I have a question for the men out there: Is impostor syndrome a thing for you?
During the Women Breaking the Mold Networking Forum Nov. 13-14 in Scottsdale, Ariz., speaker after speaker touched on the phenomenon, which essentially is the feeling that you're somehow a fraud — that your successes were merely the result of pure luck and you're about to be found out.
"Everyone in this room has suffered from this," said Genevieve Caplette, leadership and team development manager for Michelin. "Any praise leads to doubting. Any success has you thinking that, 'I'm not as capable as they think I am.'"
Since the concept of impostor syndrome was first identified in a 1970s by two female psychiatrists, it has mostly come up in discussions by — and about — women. Accounting and consulting group KPMG LLC released in a new study in October noting that it found 75 percent of executive women report having personal experience with impostor syndrome at some point in their career and 85 percent believe it is commonly experienced by women in corporate America.
"I have never seen men say they have impostor syndrome," Rev Anbalagan, continuous improvement director at packaging maker Berry Global Inc., said at the forum, which is sponsored by Plastics News and our sister paper Rubber News. "Maybe they have it, but they ignore it."
For what it's worth, another study in the United Kingdom released earlier this year noted that fewer than half of men reported feeling impostor syndrome.
Even as dozens of women gathered on stage at the event for a photo of members of the Women Breaking the Mold class of 2023 for both PN and RN, I heard some mentioning a variation on the theme of "I'm not sure I belong here."
They do, of course.
But with those recent studies in mind, think of what this means in terms of all the extra internal hurdles many women experience in addition to handling new responsibilities on their career path.
"If you're not uncomfortable, then you're not growing," said Magen Buterbaugh, president and CEO of Green Tweed. "I took one assignment at a time, one project at a time, and got noticed."
Throughout the two days of the forum, women — both speakers and attendees — emphasized the need to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable to work past any feelings of doubt while believing they had something important to bring to the table.
"Whose voices are you listening to in your head? The voices of doubt?" Caplette asked. "It's time to listen to your own voice. Accentuate the positive. We're bright; we're intelligent. How come we always think about the things we did wrong rather than things we did right?"
Not that it's easy to just make that leap to confidence, but there are some things that can help.
Megan Tzanoukakis, president and CEO of injection molder Sussex IM, said that when she made the move from a career in accounting to one on the shop floor, she made sure she had data to back her up.
"Read and research," she said.
At the same time, women's experiences with confronting and quieting their negative internal voices to push through and succeed could potentially lead to new opportunities, although not easy opportunities.
The past decade or so, analysts have developed a new concept in executive management and leadership trends: the glass cliff. While the idea of the glass ceiling has been used to recognize the barrier to promotion for women, the glass cliff, as Keith D. Dorsey wrote for MIT Sloan Management Review earlier this year, is a phenomenon "in which women and other minorities are preferentially selected for leadership positions in times of crisis."
They're selected by companies that want a complete — and very visible — change in management when business conditions are more challenging than usual.
The cliff offers far more risks but also the potential for growth.
"This is taking on positions that are impossible to do and a woman says, 'I want that opportunity,'" Berry's Anbalagan said during the forum. "You get through it, though you get some bleeding and scars.
"For you to be recognized, you need to be willing to throw yourself out there, make a fool out of yourself, and do it all over again," she said.
Rhoda Miel is Plastics News' managing editor. Follow her on Twitter @PNRhodaMiel.