This is the year we’re kicking our professional self-doubt to the curb. Imposter syndrome affects an overwhelming 75% of executive women at some point during their careers, and experts say high achievers are more likely to experience imposter syndrome. So it’s time to speak up and speak out about our achievements, and remind each other why we deserve every bit of success we’ve earned.
We recently teamed up with global jewellery house, Pandora, for our International Women’s Day Step Forward Summit and used the opportunity to speak to their Finance Director, Kirstin de Klerk, and Pandora Ambassador, Erim Kaur, about their experiences with conquering professional self-doubt.
Here’s what we learnt from them on how to fill your confidence gap:
Kirstin De Klerk, Finance Director UK at Pandora Jewellery
Tell us about your career journey so far – did you know you'd become a finance director at a company like Pandora?
“The simple answer is no! I started my career in professional services at Deloitte, initially focusing on clients within the media space. I hadn’t considered a career in the retail industry until I joined Pandora as Financial Controller in 2012. After 18 months in that role, I decided to take on a new experience as a C-suite level business partner at Pearson, the largest education company in the world – again, a very different industry but a great opportunity for me at the time. It wasn’t until a few years later, in 2017, that I was approached by Pandora to take on the Finance Director role.”
Kirstin De Klerk, Finance Director at Pandora
Have you ever experienced a moment or phase of self-doubt in your career?
“Of course! The standout moment for me is when I was offered the Finance Director role – I felt very young and inexperienced to take on a business of this size. Personally, I don’t think self-doubt is necessarily a bad thing. For me, it’s always highlighted where I need to grow and keeps me grounded. I truly believe where you are the most uncomfortable is where you are developing the most.”
Can self-doubt be overcome, or is it something we must learn to live with?
“I don’t think it’s something we should overcome entirely. It’s so important to be able to self-reflect, so I always try to change my internal narrative when I feel doubtful. I ask myself: ‘What is this feeling trying to tell me?’ and ‘Is this really about the issue in front of me, or is this triggering something else for me which I need to give some attention to?’”
How do you personally cope with self-doubt in your professional life? Share your top tips.
“Realise it is completely normal to doubt yourself. What you need to overcome is being paralysed by it.
Attitude is everything. You can learn necessary skills on the job if you are open, willing and self-aware.
Make asking for feedback a regular habit. More often than not, a critical inner voice is not even close to how you are perceived by your boss, peers and team.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable – it’s where true growth happens.
Make sure you are in a company and role where you can bring your whole self and they are aligned to your values. It’s much easier to tackle self-doubt when you’re also not battling to be yourself in your work environment.”
What would you say to other women experiencing imposter syndrome or self-doubt at work, and particularly to women early in their careers?
“It is completely normal, and most successful people I know all experience different levels of this. It is just so important to keep moving – don’t let it stop you from growing or taking opportunities. I’ve also learnt that age or seniority means very little. Your opinions and thoughts are valuable, irrespective of where you are in your career – if you’re in the room or at the table, speak up.”
Erim Kaur, Founder and CEO of BYERIM
What does imposter syndrome mean to you, and can you relate to it?
“Imposter syndrome to me is when you don’t feel like you're worthy of the accolades, achievements and titles you have earned. As a woman of colour, I feel like I have an extra level to overcome when it comes to imposter syndrome because the odds are definitely stacked against us. So, for me to have achieved what I have so far, is a huge feat. Although sometimes it can feel like it was luck or fate or being in the right place at the right time, ultimately it was down to hard work – and reminding myself of that is really important.”
Erim Kaur, Founder of ByErim
Tell us about a time you doubted yourself, and how you dealt with it.
“I struggled for months trying to source the stickers for my bottle for my ByErim Luxury Hair and Beard Oil. I remember asking a friend and he was able to do it in a couple hours – and that was a moment where I thought: ‘Do I not know how to use Google?’ So, I learnt a valuable lesson of asking for help.”
After losing your mother at 8 years old and experiencing such a loss at a young age, how did you find the confidence within yourself?
“I was very lucky to have a dad who really allowed me to be myself. At times I’d say that we all raised each other: my dad, my brother and myself. Learning of my own boundaries and my own limitations helped me to build confidence in myself because I was often thrown in the deep end and I had the choice to sink or swim. And in that situation, you always have to swim.”
Starting your own brand can be daunting. Did you experience a fear of failure at the beginning?
“No, I was very naive. I segmented all my tasks like getting a logo, finding a graphic designer or sourcing packaging, and I looked at them as small tasks, one by one – so it didn’t make it seem like it was one big thing of starting a business. Because they were such easy-to-accomplish tasks when you looked at them individually, these small successes gave me confidence every single time that I achieved them, and I was able to work through to the next.
“The instantaneous fear was when I first posted on my Instagram to announce that I launched the business and that the products were for sale. But that only lasted for a few hours because I sold out!”
What are your techniques for coping with or even overcoming imposter syndrome and self-doubt?
“I come from very strong, rebellious parents and I like to remind myself that their blood is in my veins, it’s in my genes, and that reaffirms the power that I believe I have in this world. I also speak to my friends – they have been very supportive of me for years and that’s been very helpful. I find that routine also helps to keep me level-headed and balanced, and I find I work from a much better headspace when I am in my routine.”
Continue being inspired and catch up on the AllBright Step Forward Summit discussions on-demand, including an empowering panel with Pandora ambassador Katie Piper OBE