Six steps for overcoming Imposter Syndrome

With the launch of NatWest’s #OwnYourImposter campaign, Startups’ profiles the panel discussion, including what Imposter Syndrome is and how it affects female entrepreneurs…

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Almost two-thirds of women have thought about becoming an entrepreneur but haven’t started due to feelings that are often linked to Imposter Syndrome, according to recent research by NatWest.

Whether thinking that you’re not the type of person to start a business, or that you’re undeserving of success, feelings of inadequacy are alarmingly common among female business owners.

That’s why, as part of its #OwnYourImposter campaign, NatWest recently held a panel discussion on this topic, featuring women who are successful in a number of industries, including business, journalism, retail and sport. The panel featured:

  • Stacey Dooley – British documentary maker and Strictly champion
  • Michelle Kennedy – founder of Peanut, a networking app for mums in the UK and the US
  • Ebony Rainford-Brent – retired England cricketer and broadcaster, who was the first black woman to play for the women’s team
  • Poorna Bell – journalist and author
  • Pippa Murray – founder of Pip & Nut nut butters

Startups was invited to this event – read on to learn more about the key takeaways…

You’re likely to have already heard of the term ‘Imposter Syndrome’, but what exactly is it, why does it affect women and how can we recognise and take action about it?

Here we profile some of the main points and recurring themes from the panel discussion, offered as six key steps for overcoming Imposter Syndrome.

Recognise symptoms

Imposter Syndrome can present itself in a number of ways: emotionally, mentally or physically.

For example, Michelle Kennedy mentioned how “there are moments where it kind of creeps up on you, even when you’re not expecting it”. This could also be experienced physically, such as sweating, or as Stacey Dooley talked about, getting a rash on her neck.

Ebony Rainford-Brent discussed having nightmares. Also, she offered this possible definition of Imposter Syndrome:

“I think that’s what Imposter Syndrome is – whether you’re in a boardroom or doing a pitch – you think somebody’s going to tell you: ‘this is it, you’ve got to go’. You think you’re going to get found out and you’re waiting for someone to say you’re not good enough”.

Manage social media usage

Social media can be a great way to connect with other people and create a community of like-minded individuals. However, it can also expose you to criticism from other people, which could trigger feelings of Imposter Syndrome.

Rainford-Brent discussed how “…social media doesn’t help, that’s the other thing, as I’m sure you know, that sometimes any little doubt you have – even if you get a thousand amazing comments – the one that tells you you’re not good enough is the one that spirals…”

Similarly, Pippa Murray talked about how social media can be used to gloss over, such as by presenting only certain aspects of what running a business entails, when in reality “… it’s everything that you think it’s going to be when you start a business: there’s the highs and the lows and the rollercoaster happens…”

Learn how to pitch and ask for funding

Securing funding is key to helping your business become a success. But the pitching process, and asking for funding, can be a daunting task for many entrepreneurs.

This is reinforced by research which shows that 44% of professionals felt Imposter Syndrome was the main factor that stopped them from applying for grants to start their own businesses.

On pitching and funding, Murray advised understanding the differences in types of funding, such as those between crowdfunding and private angels.

Similarly, she discussed the importance of knowing your brand and business; to understand that funding and pitches are opportunities to have a conversation about your business, “and I think when people are asking you questions it’s not to catch you out – I think a lot of the time it’s just wanting to understand more about your business…”

Kennedy added that while funding can feel like it’s “all-consuming”, it’s important to be aware of how your own mindset and pre-conceptions can affect the process. With “no such thing as a bad pitch”, she explained that funding is a repeat process that you can learn from each time.

Celebrate achievements

NatWest’s research shows that one of the key factors which hold women back from starting their own businesses is thinking that they don’t deserve their success, although they may have the appropriate skills.

And when Dooley raised the question of how Imposter Syndrome can be solved, Kennedy discussed the importance of celebrating achievements. One way of overcoming Imposter Syndrome could be to identify where and how you have succeeded, and champion it.

For Poorna Bell, it’s about realising what your achievements are and taking the time to enjoy them, even though we often focus on what we didn’t do.

In a business context, Murray recommended finding a team and delegating tasks, based on knowing what you are and aren’t able to do.

Invest in yourself

It can be all too easy to focus our efforts externally, especially if you’re running your own business, or planning to. But investing in yourself is also key.

Raising this topic, Rainford-Brent, stated: “It’s not only about investing in your physical self, we should also take more time to invest in our brains”.

This could be through experiences like coaching and learning about neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), with the aim of understanding more about how your current behaviours are influenced by your past experiences.

Create a community

Whether you’re running your own business, or working your way up the corporate career ladder, it can feel like a lonely place at times. And that’s where having a network of people to turn to for support and guidance can help when experiencing Imposter Syndrome.

Murray said that when starting her own business, her age and lack of knowledge contributed to feeling like she would be discovered (in terms of Imposter Syndrome), in that she didn’t have the experience. She recommended having a ‘peer network that you can lean on’.

Rainford-Brent echoed this sentiment, recognising the importance of support networks, and how her experiences have included men encouraging and advocating for her too.

Bell talked about how this was also an opportunity for growth, such as through mentoring, while Dooley mentioned how “there’s room for all of us”.

This is evident more widely too, with research finding that 46% of female workers felt a mentoring scheme would be an effective method of overcoming Imposter Syndrome for the people they work with.

As part of the NatWest Back Her Business scheme, entrepreneurs will have access to mentors for support during the application process.

Clearly, Imposter Syndrome can affect women in a number of different ways, whether that’s through physical symptoms or thought processes. It can also be a result of external influences, such as funding rounds, or internal factors like a lack of confidence.

Imposter Syndrome can affect women who are just starting out on their business journey, as well as hold them back from launching in the first place. However, it can also affect women who are already more established in their careers, as demonstrated by the comments from the panellists.

So how can Imposter Syndrome be overcome, or at least managed? As the panel discussed, recognising it exists and then sharing knowledge is key, along with helping other women to succeed too, wherever you are in your professional journey.

NatWest is committed to helping female entrepreneurs overcome their Imposter Syndrome and has launched a CrowdFunding platform, entitled Back Her Business, to encourage women to start their own business.

Scarlett writes for the energy and HR sections of the site, as well as managing the Just Started profiles. Scarlett is passionate about championing equality and sustainability in business.

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