The Curse Of Imposter Syndrome: How Gender Holds Us Back

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.


I’ll let you into a little secret… I had impostor syndrome writing this.

We all suffer from anxiety through life, this is not news. You’re in a meeting and you suddenly remember you left the iron on or worse your ASOS order won’t process because you haven’t updated your PayPal account (I still am yet to fully understand what that means). Apprehension is expected with trying anything new but I think (and I’m going to be pretty radical here) that women suffer with this much more than men…. I know, I can feel the manly eye-rolling.

So who do I think I am – Deborah Meaden?

I am in actual fact, a woman. I didn’t go to university; first reason for not feeling good enough. I didn’t get some sweet degree in STEM because that would be impressive, way more value than a “soft” subject like Art or Performing Arts (both of which I did at A-Level; typical woman). 

I didn’t fulfil my early dream of becoming an actor so I worked as a chairside assistant in dentistry, like acting really as I had to pretend to enjoy it for 8 years until I didn’t, mainly because my boss was a bully. I worked the usual admin roles that so many women do; customer service, PA, general dogsbody and sure I picked up skills, skills that I am thankful for but being an employee wasn’t really floating my boat. Satans receptionist wasn’t all I hoped it would be either…

Me as Satans Receptionist.
Satans receptionist.

I wanted to be the boss but what could I do? I took the plunge and started a wedding cake business and even though I felt as if everyone could do it better I just cracked on hoping I could make it work but I wasn’t equipt with the skills and it took so much longer to grow not doing the research first only compounding my feelings of failure.

As a photographer, I struggled with describing myself as such despite being able to use my cameras manual settings… little photographer joke there. The old worries of having no formal training came back to haunt me, and with each new venture came self-doubt, I was like Carrie standing on that stage covered in blood-red paint thinking; “they’re all going to laugh at you”.

It’s a cliche that women are great communicators. I find, in general, it’s true. However, women who work in any capacity will tell a story or two about not speaking up and perhaps missing a promotion or asking for more money simply because they don’t feel they’re good enough or don’t deserve it.

Nurture or Nature?

There are many that will argue that men are born to lead. They are the hunters, the go-getters and women take care of the kids, make a fabulous moussaka and look good doing it.

So is that true? Are women just hysterical wrecks, useless at getting the top job? 

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Are the ones that do, just anomalies; freaks of nature? You hear this gender rhetoric about men and women and we are all guilty of putting people in neat boxes based on how society thinks men and women should behave and what place they have within that structure. 

Biologically we are, of course, different (I only got to see a man naked recently so I can now confirm that to be true) but gender per se is so much more complex, more nuanced and the organs between our legs are only a small part of it (pun intended).

If women are biologically best suited to traditional female roles wouldn’t we dominate in the world of fashion design and cooking? 

So why do women doubt their worth and is there something more insidious and subliminal happening? 

Girls are not raised to be confident. As we become women we struggle to vocalise our opinions or talk about what we want. We come to realise that our value is in our appearance and a woman showing signs to the contrary is viewed negatively and with mild suspicion.

Women get paid less, they do more unpaid work (childcare/housework/taking care of elderly relatives) and they are more likely to take on menial low paid roles. 

Women nearly always downplay their talents and experience

I hear women doubt themselves all the time. I am joined to many business networking groups and imposter syndrome comes up time and time again. It’s not rocket science as to why this is. Take a look at how society views women who show strength and leadership. Men are expected to show such traits and we want our male leaders to be straight talkers, logical thinkers. To be assertive and make the tough calls. Women are seen as bitchy or difficult especially if they heaven forbid show ambition.

Women by default are steely and resilient it makes me baulk when I hear people describe women as strong as if most aren’t. You don’t spend your life negotiating a male world and not become strong.

Society is changing and the way we raise our children is too but business must change because it’s failing women and missing some crazy talented individuals. All women shortlists is one way of securing more women at the top level but two to five in the boardroom isn’t enough. We think nothing of seeing all-male panels. We are so conditioned to seeing our world in a particular way.

We as women must stop taking a back seat, know your worth and promote yourselves. Don’t be silenced or hold back. Command the audience, wow the interview panels and make your mark, what’s the worse they can do?

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