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How imposter syndrome is affecting female graduates

We recently delved into the minds of 5,700 students and graduates, to find out about young people’s career confidence.

Here we focus on how female graduates are suffering with imposter syndrome and how you can support them in the workplace.

Female raising her arms to the sky in a peaceful setting

Women have lower salary expectations than men

Our research identified that one in three (33%) women are worried about low pay and think they’ll earn under £20k in an entry level role, compared to less than a quarter (22%) of their male counterparts.

We also found that males expect to be earning more in five years’ time, with more females (25 percent compared to 15 percent males) expecting to be on £25-£30k and more males (23 percent compared to 17 percent females) expecting to be on over £35k, after five years.

Comment from writer and activist, Natasha Devon MBE

Imposter syndrome is more than just ‘lacking confidence’.

It’s an all-consuming belief that you aren’t worthy of your career achievements, that you’re a fraud and a fear of being ‘found out’, even if all the evidence shows you to be qualified and capable.

Whilst feminism has come on in leaps and bounds over recent years, we still live in a culture where the prototype for success and influence is white, male and middle aged.

It’s no wonder, then, that the people most likely to experience imposter syndrome are young women.

Women feel they need to work on their career confidence than men

While confidence was the top choice for respondents, our findings revealed that far more females (41%) reported confidence to be a soft skill that they needed to work on most to excel in their career, compared with just 28% of males.

Competition from those with more work experience was another concern, with more females (58%) citing it as an issue, compared to males (47%).

Confidence issues are affecting graduates before they even hit the workforce, which often lasts with them throughout their career.

While more employers are implementing mentor-ship programmes to alleviate imposter syndrome and boost confidence among new starters, more needs to be done to ensure that this negative mindset is reversed, before they start working their way up the career ladder.

Georgina BrazierGraduate Jobs Expert at Milkround

How to avoid imposter syndrome

Natasha Devon has put together some helpful tips to ensure that you avoid imposter syndrome and maintain confidence in young individuals.

1. Know your Enemy

Having imposter syndrome can feel incredibly isolating, because by its very nature it is something which makes you feel as though you don’t belong. It’s important to remember it’s both common and, unfortunately, normal – particularly amongst women.

2. Think like your male counterparts

Studies show that men tend to believe they can do jobs for which they are under-qualified whereas women are more likely to believe they aren’t right for a role, even if they are overqualified. Look at their qualifications and experience and measure them, objectively, against yours.

3. Combat negative self-talk

It’s essential to have a voice in your head advising caution, especially when running away from a bear. The negative voice we’ve evolved to carry around with us is more likely to tell us we aren’t worth a pay rise, can’t do that presentation or will make a fool of ourselves in a meeting. Recognise that voice and tell it to shut up.

4. Separate instinct from structurally created beliefs

Human beings learn through repetition and a lot of what our brain absorbs happens subconsciously. We still live in an environment which tells us the prototype for a powerful person is white, male and middle aged. Realise this is a belief system is not representative of you and is not something you would choose to believe of your own free will.

5. Stop trying to be liked

Women, on average, fear social rejection more than men. This isn’t an attitude which serves anyone well in the work place. However, we teach people how to treat us. Working for free, never using the word ‘no’ and letting other people take credit for your work might mean less confrontation, but it will leave you underpaid, undervalued and exhausted.

Addressing imposter syndrome in the workplace

Here’s our top tips on how you can ensure you’re company are supporting colleagues in the workplace.

1. Recognise it’s normal

By its very nature, imposter syndrome can feel incredibly isolating, since it makes workers feel like they don’t belong – make sure you bolster confidence and morale where possible

2. Address the gender gap in workplace confidence

Studies show that while men tend to believe they can do jobs for which they are under-qualified whereas women are more likely to believe they aren’t right for a role, even if they are overqualified. Try and create equal opportunities for people of all genders and encourage those who may be experiencing imposter syndrome to go for promotions

3. Challenge structurally created beliefs

We need to continue shaking off the idea that the prototype for a powerful person is white, male and middle-aged. Do what you can to offer and encourage opportunities across gender, age, ethnicity and race.

4. Create an environment of communication

Generally, women fear social rejection more than men, making them more likely to work for free/out of hours, not use the word ‘no’ and lead other people take credit for their work. Create an environment of communication, to ensure that no one gets barricaded into this kind of corner. Otherwise it could lead to graduates feeling underpaid, undervalued and exhausted.

Download the “Milkround’s Candidate Compass Report 2019”

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If you have any questions or would like to speak to us in more detail, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Number: 0333 0145 111


All figures from Milkround’s Candidate Compass Report 2018