It’s time we recognise the impact of Imposter Syndrome in our industry, especially women in advertising. An estimated 75% of executive women reported having personally experienced imposter syndrome during times of their careers, according to the 2020 report by KMPG Women in Business. According to DataUSA, 64.4% of employees for public relations specialist roles are men. Further, only 20% of top leadership positions occupied by women. Let’s define Imposter Syndrome before we explore how it can be resolved.


Imposter Syndrome manifests itself as a collection of feelings of inadequacy and doubting your abilities despite evident successes, which may lead to feeling like a fraud. Those who feel imposter syndrome may find it difficult to accept their accomplishments by making excuses or narrowing it down to luck or “good timing”. Ironic to the name, it disproportionately affects high-achieving people.


What does Imposter Syndrome look like in the workplace?

  • High stress
  • Anxiety
  • Affects ability to meet deadlines
  • Affects productivity
  • Over or under preparing


How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome?

The Youngbloods x The Aunties event on Wednesday May 11th titled “Playing in the Boys Club” had a wonderful panel made up of successful, brilliant women in the industry who shared their personal experiences. Rachel Lounds, Confidence Coach and Imposter Syndrome specialist gave key insights into why imposter syndrome happens and how we can minimise the affects it has.


1. Imposter Syndrome externalises our successes

If you’ve ever caught yourself saying your achievements and successes were down to timing or luck, what you’re doing is thinking about them in contextual terms rather than personal terms. This occurs when we don’t believe or make excuses in order to make space between our achievements and ourselves.


Solution: Take the time to celebrate YOU. Often, those with imposter syndrome undermine, ignore, or put their achievements down to luck thus unacknowledging their successes. When you do well at work, win an award or get a pay rise, that is time to celebrate. Give yourself permission to own your accomplishments and celebrate your greatness. This bridges the gap between you and your achievements.


2. Imposter Syndrome is fuelled by fear

The voice that diminishes our achievements or tells us we don’t know what we’re doing comes from fear. It comes from our “fight or flight” senses. These senses are biologically ingrained to protect us. In a weird way, this voice is trying to protect us from being called out as a “fraud” even though there’s evident to prove we’re not.


Solution: Self doubt and fear are normal feelings. People can be smart and competent and still feel doubt and fear. It’s about changing our mindset from “I don’t know what I’m doing” to “I may not know everything, but I am capable of finding out and doing the work”. Furthermore, the fear and doubt demonstrate that you care. You’re afraid because you care about the outcome; this isn’t a bad thing.


However, it’s not entirely up to the individual to overcome Imposter Syndrome alone. For people experiencing self-doubt or insecurity these feelings can grow and worsen in the workplace. The workplace can be a difficult place for someone who experiences these feelings.


So, what can workplaces do to help overcome Imposter Syndrome?

1. Confidence over Competence

A great quote by Emma Robbins (Executive Creative Director at M&C Saatchi) said at the Youngbloods x The Aunties event. Emma noted that too often those with imposter syndrome focus on competence and not enough on confidence. For this context, workplace systems that reward confidence over competence continue to fuel the problem.  Promotions based on time in the industry compared to merit and deliverables is an example of confidence over competence.


2. Normalise Imposter Feelings

Self-doubt and fear are normal feelings. These feelings become a problem when they effect our ability to live and work. Normalising these feelings in the workplace demonstrates that anyone at any level in the company can experience these feelings. When these feelings are normalised, challenge them as a team. Celebrate the company’s successes as a team and affirm individual’s role in this success. With patience, steady affirmation, and normalising this fear, itis possible to create a workplace for all people to thrive.


It’s important to remember that Imposter Syndrome is not constant for most people. It can come up in situations and scenarios rather than being a constant state of anxiety. Knowing and viewing Imposter Syndrome as a “Flight” mode from our body’s ingrained fight or flight instincts, helps us understand that we’re trying to protect ourselves. However, we can’t allow fear to stop us from trying and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones to achieve greatness. We need to remember we are capable of doing the work and finding out what’s needed to achieve whatever it is we want.