Whether it be a new job, a promotion, or simply speaking up to share a new idea during a meeting, women often have trouble owning their accomplishments and accepting praise or recognition.
This stems from the stereotypes assigned to women and societal expectations for how well a woman should perform. Although women make up over half the work force in the United States, earning sixty percent of advanced degrees, the U.S. Census Bureau reports only twenty-seven percent of workers in STEM jobs are women.
One explanation for why women might be shying away from certain professions, such as in science, math, and technology, is because men are stereotypically believed to perform better in these fields leading to a lack of confidence for women in their ability to compete in spaces where men seemingly dominate. Even incredibly high-achieving women are more likely than men to understate their own abilities. Unfortunately, centuries of gender norms and stereotyping have an incredible lasting effect on the minds of women today. For many women, It becomes difficult to convince other people of their talent in areas where they believe their gender is weak. This lowered self-confidence holds many women back as they automatically count themselves out of pursuing high-level positions in professions they believe they won’t excel in, despite already having all the skills needed for success.
“Imposter syndrome” is a term that best describes this feeling. Imposter syndrome, simply put, is the experience of feeling like a fraud, feeling like you don’t match up to your company and your coworkers, or constantly crediting sheer luck as the reason behind all your successes. Many women suffer with the inability to believe that their successes are deserved. This leads to lowered confidence overall and, subsequently, lower work quality and performance.
It is so important to acknowledge that these feelings of inadequacy often have little to do with one’s actual abilities and talents. These feelings are a result of patriarchal, societal, and cultural influences. However, in order for women to reach their goals and thrive in their work, it is still crucial for them to be able to be confident in their special abilities and talents in order to fully leverage them and effectively monetize them. In a world where women are constantly being undermined and underestimated, we don’t need to add on to that anymore by allowing ourselves to adopt that same mindset. Owning your own accomplishments is the first step in gaining self-confidence, and it can be done in a positive way without bragging or creating an unnecessarily competitive environment.
So, how do we learn to own our accomplishments? How do we overcome feelings of inferiority in the workplace?
- Open yourself to accepting praise from others.
Graciously accepting recognition from others without feeling guilty can be easier said than done. One action item that can be implemented into your daily work or school life, that has personally helped me with this issue, is to pay attention to how you respond to compliments or praise. In the past, my immediate response to any sort of praise would be something along the lines of “It was nothing,” “The task wasn’t that difficult,” or “You could have done a better job”. Replacing these responses with a simple, “Thank you, I worked really hard on this project,”, or “I appreciate you noticing my hard work”, shifts your mindset to acknowledging the effort you put in and allows others to also appreciate and spotlight your abilities.
- Give yourself credit for the successes you’ve had, and take time to acknowledge the positive impacts you have made.
Many women are too hyper-focused on the future and end up forgetting about successes in the past that have gotten them to the point they are at now. An action item that can be used to help acknowledge the positive impacts you have made is to start by doing it on a smaller scale. Daily reflections for how you achieved a small goal or how you saw your work being used to benefit others can be great ways to start noticing the positive effects your successes can have on not only you, but also your surrounding community.
- Foster a culture of teamwork and support.
Promoting teamwork and an inclusive culture, especially as a leader or a woman in a C-suite position, can greatly reduce feelings of competition or inferiority amongst coworkers. Strong relationships built on open and honest communication will foster a community where women feel respected, valued, and able to overcome self-doubt. Ideally, this type of company culture will allow women the opportunity to redirect their fears into opportunities for personal growth.
Although many women, unfortunately, fall victim to imposter syndrome, there are many ways to overcome it. Through teamwork, acceptance, and acknowledgement of your hard work, owning your accomplishments can be implemented as a regular practice in your work and personal life.