Category Archives: Imposter Syndrome/Phenomenon

Imposter Syndrome/Phenomenon

Role Models and Trail Blazers: WISDOM Q&A with Anne Benischek

Every month, WISDOM highlights the achievements and perspective of inspirational colleagues in the field as part of a Q and A series. Our January 2021 role model and trail blazer is Anne Benischek, an EMEA Business Information Security Officer in the banking sector.

Introducing Anne
“I am deeply passionate about ethical and conscious leadership and about meaningfulness in work – where there is balance between focus and purpose for both the individual and the organisation. I am a qualified executive coach, and I am involved in various mentoring programmes inside and out of work to support developing talent and women entrepreneurs. I believe in authenticity and a balance between mind and heart in all aspects of life – and I strive to be part of the mindset/culture change that is needed to create this shift, especially in business.

I also have nearly 20 years of experience in the cyber security space; working as a senior practitioner and consultant in a broad range of information security areas spanning many industries, including as CISO in technology and FS organisations, strategy and business transformation consultant, and head of cyber alliances.”

Q&A:

  1. What do you think is the most challenging aspect of information security? 
    There has always been a challenge between breadth and depth of knowledge. Security professionals need to navigate the different needs of the various business areas, rapidly developing business models and evolving eco-systems of customer, partner and vendor interactions. At the same time, we need deep specialisation into growing and hugely complex technologies.

    But there is a more fundamental challenge our industry faces – how to balance business needs with security. I get so frustrated with our profession, when users are cast as uneducated or incompetent, when policy decisions are based purely on sexy threat intelligence devoid of a true understanding of what the business needs, and the impact these policies will have.  Or even worse, when security tries to beat boards and stakeholders into submission with horror stories and giant compliance hammers. Saying ‘no’ is easy. Using FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) to scare people into action is easy. But have security practitioners stopped to ask if we are doing a good enough job to enable people to do the right thing? To make security transparent and intuitive to end users and within business processes? To partner with the business on big and hairy problems?

  2. What has been the proudest moment of your career to date?
    There are work and career achievements, like becoming a CISO, completing an MBA whilst working, and being a Mum, and they are great. They also don’t define me.

    My proudest moments are when I can show up for someone to help them come home to who they are; to realise their potential. Seeing someone step into their own and start acting from a place of authenticity, where they know their worth and what they are capable of – there’s literally nothing else like it. It is very true that people will forget what you did, what your achievements were, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

  3. What are the most enjoyable parts of your work?
    Working with people. Hands down. We get more emotional and social nourishment from our interactions at work than we realise, or perhaps would like to admit. It is also what I miss the most in this new lockdown world.

  4. What lessons have your learnt as your progress through your career?
    If you don’t ask, you don’t get. For a large part of my career, I relied on my hard work speaking for itself. That only works up to a point, and only if you have exceptional managers around you.

    The challenge for me was getting comfortable with showcasing my work without feeling I was showing off. Being transparent with my managers about my next step, my next role, the things I want to get involved in, without feeling assuming or ungrateful to them. And starting to deal with the fear of being “found out”, stemming from the fear that I didn’t really know what I was doing.

    Finding more healthy ways to deal with my imposter syndrome was a game changer. Facing those limiting beliefs and self-doubts can be confronting, but it’s also hugely rewarding. And it’s an ongoing journey, but one where I am now aware of what’s happening when that little voice starts nagging with “oh, you’re just a fraud”, and I can start to be playful with it, and even lean into having fun with it.

  5. What are your reflections on diversity and inclusion within your field?
    It’s getting so much better! There were barely any women in cyber when I first started – and personally, that wasn’t a problem for me until I hit senior management level where, for the first time, I experienced a degree of glass ceiling and a significant gender pay gap. So, I started to get better at asking for what I want, and to not back down until I get it. And that works for me now because I have the leverage of 20 years of skills and experience.

    But that’s not going to work in the same way when starting out in your career. So as an industry I think it is incredibly important that we become more nuanced about the types of skills and strengths we need in security. There are great initiatives to bring women into tech, e.g. through coding, but we need more paths that also value and reward other innate skills we have as women: empathy, teamship, heart-centred vision, intuition and people skills. These skills are critical for stakeholder managers, change agents, security culture champions, winning hearts and minds. They are the cornerstones of modern leadership and business is in desperate need of more of them.

  6. What advice would you give to someone just starting their career?
    Know your worth. Your skills and your experience have a market value – know that value. Don’t accept anything less. Don’t believe a recruiter when they say it’s not possible. And stick to your guns.

    Ask for what you want. If no one knows what you want to do or where you want to head, no one can help you get there. I know how much I appreciate it, when someone helps me see what they’re capable of, when they showcase what they’re passionate about and when they tell how I can support them.

    And last but not least, stick to your guns when it comes to your principles and values. Be unapologetically you 😊

Thank you Anne! If you have someone you’d like to nominate for the WISDOM blog’s ‘Trailblazers and Role Models’ series, please get in touch with amy.ertan.2017@live.rhul.ac.uk

Positive action in motion

What is the difference between positive action and positive discrimination?

Positive action is when an employer takes steps to help or encourage certain groups of people with different needs, or who are disadvantaged in some way, access work or training. Positive action is lawful under the Equality Act. For example, an employer could organise an open day for people from a particular ethnic background if they’re under-represented in the employer’s workforce. This wouldn’t be unlawful discrimination under the Act.” (Citizens advice 2017)

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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.

 

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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