Do you ever suffer with ‘imposter syndrome’? I do, regularly. I remember telling someone this a few months ago and their response was one of surprise; “But you’re a CEO”, yep, but I’m also regular human. But when I think about some of the interactions I’ve had as a young woman in a leadership role, it’s no wonder really.
I think that often when you’re in a senior position, people can forget that you’re just a regular person. I like to go home, put my PJs on as soon as I walk in the door, annoy my cats by smushing their little faces and stick some true crime on Netflix! As a woman in a leadership position, I think there is often a perception that we can only make it to senior positions by being suit wearing battleaxes, cold, ruthless and willing to walkover anyone. I’d hope I’m living proof to show that isn’t true, I try to bring a warmth to the way I lead, a smile, praise and respect. I’ve also known plenty of men that lead like this too who are just fantastic, but you’re always slightly on the backfoot as a woman.
Being a young woman in leadership makes it difficult too. I’ve turned up to meetings where it’s been assumed I’m a student “Oh, you must be a Course Rep, I was hoping we’d have students at this meeting”. Last year I was at an event with a male colleague who is slightly older than me, significantly taller and was wearing a smart suit and trousers. We got chatting to a sales rep from a company who barely looked at me the whole time, they then made a ‘funny’ comment about how “my boss drives a hard bargain”. Actually ‘friend’ I’m his boss, and you’d have know that if you’d put your quick assumptions to one side. Of course I didn’t actually say that, and when they realised, they did look a bit guilty, but I’m unfortunately used to it by now.
Even though I frequently suffer with imposter syndrome, I remind myself that the people that recruited me aren’t daft, they wouldn’t have given me to job if they didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t lie or embellish in interview, I do have the MBA I worked super hard to achieve and I do actually have the work experience necessary. It’s about time we all embraced our inner confidence which is fighting to get out!
All that said, I love the challenge that comes with the territory, of changing people’s mind sets that a successful CEO can be a young woman with a bit of cat hair on her tights, dyed hair and an insatiable desire to own everything in rose gold. I love being able to support and empower my fellow female leaders, being able to inspire people of all genders and ages that you don’t need to confirm to social norms 100% of the time and that sometimes, just being your self is the most wonderful thing that you can be.
By Sara Ellis