Imposter Syndrome: We All Feel It

“Imposter syndrome,” or that feeling that you just don’t belong or deserve your success, impacts women and minority groups disproportionately at work, according to The New York Times.

I was struck by this article, having felt “impostor syndrome” many times. Does my voice, opinion or expertise really count? Is it of value? I think many women question themselves, and the value of their contributions, in a meeting or newsroom.

The article reads, “[Impostor syndrome] persists through college and graduate school and into the working world, where women tend to judge their performance as worse than they objectively are while men judge their own as better.”

This is a problem for women and minorities’ advancement because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If women feel self-conscious about their contributions and judge their performance as worse than others in a room, then they are less likely to speak up, take on challenges, or seize prominent opportunities.

The NYT reports women tend to undermine their experience or expertise and devalue their worth. The column reminds me of a talk former First Lady Michelle Obama gave in London. She said, “I still have a little imposter syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me.”

“It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts about our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”

Obama’s advice to young women is “to start by getting those demons out of your head.”

“The question I ask myself— ‘am I good enough?—that haunts us, because the messages that are sent from the time we are little is: Maybe you are not. Don’t reach too high. Don’t talk too loud,” Obama said.

And Obama offered a “secret” to young women everywhere: “I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at nonprofits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the U.N.: They are not that smart.”

The NYT article includes a number of recommendations for overcoming Imposter Syndrome, including: own your accomplishments; visualize what success looks like; and make a list of your qualifications.

The article’s recommendations are well worth a read. Creating parity in the workplace requires not only structural and societal change, but also women and minorities believing that they are, in fact, equal, and deserving of the seniority and salary that that equality merits.

Article Link Here:

Ethical Compass

Indra Nooyi, Former Chairman & CEO, PepsiCo, Inc.:  “You have got to have a compass. Your ethics are so important … You can be courageous; communicate beautifully; have competence, but if you’re downright unethical, no one will follow you.”

Indra Nooyi, Former Chairman & CEO, PepsiCo, Inc.:  “You have got to have a compass. Your ethics are so important … You can be courageous; communicate beautifully; have competence, but if you’re downright unethical, no one will follow you.”

In this video, Indra Nooyi, the former Chairman, and CEO of PepsiCo, Inc., offers career advice. She urges employees to communicate well, and develop expertise and competence. Above all, Nooyi says, aspiring leaders should have an ethical compass. 

Sometimes, in a rush to get to the top, or succeed within an organization, ethics are an afterthought. Increasing an audience, ratings, or market share becomes the driving goal, inspiring employees to press ahead in pursuit of those targets. But in that pursuit, cornerstone values of truth, accountability, decency, and kindness can be lost. 

Every employee is a human being, and to maximize their potential and contributions to an organization, management should treat them as such. This means insisting on truth and accountability from every member of an organization, and also listening to employees when they tell the truth, even if that is a truth management may not want to hear. 

These values mean organizations should hold each person accountable for expressing their strengths and producing great work, but also for their weaknesses. If there is an ethical or moral lapse among staff, that shouldn’t be overlooked by the company in their rush to success. To do so corrodes company culture, and increases the risk of future litigation for the organization. 

Leaders set the tone and company culture for the entire organization. If a CEO sets strong ethical standards for a company, those filter down to the staff, and establishes a guideline for what is and isn’t acceptable in the office. 

Leading people so they are inspired and empowered to operate at their optimum best means being a leader in values and ethics. It means creating a workplace where doing the right thing – not just what is expedient – is an essential stepping stone to success for the entire company. Leaders with an ethical compass, who also produce the audience, ratings or market share which a company seeks, have the potential to be the most inspiring of all.

How Important is Human Decency at Work?

By Dianna Pierce Burgess, Co-founder and Executive Director, Press Forward

I’ve gotten to an age where I’ve heard this phrase quite a bit in the past 10 years “It’s comforting to know good things CAN happen to decent people”.  

This is always in reference to someone I know well (across multiple industries such as journalism, PR, academia, finance, corporate America) who has finally landed a really good job based on their merits. These merits are a shopping list of extra-ordinary qualities: hard-work, excellent leadership and communication skills, incredibly loyal and kind, an above-average moral compass that they hold onto at work and beyond, brilliant problem-solver, thoughtful & caring manager who inspires and supports others, a can-do attitude that appeals to those above and below them, and the list goes on.  These are people who have always strived to do the right thing, who have often been overlooked, who have never wavered in their belief that – if you keep your nose to the grindstone, work hard, subscribe faithfully to a decent ethical code, treat others with respect and equally – eventually you will be rewarded with a promotion or recognition from peers or better pay, or sometimes all three.  

But what strikes me as profoundly wrong in this scenario is that this is a rarity.  I can think of 4 times in the past 10 years when we’ve sat around a dinner table here in London or D.C. or New York or L.A., gathered with friends, catching up where we left off, and someone tells a story of so-and-so who finally got a fantastic job as a VP or Director, where they are treated well, and are very happy, and have finally earned long-overdue respect.  And that’s when someone says the line at the beginning of this blog. 

Why is decency not more prominent in business? Where did the lessons of childhood get cast aside along the path to adulthood? In HBR’s Social Responsibility post, @BillBoulding, Dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, argues the “DQ” (or Decency Quotient) is just as important as the IQ (intellect) and the EQ (emotional intelligence). He is 100% right. But he and I agree, it’s often overlooked.

“Unfortunately, we have far too many examples in business of what happens when decency fails. The Great Recession is a case in point. Ten years later, business, particularly in the financial sector, is still trying to win back trust from a public who came to believe the industry was greedy, self-serving, and focused on the bottom line at the expense of the greater good.”
He lays out a few concrete examples where decency paid off and it’s absolutely worth the read. I have a few examples of my own. In lecturing to university students here in London, I brought in the Head of Starbuck’s/Europe, the Chief Financial Officer at Virgin, and a Senior VP at Burberry to speak to the students about life lessons as it relates to their impressive careers. To a man (and woman), they all had similar themes: humility, don’t be afraid to admit when you are wrong, listen listen listen, have passion for what you do, and most important: treat everyone equally and with decency, As @BillBoulding concludes: “If business can become more intentional about decency,  I believe it can become a healing force our world so badly needs.”

Time for Organizations to Align Employment Policies with Current Family Needs

Wake up, World! We have got to get with the program. Since 2013, 40% of working mothers (with children under 18) are sole or primary breadwinners in their households (US Dept. Of Labour study). Compare that to 11% in 1961. This is not 1961. This is 2019. We’ve got to address this statistic. As this working mother says in The Times London over the weekend: “It cost me £122 to come to work today – and that’s before I bought a sandwich and paid for my train fare. I always knew putting an 18-month old and four-year-old child into nursery would be expensive, I just never realized it would be more than my monthly mortgage payments. If I miss my train home, it’s an extra £15 per child for every 10 minutes I am late to collect them.”

But there are additional statistics:

For roughly 4 decades, more women than men receive college degrees annually. In the 1981-1982 academic year, women got more bachelor’s degrees than men (in the US), and since then, women have outpaced men consistently. 

Women and men alike are told a college-degree leads to higher wages, but gender inequality is still alive and ruminating worldwide.

In the past, just because you have a college degree, this doesn’t always translate to more working college-educated women in the workforce. Until now.  A new report reveals women are on track to make up a majority of the university-educated workforce this year (2019) in the US.

Add to that these statistics: A 2018 survey shows nearly two-thirds of Dads reported they’d consider quitting their job to spend more time in the early weeks and months to care for their child. And 62% said they’d consider taking a lower paid role to do so.

Several studies both in the US and Europe, however, show that men often don’t take the paternity leave or time off when it’s offered, sighting negative perceptions, anxiety over lower pay, fearing job security. European countries have far more progressive and accepting family-friendly leave policies, but there is still economic difficulties in utilizing them. So we need to reconcile this seesaw.

But what all these studies have in common – and what women have already known for decades – is that these are issues that affect anyone who decides to take a step back to care for a child, even temporarily. And unless we decide to not bother with children anymore, we have got to figure out a better way to accommodate working parents. As best as I can tell, this is not an issue that will just go away, and the sooner we discuss it, study it, offer new alternatives and viable policies for both employee and employer, the better off we’ll be as a society.

Some people are thinking outside the box. Rohan Silva, who started Second Home, is one. Second Home offers hip co-working spaces in London, LA, and Lisbon, to entrepreneurs but with an added bonus: an on-site nursery to deal with the challenge of childcare for small businesses, in particular. Millennials are the key. They are all thinking outside the box in their approach to life, work, marriage, kids, travel, experiences,… the balance of it all.  And unlike the study referenced above, a study that focuses just on Millenial dad’s reveal times are changing: a joint study with Deloitte and DaddiLife found that 87% of fathers aged 25 to 40 are involved in the day-to-day parenting, and nearly two-thirds have asked for more flexible hours since becoming a Dad.

But it also reveals that employers are not keeping up with parents needs (again, something women have known for ages).  Nearly half of the men said they consistently experience “tension” from their employer when trying to balance the work-family seesaw.  Who amongst us has not had that crazy day of calling in grandparents, neighbors, people you barely even know, to patch the gap between you leaving work and the nursery/pre-school/daycare/community center closing and you might be charged $1/child per minute that you are late? And when I say you, I am speaking to the Collective You.  More and more it’s not just women but men, co-sharing these duties. And bless ‘em. If that means these issues will get looked at more closely, studied, discussed, changed, well, I am all for it. Policy-makers are still (a vast majority of them) male, so having them step in our shoes for a few miles, understand what we face, means empathy. And with empathy comes understanding. And with understanding comes change, hopefully, for the better. 

Author: Dianna Pierce Burgess, Press Forward, Co-Founder and Executive Director

Fistbump to Working Moms

“There’s a lot of talk about why women work,” says Kathleen McGinn, the study’s author and a professor at Harvard Business School. “A lot of those questions presume that, somehow, it’s detrimental to their families. That’s a whole bunch of ‘mother guilt’ based on almost no findings.”

The real impact of working moms is most evident in their daughters. The researchers found that women who grew up with working mothers are more likely to have careers themselves than those with stay at home moms, and they’re also more likely to have better, higher paying jobs…Sons, for their part, grow up to spend more time doing household chores and caring for their kids if their mothers had careers. In the U.S., that translates to about eight more hours a week spent folding laundry, changing diapers, and doing other kinds of domestic duties — nearly twice as much as sons of stay-at-home moms, they found.

It’s about time someone crunched the data and gave us some good news! As a Mom who has done it all — work more than full-time in a demanding, high-pressure career, work part-time, and not work at all — I have struggled to find the right balance for me (as an individual, for me as a mother and wife, and for me as a career woman). It is such a personal decision and one where there is no definitive correct answer. Many women don’t have a choice whether they can work or not – often they must work to make ends meet.  But as the US Labor Dept. statistics show, women make up 48% of the workforce now. And the number we should really be paying attention to is the fact that 40% of working mothers with children under the age of 18 are sole or primary breadwinners. So whether we do this because we want to or do it because we have to, the fact remains, working mothers are in the workforce and that number is growing. So how does it affect our kids? As other studies have shown globally, society and culture is set by the norms around us. “At the root of this phenomenon is the way children internalize social mores, and the behaviors modeled by the adults around them. People tend to have “more egalitarian” views on gender roles if they had working mothers” the article concludes. One of the reasons I did go back to work full-time was for the example I wanted to set for my daughter. If she could see me being a successful working Mom, this is something I hope, one day, she can be proud of.  But the benefit, to me, as a working mother is more than being a role model for her, but because I am truly happier working and producing something outside of the traditional family social and hierarchical structure. God gave me a brain — I like to use it. It’s working full time, over-time, all the time, so why not put it to good use? Again, this is an individual decision, and one shouldn’t judge – no matter what the decision is. If a woman wants to be a stay-at-home Mom with 5 kids, then I absolutely applaud and bow down to her. That is not something I could ever do. If she wants to work full-time and leave her parenting duties to others, that’s her right too. We are not here to judge, and I honestly feel women should get out of the habit of being so harsh on one another. We should be supporting each other, helping each other find our own internal balance. But for those of us who do struggle privately whether working has had a detrimental effect on your kids, this article is most definitely a ‘fistbump’ to cherish!


Cognitive Dissonance and The Workplace

“In situation after situation, hundreds of experiments reveal, that when our conduct clashes with our prior beliefs, our beliefs swing into conformity with our conduct, without our noticing that this is going on. In other words, too often we remind ourselves that we are good people, and conclude that what we are doing must not be bad, because we’re not the kind of people who would do bad things. The human ability to rationalize, or in other ways, distance ourselves from our bad acts, sometimes seems unlimited … We quickly begin to see our wrongdoing, as acceptable.”

The video advises people to not ignore guilty feelings and to pay attention to common rationalizations, and make sure they are not using them.

Another method to avoid unethical conduct is to practice empathy. In any environment, we can ask ourselves, who are the least powerful people in that room? What are their struggles and challenges? What are they thinking and feeling?

It is natural for everyone to focus on their own success and problems in life, and it takes real work to mentally and empathetically put oneself in the shoes of another. But if we practiced that, and envisioned the experiences other people might be having within the same office, the same room or organization, that can allow us to act more ethically and fairly, and in way that will encourage others’ successes and growth.