Imposter syndrome and female leadership

I have recently noticed a trend amongst my female clients. When offered an opportunity for a promotion or a new challenge, they frequently hesitate to accept it because of worries about how they will be perceived in this new position or activity. They worry about whether they will be able to master the new challenges and adapt to the heightened expectations. They worry about whether others will resent them and whether it is fair that they receive this opportunity over other colleagues.

What I do not hear from them is discussion about whether they want the job.

By contrast, when male clients are offered opportunities, I hear them worry about whether the opportunity will be fulfilling. Whether it is the right choice for them in the arc of their career. Worries about what effect it might have on their ability to pursue other interests are common, as are worries about compensation and whether it is adequate.

In other words, all of the wondering is about whether or not they want the job.

What’s causing this difference. Could it possibly be genetic? Of course it’s not. We learn how to place ourselves in the world from our families and peers. It starts from an early age when girls are admonished to be nice, to be good friends, to be caring. Boys are taught to be tough, to win, to compete.

Why is this still happening in 2020? Why are we still internalizing these messages? Why are girls so focused on how their wants affect others while boys are taught to ask for more (frankly, even when it’s to their detriment).

We have a President who is thoroughly unqualified for the job of President who ran against a woman who, regardless of her likability was infinitely prepared and qualified for the position. It never appeared that he questioned his ability to do the job. It never even mattered. Everyone focused on questioning her ability to do the job constantly, I think even she questioned her ability to manage the demands from time to time.

I’m not saying here that the President won because he was a man, nor am I reaching to compare preferred policy outcomes. Objectively, from a statistical and quantitative standard, one candidate had extensive policy education and experience, one did not. The one with the experience and education was heard to question her own competence, the one without never seemed to doubt and certainly never admitted to any uncertainty.

It really does amaze and befuddle me that this keeps happening.

And yet, there is something admirable and desirable about this empathy and self doubt. It leaves room for questioning and changing opinions. It leaves room for collecting a team of experts and allowing them room to convince. It resists snap judgments.

If only we could find a way to stop it from stopping us from accepting the promotion or the opportunity.

Published by alexm1008

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing in Houston, Texas. I specialize in helping clients develop skills and strategies to feel more in control of their emotions and behaviors. I am also a wife and mother of two who loves to run and travel (particularly to Disney World with my kids and without).

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