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Beyond “career fear” for women leaders

Imposter syndrome and the pandemic are a dual challenge for many women leaders looking to advance, but the fear many feel doesn't have to be limiting.

5 min read


Beyond "career fear" for women leaders


As vaccination deployment continues to expand, it has become apparent that many women in leadership roles will soon give up our side gig of home-schooling children and being short-order cooks all day long.

It is well-documented that women have been negatively impacted professionally during the past year of the pandemic. An analysis by the National Women’s Law Center found that 80% of the 1.1 million workers over the age of 20 who left the workforce in September 2020 were women.

In addition, 34% of men working from home with children said they received a promotion during the pandemic, while 9% of women received a promotion in the same situation, reported an August 2020 study by Qualtrics and theBoardlist. In terms of pay, 26% of men with children at home received a pay raise during remote working, compared to 13% of women with children at home.

The optimism building around the reopening of the economy means women can start to think of career progression again – a critical professional development journey that largely has been on hold for more than a year. A survey conducted years before the pandemic by London Business School discovered 70% of women feel anxious about taking a career break, which is similar to the break pushed on many women during the peak of COVID-19.

It’s time for women to again consider what the future holds. Is it a promotion? A job change? A lateral move within your current business? And yet, many women will not take the leap to be their own champion, to step up on their own behalf and to drive this consideration.

Historically, telling people where we want to go or what we believe we deserve feels outside our comfort zone. Why? Because young girls have been taught to “get along and go along” and “it is not polite to talk about yourself.”

Harvard Business Review once defined imposter syndrome as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.” According to a survey by KPMG, 75% of executive women experienced imposter syndrome at points in their career, while 85% believe imposter syndrome is commonly experienced by women in the corporate world, particularly women of color.

Women are not good at advocating for themselves. I get it. I felt impostor syndrome for most of my career. I never felt good enough or deserving enough.

That lasted up until the time I finally realized that these ideas and these images of myself were the very things holding me back. Here are lessons I’ve learned:

  • Career fear is real. Recognizing it is the first step toward addressing it.
  • Fear is good. If you only do things you are not afraid of, then you will never grow.
  • Fear is normal. We must normalize the idea that fear is relevant and appropriate when you are learning and growing.
  • Fear is a path to leadership. It is the positive actions that result from fear that set leaders apart.
  • Fear can be comfortable. Once you become comfortable with fear and with taking steps into that fear, then your tolerance of fear increases, and women leaders can “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
  • Fear, unchecked, is a barrier to success. Women often do not progress as fast as men in their careers because of fear. Even when they have the skills and knowledge, women often hesitate to engage.

The good news is, understanding the specific impacts of fear will help women get beyond it.

  • Fear of failing. You will fail. And you will learn. You will be persistent. You will get back up and you will try again. Just like we watched our kids when they were learning to walk. They did not give up and neither should you.
  • Fear of making the wrong decisions. Women do well when they trust their gut and intuition. A wrong decision is better than no decision, and no decision is a standstill.
  • Fear of being judged. You are the keeper of your own life. You define you: Never cede that position to anyone else.
  • Fear of not being liked. Remember that you earn trust and respect (and ultimately, likeability) through being a strong leader. Moving forward, even in fear, builds leadership.
  • Fear of sacrificing family. Working women are strong role models for their children, and moms are outstanding multitaskers. You can have a career and a family.

Being fearful is part of the journey for women in careers. Facing fears, embracing them and working through them can be done. It all starts with the courage to overcome your fears.


Lori Kaiser is a CEO, corporate leader, visionary and business strategist with a proven track record in assessing risk and creating solutions for Fortune 500 C-level executives and boards. As CEO of Kaiser Consulting, Kaiser provides clients’ value-based services that allow organizations to navigate transitions and successfully execute critical projects. She is considered a trusted adviser to executive management on issues of risk identification and mitigation, mergers, acquisitions, and integrations. Kaiser founded and has led the firm to nearly 30 years of successive revenue growth, achieving multimillion-dollar revenues. She established and continues to direct growth in long-term client relationships by delivering accomplished financial, technical, and project management with staffing consistency on client engagements. Kaiser meets all the criteria and currently functions as an SEC Audit Committee Financial Expert.

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