significant influence. Imposter Syndrome and, more specifically, conquering the voice that echoes you are not good enough to lead. Imposter Syndrome is that persistent inability to believe that your success is deserved or legitimately achieved due to your efforts or skills. Have you ever found yourself in a place where you are experiencing feelings of overwhelming self-doubt, personal incompetence, and experiences of feeling like a fraud? Well, guess what? That’s Imposter Syndrome at play. It arises primarily from childhood experiences, family background, fear of failure, societal norms, racial or gender discrimination, to name a few. 

An often-overlooked contributor to Imposter Syndrome is limiting beliefs that manifest in your physiology, word choices, and view of your world. Limiting beliefs, the thoughts, opinions, and convictions you have held to be the absolute truth but are limiting what you believe is possible for yourself or what you will allow for yourself. To give you some illustrations, let’s look at how this plays out in the following scenarios.

Case and Point 

  1. Confidence to Speak Up – one of the biggest challenges for women is having the courage to speak their minds without fear of repudiation. The notion of being rejected by your peers can be paralyzing enough to remain in the shadows of silence or, worst yet, submission. However, being at the seat of the table is not enough if you stay silent for fear of being ostracized or rejected by your peers. Regardless of the odds presented, it is paramount to lead by boldly sharing your voice, ideas, and perspectives and getting comfortable with the discomfort that comes from being seen, and the reality that you might not be everyone’s cup of tea – besides, respect is gained when your voice is heard
  2. Money Talks – it’s no secret, the pay gap is wide between men and women as a whole, let alone in leadership. The limiting thoughts and imposter syndrome behaviors boil down to a lack of self-worth and being afraid to ask for what you want instead of what you think you deserve. The key lies in uncovering the money blocks and mastering the sales and marketing process so that you set the bar and not the narrative of your fears
  3. Fear of Success – a recurring theme in leaders, is the indistinct questioning of the potential consequences of their success. The fear that your achievements will ultimately cost you, being worried about what would happen if you are in the spotlight, acquiring new responsibilities, having to leave people behind as a result of your success to the point that you will self-sabotage. The thoughts and behaviors stemming from poor self-efficacy, prior negative experiences, and backlash can be overcome by reflecting on your wins and re-affirming the truth – that you didn’t get here by accident, so don’t start doubting your track record now

What does this have to do with getting to the top?

Well, think of this, your leadership style is a direct reflection of your mindset, meaning the thoughts, beliefs, convictions, implicit and explicit biases you ascribe to knowingly or unknowingly. Imposter Syndrome, if left unchecked, can stifle your leadership potential and permit yourself to play big even if others have invited you to stay small or silent and stagnant. The only permission you need to lead is yourself. 

How can I move forward?

Lead your thoughts to success by taking time to reflect. An effective exercise you can do today is the 4 Steps to Taking Charge of Your Imposter Syndrome:

  1. Step One: Identify Your Limiting Belief
    Pick a top limiting belief surrounding your Imposture Syndrome 
  2. Step Two: Document Your Limiting Belief
    Write down a list of thoughts you have around this topic
  3. Step Three: Reframe the Belief
    Close your eyes and visualize your higher self who is empowered and positive; how would they think about this situation?
  4. Step Four: Declare Your New Belief
    Come up with an Identity focused affirmation (ideally starting with I AM…) to support your new thinking. Ensure to place your new declaration on a post-it and in a space, you can access daily. Speak life into your belief through daily repetitions until it becomes your new normal

To close in the words of Michelle Obama, who said, ‘I still have little imposter syndrome…it doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.’  


Written by Aden Eyob.

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