Ever feel like an imposter?

Yes, that old chestnut. Don’t worry we all do sometimes. I regularly have moments where I have to reality check the self-doubt I feel. Talking to friends and family helps (and being give a metaphorical slap around the face). I don’t whether this is a particular trait amongst women, but I know a lot of us feel like this. Raising the subject publicly acts a reminder to myself to have more confidence in my own abilities, but also to reassure anyone reading this that (despite appearances) even the most apparently switched on people have wobbles too. You’re human and it would be a bit odd if you didn’t.

I’m not usually keen on labels (I don’t feel they are particularly helpful), but in order to illustrate the point I’m making, I want to talk about ‘Imposter Syndrome’: a recognised term in clinical psychology that eludes to a number of behavioural characteristics. The basis for these feelings broadly manifest themselves in the following ways:

  1. A belief that you’re not capable or accomplished, despite all evidence to the contrary.
  2. Difficulty believing or accepting genuine praise and recognition.
  3. Feeling like you’ve somehow faked your success.
  4. Fear of being outed as a fraud.

If you’ve taken time out of a career to have children you may feel this more acutely. That’s why support from fellow women is such an important part of validating your experience and sense of self-worth. Lack of career confidence is a huge barrier to achieving your ambitions, even if on paper you have everything going for you (and I guarantee you have). Receiving praise and recognition for your professional achievements, no matter how small can be the difference between making or breaking someone’s spirit. Often it’s the kindness of strangers that affects us more than the unconditional words of approval we hear from those closest to us. If you’re feeling like this then my top tips are:

  1. Talk to other people:
    I guarantee other people will have felt like this at some point. It’s such a cliché (but it’s true) a problem shared is a problem halved. Families are great, but speaking to objective people who know your industry can give you a more constructive insight into how good your knowledge and skills are.
  2. Write it down:
    Make two lists: one outlining all your achievements and experience; another ordering any areas of concern you have. Next, make a list of actionable goals (can you tell I like lists?). Make a realistic plan of ways you can work on your professional development: attend a training course to enhance your skills, refresh your CV/LinkedIn, join a business networking community.
  3. Meet up offline:
    There is no substitute for meeting people IRL (this is an acronym young people favour, instead of saying ‘in real life’ – I’m down with it). Share your experiences with like-minded women and support each other.
  4. Don’t beat yourself up:
    Remember we’re all winging it to some extent (some of us are better at appearing to look like we know what we’re doing).
  5. Find time to chill out:
    Put things into perspective. I find a large glass of wine and cake really helps (sorry I meant exercise, yes, exercise definitely helps too).

Written by Amy White

Solving the work puzzle

Meet Anna Ives, owner of HR Puzzle, an independent HR consultancy. Anna’s story is strangely similar to mine in many ways – she took redundancy from a career job whilst pregnant and then struggled to find flexible employment post-baby. The frustration we collectively feel as women in this regard seems to be having positive outcomes however. Firstly, women are campaigning harder than ever to achieve flexible working rights for all (not just mums and dads), and secondly it’s breeding a new generation of female entrepreneurs, surely something to be celebrated? Anna’s new company offers support, advice and assistance to those very women.

What led you to setup your HR consultancy?

Picture the scenario, you’ve just found out you are pregnant, you feel amazingly happy, scared, excited and in shock all at the same time. You’ve made the decision to only tell your family and a few close friends before your first scan and you’ll tell your employer after that. Then you get called into a meeting at work and are told the life changing news (at any time, let alone when pregnant) that you are being made redundant.

That’s precisely the situation I faced just over two years ago. I literally couldn’t believe it. I had worked at the insurance company in question for about two and a half years as a HR Business Partner. I had graduated with a BA in Business and HR and started my first role as a HR Assistant 10 years prior. I had experience in working in a number of different sectors such as the NHS, education and local government, as well as large national and multinational private companies across IT and communications, insurance and service provider consultancies. I even went back to university to gain a Masters in HR Management (studying part-time, while working full-time) and I’m a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD).

What was I going to do? I didn’t want to be out of work for the next six months of my pregnancy (although it would be lovely, and I wanted to have time off with the baby when she arrived).) So, I took a few short-term contracts and ended up working two days before my little girl Beatrix was born in November 2015.

Fast forward nine months and I felt I was ready to start looking to return to work, I was fully aware the redundancy money wouldn’t last forever and I was looking forward to finding a new flexible/part-time role. After about two months of searching I hit a wall, I just couldn’t find any flexible or part-time positions in HR. I knew I didn’t want a full-time role, and it had always been a dream to set up my own HR Consultancy, so why not now? So with the rest of my redundancy money I set up HR Puzzle. I specialise in helping mums and women with SMEs, for those who already have or want to take on an employee/s and all things HR related.

How is digital technology and social media enabling the way you work?

The whole process of setting up and running my own business was new to me. Digital technology has enabled the flexible working pattern I require. Not only does it allow me to work where I want, and when I want, but also allows me to serve clients who aren’t always local me to. I can send emails with a sleeping baby lying on me, or after we visit the park and she is napping on the way home in her buggy. In many cases HR can be dealt with remotely and digital technology enables this.

Social media has also taken on a whole new meaning. I have always had a love affair with Instagram and it was one of the things that inspired me to set up my own business. Lots of really inspirational women, some who are parents, and have great careers or have their own business – showing you can have it all.

I have found lots of great people to speak with and to also help share my journey with through social media. I also regularly use LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. It does take a long time but I can already see the rewards and it’s a great way to find new opportunities. After all I wouldn’t be writing this piece on here if it wasn’t for the power of social media.

What are your top tips for women starting a new business?

  1. Follow your passion. It may sound like a cliché but when you do, it doesn’t really feel like work. What I am really passionate about is helping others, especially those I can relate to – in this case women and mothers.
  2. Find a shared work place. I started off working at home to save on costs and a few months in was going stir crazy. I’m a people person and I am at my best when around others. I found a local hot desk via Wenta who offer loads of free business support including a three month free trial. This really helped with bouncing ideas off others in similar situations. I even joined a few Facebook groups who have meet-ups for those who work from home.
  3. Market your business. There are lots of free ways to do this out there, especially on social media, so make use of it. Join groups, follow others (even those with the same businesses) and comment on people’s posts. You never know where this will take you. Don’t get me wrong it’s a long and hard process but it will pay off. Why pay someone else when in the early stages you will have the time to do this yourself.

Anna is following…

Laura from @themodernnursery: she actually inspired me to set up my own business. Her blog post about how she started her business when she had her little girl inspired me to do the same.

Next is my new girl crush! The gorgeous @Eimearvarianbarry. I first heard her of her when I signed up to a Mothers Meeting session on “How to Get Social Media Savvy”. She is so down to earth and talks nineteen to the dozen but you can’t help but watch her. She has two little girls and works around them flexibly, another inspiration of mine.

Finally, it has to be @blossomingbirds not only do we share the same name but again she is an inspiration. She has a really good career and is a mother with two little girls, and has an amazing blog. I just don’t know where she gets her energy!


Anna’s work

hr-puzzle.com
instagram.com/hr.puzzle

My HR services include contract writing, policy & processes, employment law advice, recruitment, training, company handbooks, performance issues and absence management.

I am also campaigning for more businesses to take on flexible roles and helping to support mums with getting back to work after maternity leave/applying for flexible working, just to name a few.

I have some great events coming up, but one that I am really excited about is the Mums Enterprise Roadshow, a child friendly work and business exhibition for mums on a mission (#shootforthemoon). I will be an exhibitor at the London show on Monday 25th September 2017.

What flexible working means to me

Probably one of the biggest challenges facing parents is how to balance work and home life. Finding work which enables parents to work flexibly sometimes feel like mining for the rarest precious stone.

As someone who took time out of a career to stay at home with kids I can attest that finding a job that is part-time or has flexible hours and that doesn’t involve a significant shift in either seniority or pay is pretty much non-existent. Now I realise that things are changing and that some companies are finally tapping into the huge pool of talent that exists, amongst mums particularly. Some companies are making strides in this area, check out the winners from 2016 Working Mums Awards. However, considering we are living in a digital age things are still severely lacking. Any aspect of working practice that requires its own awards ceremony (whilst admirable) highlights how it should be embedded in business culture, not a nice little extra. This whole area is set to get more traction as the Equality and Human Rights Commission are on a mission to encourage better workplaces for mothers with its campaign #workingforward. In fact flexible working features in The Huffington Post top 10 parenting trends for 2017.

Pioneering in this field are Digital Mums. It has created courses designed for mums to build and enhance digital skills which they can use to work flexibly. They have started a campaign entitled #workthatworks and their aim is get businesses and individuals to recognise the powerful contribution mums can make to the economy by providing work opportunities that work around family life. They are championing something which is very close to all our hearts. I speak from personal experience as l I’ve chosen my current job based on it’s flexible hours rather than its career prospects. But I’m using my time wisely and I’m arming myself with knowledge which I believe will prepare me for work in the digital economy. One lady blazing a trail in this area is the awesome Mother Pukka – in fact she writes far more knowledgeably and eloquently on this subject than I ever could.

If more employers saw the benefits of allowing staff to work flexibly then perhaps more mums would return to work. On Radio 4’s Today programme they discussed the gender pay gap and whether or not women ‘choose’ less demanding jobs in order to find work that fits around family life. I would argue that women don’t ‘choose’ to take jobs which pay less but they are sidelined professionally once they have children. Jo Swinson (Director of Equal Power Consulting) supports the view that women don’t have a great deal of choice once they have children.

But the benefits are not merely financial. The psychological impact can be really positive. Mothers can often feel like disenfranchised people in society and work can provide an important identity. On a personal level the confidence boost I have had since returning to work has been immense. I feel more content, more energised and cherish time with the kids. Mental wealth is just as important as financial wealth. I’m currently interested in the work of Dr. Jessamy, a clinical psychologist, who is embracing digital media to spread the word about mental wealth.

On the theme of this article I’m curating a series of interviews with women like me who are struggling to achieve that elusive work/life balance. I’m coming to the conclusion that in order to achieve it I’m going to have to become more independent, more confident and embrace the entrepreneurial spirit I so admire in other mums. I would be really keen to hear from anyone who like me has experienced similar issues around working flexibly. So, if you have a story to tell please get in touch: hellosocialbutterflies@gmail.com


By Amy White