Stepping into your power: Overcoming imposter syndrome for executive women

Speaking with me, Diana radiates a warm authority and confidence. She is the founder of a design build company in Boston. She’s an executive woman in a male-dominated industry and has come a long way from “the only girl welding with the boys in the shop”.

But she didn’t always exude power. Diana worked with middle-aged, white men for much of her early career in design.

“It was hard to talk to trades people and other builders… and to know what I have to say is valuable,” she says.
“It was hard for me to feel my voice was worth listening to.”

She even used to share her original ideas with colleagues by saying she heard the idea from someone else or she “read about it” as a way of legitimizing it.

She is not alone. Women and especially women with marginalized identities are more likely to experience imposter syndrome in their careers. Imposter syndrome whispers (or sometimes yells) in our ear that we aren’t who we are “pretending” to believe.

A client once described it as a feeling of being a little girl dressed up in her mother’s heals and her father’s suitcoat. This sense of inadequacy is not something we are born with. This is something we learn from somewhere. And often, we learn it from the difficult experiences in our past.

Diana grew up in Argentina where she describes herself as “always kind of fringe”. I’m queer and have been poly since high school. When she was young she experienced some traumatic events that influenced her self-worth and esteem.

It took therapy and tools to help her build up to the confident woman sitting before me now.

I have worked with many women like Diana, who are leading companies, managing large teams, and yet are held back from their full potential because of the events in the past whispering in their ear “you’re a fraud”.

Trauma has a way of breaking down our inherent sense of being good enough. It can make us question our value, our wholeness, and even our identity – “am I really that adult woman in the mirror?”. It can make us depressed and anxious. It’s hard to fully step into your power and self-worth when we aren’t able to see ourselves accurately.

So how do we address imposter syndrome?

I interviewed, Anne Daly, a seasoned professional with years of experience in managerial roles and asked what she would recommend for young women starting out in their careers, particularly in male-dominated industries. She recommends women “build good networks and mentors” and don’t be afraid to ask for help. She has benefited from professional coaching over the years during tumultuous times and expressed the wish she had sought help like that sooner in her career.

Diana acknowledges how far she’s come from those early days with imposter syndrome. “It’s not the trauma that makes me better but the tools I was given by therapy to understand my capacities, my value, and my values.” She now leads her company with zest and doesn’t take any crap from her middle-aged white male colleagues. She can own her ideas and see the value she brings to her work, employees, and clients.

Owning our power is not about seeing ourselves as competent and able to lead in areas where we lack skills, but rather the ability to accurately acknowledge and use the skills we do have. It helps us see reality for what it is – where we need to grow and how we’ve already grown. Imposter syndrome warps reality and shrinks our power.

Here are some tips for overcoming imposter syndrome:

1. Get to the root of the imposter syndrome through EMDR.

Difficult experiences, especially when we are young, shape how we see ourselves. Trauma can teach you that you’re not safe to step into your power or that you’re not good enough to be who you want to be. To challenge these beliefs we need techniques like EMDR from experts to heal the stuff from our past so we can learn to accurately see ourselves in the present.

2. Connect with mentors in your industry.

As Anne Daly suggests, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Connecting with people who have walked similar paths can help you see you’re not alone. Many people genuinely enjoy being able to “give back” to others by helping younger generations navigate some of the common pitfalls and issues for women in leadership. Don’t underestimate people’s willingness to offer you support and advice.

3. Hire a professional coach.

Professional coaches can help you figure out your goals and steps towards achieving them. They can also help you assess your skillset and give ideas for self-improvement.

4. Name it to tame it.

The next time you’re hearing that voice saying “you’re not good enough” or “you’re a fraud”, name it for what it is: a voice from your past with wounds that haven’t healed yet.

Connect with me to learn more about how EMDR intensives can help you.