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Why Impostor Syndrome Disproportionately Affects Women

Maureen Borzacchiello

Founder and CEO, Maureen Borzacchiello, Inc.; RealTalk for Business Growth

Spoiler alert: Some of the most successful people in the world have suffered from impostor syndrome at one point or another in their careers. In fact, it’s very common for the “overachiever” to suffer the most. 

What is impostor syndrome?  It is a self-imposed thought process of being a fraud, based on the inability to acknowledge or validate one’s own accomplishments.  The constant drive for perfection overshadows one’s ability to acknowledge achievements or success. In many instances, people attribute luck to their success more than their actual skills, intelligence, or definitive achievements.

Although impostor syndrome affects both men and women, women suffer more disproportionately. They often ask themselves questions like “Do I deserve my seat in the boardroom?” “Am I a fraud as a CEO?” “Who am I to manage a team of employees?” ”Why would others want to hear what I have to say?”  You get the point. 

What stimulates impostor syndrome in women? Do societal and familial implications or expectations play a role? Are gender biases or stereotypes at the foundation of the underlying thoughts or feelings that lead to impostor syndrome? Research shows that they absolutely do. 

The common denominators

As an advocate for women entrepreneurs, having mentored or coached many women suffering from impostor syndrome (and having been there myself many times as I grew and scaled my own multi-million dollar businesses), there are several common denominators to impostor syndrome.  Some of the most common feelings are anxiety, guilt, stress, feelings of failure, and lack of balance in career vs. personal life.  

For most, the fear of being discovered as a fraud is what causes the most stress, and self-doubt thoughts include: “I look like I have it all, like I have it together, a successful business and career, perfect family and personal life, and meanwhile…it’s a hot mess!”

The perception that women have to be perfect and handle everything with grace and ease was somehow communicated and burned into the minds of women for generations.  Times have changed, and instead of hiding the realities of imperfection, I say let’s celebrate the chaos and the mess along with embracing all of the ways women are contributing — as successful entrepreneurs, as leaders, as partners, and perhaps as parents or caregivers.  

Combatting the syndrome

In these moments when impostor syndrome sinks in, there are a few key things you can do:

  • Level set: Ask if the situation leading to your thoughts and feelings of impostor syndrome is actual or perceived.
  • Know your strengths: Make a list of all of your amazing qualities and skills.
  • Own your success: Think of the top three things you have achieved that you are super proud of and that you know were significant accomplishments.

By now, you should be smiling and know you are a kick-ass entrepreneur, you are not an impostor or a fraud, and you’ve busted your ass to have every single accomplishment in life that you have achieved. 

Every day is not glamorous. Some days are downright ugly, but courage, determination to make a difference in the world, and the work ethic of an entrepreneur will help you hold your head high and recognize that you, my friend, are no impostor. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us to embrace imperfection as over 60 percent of the workforce is now remote, and, inevitably, Zoom calls have the occasional disruption of authenticity with kids, pets, or an unaware partner walking by in a towel (or not!) making an appearance.  Perhaps we can embrace this newfound appreciation of our similarities as humans navigating a pandemic, and celebrate the multi-faceted, perfectly imperfect, amazing entrepreneurial women that we are. 

For more information, please visit maureenborza.com.

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