the imposter within

by Galia BarHava-Monteith

Over the years we have written extensively on the topic of the imposter phenomenon. It’s that persistent feeling of being about to be found out when one gets a promotion or feeling like a fraud when being congratulated for doing well.  The ‘imposter within’ makes it very hard to take deserved credit for good work, and fosters an enduring sense of never being good enough.  You can find more on the subject here:

Engaging with the ‘Imposter Within’

Each time we’ve published an article on the topic of the ‘imposter within’, we’ve had wonderful feedback: women write to us on how much the subject resonated with them, how affirming it was to read they weren’t the only ones who felt this way was, and how much it helped them in dealing with their own sense of feeling like an imposter.   So we thought, here’s a good topic for public professional development seminars, and we can offer it in-house to our wonderful corporate partners.  Our corporate liaison contacts also agreed with us, and we set out to deliver those seminars for two of our partners.

By way of context, when we deliver seminars for our larger corporate partners, we generally have to turn women away for lack of room, and can have up to 120 women in any given seminar.  We did think that the imposter phenomenon might not be as appealing as some of our broader topics, like say, playing to your strengths.  Nonetheless, we still expected to have a good number of women attending a seminar to discuss the ‘imposter within’.

Empty seats

However, after delivering the seminar in-house four times over the last couple of years, we discovered that very few women actually attend them.  This was surprising both to us and to our liaison contacts, given just how many women seem to feel keen on the subject.

Needless to say, we were all quite flummoxed.  How come the ‘imposter within’, that seems to generate so many comments when we write about it, that resonates so highly with women we speak to privately, as well as in our capacity as executive coaches, when we actually offer a seminar on it, with strategies to overcome it, doesn’t seem to draw women??

So, I had to put on my qualitative researcher hat, and try and figure out what was happening.  An obvious reason could be that we offered these seminars at a busy time of year.  However, we have done seminars in busy times before and never encountered this issue. And we offered seminars on this topic at different times of year, always encountering this issue.

Why?

When we asked individual women who did attend why so few showed up, they suggested that it was difficult letting other people know that you are going to attend a seminar on the ‘imposter within’ for fear of being teased, or worse, ridiculed about feeling this way.

We pondered if we should change the name? The thing is, being true to our values does mean that we call things what they are, and I am not sure what else we could call it, and whether it would make any difference.  I believe, based on my years of working as a coach, and running professional development seminars for women, that perhaps this topic is one we feel safest to engage with in the privacy of our own screen, or in a one-on-one safe and trusting relationship with a coach.  I believe in Professionelle we should be mindful of what topics are appropriate for writing articles on and including in our books, and which topics are suitable for public airing in our seminars.

But, and this is a big but, the women who did come to these seminars, absolutely loved them.  They openly shared their own experiences, exchanged strategies of how to manage these feelings, and gave us the most wonderful feedback.  It seems that when they do attend, women really benefit from professional development on this topic.  So is the issue then: how to get them there?

A way forward

We don’t have any answers on this yet, and our board is divided on whether we should continue to offer these seminars in-house, or even publicly. As we mature as an organisation, building on our work and experience to date, we want to make sure we use our very limited and voluntary resources in the best way to deliver the most change, and therefore, we need to be discerning about our offering.

This year, we are committed to delivering a series of in-depth, half-day intimate professional development workshops.  We are limiting the spaces to around 25 women in each workshop. They are all very affordable, and aimed at women who are working from home, or self-employed or working for smaller organizations that can’t afford to buy-in professional development.  I am currently designing the first one on understanding what self-insight is, why it is important, and how to develop it (event sign-up link coming very soon).

We are planning to offer more of these, and to help guide us in choosing topics, we need your thoughts and input, about which topics we should offer.  We know that leaving comments on the site might sometimes feel unsafe, but if you have strong thoughts or reflections and would like to share them with me, please email me on galia@professionelle.org.nz

 

 

 

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