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Dealing with Imposture Syndrome

Women in Planning West Midlands hosted their first seminar workshop on Friday 08th March, with the support of Avison Young who kindly sponsored the event, and provided venue space and refreshments throughout the duration of the event.   Kate Green, Co-Chair of the West Midlands, branch opened the event, noting the networks recently published research which seeks to answer the question of: ‘How Many Women Are Working in Leadership Roles in Private Sector Consultancy?’. Kate noted that the research analysed publically available date detailing the level of women in the planning profession, which led to an assessment on whether there is a gender leadership gap. 379 consultancies were surveyed. Out of the 1,016 planners working in these 379 consultancy firms, the research found that overall women filled 17% of leadership positions, with men filling 83%. She concluded by giving a brief introduction to the speaker and facilitator of the session, Cath Brown.   Cath introduced the concept of Impsoter Syndrome by defining its origins and identifying the common ‘issues’ associated with the psychological pattern. The phrase Imposter Syndrome was first coined by two female professors (Professor Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Immes) at Georgia State University in 1978. They identified a number of common patterns whereby those experiencing the syndrome had a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’ and doubts their accomplishments resulting in increased stress and anxiety. She confirmed that research suggested 50% men and 50% of women experienced the phenomenon within the workplace, however, women were more likely to identify with it.   Cath went on to share her personal experiences of feeling like an ‘imposter’ when she was offered her job at King’s Chambers. Delegates then took part in a quiz where they matched the Imposter Syndrome quote to the famous person.   Following the quiz, the first Discussion Topic involved delegates sharing what Imposter Syndrome meant to them; how it has impacted their life in the past; and how it impacts their life in the present. Delegates had engaging and thought provoking discussions through sharing experiences in small groups before feeding-back to the wider room.   Under the guidance of Cath, Delegates made a list of the people whose opinions they respect and whose opinions matter to them before discussing with the wider room. Delegates were then asked why they respected those people and why their opinion mattered to them. Cath suggested presented the idea that those people should fit on a post-it note and should be used as a reminder to Delegates where feeling like an ‘imposter’. Cath shared the quote: ‘other people’s opinions of you is not your business’.   Cath then introduced the idea of re-framing insomuch that when a Delegate is feeling like an ‘imposter’, how likely is it that those people are likely to be wrong about you?    Delegates then shared examples of what they have done to stop Imposter Syndrome getting in their way and what tips they could offer to other to take their ‘imposter’. Tips included:

  • Inspirational quotes such as ‘In a world that wants us to whisper I choose to yell’.

  • Asking for help.  

  • Referring to the post-its of opinions that matters and asking yourself ‘does this person’s opinion matter?’

  • Acknowledge achievements.  

This was an interactive exercise which saw Delegates moving around and engaging with each other around the room. It sparked interesting conversations around what’s worked well and what hasn’t quite worked so well. This was a further opportunity to share stories and experiences of when Delegates felt like they were an ‘imposter’. As part of this exercise Delegates were asked to make a list comprising a side of A4 detailing their strengths, achievements, honours, prizes and testimonials, which would assist in providing validation that they should have a seat at the table; be providing that advice; attending that meeting etc. Cath explained that this was a useful tool to refer back to.   The final task explored the concept of reframing stories, otherwise known as shifting stores, as set out by Andrew Scott in his book. This involved determining the current story and identifying what Delegates were telling themselves. It then looked at how the Delegate would name the story, before looking at how other might name the story. Finally, the question ‘is this story OK with you?’ was asked. The task then looked at how Delegates could shift away from or reframe the unhelpful story into a new story that was more positive and supported by evidence prepared by the Delegate (A4 list of achievements etc.), who could support this story, and importantly, how the success of the new story could be celebrated.   There was then an opportunity to for a question and answer session. Kate provided closing remarks and thanks you and an informal networking session followed. 

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