On the run up to this year's #InternationalWomensDay I've been considering what it takes to #breakthebias, reflecting on my experiences as a woman in the workplace, and that of the many female colleagues and clients I have worked with over the years. I must admit, I personally started my career with the mindset "If you can't beat them join them!" Growing up as the middle child with two brothers I'm not sure I knew any other way, it was about fitting in. Whilst in some ways I felt resilient and assertive (on the outside anyway) I'm not sure this approach served me well in the long run. I was forever pushing myself hard, constantly driven to achieve more. I wasn't always very kind to myself and by the time I was in my late twenties I experienced a variety of health issues including type 2 diabetes - there was a lot of stress and anxiety in the mix too. After the health wake up call I finally gave myself permission to stop taking such a masculine approach to everything in life and started learning how to be much kinder to me. I've never called myself a feminist and I'm always weary of creating divides - I'm not sure a "them-and-us situation" ever has great outcomes. But likewise I have definitely learnt to embrace femininity, I'm much better at listening to my intuition and consistently being bolder when it comes to questioning what's fair and standing up for equality.
Running my own business and being a career mum are definitely challenges that have brought up a long list of insecurities for me. I've had to unpack where my limiting beliefs have stemmed from and learn to let go of those that are of no value (and hold no truth). This is an ongoing exercise! Perhaps I've occasionally labelled my doubts and anxieties as imposter syndrome which is definitely a term many of my female clients and Career Mums network have identified with. When doing a little research on imposter syndrome I came across a fascinating article on Harvard Business Review that really challenges the concept of imposter syndrome, arguing this is a diagnosis that sets out to 'fix' women (it's mostly a term used for women and rarely for men), rather than address the reasons why so many women experience discomfort, self-doubt and anxiety in the first place.
"Even as we know it today, imposter syndrome puts the blame on individuals, without accounting for the historical or cultural contexts that are foundational to how it manifests on both women of colour and white women. Imposter syndrome directs our view toward fixing women at work instead of addressing the places where women work". (Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome (hbr.org)).
So if we really want to succeed in our quest to #breakthebias isn't time we ditched the label of imposter syndrome and instead, start creating cultures (both inside and outside of the workplace) that enable everyone to flourish? This means embracing diversity and giving everyone a fair opportunity and an equal voice. Whether we care to admit it or not, we all have biases and make judgements based on our very own unique view of the world around us. Taking to a moment to check in and even challenge ourselves and each other on whether that view is the right one, is something we can all be accountable for. Unless we're prepared to do this, it's going to be hard to #breakthebias.
If you do find yourself experiencing self-doubt or feeling like fraud, ask yourself how you came to that conclusion and get to understand what has influenced you on your journey. Once you unpack all the factors you can start to form a clearer picture and give yourself permission to release all the beliefs you've formed over the years that simply aren't serving you well. Most importantly, make sure you are being kind and fair to you.