WISDOM visits the Henley Women in Leadership Forum Event: Be Brave – Confidence and Identity

Henley Business School (part of Reading University) run a women in business leadership network with events designed to encourage women to flourish as leaders in their fields. On Tuesday 8 November they ran a Forum event and guest speakers included: Dr. Christian van Nieuwerburgh – Associate Professor in Coaching, Henley Business School and panel speakers Sue Asprey Price – Executive Director Source8, Rita Goyal – Doctoral Researcher, Henley Business School, Tracy Lewis – Non-Executive Director, Staffline Group plc and Catherine Mason – Chartered Director and a Fellow of the Institute of Directors.

Dr. Christian van Nieuwerburgh delivered an insightful talk on the problems of ‘Unconcious Bias’ and ‘Imposter Syndrome’. Unconcious Bias is becoming increasingly discussed in relation to the workplace. Research has proven that we all have an internal unconscious bias. We are not aware of this bias – and it is predominantly a bias towards, young, white, slim, males. Astonishingly – this is generic and means that even as a female you would have a bias towards young, white, slim, males. Women were more naturally associated with Liberal Arts and men towards the Sciences. We were asked to consider what the impact of these unconscious biases would have in our workplaces. I considered the landscape of our predominantly white, slim, male population within the School (staff and students). And that we are a Science department. If men are favoured (unconsciously) could this affect future applicants and employees to the School? After considering the implications of this and what this meant for WISDOM – I didn’t really want to hear Dr. Christian van Nieuwerburgh state that “there is nothing you can do about it either because it is unconscious”. Well I do have confidence that Royal Holloway and the School of Maths & ISG are ‘conscious’ of this ‘unconsciousness’ and I am pleased to see that unconscious bias training led by Organisation Development is being talked about more in the School and staff seem to be open to attending.

Dr. Christian then went on to discuss Imposter syndrome – notably it should not be called a syndrome because 70% of people have or do suffer from it. Imposter Syndrome is the feeling that you have invaded a role you should not have, a feeling of being a fake, or that somehow you have landed up where you are by luck. Basically, you have taken no credit for your success. Common thoughts of Imposter Syndrome sufferers would be: ‘You’re only a PhD student because you were lucky to get your Masters’… ‘You don’t really know what you’re doing’ …and such thoughts are linked to low self-esteem or confidence which is very common amongst men and women. Dr Christian described these negative thoughts as ‘performance-inhibiting’ thoughts and challenged us all to identify at least one performance inhibiting thought we speak over ourselves and to stop saying it. What could you change to be more kind to yourself? Would you speak to your best friend the way you speak to yourself? I found this really positive and I am going to take on the challenge.

So what do we do with all this if the problem is partly unconscious and partly within ourselves and a lack of confidence? The panel discussion focused on practical ways to implement solutions to these problems. Women need to shout louder. Many women due to a lack of confidence are ‘waiting for the call’. They believe that if they just work hard, put in the overtime, do a good job but keep their head down, they will eventually receive a call to promotion. But sadly, this is not the case. How would your employer know you were interested in something if you had not told them? No one can read our minds. We need to become more vocal and learn to express ourselves, if you think you would be good for that promotion and know why – then speak up! The problem is within ourselves and it can be fixed. Stop speaking negativity over yourself and your life and get out there and show and tell people what you are made of. Believe in yourself, you have not got to where you are today by sheer luck. I trust you have actually used your brain.

Finally, the piece of advice that really resonated with me the most was the fact that all the women on the panel had recommended support. Be it support from family, friends, a spouse, colleagues or professional coaches, sponsors and mentors – it seemed that underneath all the success there was a layer of people supporting, mentoring and encouraging each woman to be the best that she could be at whatever it was she had chosen to do. Every person needs support and this is one of the most important and vital functions of WISDOM. Not only does WISDOM seek to encourage more females into the field of Cyber Security and Maths, but in doing so it seeks to create an encouraging and hopefully sometimes challenging environment where members can feel wholly supported in their academic and professional endeavours. If this spills over into true friendship and support through the personal challenges of life as well as the professional ones, then even better.

If you are reading this and you are male then I thank you and congratulate you for your support. It was refreshing to hear a talk from a man at a women’s leadership event and there were also several males in the audience. Just before the event finished and we retreated to the reception for an obligatory glass of wine, there was a call for more men to get involved in events and networks like this. Why? You may ask. Because we need you and your support. We value your input. I would hope that from reading this you would understand where women are coming from just a tiny bit more than before and consequently, new understanding will lead to stronger partnerships, in academia, business and life.



You can read more about Unconcious Bias here: https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/publications/2015/unconscious-bias/ and more information on Imposter Syndrome can be found here: http://www.cs.stir.ac.uk/sciencegrrl/impostor/

Lisa Cavey (School Manager)

School of Maths & ISG