5 Reasons Why Female Executives Are Experiencing Imposter Syndrome At Higher Rates Since The Start Of The COVID-19 Pandemic

And how to stop feeling like a fraud

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

The pandemic is taking a toll on the mental health of workers and executives around the world. Some are more prone to feeling the toxic effects more than others, and one way it shows up is with feeling ‘not enough’. 

“For years I lived with a near-constant dread that someone would find out I wasn’t smart enough or talented enough for my role. So I worked harder to prove myself. I studied and took more courses within my field to feel more confident. But it was a never ending fear that I still wasn’t enough. Now it’s worse than ever.”

Andrea Pennington, MD

Answer the following questions to see if you are dealing with imposter syndrome:

✓  Have you ever had the feeling that no matter how much you achieve, you’re still never good enough?

✓  Have you ever felt like you don’t deserve the position you are in or feel the need to constantly prove yourself? 

✓  Ever felt like someday someone is going to find out that you are a fraud? 

✓  Do you fear that soon people will discover that you really aren’t enough for the role you’re in?

If you answer yes to any of these questions you may have imposter syndrome. 

What is imposter syndrome?

Classically, people dealing with imposter syndrome report living with a terrible fear that someone is going to discover that you don’t really know what you’re talking about; that you’re not qualified or worthy of your position. 

With imposter syndrome it is common for you to feel anxious and fearful that you’re not doing enough. But what is often overlooked is that people with imposter syndrome don’t give themselves enough credit for their accomplishments, they don’t personally acknowledge their gifts and talents, and they have a critical inner dialogue. 

Sound familiar? 

Why Female leaders are experiencing Imposter Syndrome more now

Here’s how and why the COVID-19 pandemic has amped up the dreaded imposter syndrome, particularly among executives. 

No leadership training for pandemics.

Most executives feel comfortable with their leadership skills in the domain they trained for and have most experience in. For nearly all of us, leading through a pandemic is completely out of our domain of expertise. So having our employees and shareholders relying on their leaders to keep up morale, maintain efficiency and look toward a profitable future brings up all sorts of feelings of inadequacy.

We can’t blend in or hide in meetings when working remotely.

For those who live with imposter syndrome it’s imperative to find strategies to cope, and sometimes blend in. With endless Zoom calls we can’t easily hide out during in-person meetings, we feel more vulnerable. This causes our feelings of inadequacy to mount daily. 

The longstanding mental structures of ‘not enoughness’ will kick in and dominate our thinking when we are under pressure.

In daily life we can keep from feeling like a fraud by overworking, outperforming, being perfectionistic or striving for excellence. The pandemic has eroded the personal sense of efficacy as demands are not easily met or over accomplished. The underlying paradigm of not feeling good enough, smart enough, resilient enough is strengthened with the added stress and uncertainty the pandemic has ushered in. 

We lose sight of our accomplishments, expertise and past experience.

In any stressful situation we develop tunnel vision, only focused on what is in front of us and neglect to bring past success to mind. Even though people with imposter syndrome tend to be high performers with excellent track records of high performance, we tend to overlook our achievements and instead feel intense dread that at last someone is going to discover we shouldn’t be in our role. 

More visibility for our caregiving roles and non-work responsibilities.

In the UK and US many women feel more pressure to show their teams & directors that they can manage it all — work, home, and kids without missing a beat at work. But the fact is, living in the time of the coronavirus pandemic effectively overwhelms all of our usual coping strategies and we feel exposed.

Our co-workers now have more of a peek through the window of our home life through the computer screen, meaning we can’t hide behind the “I’ve got it all together” mask we wear in the office. So we feel like a circus clown juggling too many responsibilities with less than perfect grace, and this makes some of us question whether we really are cut out for leadership positions at all. We think “the gig is finally up, now the world will see I don’t have my s—t together.” 

If any of this resonates with you it may come as a surprise that this is actually a blessing in disguise. None of the old coping techniques were really effective. They simply masked the inner sense of low self worth and now it’s high time to address it before it wrecks your health. 

Imposter syndrome takes a toll on us personally & professionally

“Imposter syndrome is something that caused me anxiety and low moods, impacting my quality of life, my relationships and eventually my performance at work.”

Megan, HR Executive

The internal pressure to appear ‘more than’ drains a lot of our mental and emotional energy. Ultimately, the drive to be perceived more competent, more available, and more intelligent can lead us to burnout as we take on more work, look for more approval, and neglect our own wellbeing.

The costs of presenteeism

This leads to more presenteeism, the phenomenon of showing up for work to keep up appearances when we should really tend to our needs for self-care and rest. In fact, studies show that presenteeism is hurting companies directly when people come to work despite poor health and then underperform. The indirect costs of poor mental health to employers are also high, and include an adverse impact on creativity, innovation and colleagues.

Addressing “Zoom Fatigue”

While the zoom and other video conferencing tools have helped most organizations improve communication and collaboration during remote work, “Zoom fatigue” is now becoming a major problem globally. “Zoom fatigue” is characterized as symptoms of tiredness, anxiety, or worry resulting from overusing virtual video conferencing platforms. Although the causes may be smaller issues like mechanical malfunctions and network struggles, an accumulation of these stressors can impact an employees wellbeing.1

Instead of setting boundaries on your time, and that of your employees to minimize excessive screen time, women with imposter syndrome will often force themselves to be ever present at the expense of their health.  

When Imposter Syndrome Leads to Burnout

Along with feeling like an imposter in your role often comes a rolling internal dialogue of criticism and judgment. We all have an internal critic who keeps the score of our shortcomings and makes sure that we never forget them. 

The mental expense of hearing self-criticism includes emotional fatigue, anxiety, depression and hopelessness. Combine the feeling of being less effective at work with overwork amidst the harsh reality that we don’t know how long we’ll be working under these conditions and you’ve got the perfect recipe for burnout.

Burnout is a complex set of toxic effects of chronic stress, which include physical and psychological symptoms of fatigue, emotional exhaustion, reduced efficacy at work, detachment and cynicism.

Many complain of burnout symptoms including  poor sleep, brain fog, depression, anxiety, muscle aches, and over time there are increased risks of physical illnesses like heart disease and autoimmune disorders.

“Burned-out employees are 23% more likely to visit the emergency room.”

Gallup

This is not the time to soldier on

As you can see, there are many reasons to face imposter syndrome head on. The costs are just too high to sweep your feelings under the rug to shoulder more burdens of work. It is especially important to recognize that most women who feel like a fraud are actually highly functional, occupying essential roles in corporate and entrepreneurial settings. 

By embracing a healthier view of the situation, along with unlearning the emotional and behavioral programming that leads to overwork, perfectionism and the sense of not being enough, you can overcome this insidious, false sense of being a fraud.

Of course executives are not the only ones experiencing imposter syndrome and the negative effects on their mental health. So in addition to getting help for yourself you would do well to invest in support for your organization to address the culture and system-wide tendencies which promote overwork and performative work. 

For corporations, addressing mental health makes business sense

In research reported by Reuters, poor mental health has a negative effect on productivity; estimated to cost $260 billion annually to the US economy, equal to $1,600 on average, per worker.

Deloitte’s survey results suggest a positive business case for investment in staff wellbeing. According to its latest report, Mental health and employers: Refreshing the case for investment, employers can expect to get an average return of £5 for every £1 spent (5:1). 

The return on investment that an organization can expect to make depends on the type of support they put in place for their staff. For example, companies can expect a 3:1 return on a reactive approach to mental health, compared to an average return of 6:1 for a company-wide culture shift and awareness raising approach.

What can you do personally?

Living with chronic stress impacts the brain and nervous system in many ways. Symptoms such as physical pain, brain fog, short term memory loss, insomnia, irritability and low moods can be predicted by the level of stress hormones, inflammatory markers and brainwave patterns. 

Executive wellness programs help you evaluate your physiology and brainwave patterns to help guide your personalized recovery program. New research out of Denmark includes assessing an individual thoroughly, then  based on the degree to which stress and overwork has led to burnout, one is provided a comprehensive overview of the behavioral patterns, psychological tendencies and personality traits which increase the likelihood of succumbing to burnout.

By identifying the personal characteristics that are within your control, you are empowered to make changes, evolve and grow so that you are more resilient and less likely to fall into old patterns which lead to burnout. This way, no matter what’s happening in your life or work environment, you’ll have a greater sense of control and optimism.

Visit us at In8Vitality.com to take a free quiz to see if you’re at risk of burnout. And for more information on our treatment programs on overcoming burnout, including private coaching, visit our partners at Unlearn or contact us [email protected] 

This post was originally published on In8Vitality.com on December 21, 2020.

References:

  1. Connecting through technology during Covid-19 leads to Zoom fatigue: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32551981/
  2. Occupational burnout and medically certified sickness absence: a population-based study of Finnish employees https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18222132/
  3. Do age and gender contribute to workers’ burnout symptoms? https://academic.oup.com/occmed/article/68/6/405/5038477
  4. Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey & LeanIn https://womenintheworkplace.com/
  5. ePresenteeism and burnout: HR professionals fear impact of mental health on employees https://www.onrec.com/news/statistics/epresenteeism-and-burnout-hr-professionals-fear-impact-of-mental-health-employees
  6. Mental health and employers: Refreshing the case for investment

Related articles:

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Courtesy of Jess Rodrigues / Shutterstock
Well-Being//

6 Ways Imposter Syndrome Is Literally Making You Sick

by Brianne Hogan
Community//

Confidence Coaching Can Help Women Achieve Their Career Goals

by Caitlin Lamont
Community//

8 Ways That Imposter Syndrome Shows Up When Have A Chronic Illness Or Disability

by Sarah Wells
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.