By Wema Hoover, Former Chief Diversity Officer, Principal & CEO Be Limitless Consulting, LLC

Business people having a meeting in the office. Teamwork and success concept

Throughout my career, I have benefitted countless times from the wisdom and support of so many caring women mentors. They took the time out of their days to give me advice, advocate for me, “block and tackle” when necessary, and help me unlock the confidence to bring my full self to work with no apologies.

But I’ve also seen firsthand how men can play a powerful role in helping women to advance – and to push through the imposing psychological barrier of imposter syndrome.

We need men on our side. And they should be because imposter syndrome is a universal challenge, something that sneaks into our minds no matter what we may have accomplished and makes us feel like we don’t belong, that we’re not good enough.

It’s a persistent self-doubt that affects even the most successful of us.

It’s that gnawing feeling that you have to fit into a mold that wasn’t made for you. It’s the fear that you’re not good enough, and at some point, someone’s going to figure it out, call you out, and finally expose you as a fraud.

I make it a point to share openly – and especially with our next generation of leaders who are starting out in their careers – that I’ve experienced it myself. I think of those times I was considered for key promotions that could turbo-charge my career to new heights and allow me to really have an impact.

But my first instinct wasn’t to be excited about a new professional adventure – it was to worry that I wasn’t ready, somehow ill-equipped, and not prepared for a more senior role despite all of my proven experience and track record of success.

I remember one example of imposter syndrome in action quite vividly. I was working in a highly scientific business unit, and I was the organization’s OD lead. I was hesitant to speak up in meetings, feeling like I didn’t quite fit in with the highly technical, male-dominated environment.

One day, a colleague and mentor finally pulled me aside. He told me that my insights weren’t being heard in meetings. As he put it, all my talent was invaluable, but it does nothing if I don’t bring it to the forefront and communicate it. I knew that I needed to make a change.

It finally hit me – I had to be bolder. More intentional. Unforgiving when it came to making my voice heard. This shift in mindset transformed the way I showed up at work. I stopped seeing my role as complementary and started viewing it as a core necessity and essential for the team’s performance.

From that point forward, I became much more deliberate and intentional about speaking up and claiming my rightful position in all rooms and spaces that I entered.

Men as Allies

It goes without saying that we should all be able to put ourselves in the shoes of those around us. I have found, however, that there’s something about fatherhood – especially raising daughters – that seems to allow many men to better understand the challenges that women still face in the modern workplace. It certainly shouldn’t take parenthood to unlock the empathy gene, but I can’t help but notice that so many of the men who are ready to stand up and lead happen to be fathers.

This phenomenon highlights the power of personal experience. Simply put, fathers of daughters often develop a deeper understanding of the obstacles women face in the workplace. They witness firsthand the challenges their daughters encounter – and refuse to perpetuate an environment that makes them feel anything less than capable of their full potential. And in time, they begin to support and drive systemic changes.

Parenthood has a way of changing our perspective in ways big and small. Suddenly, they’re asking themselves if they would tolerate their daughters working in organizations that silence them or relegate them to the back bench. They see the talent, skills, uniqueness, and competence of their daughters – and know they soon will be facing many of the same challenges as their colleagues.

Men, like women, can struggle with imposter syndrome, but they might have a different set of challenges in recognizing and addressing it. For all our progress in creating more inclusive workspaces, many men have come of age in environments that reinforce traditional leadership styles that demand they mask any feelings of imposter syndrome. In fact, they often are rewarded for concealing it.

To better support the women on their teams, men who are prepared must actively seek to understand and acknowledge the conditions that create an environment where imposter syndrome and its effects on their female colleagues are perpetuated. By doing so, they can employ practices that foster the conscious inclusion, growth, and advancement of women.

How Men Can Be Allies

Whether or not they happen to have children, men have a unique role to play as advocates for equality, diversity, and tapping into the best talent regardless of gender in their organizations. Some steps men can take to begin stepping up as allies in the workplace:

1. Celebrate and Acknowledge Women Leaders:

Men can start by making it a priority to actively spotlight women leaders – including those who are leading well and are trailblazing in their roles or with their teams. To achieve this, organizations can consider implementing regular recognition programs or events that showcase the contributions of women leaders within and outside of their organization. I know some will disagree with this idea of setting aside recognition for women – but until we’re competing on a level playing field, creating a pathway for recognition is so important for helping emerging women leaders accumulate the “wins” that build a career, demonstrate their talent and allow other women to see a version of themselves as having success and making an impact – because the hard-earned truth is that you “cannot be what you do not see.”

2. Actively Sponsor and Advocate for Women:

It’s not enough to merely mentor women in the workplace; active sponsorship and advocacy are essential for supporting their career advancement. To empower women in their careers, male leaders and colleagues should proactively support and champion their accomplishments by being visible and vocal in their recognition. But this doesn’t just happen on its own and does not have to be formal in nature. Simply, connecting women with influential advocates who can help them navigate their path to leadership by speaking to their skills, abilities, successes, and potential is all that is needed to be effective and advance their careers.

3. Welcome Differences – and Challenge Yourself:

Acknowledge that there is no protype (it’s certainly not men-only) of leadership and that successful and effective leadership comes in many genders, ethnicities, abilities, and approaches. Women comprise more than half the world’s population, yet this is rarely reflected on executive teams or around boardroom tables. But we bring a wealth of unique perspectives, ways of working, and abilities to the workplace, and these differences can significantly enhance team performance. Organizations should not only welcome these differences but actively seek out and integrate diverse perspectives into their ways of working and operating for these behaviors to be adopted by employees and put into practice each and every day.

Eliminating Imposter Syndrome, Together

Imposter syndrome affects each and every one of us at one time or another, no matter our gender, race, ability, background, or how far we have come.

The power to actively address, challenge, and ultimately eliminate imposter syndrome resides within each of us.

We must uplift, encourage, and speak to the abilities, experiences, and accomplishments of others, especially those who may not fit the “mold” of what successful leadership looks like.

This paradigm shift will establish new examples and role models of successful leaders that others will not only see but recognize as the norm. More importantly, that will allow us to confidently see and believe in ourselves with the knowledge that we belong in every industry, level and role, addressing imposter syndrome head-on.

Wema Hoover

Wema Hoover

Wema Hoover is Principal & CEO of Be Limitless Consulting LLC and is a DEI global thought leader and executive coach and former Chief Diversity Officer for several Fortune 500 companies.