Women in Leadership Face More Impostor Syndrome

Women in Leadership Face More Imposter Syndrome...Here’s How to Overcome It

As a confidence coach, I see a lot of amazing women in leadership held back by impostor syndrome and self doubt.

Do you spend a huge percentage of your focus as a leader wondering what people think of you? Do you worry that others don’t respect your authority? Do you fear that you’re not a confident enough communicator? Do you ever wonder if you’re a bad leader?

One study has shown that 75% of executive women have faced imposter syndrome. On your way up to the top you’ve been overlooked, seen as less intelligent, and maybe have even been the only woman in the room a time or two.

Why Do Women Leaders Struggle with Impostor Syndrome?

I’m going to share the three biggest reasons women in leadership struggle with impostor syndrome. When you understand these reasons, it’s so much easier to get past them so they don’t hold you back from being the bold and visionary leader you want to be.

Reason 1: Women in Leadership Have to Succeed in Male-Dominated Workplaces

In many fields, women still make up the rank and file, but men make up the majority of the leadership. There aren’t enough visible women in leadership to normalize that women are leaders.

On the way up to your leadership role, you’ve probably dealt with doubters a time or two… one of my go-getter clients was even turned down for a promotion and told that it was a “season in her life’ for family and work-life balance.

(What? This sh*t still happens in the 2020’s?!?! No joke.)

And these messages can get in your head—you might be more likely to wonder than your male colleague if you deserve the role. If you truly are qualified or you truly can be successful.

When you’re surrounded by messages that say you can’t do it, they just make their insidious way into your mind. And even if they don’t, you worry everyone else is thinking about them.

A huge percentage of your mental bandwidth can be spent asking questions like:

  • Do I belong here?
  • Do they think I belong here?
  • Am I good enough?
  • Do they think I’m too bossy?
  • Do they think I’m too passive?
  • What if I can’t handle this?
  • What if I fail?

Reason 2: High Achieving Women Often Struggle with Perfectionism

If you’ve succeeded in the workplace, you were probably a proactive girl who drove herself to be the best. But while the skill of getting it all done and get the “A” can serve us in early career, it can lead to our downfall (in the form of burnout, overwhelm, bottleneck and micromanaging) when we are in leadership.

If what got you here is being perfect all the time (and that’s just not possible anymore in a leadership role), you’ll feel like you need to maintain your perfection or fail. And when you are one of the only women on the room and you think that everyone’s eyes are on you, the stakes for failing feel so much higher. It feels like you can’t make a mistake, so you overwork yourself to make sure that it’s always perfect.

But mistakes do happen in leadership. The mark of a great leader is not being perfect and avoiding mistakes, but how you face them and how you teach your team to face them and respond to them.

Reason 3: Women in Leadership Struggle with People Pleasing

Very few women are immune to the social pressure to be a “nice girl” and to never say no to anyone or disappoint them. Because women are socialized to pay attention to other’s feelings and focus on their happiness (at the expense of our own) when the inevitable downs happen in leadership, it feels like it’s all your fault and you’re bad at leadership. (You’re not.)

But if you’re afraid to give negative feedback to your staff, they won’t improve their work. If you can’t speak clearly and directly to your fellow leadership team, you’ll get stuck in conversations where nothing is really getting decided, or the company goes down a path you knew wasn’t right for it.

The most damaging impact of people pleasing? It keeps women in leadership saying yes to things, and stuck in back-to-back meetings, and redoing work that someone else should have done.

It steals your time, your attention, your precious energy and creativity. It leads to burnout, overwhelm, lack of work-life boundaries, and being stuck in the weeds instead of visionary and spacious.

Ugh. We are under the weight of so much gender programming and social conditioning.

What’s a gal facing the very common experience of impostor syndrome to do about it?

Strategies for Developing and Maintaining Confidence

As a confidence coach, I know something: confidence can be learned. It’s not an innate quality that you either have or don’t have. And as Katty Kay and Claire Shipman speak to in the book The Confidence Code, confidence is something you do, not something you have. The key to developing confidence is to practice confidence. I know this sounds obvious, but here are a few ways to do it:

1. Recognize that you can have impostor syndrome and still make an impact

Everyone’s got it…. No really.

Years ago, I heard an interview with Tess Vigeland, the host of a successful nationally syndicated finance radio show, in which she shared how much she faced impostor syndrome even at the height of her show’s popularity. It was strangely comforting to me. If Tess Vigeland had impostor syndrome and could still change so many people’s lives and finances, I can make an impact too.

2. Watch your language

How you speak is one of the biggest “tells” of how confident you really feel. Women who are nervous about speaking or giving negative feedback to their teams often say things indirectly, and use a lot of filler language. “I hope, I thought you might, I was thinking we should consider.” Watch yourself for a few days and notice where you’re prevaricating and work on saying it more clearly, firmly and simply instead.

3. Practice confident body language

Our body language is another “tell” that communicates just how much we believe what we are saying. One of my favorite tips for building body confidence was stolen from Jordan Harbringer’s advice to men on how to build the body language confidence to pick up women. Every time you walk through a door, roll your shoulders back, lift your chest, and look up and smile. It makes every doorway (or if you work remote, you can make it logging onto every zoom call) a trigger to shift into more body confidence.

4. Practice saying no

If saying no is hard for you as a woman, compassionately practice doing more of it. Put yourself on a No Diet: say no to something every day and keep notes on how it went and how you feel. Over time you’ll learn that often the fallout is not as bad as you think, and that you are still ok after saying no.

5. Get confidence coaching to be your best self

You don’t have to do it all alone. A confidence coach can help you. Sometimes women think they need to do it all on their own or they haven’t “earned it.” Or they worry it will look weak to hire a confidence coach. Or they have to wait until they have it all figured out before they hire a coach (oh, hey there perfectionism).

But you are your best asset. Your mind, your attention, and your energy are what can change the world. When you let yourself be supported by a coach such as a confidence coach, you take all the energy that is bound up in impostor syndrome and free it to serve you, your company, and those you love.

Building confidence to show up as your authentic self in life and at work is something I help my clients achieve.


So they can lead more boldly with ease.


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Hi I'm Maya

Mia Scharphie , career coach, headshot

I’m a career coach and strategist with a secret power (I mean, past career) as a designer. I love road trips, graphic novels and helping people like you design the career you love on your own terms.