Last week during the International Women’s Forum World Leadership Conference in Toronto, I shared a lunch table with a 2018 Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry, Dr Frances Arnold. The room was full of accomplished women like her — Olympic athletes, Nobel Prize winners, astronauts, medical geniuses, CEOs. It was exhilarating to be in their midst and realise the range of talented minds in the room.
Just days earlier, I had attended a leadership programme for 37 women that preceded the conference and my feelings were quite different. Reading the biographies of my classmates made me feel inadequate and intimidated. Why was I selected to be part of the group, I wondered. As we broke the ice at the start of the programme and got to know each other through story-telling, we each realised that every single one of us was intimidated by each other’s biographies. We all had a case of Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome affects many women, no matter how much success they have achieved. It is determined to be a silent career killer. Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 identified this syndrome and believed that it only affected women. But subsequent research has shown that men are also affected. However, women tend to be more susceptible because they produce less testosterone — the confidence hormone.
By the time the conference began, I felt more comfortable being there. As I chatted with Dr Arnold over lunch, I recounted how the Indian media recently had gone berserk celebrating Dr Abhijit Banerjee’s Nobel prize and completely relegated Dr Esther Duflo, one of the other winners as his “wife” and I wrote an article to that effect.
She responded saying that she had read my article and it had reminded her how when she had won the prize, the local press had reported it as “Techie’s mother has won the Nobel Prize”. Whilst she did not mind the framing, it caused a stir in the community, especially among women, who thought she should be acknowledged for her achievements without mention of male family members or her role as a mother.
Imagine a person winning the highest prize in their field and due recognition is not given to them. No wonder, then, that accomplished women who strive for the best, who achieve the impossible, still feel Imposter…